Video Guide to Using PC Genealogy Software on Mac

You can run PC genealogy applications (like Family Tree Maker 2012 and RootsMagic) on your Mac, even if it’s just as a supplement to your primary Mac genealogy software.

There are features in the best Windows genealogy software that aren’t in Mac offerings. Family Tree Maker 2012’s ability to synchronize with and RootsMagic’s full-featured narrative reports spring to mind.

There are essentially three approaches to running PC software:

  • Run Windows on your Mac in a “virtual PC”
  • Make your Mac boot into either OS X or Windows using BootCamp
  • Use a piece of software to do for your genealogy software what Windows would (Windows emulation)


Let’s get this one out of the way right away. I don’t want to reboot every time I want to use Windows genealogy software. It’s too disruptive and I can’t use my favorite apps alongside my favorite PC genealogy software. BootCamp isn’t an option for me.

Windows Emulation

If you can’t afford or don’t want to buy Windows there’s the option of installing a Windows emulator. Well, there’s one option, called Wine. Jonathan Bejarano has published a video demonstrating how to install RootsMagic using Wine.

I’ve tried this as well. I found the installation to be complex and experienced hiccups. You get what you pay for. I’ve found that my limited genealogy time is very valuable so I want to use it for research and creating a treasured family history not dealing with quirky software.

Oh, and the genealogy software that is known to actually work with it is extremely limited. No problem if you want RootsMagic. Not so much otherwise.

One related solution I’ve covered previously is using CrossOver Mac to run RootsMagic on your Mac. I tried it for a while and found that the experience wasn’t smooth. CrossOver Mac uses Wine under the covers, so that’s no surprise.

Virtual PC

So, I prefer a virtual computer. I’ve successfully used VMware Fusion 4 and Parallels Desktop. My beef with those two is that they’re expensive especially when already springing for a copy of Windows.

I’m now using an alternative called VirtualBox. It does for me what the others do and it’s free. I’ve figured out how to make it integrate well with OS X and I’ll share my secrets with you in the accompanying videos.

Getting the Necessary Software

  1. Buy Windows 7 if you don’t already own it
  2. Choose and buy a PC genealogy application if you don’t already own it; I recommend FTM 2012 or RootsMagic
  3. Download “VirtualBox for OSX hosts”

Installing VirtualBox and Windows

  1. Install VirtualBox on Your Mac
  2. Create a virtual machine for Windows 7 in VirtualBox
  3. Install Windows 7 in VirtualBox
  4. Update Windows 7

Installing VirtualBox

Installing Windows 7

You can avoid installing anti-virus software, which slows down your virtual machine, if you don’t browse the web, download software, or execute any other programs than your genealogy application on Windows.

There’s another piece of VirtualBox you’ll want to install before moving on to loading your genealogy software.

Install Guest Additions

VirtualBox includes a bit of software called guest additions, that helps Windows operate better with your Mac. It enables you to do things like copy and paste between Mac and Windows programs. Unfortunately, it’s not installed automatically. This video will show you how to install guest additions.

Installing PC Genealogy Software

Next you’ll install your chosen genealogy software. Videos demonstrating the installation of my favorites, RootsMagic and FTM 2012, follow. If you prefer some other program just follow whatever instructions are provided with it.

Family Tree Maker 2012

RootsMagic 5

Setting Up VirtualBox and Windows

Now that you’ve got your virtual PC, Windows, and PC genealogy software installed it’s time to make them play nicely together. I’ve discovered what configurations work best and share them with you in this video exclusively for GenealogyTools members.

It will show you, step-by-step, how to:

  • Choose a window mode that feels comfortable for you
  • Share your Mac home folder with Windows which will make it simple to use the files (like photos) you already have with your new PC genealogy software
  • Prevent OS X’s dock and Window’s task-bar from overlapping to eliminate confusion
  • Getting you to work faster by turning off the Windows password prompt and configuring your PC genealogy software to launch automatically when you start your virtual PC
  • Switch between your running Mac applications and PC genealogy software
  • Start Windows and your PC genealogy software in a tiny fraction of the time taken when shutting down and restarting your virtual PC

Network and Printer

Networking works out-of-the-box. VirtualBox transparently share’s your Mac’s network connection with Windows. The news isn’t quite as good for your printer.

