Family Tree Maker notes Tips and experiences on using FTM

Some notes on using Family Tree Maker – things that I find helpful, have played around with, others have struggled with or may not be obvious.

Separate pages for:

Family Tree Maker is a software program which has become associated with the genealogy website Ancestry. In 2016, Ancestry transferred ownership of the Windows version of FTM to Software MacKiev (SMK, which already developed and sold the Mac version). Most, but not all, of the following has been updated to reflect the move of support material between websites.

Note at April 2017: This page will be gradually updated to reflect experience of FTM 2017 and differences to 2014 and earlier versions. Prior to then, the material was based on FTM versions up to 2014.1. With FTM 2017 the Apple Mac edition gets features in line with Windows (they differed slightly before).

I started with FTM 2009 on a Windows XP computer, the current version is FTM 2014.1 on Windows 7, with FTM 2017 in the wings.

MacKiev support pages are linked below.

Family Tree Maker 2017

The first version of FTM fully developed by new owners Software MacKiev introduces ‘FamilySync’, to interact with trees on the Ancestry website. The previous TreeSync system was switched off by Ancestry, 29th March (midnight MDT). Other suppliers will be producing alternative Ancestry sync software – see our page Sync trees between Ancestry and your computer.

Along with the end of TreeSync, the Ancestry search, record merge, and hints functions also stop working for versions before FTM 2017. (See bullet point 4 of the MacKiev announcement.) This part of the switch off has been put back until FamilySync is up and running/FTM 2017 is released.

Useful new features for FTM 2017

On top of replacing the old Ancestry connectivity.

  • Colour coding: an individual can be assigned up to 4 colours, showing descendants or ancestor links, family group, or membership of a defined List.
  • Person index filters (in Tree view) can be saved as Lists, which can have colour coding applied, or be easily used again later.
  • Ability to sync an Ancestry tree to more than one computer/FTM file. See this SMK info on ‘Three computers. One Ancestry tree. No problem“.
  • connectivity: hints from genealogy data held on this site can be switched on in addition to/instead of existing Ancestry hints (the two have different symbols);  easily search and merge (add). Precise records available via hints/search to be clarified.

FTM 2017 also comes with Photo Darkroom tools, to start just Faded Photo Repair Tool? Plus there is a rather strangely named (and some would say strangely conceived) ‘Sync Weather Report‘, to let you know if SMK knows of any issues which should make you pause before doing a sync (assuming you have sync set to manual, which is a good idea).

Initial feature announcement, posted on FTM users Facebook page mid-Feb:


FTM 2017 release was postponed from 31st March 2017 –  additional potential issues during final beta testing of FamilySync * plus Ancestry connectivity loading concerns. Release slipped to 4th April, and then Friday 7th at the earliest (all timings by end of day, Utah time). Allow a further week or so for physical shipping of DVD/USB copies. Check MacKiev’s ‘release of FTM 2017 update page‘. * Final testing could only be done after TreeSync was switched off.

Normal upgrade price £39-95, full list price £79-95. MyHistory suggests their retail price will be £89-95 (for delivery of DVD) but this may change. {Upgrade price for UK pre-orders before release: £29-95 for download – VAT included, extra for DVD or USB copy too.}

See MacKiev’s general FTM 2017 FAQ for more info.

Tips on using FTM 2017

Many of the items below will still apply for v2017, but sync features may change.

Colour coding

The most important new feature? Limited to eight colours (possible that this will expand later), for showing ancestors, descendants, individual allocation or filter lists. Have you any tips on how to use, from experience of other genealogy programs or elsewhere? Do add a comment!

FTM 2017 install

Basic notes pending release.

Note that FTM 2017 will work on Windows 7 and later – support for Vista and XP has been dropped (for Mac it’s OS 10.9 and later).

FTM 2017 is version 23. When installed the version/build number can be found under Tools > About – in format 23.0.0.xx (32 bit) or (64 bit). The install file is at least a 600MB download.

Make sure you register the new version – an option to do this comes up when you go into it for the first time. If there is a tech problem (or a new PC) and you have to re-install it, you can then easily get a fresh download from Software MacKiev. (Ease is subject to speed of your internet connection!)

