History. It’s all in the past, you may scoff. It’s all dates. And currants, and brandy… Wait a minute, that’s the recipe for a Christmas pudding, and you may scoff that as well. Oh no, it’s happening again – we’ve been Christmassed to death over the past month or so and even though the actual day has passed, the carols still echo insidiously inside our ear-drums, the mince pie stench permeates our nostrils, the blazing glow of the fairy lights, reflected dazzlingly by four score and ten gaudy baubles… the imprints run deep into the mind.
So what better way to finally get over that traumatic time of the year than by researching your family tree in the new year? You could do this the hard way, by spending hours on the phone to long-lost relatives and days poring over musty archives. Or there’s the easy path, which is to buy a program such as Family Tree Maker 2005 and get it to do the grafting for you. At least, this is the theory.
Family Tree Maker 2005 provides two services. The first is the organisation and presentation of the tree itself, while the second is the online services and CD-ROM archives to actually help trace the roots of your family.
In terms of the former, the program is very ably designed. The instruction booklet provides a clear and easy-to-follow tutorial on how to lay out your tree, so you’ll have this side of Family Tree Maker 2005 sussed pretty quickly. The interface is commendably user-friendly, with useful shortcut keys and handy extras like the auto-completion of text (which is great when you’re typing in the same surnames over and over again). There are several different tree views which can be printed off with some impressive looking results.
So that’s all good. However, when we came to the actual tree tracing process, the road didn’t run quite as smoothly. The bundled CD-ROMs, which feature Parish, Census and British Chancery records, proved rather awkward to navigate. The whole interface and search process utilised by these five CDs is rather ropey. We didn’t turn up any useful information on our two test trees in here, unfortunately, and it was a frustrating search to boot.
The program’s online search facility was also baffling, as initially we didn’t sign up for the correct UK records subscription. Although technical support did clear this up for us eventually, we think Family Tree Maker 2005 could do with making this whole subscription process a lot clearer. Incidentally, you’ll need to give a credit card number to subscribe and although you get a month’s free trial with the deluxe version, payment is required to continue beyond that.
Once we had the online search up and running, we again couldn’t turn up any information for our two test trees, which was pretty disappointing. This search facility could also do with more filters, as we had to wade through mountains of US-related results which we knew were irrelevant, yet still filled pages and pages of screens. Americans will doubtless have more joy than us Brits when it comes to these online resources.
Naturally, your mileage might vary and it’s not really fair to totally shoot a program down on the basis of two family trees. As a final experiment, we ran a couple more random test searches on family names we plucked from the Internet, and Family Tree Maker 2005 did come up trumps with some results for one of these. So it does indeed work at times, but we can only end this review by pointing to our own personal experiences, which weren’t particularly good.
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