You’ll need to install the Windows drivers for your printer. The process varies by printer so I can’t show you how. Just insert the installation CD and capture it with virtual box just like you did with the Windows CD during the “Installing Windows 7 in VirutalBox” video, or download and run the installation driver from the manufacturer’s website.

Next Steps

If you’ve made it to this point without actually carrying out the instructions above, what are you waiting for? You can have access to the productivity enhancing features that only exist in PC genealogy software. Go back up to the Getting the Necessary Software section to get going. You can do it!


  1. pmm says

    I bought FTM-Mac2 and have been so frustrated with it like everyone else, so recently downloaded a GEDCOM from my Ancestry tree (which is my most current tree) and pulled it in to Reunion. It’s quite a slog though- there are citations and misc. in places they don’t need to be, citations are duplicated, and events are mixed in but not specifically separate like I think they should be. I did a merge but am having to go through person by person, fixing the files in Reunion- what a waste of precious genealogy time, as you said, Ben. Although Reunion is old it IS stable, but not as easy to use as I hoped it would be. So your article is timely, as I must get started writing in a narrative style so that I can get all this info out to family. I don’t think Ancestry allows reports like they used to (please let me know if I am wrong), so I have been thinking of buying the new FTM-Win, synching with my Ancestry tree, and running that via VMware which I already have, or else trying RootsMagic (but then I have to use GEDCOM rather than the sync). How well does the new FTM-Win pull data over from Ancestry in a sync? I want to keep images with the info- will the new FTM-Win port over censuses and graphics better than the Mac version? Just how good is the new FTM for Windows when working with it on a daily basis? The Mac version only allowed synching with one tree- will the Win version do more? Or is RootsMagic just a superior program to the new FTM? TIA for any advice as to which direction to head- changing software programs is definitely not pretty, and I have wasted probably a year on trying to make a change.

  2. Eileen Fullenwider says

    I need help with roots magic 5. I had to give my old computer to my husband but it has XP, now I am stuck with Windows 7,,,can’t find all my stucc or get it sync over properly… there are a few struggles.

    What do you suggest.

    Thanx. Eileen

  3. says

    Hi Ben, this is a very helpful article. I certainly am glad I found your site.

    I am amazed (perhaps inordinately so) that it will be the year 2013 tomorrow, and the Mac platform is still treated as a ghetto by genealogy software companies. I can only surmise that the majority of genealogy enthusiasts skews older than the majority of Mac users…? But that doesn’t make sense to me either — my parents are in their mid-70s, still have trouble recording TV shows, yet seldom require my help troubleshooting their Macs. But I digress.

    As I mentioned in a comment on Keith’s review of FTMM2, disadvantageous state of Mac genealogy software has me thinking of going the VirtualBox route. However, I figure if I’m going to that much trouble, I might as well use the most professional-level genealogy software, which by all accounts is The Master Genealogist. TMG is up to v.8 now, but the only authoritative guide I can find to running TMG through a virtualization on a Mac is this one, which refers to TMG7.

    So, uh… I don’t suppose you’re planning another tutorial here using VirtualBox and TMG8, by any chance?

  4. Keith says

    I tried most of the methods Ben describes above. Virtualbox works well, it’s free, and Oracle continues to improve it. VMWare Fusion seems to run a little faster, but it’s expensive; I only got it because I found a good deal on it. Unlike Ben, I have had good experiences with WINE, including Wineskin and especially Crossover. I am successfully running RootsMagic 5 using Crossover. I really like RootsMagic because it imports and exports GEDCOM files with very few problems. It handles sources and media well, includes integration with FamilySearch, and has lots of reports, tools, and other features. I have not yet tried version 6 to see if it works in CrossOver, but they have a free version that you can use which has fewer features. RootsMagic has received many favorable reviews, including by Tamura Jones, who is a brilliant genealogy software reviewer and commentator; he has awarded RootsMagic the Best Genealogy Product for 2011 & 2012. They are supposed to be releasing a Mac version in the near future. However, Tamura is not so complimentary of The Master Genealogist. He said that they charged for fixes that should have been free when they released version 8 and still didn’t fix a lot of things. Also, be sure to read the reviews at, especially the one by Dr. Sidney Barnard. The good thing is that TMG has a free trial.

