Data entombed in Family Tree Maker

Earlier this year I upgraded to Family Tree Maker 2009 and my feeling that this  program no longer meets my needs was confirmed.  So I decided to find out how easy it is to transfer my database containing 2737 individuals, 816 marriages, 11 generations, 501 surnames in a data file of 13558 KB (statistics given by FTM 14 Dec 2009).  This data file links to 873 media items (photos, scanned documents, MHTML documents, word documents) stored in a directory 869 MB in size.

Since the upgrade, I have added only a small amount of data.  FTM 2007 stored all the data including all media items in a single file of size 853 MB (27 Mar 2009) comprising 2718 individuals, 813 marriages, 19 generations, 498 surnames (FTM file statistics).

There are three options of transferring data into a new genealogy program:

  1. Read the FTM file directly and translate it into whatever it native format is.
  2. Export the data into an exchange format such as GEDCOM and read the exported file.
  3. Extract the data from FTM’s native files and convert them into something that can be read by the destination program.

Taking these options in reverse order:

FTM does not publish the database structure nor do they state what the underlying database engine is (or even if there is one).  Examining the data files in a text editor shows them to be human unreadable and I found I could only open the smallest files in Notepad anyway.  It might, with a huge amount of effort, be possible to unpick the structure, but I would not feel confident about getting it completely right.

FTM 2009 offers 3 export formats: FTM, GEDCOM 5.5 and GEDCOM for FTM 16.  FTM 2006 offers export formats for previous FTM versions and GEDCOM versions 4 and 5.5 with destination options for FTM, TempleReady and PAF and character set options for ANSEL, ANSI, IBMPC and MACHINTOSH. None of FTM’s GEDCOM exports include media items.  Manually re-attaching over 800 items is not a solution.

So only a program that can read FTM files directly will do.  Of the programs I have investigated so far only 2 offer this facility.  All the other programs, Family Historian, Legacy, Personal Ancestral File, Brothers Keeper, My Heritage Family Tree Builder and Genbox are no an option.  The Master Genealogist can import from FTM 2009, and Roots Magic can import from FTM 2006.  Now I need to check how good a job the import does…. – Feedback and Future Plans

Thanks to family members who have commented on my website at  Please bear in mind that it is “a work in progress” and has only limited content (Mary Louisa Wilson’s story) at present.  The comments fall into three categories audience, navigation and presentation.


The primary audience for the website are family members and genealogists/family historians.

I have previously provided a copy of my Family Tree Maker database to individual family members to give them access to the information, but this has several drawbacks:

  • It is not practical to give database copies to more than a few people who have the software to access the file. Recent versions of FTM are less intuitive to use and are not backwards compatible.
  • My FTM database is a working database. As such it contains incomplete research, errors and dead ends. The data stored is not necessarily clean or in a suitable presentation format.
  • It also contains data on living people some of which is sensitive. Consequently, it would not be responsible to disseminate this data.

Therefore I do not want to publish the contents of this database in this raw state.

I could have uploaded a file to one of the websites that publish your database for you (e.g. GenesReunited, Ancestry), but this approach  adds to the genealogical haystack without putting things into historical context.

I believe that genealogists would be better served by searching original sources.  Family members will get more out of a family history narrative that summarises the data and sets it  in context.  After all, it is the folklore that gets transmitted to future generations.


Currently this is restricted to the links provided to story chapters, charts and a few sources in the left hand navigation bar and  page turners at the bottom of the page.

The people index is just a list of names and only 1 link to Mary Louisa Wilson.  Any other apparent links are not pointing to a destination.  Indexing is a bit tedious and I should investigate how to automate it and perhaps use JavaScript for the top menu.

The charts are just images at present, so there are no links to the people on them.  I want to convert these to HTML, but that is not easy at all.  Drawing the links is the difficult part.  It is possible to use the borders of a table cells (or divs) to construct the connecting lines.  This is a pretty clumsy way of doing things and is not good for accessibility.  Most of all it is not semantic HTML.  I want the links to be elements that have the meaning of person A is connected to person B with a type X relationship.  Perhaps XML may be a good approach…

I must also add a link to this blog!


CSS fiddles:

  • Footer text colour has insufficient contrast
  • Center text vertically in top navigation bar
  • Expand area of links colour change
  • Change emphasis on names of sons on ML1 page so they don’t look like links

Illegal marriage and false address

Having recently published my website, I got to thinking about some of the content, in particular the evidence surrounding the illegal marriage of my great grand-parents, Mary Louisa Wilson and Charles Bertram Jones in 1902.  Charles’ first marriage was to Mary’s sister, Frances Hebe, who died on 4 July 1902, just a few weeks before the marriage of Charles and Mary on 20 September 1902.  At the time this marriage was illegal, a circumstance which changed with the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907.

Certificate for the illegal marriage

Certificate for the illegal marriage

The marriage certificate gives the address of the bride and groom as 73 St Mary Street and took place at St John’s, Ladywood, Birmingham.  The same address is given as the place of death on Frances Hebe’s death certificate, reported by Charles the day after her death.  However, the 1901 census reveals that Charles and his first wife were living at 65 St Marys Road, Bearwood, Smethwick, Staffordshire, which is about 4 km from Ladywood.

The two addresses are suspiciously similar so I tried to find St Mary’s Street on modern maps.  It certainly does not exists now, but I know that many street in Birmingham were obliterated when slums where cleared after World War II.  Next I tried to locate St Mary’s Street on the 1901  and 1911 censuses using the search by address facility on, but to no avail.

The next step is to find a contemporary street map and check there.  I have a funny feeling that St Mary’s Street never existed and Charles Bertram Jones started laying a trail of lies the day after his first wife’s death!


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