MacFamilyTree 5.3 Beta Review

A beautiful, capable, moderately priced Macintosh genealogy application.

Product Overview

MacFamilyTree is one of the most popular genealogy data management programs for Macintosh. With it one can store, update, explore, and report on family history data. The data can consist of names, events, sources, notes, and multimedia files (images, video, sound). Interacting with family data is done via nested data entry panels and slick diagrams. A basic selection of charts and reports are provided and can be customized, viewed on-screen, and printed. The application integrates tightly with iPhoto, the web (via MobileMe or a free page hosted by Synium), Google Earth, and the iPhone (via a separate product, MobileFamilyTree).

Licensing

MacFamilyTree is compatible with Intel and PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X versions 10.4 (tiger) to 10.5 (leopard). There is a graphics card requirement (ATI Radeon 7500 or GeForce 4 MX Graphics Card or Intel GMA 950 or better) due to its stunning graphics. A new copy will cost you $49.00 USD while an upgrade runs $25.00 USD. There is a competitive upgrade incentive that will net you a 25% discount on the regular price if you can prove you bought a competing product. A limited demo version is available for download.

Observations

A comprehensive table of features is provided in the Macintosh Genealogy Software Feature Comparison. This section describes remarkable functionality and behaviors observed or found lacking during my evaluation. Each application reviewed in this series was subjected to the same set of scenarios designed to represent normal usage.

Data Entry

The MacFamilyTree interface is generally easy to navigate. The “Navigation Bar” is helpful in this regard. Bookmarks for people and families make returning to commonly or actively researched subjects quick and easy. There are fields for some data that one must navigate more deeply to reach. For example, setting the country for event locations takes an extra step. If you include the country in events like I do you may also find this annoying.

Dates

Dates are not automatically formatted upon entry. To me, this is like intermittent wipers on a car—one can manufacture a car without the feature, but why? It’s everywhere else, so the lack in this product makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Dates can be reformatted, but one has to use the “Database Maintenance Editor” to accomplish it.

Events

Event support overall is solid. Events can have associated icons which simplify locating them in a list. There is a notable, additional event type: miscarriage. Unfortunately, one cannot create custom event types. There is an “other event” type that, when coupled with descriptive text, is an acceptable work around. All event types have the same fields, so the type is just a categorization tool—it doesn’t change what data is collected.

Relationships

Determining relationships is problematic in MacFamilyTree. This may be because parental relationships such as adopted, step, and foster are applied to a family not individuals. This causes inaccurate representation of relationships in the family charts, views, and reports (see the Reports section for details).

That said, the “Person Chart” graphical view of a section of the family tree clearly illustrates relationships and makes navigation simple; although, it could be improved by providing a visual indicator of connected, but un-displayed people. A new feature in the beta version of the software is the differentiation of graphical depiction of relationships in the person chart; a natural relationship is indicated with a solid line while a non-natural one is represented by a dashed line.

Citations

Source data entry and citation is generally good, but could be improved by more granularity. Sources are cited at a high level. For example, birth date and birth place are cited together in a “topic” called “birth.” Source citations can be applied to persons, events, families, and media.

Source record types cannot be customized. The source fields are limited to:

  • title
  • author
  • publication
  • page
  • abbreviation
  • date
  • place
  • authority
  • reference number
  • reference type
  • credibility
  • label
  • notes
  • media

There are a couple of wonderful surprises in the supported source data. Sources can be rated “unreliable,” “questionable,” “second hand information,” or “first hand information.” They can also be labeled “important,” “incomplete,” or “noteworthy.” Sources can contain pictures, audio, and video. These media files can also have their own source records. Very nice!

There is no report listing of all sources in the database.

Management Tools

The database tools are minimal. They provide the ability to change date formats en masse, remove “empty entries,” and search for mismatched partners.

MacFamilyTree includes a media browser. I’m not sure that it’s especially useful, but it is pretty. Audio, images, and video can be added to a person or source, but the media browser is limited to images.

There is no automated way to list people who are not connected to others. It can be accomplished manually by looking for isolated people in the “virtual tree.”

Comparing, Merging, and Splitting Trees

There is no facility for comparing, merging, nor splitting databases in their native format. While one can export a database to GEDCOM format, then import it into another database, it shouldn’t be necessary to go through all those steps.

GEDCOM Import

Joining a GEDCOM file to a database is easy and feels natural. There are two approaches that can be taken. Firstly, the GEDCOM can be joined using the “Append GEDCOM File to current Tree…” feature found on the “Special” menu. This is best used when the GEDCOM data does not include any duplicate people. After this merge, one needs only to connect a person in the original database to their parent(s) in the joined data. Be careful to establish these connections by adding the child to the family, rather than adding the parents to the child. Doing the latter will create a duplicate family in the database. Lastly, one can use a feature, also on the “Special” menu, called “Merge GEDCOM File with current Tree…” to do just that. Use this when the GEDCOM file to be joined has, or may have, entries that duplicate one or more already in the database. The software will identify the duplicates and on a case-by-case basis, allow one to indicate which entry to replace.

