When writing about new or updated programs, I usually write about how easy or difficult the installation process was. In this case, there is little to write as installing the update didn't require much effort! I already had version 3.10 of Family Tree Legends installed on my Windows XP system. Registered users of earlier versions of the program can pay for the upgrade and then simply run the older version. I did that, and a couple of minutes later a window appeared saying that the newly-updated version had automatically been downloaded as a background task and was already installed and ready for use! (You must be connected to the Internet for this to happen.) All I had to do was to exit Family Tree Legends and then restart the program. When I did so, the new version was launched. I cannot imagine an easier installation process.
Of course, if you do not have any version of Family Tree Legends installed, you will need to obtain it on CD-ROM or download it from Pearl Street Software's Web site. Installation via those means is almost as simple as the automatic program update that I encountered.
Family Tree Legends is aimed at all levels of genealogists. It can handle the needs of demanding, experienced genealogists, yet its user interface and liberal use of icons results in one of the easiest to use genealogy programs I have seen. Even inexperienced computer users can get up to speed with this program rather easily. Family Tree Legends, also commonly called "FTL," seems to be always intuitive.
I find it interesting to compare FTL to another popular genealogy program: Family Tree Maker. FTL has screens that look somewhat like those that have been used in past versions of Family Tree Maker. However, the latest Family Tree Maker 2005 changed those screens, much to the chagrin of many experienced users of the program. As a result, several people have pointed out to me that Family Tree Legends' user interface looks more like the traditional Family Tree Maker interface than does the latest version of Family Tree Maker!
Almost all genealogy programs these days will record data, retrieve it, and produce reports. FTL is no exception. However, Family Tree Legends has numerous features that are not found in most other genealogy programs. For one thing, FTL has a tightly integrated online capability that constantly makes backups. To be sure, other programs will make backups, either manually or automatically. A couple of genealogy programs will even make backups online. However, I have never seen another genealogy program that creates backups as painlessly as Family Tree Legends. The program has the capability to produce and constantly update a backup copy of its database that is stored on Pearl Street Software's servers automatically. If connected to the Internet via an always-on broadband connection, the automated backups are made constantly as you add new data. If connecting via dial-up, the updated data is "batched;" that is, data is written to a file on the local hard drive and stored there until an Internet connection is made at a later time. Once connected, the data is then sent to Pearl Street Software's servers, all without user intervention. (You can disable the automatic backups, if you wish.)
If you ever lose all or part of your database due to hardware problems or human error, you can easily retrieve a full backup copy at any time. This same process will also work if you purchase a new computer; install the latest version of Family Tree Legends, and then begin an Internet connection. Your entire genealogy database will be retrieved from Pearl Street Software's servers and made available to you on the new computer within minutes. You do not need to copy data from your old computer to the new one. Pearl Street Software will handle that for you. All of this is done at no extra cost to the user; automated backups and rental of the required file space is included in Family Tree Legends' basic price.
All backup copies are encrypted with a 128-bit encryption key before being sent across the Internet and saved on Pearl Street Software's servers. Backups are visible to you alone unless you specify otherwise.
The automated storage of your genealogy data on centralized servers opens other possibilities as well. Pearl Street Software will (optionally) display your data as Web pages. In other words, you can automatically publish your data on the Web as your personal home page. You don’t even need to upload a separate copy since the data was already transferred as a backup copy during that data entry process. Pearl Street Software’s servers can use your backup data to create Web pages for you and will even automatically update the pages if you add more data in the future. If you make a minor change to your database, such as adding one person or correcting a single date, your changes are reflected on your personal Web page for everyone to see within seconds.
Again, the publishing of data on the Web is optional. The user can specify to never publish the data. Should he or she decide to publish, the user also can specify several different levels of privatization: show data about living individuals or not, show names but not places or dates, and so forth.
The best part of Family Tree Legends, however, may be its SmartMatching technology. The program compares data in its local database with information from other users of the program, as stored on GenCircle's Web servers. If the program finds possible matches to data on your system, including new ancestors, descendants, or other relatives, you can look at the new data and can even (optionally) import the new data, if you wishes. Conceivably, this could add hundreds or even thousands of new people to your family tree.
Family Tree Legends seems to do a better job of finding people than most of the other online databases. It really shines when searching for common surnames. Other online databases search for names, and most of them will also try to identify the years. However, it is common to search online for John Smith in Arkansas in 1840 and then find men of the same name 40 or 50 years later in Oregon, Alaska, or Massachusetts. Sure, they might be the same person, but how do you pick out the right one from the hundreds of records displayed on the screen?
FTL's SmartMatching does not display hundreds of hits for one person. Instead, it shows one occurrence of the name and then has links to sources of the information. These links are sorted in a manner defined by supporting evidence in other records. Family Tree Legends "votes" on matching records. First, it finds matching bits of information in other records. For instance, it may find a name and birth date in your database and then look for matching records. Some of those records may have the same name and birth date as well as a death date that you do not know. It is assumed that these new records match. Then these newly-found records are compared against the entire database. Now, perhaps a person with the same name and the same death date is found in still more records that also show the names of parents. Again, this data is a match, even though it contains still more data not found in your database. This is a form of intelligent linking. The search algorithms also handle conflicting data by two methods: (1.) by voting to see if there are additional records that corroborate the data, and (2.) by showing both of the conflicting items to the user for his or her decision. In the case of conflicting data, the user may choose to ignore the new data, replace the old data with the new data, or else add the new data as a secondary record that is subservient to the older data. That last option is a good method of recording "possibilities" that need further investigation.
