In 1998, I was wandering around Circuit City, a company that went out of business maybe 7 years ago or more. I really don’t remember what I was looking for. Stereos, cell phones, DVD’s, whatever. I had recently bought a desktop computer and eventually I walked down the software aisle.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had family history in mind. By “back of my mind” I mean a subconscious, little-explored avocation. It began in 1969 when I received a letter from someone who turned out to be a second cousin.
Now, by way of explanation, my maternal lines extend to the Mayflower and dozens of others who arrived during the Great Migration, settling in Plymouth Colony and, later, Massachusetts Bay Colony and finally, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I’ve since discovered some very surprising ancestors that I’ve written about over the years. It’s from this side, I researched one of my 18 or so Revolutionary War Patriot ancestors and was able to join the Sons of the American Revolution.
My paternal lines, on the other hand, had all settled in the American Southeast: Virginia/West Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. And that’s where the letter came from. The writer had typewritten what I know now is a descendant chart beginning with an ancestor of mine who was born in 1849. I was so impressed with this information that I now knew an ancestor who was born over 120 years before the letter was written. So impressed, that I put away and didn’t open it again until around 1998, a few months before my foray into the software department at Circuit City.
You should know that I was brought up in an environment of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in anything family related. Until the moment the Family Tree Maker practically jumped off the shelf. It was the spark that lit up my desire, or rather my need to find out if “what you don’t know” included family. Who were they? Who am I? Exactly how did I connect with someone born so long ago in 1849? That was my father’s side. Obviously, there must be a few folks I never knew or heard of on my mother’s side. So, I was off to the races.
In 1998, I began what has become my profession. Speaking, teaching, consulting, family research and literally anything to do with genealogy. And now DNA has entered the equation. With FTM eventually becoming an Ancestry.com property, it became a convenience to me since I was already an Ancestry subscriber.
Having branched out into client work, I usually would use FTM as one of the tools to keep my research in order. And as far as my own family, my continuing genealogical discoveries created a tree that just became increasingly bigger as I continued.
FTM was updated and upgraded over the years. I was always interested in having the “latest” whenever possible. Sometimes I’d jump in as early as possible and other times I’d wait a month or so as I had learned that getting the bugs out was an important part of software development. The integration with Ancestry that allowed full two-way synchronization was an amazing breakthrough for me as I had become accustomed to updated one and then, separately updating the other. Wow, technology!
When MacKiev got into the picture, I read what some people were posting on Facebook and other social media. Some were in a state of sheer panic while others, like myself, took a wait and see attitude. It always seemed to me that FTM had so many adherents that it was hardly likely that it would just sail off over the horizon never to be seen again. Somebody was bound to take over the reins.
And so it happened. FTM didn’t dissolve at the end of 2016 as some had predicted. As a matter of fact, as 2016 was melting into 2017, rather than the whole thing falling apart, the news simply got better. I was reluctant to try to teach myself the ins and outs of Legacy or RootsMagic or any of the other programs that are on the market. Keeping my focus on FTM was a more acceptable way to go.
Now it gets interesting. When I received the link to the upgrade, I felt I was relatively safe. If a major defugalty came along, there certainly are alternatives. The download and installation processes were a smooth ride which allowed me to focus on some family research. There’s always an ancestor lurking that can be proven and added to the “big” file. That file now has 43,893 individuals and a proportionate amount of media. That’s a lot to lose!
Pedigree Chart of Abigail Chapin Wheelock. Her husband, Paul Wheelock is a half-first cousin of President John Adams. Note the number of individuals: 43,893. Click to enlarge.
In December of 2015, when Ancestry announced that they were going to discontinue FTM altogether, the leading family history software — just bury it in the backyard. Many were panicked. Two months later on February 2nd, Ancestry announced that they’d changed their minds and would instead sell this wonderful old brand to SoftwareMacKiev. And as the developer of the Mac versions of FTM for the six years before that, “MacKiev was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to take the wheel,” said Jack Minsky, President of Software MacKiev. They stepped forward the very next day. ” Lots of articles were written on alternatives and there was lots of handwringing from FTM faithful on what to do,” said Minsky.
Now during the waning days of December 2016, I began to experience some difficulty booting up the laptop, a relatively new Dell Inspiron running Windows 10 with 1T hybrid hard drive, 8G of ram and no outrageous peripherals. It had always run flawlessly with all the data I have stored which takes up less than half of the capacity. That problem went away until the day after New Years Day. All I could get was the image that displays on startup. Without boring you with all the details of 5 marathon sessions with Premium Support, I can summarize it by simply saying that after a few stop-gap measures, I was forced to undertake a thorough, clean factory re-install. Fortunately, I’ve been running cloud backups for several years. I’ve used Carbonite® and more recently BackBlaze® on all our computers here. I also maintain a redundant backup on an external 1.5T Seagate hard drive. So other than the process of dragging myself through all of this, it should have been a simple although lengthy operation.
The next day, the download was complete, the restore was complete and all that was left was to put everything away where it belonged and reinstall some applications. That part of the process included FTM 2014.1 which had been running flawlessly. In the meantime, I was made aware of an update to the upgrade. Update? OK…I’m in. Before the big meltdown, I had done some work in the “big” file with the upgrade but not with the update. I thought nothing of it. I should mention here that I reinstalled FTM 2014.1 from the thumb drive that I purchased just in case what just happened, happened!
But when I tried to open the “big” file, I got an error message. I tried to open several of the other family trees and they opened with no problem. I communicated with technical support through their chat application and had 2 differing solutions, neither of which worked. Wallowing in my frustration, I put this project aside and went to read and respond to emails and check for messages on Facebook. Facebook, by the way, with over 10,000 genealogically oriented pages, has become an important part of my on-line research efforts. I noticed that the Family Tree Maker® Users Facebook page had some folks discussing the pros and cons of the upgrade. I’ll admit, I was a bit frustrated as I fired off my problem offering it to anyone who happened to be paying attention to that page.
To my initial surprise, one of the people paying attention was Jack Minsky, the president of Software MacKiev. He took the time to listen to the whole series of events and where I was at that point. Then, in no time, he nailed it! I had upgraded to 2014.1 then installed the update after which I worked on my personal file, the “big” one. Then the crash. Then the restore. Then I began re-installing software. My first re-install was the FTM 2014.1 program from the thumb drive. What could be easier? Then, to test it, I tried to open my own file. Nope! Wasn’t gonna happen. What Jack suspected that I had opened that file with the updated upgrade (does that make sense?) and the thumb drive installed the upgrade but not the update. He knew that the missing update was the problem. He sent me a link for the update as I couldn’t find it in any of the hundreds of emails I had collected by this time. I uninstalled the original thumb drive version (build 497?) then reinstalled it. The last step was to go to the update link (build 501?) and reinstall that.
Lo and behold! I’m very happy to report that everything is running as smooth as glass. I mentioned to Jack a few weeks ago, that someday we should get together in Boston the next time I’m out there or near there. This time I offered to buy the drinks!
Thank you, Jack Minsky! I don’t know when you sleep as I’ve communicated with you at all times of the day and night. It’s encouraging to see that although we all have to get accustomed to a slightly different way to communicate with support technicians, in the end, it all seems to work out. When does the president of a company get that close to the little people and pitch in to help? Congratulations, Jack Minsky! You did good! You’ve earned the trust of many in the FTM community with your pro-active approach. Now, what are you going to do for us next?
My message to any FTM user? Try it, you’ll like it!