GEDCOM Export

The GEDCOM export file I generated as a test contained many tags that are not defined in the GEDCOM 5.5 standard. This data will likely not transfer to other genealogy databases.

Charts

MacFamilyTree includes support for common charts (ancestor, descendant, family, fan, and timeline) as well as some unusual ones.

The virtual tree is a three-dimensional view that includes ancestors and descendants of the selected person. See the virtual tree glossary entry for more information and a picture.

There is a chart in MacFamilyTree that I was previously unfamiliar with. It’s called a genogram and it’s used to depict a person’s relationships (family, emotional, and social) and medical history. Genograms typically have specific symbols to represent family and emotional relationships as well as medical conditions. Unfortunately, MacFamilyTree’s nascent implementation includes only basic social relationship symbols and no emotional or medical symbols. It also has anomalies in the information it does display. For example, the genogram incorrectly shows my maternal grandmother as deceased. It also did not include adoptive parents even after checking the box in the view options.

The Virtual globe is informative, but faulty. It plots events on a globe that can be manipulated in three dimensions. Unfortunately, the data it gets from the “Look Up Coordinates” feature is often incorrect. Once I corrected the obvious errors (e.g. Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan being on the other side of the planet in Cyprus and Fine, St. Lawrence, New York being in South America) I found looking at the geographic proximity of events on the virtual globe to be intriguing. The events in a person’s life are shown as interconnected dots.

The statistics chart is a multi-function chart that allows one to view the following data in either a bar or line graph:

  • age of living persons
  • age at death
  • children per family
  • year of birth
  • year of death
  • month of birth
  • month of death

Reports

Several reports are supported by the application: list of persons, person, place, event, distinctive persons, and birthdays. Several other basic reports are missing. See the Macintosh Genealogy Software Comparison for details.

The Kinship Report does not correctly show half-sibling relationships. Nor does it show adoptive parents. In my tests it listed a woman as an aunt, who was neither the sister of the person’s father or mother, nor the wife of an uncle. In fact, she is the first wife of the person’s biological father. As expected, these kinship identification errors are also in the kinship section of the person report.

Integration

Integration is a competitive advantage for MacFamilyTree. One can launch Google Earth from the “General Information” panel. A separate product, MobileFamilyTree, can synchronize MacFamilyTree databases to an iPhone. When choosing images to add to a record, the application can present lists of images in the iPhoto library and albums. This level of integration is one of the aspects that make using a Mac feel so right. It’s great to be able to experience it in a genealogy application.

Help and Support

I’m giving MacFamilyTree the benefit of the doubt with respect to bugs I encountered during my review process since I’m reviewing a beta version; however, judging by the questions and comments on Synium’s online forum, they’ve got some work to do to make this product as solid as Reunion 9 and iFamily for Leopard.

The “Help” menu contains a link to the online forums where any question you may have has likely been addressed. There is a spartan users guide in portable document format (PDF) that is also accessible from the “Help” menu. Its coverage of installation and registration of the application is thorough. The main features and functions of the application are given only cursory treatment. Finally, there is a tutorial document that covers much of the same information in the users guide. It also includes answers to frequently asked questions. Its use of screenshots with call-outs make the information clear.

Recommendations

MacFamilyTree is a promising genealogy database application. It’s well suited to family historians who highly value the way an application looks. It’s a particularly good fit for those who want their data on their iPhone and those who want hassle-free, no cost web publishing.

Comments

  1. Paul says

    I'm new to Mac, will purchase Reunion because of the vote and your evaluations. My PC program is RootsMagic which I have used for several years and updates.

    I look forward to your comments and helps as I move to making the Reunion the primary program.

  2. doug says

    I've been using MFT for most of this year. To me, it's strength is that you can attach photos, PDFs and other media to events, as opposed to people. For example, wedding photos appear with a marriage record, baby pictures with a birth, etc. Each photo can have a note, so it's easy to store plenty of information about the photo.

    Also, people and events can have multiple notes, which can be a workaround for the lack of certain fields.

    I've been frustrated by persistent bugs in MFT, particularly in relation to the way the software displays kinship. But on the plus side, Synium appears to be trying to be responsive. It appears the latest version of 5.3 is *almost* there.

  3. doug says

    FYI, Synium released 5.3.2 today (10/31/08) which finally fixed an annoying bug in that great-great-great grandparents were labeled great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents (eight greats, no joke). 5.3.1, which came out a couple of weeks ago,seems to have fixed errors in generating kinship tables.

  4. says

    I need help changing a Beta ged com (PC) from Heritage.com into
    a 5.5 ged com so I can transfer the info into the Mac’s Reunion
    software and also into the Ancestry.com Family Tree Builder software.
    Any ideas? I appreciate it! Anne

    • says

      Hi, Anne.

      I recommend contacting the folks in support at Leister Productions, the makers of Reunion for Mac. I think they’ll be most capable of helping.

      —Ben

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