Existing trees (from 2014.1 or earlier) will be converted to an updated database format on their initial opening in FTM 2017 – this format won’t open in previous versions. It is best to do a full FTM backup (for all of your trees) before starting the update anyway, which will mean you have a copy to fall back on if necessary. For trees with loads of media which get backed-up elsewhere, untick the media box for a quicker/smaller back-up process.

FTM 2014, 2012, 2011

Software MacKiev released the update for the ‘finished’ version of FTM 2014.1 on 31st Dec 2016, after many months of an evolving bug squashing process. Initial build 22.0.1.(1)501, final build (1)510? No new features, ‘just’ improvements in stability, speed, security – the latter includes the ability to add password-protection when exporting a file for use in other software.

The final Ancestry FTM 2014 version was 64 bit, .410 for 32 bit (December 2015, patch 7, although files show as 29 Oct 15). UK edition came out in autumn 2013, but Cutlock & Co purchased/installed Feb. 2015 (2012 worked well, so waited for discounted copy!). More on FTM 2014.

Final version of Family Tree Maker 2012 – (patch/update released 30 Nov 2012). See separate FTM 2012 Cutlock page for details of the various updates and fixes from initial UK release, and more info. FTM 2012 was the first to offer TreeSync.

Final version for Family Tree Maker 2011 –

FTM Basics

Family Tree Maker is arranged around 8 ‘workspaces’, with buttons for each in the top bar: Plan, People (with Tree and Person tabs), Places, Media, Source, Publish, Web Search. FTM opens in the Plan workspace, which has two tabs: New Tree (where you can create a tree, open or import an existing one) and Current Tree (with various details about the currently open tree and a Tasks list area).

There is also a menu bar between the Workspace buttons and the tabs/work areas, divided into

  • File – as well as open and close tree files, there is export, back-up/restore, merge.
  • Edit includes managing historic events list, settings for Facts used in the tree etc.
  • View – a repeat of the Workspace buttons.
  • Workspace specific options: one of Person, Place, Media, Source, (no Publish), Search.
  • Tools – useful features such as Relationship calculator, Compact file (can fix database errors), Options (various FTM settings, and when a tree is open whether reference numbers are to be used).
  • Help. First item (also on F1) brings up help screens, and there is a Companion Guide in pdf (could be printed off) too.

Shortcut keys

  • Use F2 in People workspace, Person tab for an index of individuals.
  • F3 activates a pop-up screen to edit (or view) a person’s facts, notes, media, web links.
  • F4 to  add a fact.
  • Press F1 for Help and find other shortcut keys in the index.

Missing Source Images – there’s a rather hidden feature using Ctrl  + F5 for downloading missing images for Ancestry sources. Use the key combination in the Media workspace, on a blank part of the Collection gallery.

Web link or web address?

You can add a web address as a fact, which can appear in reports, but this doesn’t ‘hot link’. Web links in the Notes area do provide a clickable link, but don’t appear in reports.

Connection to Ancestry

See Sync FTM to Ancestry page.

Unlinked trees

If you want to download a tree from Ancestry without linking, in FTM under New Tree there is a ‘Download from Ancestry’ option with a Link to Ancestry tick box. If you untick, the system will request a Gedcom file from Ancestry. Standard Gedcom files don’t contain everything, although the Ancestry/FTM version has more I believe. So you might want to do a linked download then unlink (for example to merge data from a branch)?

Tweaking the Display

Customising the family view

Tucked away bottom right when looking at the people/family view is a ‘Customize View’ button, which allows you to change what you see on the selected individual in the right-hand pane. Click on the button and on the pop-up window scroll through the ‘Individual facts’ box top left and select any of these you want visible (easiest to do one at a time?). Click on the right arrow and it should appear in the Selected box. Do the reverse to move something out of the Selected facts. Make sure you press OK button to finish.

You can of course do a similar customisation for Shared facts, with the two other boxes.

Family view in FTM 2011

These customisations are reflected in the Person view’s ‘Add fact’ button (a big blue + next to the Facts/Timeline/Relationships buttons). The added facts will show in the same order on this quick access list.