When I used SmartMatching for the first time, I was very impressed with its accuracy. When I clicked on an icon, Family Tree Legends automatically sent my data of about 3,000 people to the Web server and then advised me to check back in a few hours. When I did so, I found that the software had returned several hundred matches. In many cases, the newly delivered information included data about parents, spouses, and siblings. I scanned through the list and could not find one single entry that was NOT an ancestor of mine! In my case, it was 100% accurate. Every single person listed is, indeed, an ancestor of mine. I have never seen that degree of accuracy on any other online data matching service that I have ever used. Each listing gave details and, in some cases, might have contained new information that I did not have previously. The company owners assured me that this is a typical experience. They say that they have seen a handful of mismatches, but the mismatches are rare. This program’s online name-matching database is amazing.
I found that I could either immediately merge all the data from GenCircle.com’s displayed record into my local record of that individual, or else I could go through a step-by-step merge. The step-by-step merge takes the user through each piece of data, one at a time, and prompts the user to choose whether or not to copy each fact to the local database. I certainly recommend you use the second option, reviewing each piece of information before adding it to your primary database. If you find a questionable piece of information, skip over that one, and come back to it later after you have verified the data.
The merge process also contains several options for merging source citations. I would suggest that you select the option to copy all source citations from the GenCircles.com database along with the words, "via GenCircles," to each of those citations. That makes it easy to identify and verify those citations later. (I never believe anyone else’s citations; I always want to verify them for myself.)
Another feature that seems to be unique to Family Tree Legends is GenGrams: the ability to communicate with other Family Tree Legends users instantly over a secure, encrypted network. This allows you to share text messages, scrapbook images, and file data.
Another feature of Family Tree Legends is WebFacts – data pieces that can be searched online. For instance, if you find a new record that specifies a town that you have never heard of, you can right-click on the town’s name, and a pop-up menu will appear. This menu allows the user to search for information on the Web about that place. The information obtained typically includes the geographical coordination, elevation, aerial photos, road maps, and more. It will also find surrounding locations, such as courthouses in adjacent towns or counties.
Version 4.0 has added Family Books. These "books" can produce genealogy information in a number of formats that non-genealogists can understand. You can add any number of reports, charts, and text items to your book. Best of all, you can save your book as a PDF (Adobe Acrobat format). Such books can be printed, stored on CD, stored on a Web site or sent via e-mail. Anyone with a PC, Macintosh, or Linux system can read your Family Book.
Version 4.0 of Family Tree Legends also introduces Chart Templates. The user may now select from more than 30 different templates with a variety of styles and backgrounds. You can also export your charts to a file (as an image) so that you can work with them in a graphics editing program. Family Tree Legends can export a Chart to an Image File in the following formats: Adobe PDF (.pdf), Bitmap (.bmp), JPEG (.jpg), PNG (.png), TIFF (.tif), TGA (.tfa), or PCX (.pcx). You can learn more about the Chart Templates at http://www.familytreelegends.com/software/tour/charts/1.
Other improvements found in version 4.0 include:
• Improved Pedigree Reports - Now you can build cascading pedigree reports in a similar fashion to PAF.
• Descendant Report Numbering - You can now choose between FTL Standard, NGS Quarterly, Register, Henry, and D'Aboville numbering for descendant reports.
• Faster, Better, Bigger - The reporting engine now renders reports faster and allows for much bigger reports to be generated.
You can learn more about the reports at http://www.familytreelegends.com/software/tour/reports/1.
• Improved Navigation Window - The Navigation window now allows you to roll over a person to see their basic details. Plus, you can view a person's spouses and children.
• Source Memorization - Recall the last several sources that you've used and easily apply them to new items.
• Improved Searching - Search by Alternate names, Soundex, and Notes.
• Index of Individuals - Now includes Aliases in the Index.
• Photo Publishing - Publish scrapbook images to your Family Tree Legends homepage with ease. One click, and your image is uploaded to the Web.
• Adjust Image Brightness & Contrast- Fine tune your images to your liking by adjusting brightness and contrast.
• Negative Image Filter - Great for black & white photos.
• Better GEDCOM Support - GEDCOM importing and exporting of scrapbook items has been greatly improved and now works in a more standardized manner.
Customizable Toolbar - Add more features to your toolbar and customize it according to your preferences.
As much as I have written above, I still have hardly described all the features of Family Tree Legends version 4.0. For more information, you can take a "tour" of the program at http://www.familytreelegends.com/software/tour. The tour will show most of the data entry screens and point out the major features of the program. You can also view a long list of most of the program's features at http://www.familytreelegends.com/software/features.
Family Tree Legends version 4.0 requires Windows 95, 98, 98 SE, ME, 2000 or XP operating system. It also requires a 166 MHz or faster processor, 30 megabytes of disk space and 32 megabytes of RAM memory. In short, it will run on most Windows computers built in the past few years. Internet access is needed only for the optional backup, SmartMatching, and Web publishing features.
All in all, I am very impressed with Family Tree Legends. This program has matured into a full-featured genealogy program that competes head-to-head with the established market leaders. Version 4.0 is powerful and easy to use. It is also price-competitive. If you are looking for your first Windows genealogy program, or if you are not happy with the program you are presently using, I would strongly suggest that you try Family Tree Legends. The program has a full 30-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee; so, what do you have to lose?
Family Tree Legends version 4.0 sells for only $29.95 (U.S. funds). The program may be downloaded online, and it will also soon appear in retail stores all around the U.S.
Registered users of earlier versions of Family Tree Legends may upgrade to version 4 for only $19.95 if they bought the program before May 31, 2004. If they bought it on June 1, 2004 or later, the upgrade to version 4.0 is free of charge.
For more information about Family Tree Legends or to safely order it online, go to: http://www.familytreelegends.com