12 October 2021

What You're Losing With Your Private Family Tree

My family tree software almost gave me a heart attack. I routinely make a backup of my Family Tree Maker file after working on it for a while. It's not uncommon for me to make 3 or 4 backups in a long day of research. Then I close and compact my file before I synchronize any changes with Ancestry.com.

Still, there's a feeling of dread when my file takes to long to respond. Last week the FTM program stopped dead. I'd opened my family tree file to make one change and output an updated family tree chart. I began clicking my way up the generations, trying to get to the eldest Ohama in my husband's family tree.

But I couldn't click anything! Nothing was responding. I decided to leave it alone and do something else for a while. But the program was still stuck. After an hour, I held my breath and killed it.

When I relaunched Family Tree Maker, I saw the expected error message. I clicked Continue. I was confident I'd made only one edit that day, so I restored my tree from the full backup I made the day before.

Everything was fine! I repeated the change I made earlier and output that family tree chart I wanted.

Why do I stick with Family Tree Maker when it can cause me so much worry? Because I can share my up-to-date, uneditable family tree with every member of Ancestry.com. I want people to find my research, but I don't want them to change it. The shared trees of Family Search, Geni, and elsewhere are horrifying to a control freak like me. Plus, Ancestry has the best interface for viewing a family tree.

Share your family tree on a big stage for your own benefit.
Share your family tree on a big stage for your own benefit.

I've been building two other family trees lately that I'm not sharing online. One is for my son's girlfriend and one is for my college roommate. These trees don't belong online because I wasn't asked to share this information.

But my enormous family tree is another story. When the Italian government started posting vital records online in 2017, my genealogy goal changed.

I'm not satisfied with documenting my direct ancestors and cousins. I want to connect everyone from my ancestral hometowns. I don't care if someone is the mother-in-law of the 2nd husband of my 1st cousin 5 times removed. She's from one of my towns and has a connection to me. She belongs in my tree.

Strangers often thank me for the people, facts, and documents I've put together for their family. Sometimes they turn out to be a DNA match to my parents or me.

When all goes well, I can build onto my new contact's branch of the family. I can follow their ancestors to America, picking up what might otherwise have been a dead end. Sharing your family tree is the surest way to open up those dead ends.

The latest person to write and thank me for his ancestors turns out to be my 5th cousin once removed. Just knowing who my mom's 5th cousin is blows my mind. Thank you, internet.

This week I'm gathering vital records for his ancestors, adding them to my family tree, and sharing them with him on Ancestry. To me, this is the ideal collaboration. Don't touch my work. But let's work together. We can benefit one another.

You can talk to me all day long about your preferred family tree software. But nothing compares to the combination of Family Tree Maker on my desktop and Ancestry.com.

05 October 2021

Free and Easy-to-Use 4-Generation Family Tree Chart

I found a very nice family tree template in a surprising place. It seems perfect for those times when you're building a tree for a friend. Or showing a cousin why family trees are so amazing.

To find this free template, launch Microsoft Excel and click the link for More templates. Search for Family tree generator. (Or download it now.) When you open the template you'll see two tabs: Family Members and Family Tree. When you enter names on the Family Members tab, you're generating a chart on the Family Tree tab. It's pretty cool.

When you're explaining family relationships to someone, this simple visualization is a big help.
When you're explaining family relationships to someone, this simple visualization is a big help.

As an example, I entered a pair of my 4th great grandparents in the Grand Parents fields of the spreadsheet. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Click the spreadsheet's Reset Family button to empty all the sample names from the fields.
  • Enter the names of the ancestor couple you've chosen. For me, that's Francesco Iamarino and Cristina Iapozzuto. While the original template uses only first names, I want to use first and last names.
    • If you use both names, you'll need to turn on Wrap Text for the rows of names, and adjust the row height.
    • To do this, use your mouse to select rows 10 through 50 or so. Select Wrap Text (Home / Alignment section). Then select AutoFit Row Height (Home / Format in the Cells section).
  • Each time you add a descendant, you can pull down a menu to choose their parents from a list. (Look for the arrow beside the Parents field.)
  • Fill in names for each generation.
  • Once you finish the "Third Generation Children," click the Create Family Tree button at the top.
  • The names may appear cut off. If so, you need to turn on Wrap Text and change the Row Height. But you can't yet, because the row numbers and column letters are not visible.
    • Turn on the row and column headings by clicking the View menu and checking Headings in the Show section.
    • Set the Wrap Text as explained above, but this time, start at line 5.
    • Set the row height by clicking Format on the Home tab and choosing Row Height. I found that a row height of 50 worked well for the names I'd entered. You can experiment with different values until you're happy with the result.
Enter names for each generation, select their parents, then fine-tune your easy family tree chart.
Enter names for each generation, select their parents, then fine-tune your easy family tree chart.

When you save your Excel file, you'll see a message about your file containing macros. These macros are the functionality that generates the family tree chart. To keep the functionality:

  • Choose Save As.
  • Select the 2nd option in the list, Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook.

Now you can print the family tree chart as a PDF file to share. I chose the 11" x 17" tabloid setting and selected Fit Sheet on One Page. This way, I can print the tree onto two letter-sized pages and tape them together. Or I can find someone with a bigger printer tray.

Don't have Excel? Download the Family tree generator template and open it with your spreadsheet software. Let me know if that works or not.

The result is simple-looking (no photos or birth or death years). But what an easy way to help a friend or relative visualize their part of the family tree. Think how nice it would be to create a bunch of these charts for the holidays.