    Have you had a look at Reunion 10? It’s written specifically for the Mac and is recommended by many people. Ben has a feature comparison chart at They have a free trial with limitations, but if you email their support department at, they will give you a registration code that removes the limitations for about 5 days. If syncing with a family tree website like Ancestry or FamilySearch wasn’t important to me, I would use Reunion. Reunion can search FamilySearch, but it can’t sync with it.

    • pmm says

      I love the new Reunion 10- the long-awaited update really brought it up to Mac standards, look, and feel. However, the reports are really disappointing, and that is what I am most interested in. I did have some problems with bugs- not a problem in the old version, but the developers were working on getting things fixed. I decided to switch programs though before I had invested too much into Reunion 10, as I was hoping to get family history books done for the family for Christmas. I haven’t updated or looked at Reunion for ~ 6 months.

      I tried TMG a number of years ago but for a person who only wants the technology to be easy so I can focus on the work, it had too steep a learning curve. (YMMV)

      I gave up on FTM2 (see my above post) so last summer I switched to Legacy using VMfusion, partly because I was thinking of using Heritage Collector. The Legacy reports are wonderful, it’s not as troublesome to run a Windows pgm as I had anticipated, but it isn’t Mac software… and it’s not as easy to import pictures from the Mac as it was in Reunion. There is so much to fix from the Ancestry GEDCOM file (my most current tree) that I just haven’t gotten it done.

      I had previously thought about trying RootsMagic, as a friend has long used it and loves it. Does RootsMagic transfer any of the sources or media with GEDCOM? (From Ancestry tree -> RootsMagic) Will I need to go back and change them all to more traditional citations?

      I have just been so frustrated by the software that instead I have been working on organizing files and creating timelines in Excel, and doing more research that really needs to be added to a tree. So I really don’t have a useful personal program at the moment, which is distressing. I need to make a decision and stick with it.

      • Keith says

        To answer your questions about RootsMagic, if there are sources or media links in your GEDCOM file, RootsMagic may be able to import them. It will import sources and citations into free-form format, as there is no industry-wide standard for source templates. RootsMagic can import media, as long as they are located on your computer at the location specified by the links in the GEDCOM file (e.g., C:\Users\Username\Documents\Family Tree Maker\Tree Media). The problem with trying to transfer your tree from Ancestry to RootsMagic is that when you export your tree to a GEDCOM, the media links are to files on the Ancestry server, not your computer, so RootsMagic would not be able to import them. The only way around this that I can think of (short of manually downloading all your media and manually importing them to RootsMagic) would be to find someone who has the Windows version of Family Tree Maker 2012. Ask them to import your tree into FTM, export it to a GEDCOM file, and give you the GEDCOM file and Media folder. You’d have to do a few other things, like change the media links in the GEDCOM to match your computer, but I suspect you will not want to go this route. The reason you would have to use FTM for Windows is that FTM for Mac cannot export media links in a GEDCOM file (one of the features missing from the Mac version, despite having to pay more for it). You could download your Ancestry tree into FTMM2, and this would at least get all of your media onto your computer. Then you would just have to manually import them into RootsMagic.

        Regardless of the software you end up using, it will require some work to get your media from your Ancestry tree into the software. And Ancestry as well as FTM GEDCOM files are notorious for not complying with the GEDCOM standard (such as it is). So I’m not surprised that there are things to fix in your Ancestry GEDCOM.

        • Pmm says

          Thanks for the detailed info, Keith. Looks like it would be just as time-consuming to move through these other programs as it would be just to add things manually to the new program. I am glad that I usually save items found on Ancestry to my computer as well- that gives me a bit of a start. It also helps accuracy to go back through the data, especially once one gets down the road a bit with the research, so I will just stop searching for something better and get moving with Legacy.

  5. says

    oh man. i am just starting out and have a genealogist that is going to help me input into RootsMagic 6. But I run on a MAC. is it not going to be worth it to me to download it with crossover? RootsMagic 6 is her preferred program and I don’t want to lose her help. what parts will I be missing out on? thanks for any and all help.

    • Ben Sayer says

      Hi Lindsey.

      To run RootsMagic 6 on a Mac I recommend using VirtualBox (which is a free download from virtual rather than Crossover. You’ll need to buy a Windows license either way, but you can’t go wrong with RootsMagic.

      —-Ben >@<

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