The shifting landscape of computer software

8 years ago

By now if you rely on genealogical software and a computer to organize and store your genealogical records, you’ve probably heard that Ancestry is abandoning support for Family Tree Maker (FTM) software in 2017.

After years of using FTM I have to face that my software will become an orphan and in the computer world that is not good. While your software may work for years to come there are dangers on relying on software once its support system is gone.

Like it or not, FTM users must find and transfer existing files to a new software program. There may be some items that won’t transfer and will have to be entered by hand. After my first stunned reaction I set out trying to research alternatives and to figure out how I’m going to handle all this. I talked with a friend who is my go-to person for the latest in software advice. He reassured me that most of my data should transfer.

For those of you using FTM, don’t panic. You have time to try out other software before plunging into a new program but don’t wait until the last minute. I suggest you talk to other people about what they are using and do some online research on your own.

Most software manufacturers will allow you to download a free sample program or try their product for a limited time before charging you. I suggest you take advantage of that before purchasing to be sure you are comfortable with a new program and that it does all that you want it to.

For those of you not using FTM there are lessons to learn here. First, always update your software when there are new releases. Don’t lag too far behind the latest release lest someday you find that a new computer and operating system will no longer accept your outdated software. For example we own an ancient laptop which runs Windows 3.1. The laptop still works but there is no software out there that runs on Windows 3.1. So, keep your genealogical software up to date.

Second, make sure you have at least one good backup of your genealogical data. If you back up to the cloud (for those of you non-techie types that just means you pay to back up your data using the Internet to an offsite computer system) or who back up to an external hard drive, DVD, or some other device, keep your backups up to date and be sure one copy is stored away from your house.

Don’t risk years of work with no parachute to rescue you if something goes wrong. My cousin had a friend help him with a computer problem. His helpful friend reset the entire system and in the process my cousin’s entire genealogical database was erased. And, my cousin had no backup! Ouch! Take this as a warning.

I’ve already chosen my replacement software for FTM. After over 20 years of loyal FTM usage, I am learning a new system. So far, all my data transferred okay but there are some photos which didn’t. I have backups, my still-functional edition of FTM on my laptop, and one year to get my act in order. For those of you who are in the same boat with me, I wish you good luck.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at Her semimonthly column is sponsored by the Aroostook County Genealogical Society which meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Caribou Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.