Category Archives: Family Tree Maker

Family Tree Maker® – Goodbye Ancestry – Hello MacKiev

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!

 

Ancestry Defugalty??

Defugalty isn’t even a word unless somehow I manage to get it into our 21st-century American lexicon. Merriam-Webster is right here in Springfield, Massachusetts. I could stop in for a visit and offer them first dibs!

Now for the defugalty, maybe a few defugalties.  It’s an interesting interaction I had with the friendly folks at Ancestry.com tech support. I’ve always had good luck with them. They answer within a reasonable amount of time and are consistent with their friendly, knowledgeable assistance. Until yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, they were responsive but I managed to stump them.

It began with my Chapin family project. Someone asked to join my “Descendants of Deacon Samuel Chapin” Facebook page and I always check to make sure they are, in fact, a descendant of the Good Deacon.

chapin-deacon-samuel

Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675) 9th Great Grandfather of Dave Robison

When I tried to double check whether the Deacon was my own 8th or 9th great grandfather, I discovered, much to my surprise, that he was a 6th cousin 4 times removed of the wife of…..and on and on.

Curious to see how that happened literally overnight, I checked my FTM database and there he was correctly indicated as the 9th great grandfather as he should be. What happened between the last sync and the thousands of sync’s I had done in the past.

Ancestry.com, I found out, doesn’t have a category for “divorced” as FTM does. In a tree that I’ve had running for 16 or 17 years, suddenly I could only indicate “other.” Since I’ve been a member since 31 Dec 1899 according to my profile (really…check yours out, too!) I can’t believe that I missed this. So, I changed the status of my first wife from whom I was divorced in the mid-90’s to “Other.” Then the relationships that had been correct for the past 16 or 17 years suddenly fell into place

Two things: 1) Ancestry doesn’t know why the relationships suddenly went berserk and 2) the tech support person who was assisting agreed completely that there should be a “Divorced” option in the relationship drop-down menu. After all, I told her, it’s not a new concept! She said she’d put it into customer feedback/suggestions or something like that… We’ll see what happens. At least I know that I am still the 9th great grandson of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675) and I can continue to be a member of my own Facebook page!

What do you do when you find hundreds of living relatives Part 2

It was Friday evening about 8:30 pm. Karen and I pulled into my sister’s driveway in Cortland, New York. She greeted us warmly with hugs and kisses, but I kept looking over her shoulder to get a look at the woman I came here to see. Apparently having nodded off after her long flight from Alabama, Aunt Cissy looked perfectly comfortable but not so much that I wasn’t willing to go over and wake her up!

By this time, my brother-in-law, Ray, had come out of the house to watch the big event. Karen and I walked slowly toward Aunt Cissy followed by Diane and Ray as he came down the steps to the back yard. Aunt Cissy wasn’t really sleeping.  She was hoping to give me a bit of a scare. It worked! She leaped up in a big “Surprise!” moment…

Diane Robison Lillie - Cissy Robison Hunter - Dave Robison

Diane Robison Lillie – Cissy Robison Hunter – Dave Robison

When I finally got my arms around her, I said to everyone that I felt as though I was hugging Aunt Cissy, my grandfather Cecil Lee Robison, his parents Erskin and Linnie Otto Peace Robison, their parents Samuel and Mary Hardin Robison, their parents Green Coleman and Eliza Ann Francis Rochelle Robinson and lastly, Green’s parents, Hezekiah and Tabitha Grantham Robinson. Hezekiah’s father might have been Jonathan Robertson a mid-1700’s Scots-Irish immigrant. But that, so far, has yet to be proven. What a crew!

 

My aunt is the daughter of my paternal grandfather and his second wife. That means she is my half-aunt. But that’s just a technicality. To Diane and me, she is a full-fledged aunt!

Cissy was no disappointment! She came loaded with stories, photographs and documents along with her excitement and genuine happiness over finally getting to meet Diane and me. She also brought 2 crocheted Christmas decorations, hand-made 5 X 12 wall hangings that have the word “NOEL” set crocheted into them.

Onto to Cissy’s story, blended with what I know based on the few stories I heard as a child or more recent genealogical research.

Cissy knew my father, Henry Dunn, but he was at least 15 years her senior. By the time she was born, Henry was living back in Evergreen with his mother, Mary Virginia, and his overbearing grandmother, Gilma Robertson Dunn. Gilma was widowed in 1918 when her highly successful businessman husband, Henry Wright Dunn, was driving out of town and heading up the hill on his way to pick up a nurse he had hired to work in his household. His car stalled on the hill and he rolled backwards and into the oncoming L&N train heading through town. He died 2 days later and his gravestone is marked, “Death Loves a Shining Star.” He had been a Ford and Buick dealer (a mega dealer in the early 20th century!), a hardware dealer and the owner of extensive rental properties in and around Evergreen. These stories I had learned through my own research, trips to Alabama, newspaper articles, cemetery visits, vital records and other family records that were made available to me. Henry Dunn had traveled up to Anniston from time to time to visit his father and step-mother. The visits were very short and long on antipathy.

