Grappling with the new TreeSync

The new 2012 UK version of Family Tree Maker (FTM) arrived on Saturday. The Platinum edition comes with 6 months access to Ancestry.co.uk Premium membership – parish records, occupations and all other UK records as well as the standard Births, Marriages, Deaths and Census (link to order FTM from Amazon). Here’s a piece on my experience and thoughts so far.

Adding the Ancestry subscription

The basic installation was as straightforward to do as it usually is, although it automatically added a program to the existing .net 64-bit software on my Windows 7 computer. Then the fun starts, activating the included sub.

This is the fourth time I’ve bought FTM (full or upgrade) with an Ancestry sub but the first time I’ve resorted to the phone helpline. Not that it has been that simple before. The thing to remember is to make sure you’ve checked firewall settings first, to allow full internet access to the new Family Tree Maker (ftm.exe) program. See their Customer Help FAQs. Online activation still failed after I’d checked this, but in hindsight I should probably have waited half an hour before trying again – the time Ancestry takes to reset a failed/spurious log-in. Even so, in my case it might not have worked – after the first couple of stages I kept on getting a welcome screen to FTM 2010 US edition encouraging me to activate a Discovery sub. Failure. The resulting helpline phone call was relatively painless, apart from having to give credit card details which were already recorded on the account. The help person activated the sub there and then. Time to add a diary reminder for 2 weeks before the six months sub expires, to cancel the auto-renewal (do it too early and you are likely to get auto-nags from Ancestry).

Setting up TreeSync

After checking that everything was working, and making sure the log-in on FTM was effective (always seems to take a number of goes before it remembers the details), time to look at synchronising my main tree. The system can’t cope with tying together existing trees at both ends, so this would be uploading the FTM one (my reference database) to create a new Ancestry tree. Logical enough. Downside: this way round I’ll have to invite any tree guests again, and the online hints feature starts from scratch too. Upside: all my FTM notes are preserved (but not made viewable by others). See this FTM Help screen for a clear list of what does and doesn’t get sync’d.

With a bit over three thousand individuals and more than 500 photos (the majority of these images of records that Ancestry doesn’t download to FTM), the overall sync took 4 hours from start to finish, although the basic data was done (and available) in a few minutes.

I had thought a fresh sync in the other direction would be quicker, but downloading what had previously been the main Ancestry tree to FTM took a proportionate amount of time (with fewer individuals and images). There was a very noticeable impact on the speed of web browsing, emails etc while the ‘background’ image sync was going on (my broadband currently connects at about 2.5 meg).

A Sync-ing feeling

The initial TreeSync process seemed fine, and I checked through some outstanding research items using the new sub. As I prefer having the control, I selected ‘manual’ rather ‘automatic’ sync (the latter jumps in at start-up and close-down of FTM apparently). It worked well both ways, although there was one failure which seemed to be fixed by exiting FTM and coming back in again.

Then I started looking at how to merge data into the FTM tree, as it was missing a few records which had only been added (by me) to the old Ancestry tree. Shortly afterwards, the TreeSync disappeared – neither end showed the TreeSync buttons.  No options to reconnect, no error message. I decided to start the TreeSync again from scratch – after all it was the technology doing all the work, I just had to set it going. (Not a stretch to think that the aborted merge process could have confused things.)

Take two worked again fine, for a while. This time the TreeSync failed after a tidy up of back-up/duplicate copies of the main tree. I am beginning to think that the system is far from robust and any minor change to the FTM file outside the scope of TreeSync can be a problem. I tried a re-store from a back-up but no, TreeSync was still missing from this tree. So a third go at TreeSync from scratch today – fingers crossed.

LATE EDIT: My (untested) tip for success – don’t create ad-hoc back-ups or experiment with a sync’d tree, keep things simple and it might just work reliably. As long as the Ancestry servers aren’t backed-up. This from Ancestry techies via the Facebook page yesterday (Monday 17th): “Currently the FTM 2012 sync servers are experiencing a very high volume of traffic. This is causing the sync queue to become backed up, making it appear that the dialog in the program for syncing is hanging. In reality, the tree will eventually sync when the member’s tree is up next in the queue, however, this may take some time.
Customers can either let their sync wait for its turn or try again at a later time where there’s less traffic. Please also reassure them that we’re taking measures to prevent this from occurring in the future by adjusting our servers according to the load we’ve been seeing”.

TreeSync bonus

One bonus of sync’d trees is that you get a ‘Shared’ box on the home FTM screen showing who has been invited to the tree, whether they are guest/contributor/editor or can see data for living individuals, and the last time they visited. The last bit is entirely new and unavailable on the Ancestry website’s Sharing screen, and answers a particular question for me.

Next to the Shared box is the time of the last sync, whether and when the online (Ancestry) or local (FTM) trees have changed since, and a link to the online tree.

Other than TreeSync, there is not a lot of note with the new version. A few useful report enhancements. Plus the ‘blended families’ view, allowing you to see all the offspring of a couple, including from previous relationships, in one go on the Family screen is a helpful addition for the Cutlock family, and others!

Also see

Family Tree Maker notes.

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