Ancestry’s Family Tree Maker Announcement: The Sky is Not Falling

Posted on: December 10th, 2015 by
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Yesterday announced that it will no longer sell its popular Family Tree Maker software,1 and the Internet lit up. Genealogists everywhere began blasting Ancestry’s decision and wringing their hands about what to do.

Amid the chaos bloggers began to speak up. Among the first was Dave McDonald, who commented, “Newsflash: the loss of one program isn’t going to bring your genealogical research work to a screeching halt.”2

Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, and Thomas MacEntee followed up today. Judy’s post, called “Check Our the Alternatives”3 pointed out two Family Tree Maker competitors–Legacy 8.0 and RootsMagic 7–that are already providing information on their products and how Family Tree Maker users can transition.

Thomas took a slightly different tack, pointing out that “Genealogy is all about change,” and relating Ancestry’s apparent move away from selling desktop software to overall technology trends toward web-only subscriptions.4

Last but not least, Kerry Scott weighed in with her usual blend of humor and common sense: “In the grand scheme of things, having a year’s notice that your genealogy software program will change is probably not the worst thing that could happen to us.”5

My own reaction: this is a great opportunity for Family Tree Maker users to assess what they want family tree software to do and examine their options. Here are some key questions for database software users:

  1. What did you want to do with the information you are storing in Family Tree Maker? For example, organize data about individuals, keep track of sources? Provide tools for analyzing data, generate and print reports, create charts?
  2. Has what you want to do changed since you chose Family Tree Maker?
  3. Is a desktop database the best option for doing what you want to do?
  4. Can you do what you want to do without a desktop database?
  5. Do one or more of Family Tree Maker’s competitors do what you want to do better?

At this point, you have a year to consider your answers to these questions.

My answers are

  1. Organize data and keep track of sources, print simple reports, generate charts.
  2. I have never been a committed Family Tree User.
  3. Not necessarily. Most of what I want to do can be done using a combination of an online tree (I use a private tree on Ancestry), Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets.
  4. See answer 3.
  5. In the native Mac universe, in my opinion, Family Tree Maker trails its competitors Reunion, Heredis, and MacFamilyTree 7 in generating reports and charts.

So the sky is not falling after all.

  1. Kendall Julet, “Ancestry to Retire Family Tree Maker Software,” Ancestry blog, posted 8 December 2015 ( : accessed 8 December 2015).
  2. Dave McDonald, “Databases and Software,” Thinking Genealogically blog, posted 8 December 2015 ( : accessed 8 December 2015).
  3. Judy G. Russell, “Check Out the Alternatives,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 9 December 2015 ( : accessed 9 December 2015).
  4. Thomas MacEntee, “Blame the Millennials: the End of Family Tree Maker Genealogy Software,” GeneaBloggers blog, posted 9 December 2015 ( : accessed 9 December 2015).
  5. Kerry Scott, “Santa Claus Signs Agreement with to Ruin Christmas,” Clue Wagon blog, posted 9 December 2015 ( : accessed 9 December 2015).
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Gratitudes for Thanksgiving 2015

Posted on: November 25th, 2015 by
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As I was sitting in a car being driven through Chicago en route from Rhode Island to Minnesota, reading compiled military service records and pension files for five Civil War veterans pulled from the collections of the National Archives by a researcher in Washington, DC, and sent to me electronically, I was struck by the large number of quite wonderful things that enabled me to peruse those records in my mobile setting. As a result, I wrote this post.

I am grateful for

  • The automobile that enables me to travel comfortably where I want to go, on my own schedule.
  • My daughter who is driving the automobile safely and carefully though traffic and who curated the playlist we are listening to though the car stereo.
  • The mapping software that is cuing us through the sound system to follow the correct route.
  • The mobile hotspot from my cellular provider that is connecting my iPad to multiple servers all over the world.
  • The iPad whose clear, bright screen allows me to read the CMSRs and pension records, zooming in and out as needed, and which is now allowing me to write this blog post on its built-in keyboard.
  • The easy-to-use WordPress software installed on my website that is allowing me to type and edit as I ride and will shortly publish this post for readers to discover.
  • The Dropbox software that allowed my researcher in Washington to create a link for me to access the files containing the hundreds of record images she created at the National Archives from my iPad or any other mobile device or computer I wish to use.
  • My researcher in Washington, Pamela Loos-Noji, Ph.D., who promptly provides me with high-quality color images of records I need, complete with proper citations.
  • My friend Angela Packer McGhie who introduced me to Pamela.
  • My teacher Elizabeth who showed me how to search broadly, wring information from records, analyze it, correlate it with information from other records, and create conclusions. The CMSRs and pension records I am reading were created by FANs of my primary research subject.
  • The archivists at the National Archives who preserve and care for the records in their custody and make them available to the public.
  • The Pension Office officials and clerks who created and preserved the records I am using. Every time I use a pension record I am awed by the meticulous attention to detail and research reflected in these records.

These are some of the many things I am grateful for as I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving 2016. What are you grateful for?

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Teaching Adult Learners

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 by
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The majority of us who teach family history research are teaching adults. Adult learners are a special, highly diverse group. There is a huge amount of research and information about characteristics of adult learners available–a Google search today for the phrase “adult learners” brought up 11.9 million results! A second search for “teaching adults” had 443,000 results.

It’s a great idea, especially for those of us who do not work in the education field, to periodically sample the available literature.

For example, today’s searches brought up this article on eight characteristics of adult learners. 1

Another resource from the Journal of Extension discusses the needs of the adult learner, along with an overview of six teaching and learning strategies that best satisfy those needs: lecture, problem-based learning, case studies, educational games, role play, and discussion. 2

A third article explained five principles for teaching adults: make sure the students understand “why,” respect that they have different learning styles, allow them to experience what they’re learning, listen for teaching moments and take advantage, encourage your students. 3

This one offers tips for teaching adult students–treat them like adults, be aware their classroom skills may be rusty, acknowledge the technology gap, be efficient, and be creative. 4

There are lots of other great resources in those search results–take advantage of the information quickly accessible on the web to ensure that your genealogy classes and courses are on target for your audience.

  1. Christopher Pappas, “8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners,” eLearning Industry ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
  2. Carrie Ota, Cynthia F. DiCarlo, Diane C. Burts, Robert Laird, and Cheri Gioe, “Training and the Needs of Adult Learners,” Journal of Extension 44 (December 2006); Journal of Extension ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
  3. Deb Peterson, “5 Principles for the Teacher of Adults,” ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
  4. Brooks Doherty, “Tips for Teaching Adult Students,” Faculty Focus ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
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