Gilma Robertson Dunn  (1873-1954)

Gilma Robertson Dunn (1873-1954)

Back in Evergreen, Gilma had long ago managed to have my father’s birth records destroyed as she was no fan of the man her daughter had married and it seemed as though she didn’t want Cecil’s name to be associated with her grandson, Henry Dunn. Perhaps she was hoping to marry off her daughter to another man and have that man adopt Henry. Whatever the motivation, this turned out to have been a convenient decision on her part for her own nefarious purposes. Not only was Henry Dunn sent from one aunt and uncle to another, he was sent off to a boarding school in Mississippi, back to his father in Anniston and wherever else they could put him. Amazingly, the 1930 US Population Schedule shows 5-year-old

Henry’s parents, Cecil Lee and Mary Virginia, living on one side of town while Henry was in the household of 3 single African-American domestics on the other side of town. Fast forward to December 7th 1941. My grandparents were divorced with Cecil remarried and Mary living in Evergreen either alone or with my father whenever that was convenient for the family. But what were they to do with 15-year-old Henry? To Gilma, that was easy. She had a son who was a Lieutenant Commander in the Army Air Corps. Gilma had the connections to obtain an affidavit claiming the Henry was 2 years older than he really was. Voila, “17-year-old” Henry Dunn Robison joined the US Navy, enlisting in early January of 1942, 4 weeks after the Japanese attack.

 

Aunt Cissy knew my father. She was frightened by him given his age and height. He was over 6 feet tall, even as a teenager. He was also a much different person than Cissy’s 4 brothers. The dynamic in that household was far different than anything that my father ever experienced. So I can only imagine how “pleasant” Henry Dunn’s infrequent visits to his father and step-mother would have been.

 

My grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison, and his 7 siblings. Cecil Lee is in the upper right  hand corner.

My grandfather, Cecil Lee Robison, and his 7 siblings. Cecil Lee is in the upper right hand corner.

Henry Dunn’s father, Cecil Lee Robison, was also a tall man. He was a successful businessman in Evergreen working as an accountant and had been a deacon of his church. In other words, a well-respected citizen of his community. However, his home life was less than the typical 1940’s or 1950’s home life. His relationship with his family was not particularly warm and cozy. However, he was a loyal and faithful father and husband who, along with Hilda Mae, his wife, raised 5 children who were respected in their own right: a mayor, a teacher, a State Fire Marshall,

an independent business owner, an early DNA researcher… All quite successful.

There are quite a few more details I’d like to share. I’m sure you’ll want to hear about Uncle Michael, the early 1960’s DNA researcher at Duke University.

So as much as I’ve tried to put this whole amazing story into 2 parts, I’ve got to stretch it out with at least one more installment and maybe two.

Stay tuned!

 

Technology and the Ever Changing World of Genealogical Research Tools

It is easily said that I can sometimes be too quick while other times be very slow to adapt to new technologies, hardware, software, peripherals or other genealogical research tools. Tonight, of course, the old workhorse software program that I’ve “grown up with” is going away. Family Tree Maker®  is currently in its last iteration and support will only be available until 1 January 2017.

OK, that gives me plenty of time to to do one of three things:

Since I’ve already been unsuccessful trying to accustom myself to RootsMagic or Legacy…mostly due to a lack of perseverance…my choices are substantially limited. But, I’ve been here before.

Right now, I’m leaning toward abandoning all PC based software in favor of Ancestry. I’ve used Ancestry and FTM since the late 90’s and have become very comfortable of the simplicity of syncing one with the other. So I’m sorry to see that aspect go away.  The downside is reports, tables, pedigree charts and all the various data organizing products that are currently available in FTM.

Other than reports, using Ancestry.com exclusively isn’t such a bad thing. But then there’s the issue of worrying about Ancestry itself folding. This approach puts all the data I collect automatically “in the cloud.” After all, what is the cloud other than a remote server (not in the clouds!) that is a repository of data, all stored in 0’s and 1’s.

Pedigree Chart of Erskin Coleman Robison (1878-1942)

Speaking of reports, I’m not aware of any means to create any type of reports strictly out of Ancestry.com family trees. If I’m wrong, I’d happily be willing to find a way to produce the same type of reports that are currently available in FTM under “Publishing.” So that brings me back to Legacy or RootsMagic.

 

 

Now I, along with thousands of others, have some decisions to make. But as of yet, I don’t think we have enough data to even begin the process.

UPDATE: After posting this blog, I checked my email and found this link to RootsMagic. They certainly didn’t waste any time and I suspect they may have had this “in the wings” and ready to post at the appropriate time.