Display options

The Options box, under Tools, has a ‘Fact display’ section (General tab) – whether you want to be able to see media and notes connected with facts. Why wouldn’t you?

Date format is another tab on the Options box, along with some choices on Names (use of AKA, married names, titles).

On most FTM screens, you can drag columns to be wider or narrower.

A common display problem

It is very easy to accidentally collapse a side panel on various screens, come back later and wonder where some feature has gone. Look for the small solid arrow head with 3 dots either side, embedded in the border – the open/close button.

Managing data

Tracking your tree movements

You can check recent changes to individuals by filtering the People>Tree tab’s index using the History button. Hover over an individual in the index for recent history. (The history list may not be definitive.)

The most recent people you have viewed are listed in  the ‘index card’ drop down next to the ‘pedigree navigation’ bar (in Person tab as well as Publish/Web search workspaces).

For producing a list of (newly added) individuals, see FTM reports.

Historical Events

These are customisable – good to soften the heavily American nature of the events in the default list. ‘Manage Historical Events’ is under the Edit menu – see FTM support Answer ID 4968 for an (old) image.

Note: check FTM 2012 page for an issue managing this in earlier releases.

Moving tree files

Once installed, it is possible to move the FTM tree .ftm file, along with its associated media file, to another location – on your computer or an external drive apparently. (Note: I haven’t done this myself but it is reported in the FTM group on Facebook). If you are syncing, for FTM 2014 the .sync file needs to be moved too –  for FTM 2012 it remains tucked away under Users/[name]/AppData/Roaming.


The default directory for saving media items is named on the same lines as your tree file, with ‘Media’ added at the end. You can however add media from anywhere on your computer (and possibly network). One of the most common issues on restoring or moving trees is the seeming loss of media – check to see if items are in the default directory for the restored/new tree, or perhaps your system is still working on this if there is a large number of items.

The official recommendation is to copy all media to the default directory but opinions differ. Cutlock general practice is to add photographs, records etc gleaned from outside Ancestry to their own dedicated folders. They can then appear in multiple trees without having to be copied again, and can easily be selected for on this website, for instance.

Notes and Tasks

Notes can be attached to individual facts for a person, and each person can have a general note and a research note too. Sources and attached media also have notes fields. With so many possibilities, you may want to restrict which of these you use, for specific purposes.

There are also two types of Tasks – a note for what you want to follow up, which can have a target date and be ticked off. Both display on the FTM ‘front page’ – the Plan screen and a task list can be printed off. The difference is that a person task is firmly attached to an individual, while general tasks aren’t.

Web Search - LocationsSearch and web browser

You can add your own websites to search to a list on the Web Search screen (left hand panel – if not showing see ‘Common display problem’ above). There are 2 buttons at the bottom: New and Manage. You can’t merge the results in the same way as with Ancestry, but you can clip items from the web page to merge in to facts.

Internet Explorer

There is a lot of confusion over what browser is used by FTM when searching Ancestry etc. On Windows,  FTM generally uses functionality from the version of Internet Explorer installed on your computer {see Note}. Having a different browser (Firefox, Chrome etc.) set as default won’t make any difference. So if you are getting warnings about an out-of-date browser:

  • if you use Internet Explorer as your main browser you really need to update anyway,
  • if you don’t use IE, it might be a slight inconvenience to do the update but it will improve security and won’t hit your main browser. (An IE upgrade shouldn’t force the computer to change the browser default.)

To see for yourself that IE is in use on FTM, go to the Internet Properties menu (under Settings) in the full IE browser and change something in the Appearance options – remember to change it back later! For instance set Colors: Background to yellow, orange or such – click OK twice to set. Go to one of the ‘Other search sites’ such as in the example above – the colour background should show.  (It won’t show on well constructed web pages as they will have their own background settings.)

Note: a Facebook discussion (Nov 2016) has seen the boss of Mackiev clarify the position (many thanks):

The embedded browser implementation in FTM is indeed using system IE components, and FTM tries to use the latest available which currently as you point out would be from IE 11. If those are not pre-installed or added through the Windows Update Utility, then FTM will use the latest edition that is available. (There is a small exception here for Vista and XP which cannot use the latest edition, so the IE they use are permanently old).

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