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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

New to Family Tree Maker? Start by Creating a Tree

Genealogy databases are powerful tools to manage your family relationships; no matter complicated they get. But to start using Family Tree Maker, you must first build a family tree in the program.

Today, we’ll talk about how to start building our family tree on Family Tree Maker.

Start a New Tree

If you’re just starting out, or you have a mess of a tree in other locations, and you’re trying to do better, then start with a blank, new tree.

Start by opening up Family Tree Maker.

If you’re in the ‘Plan’ Menu, you’ll see the option to start a new tree selected and the prompt to “Enter What You Know” on the left. The blank pedigree starting template appears on the right.

Enter the first person that will start this family tree. This person could be yourself or another ancestry that you’re building a family tree around. In this case, I’ll start with Robert Victor Zumstein.

Tree Name

After you key in that information, you’ll notice that Family Tree Maker has automatically added the surname to the New Tree Name field. It also shows you a possible file location where you’ll save the tree to your hard drive.

If you want to change the tree name, you can. Just take note that Family Tree Maker doesn’t like slash marks, but you can use the ampersand.

Location to Save Tree

Using the folder browsing window, you can also change where your file resides on your computer.

Next, choose the sex of the person.

Birth Date

Next, type in a birth date. You will see the Date Calculator tool if you click on the small calculator icon in that field.

This calculator is a handy tool if you’re uncertain about a date. And since this tool will appear any time you add a date to a fact in this program, it’s worth highlighting it again.

In short, there is no need to leave your program to find a date calculator tool on Google! This time saver is so nice.

Be advised that you do not have to add complete dates when building a family tree profile for a person. Sometimes all you have is a birth year, or a range of years. Enter what you have.

Birth Place

Next, type the location name for the birth place if you know it. In this case, I know the province of Ontario in the Country of Canada.

Then, click on the pencil icon and become VERY familiar with this tool. I’ve made videos about cleaning up place names.

This icon opens a window that gives you place name suggestions and the option to add more place details about the location you are entering.

If you have cemetery names for burial locations, churches for baptisms and christenings, and so forth, use the place detail field for those names. Keep the place name limited to the city, county, country, or other such geopolitical groupings that fit the location you’re adding.

Add Parent

Next, add the name of a parent to either the father or mother’s name fields.

  • Once again, Family Tree Maker has a pencil icon.

  • This time, you’ll see the option to add a suffix for Jr, Sr, III, MD, etc.

  • You can also click the “Insert Symbol” option to use special characters.

  • Sadly, you do not have the option to add titles here, such as Princess, Duke, Lady, Dr, Captain, and so forth. That comes later.

  • You also don’t have a place for alternate names or nicknames. Don’t put those names in the name field. Add those later.

When you’ve completed this quick form, Family Tree Maker will save your data and build a new database. Then, it will place it in the file location selected, and you’re ready to dive into genealogy research.

If you'd like to see the following steps in action, watch this video.

Importing Family Tree

But what if you have your on Ancestry or FamilySearch, or in another program entirely? Do you have to start over from scratch?

Now, you can import your family tree into Family Tree Maker easily.

Navigate to the Plan menu tab and ensure you’re on the New Tree option.

Under the heading “Getting Started,” you’ll find options relevant to those migrating their tree to Family Tree Maker.

Option 1: Import an Existing Tree

  • Click “Import an Existing Tree.”

  • Click on “Browse” and navigate to your family tree files.

  • Click on the Gedcom, personal ancestral file, previous family tree maker file, or Legacy Family Tree file. (Notice you can’t import any other genealogy software program file. However, those programs can export gedcom files, which you’ll need to transfer your old database to Family Tree Maker.)

  • Notice Family Tree Maker fills in the field for “Files to important,” takes the file name, and turns it into the New Tree Name.

  • Finally, Family Tree Maker tells you where it will save the new database file.

  • Click continue.

Then, Family Tree Maker will import your old database to this new file.

Option 2: Download Tree from Ancestry

  • Click “Download a Tree from Ancestry.”

  • Key in your Ancestry log-in information.

  • Family Tree Maker will load all of the trees in your Ancestry account. I have quite a few.

    • The previously downloaded ones will have a checkmark over the image or image icon.

  • Highlight the tree you want to download.

  • Then click on the “Download Tree” button at the bottom right of the screen.

  • You’ll have a pop window with a few options to select before Family Tree Maker finishes the process.

    • You can keep or change the tree name. I recommend keeping your Ancestry downloaded tree in the same file name in Family Tree Maker.

    • You can turn on or keep off the tree syncing function. I tend to leave it off.

    • Finally, you can download Ancestry Citation Media.

What is Citation Media?

Any source linked to your Ancestry family tree that includes images will be downloaded to your computer.

While this seems lovely, it is a nightmare. If you link one source or image to multiple people, Family Tree Maker will download numerous copies of the photos or documents. The file names are a jumbled mess.

I DON’T recommend downloading images in this fashion. So, leave this option unselected.

Click "Continue", Ancestry will then download that family tree, and you can start working on it.

Are you ready to take your genealogy research to the next level?

Click for free genealogy reference guides

Option 3: Download Tree from FamilySearch

The downloading process is similar to downloading from; however, there are a few


  • First, you’ll have to agree to a consent prompt.

  • Next, you’ll have a screen that allows you to start with yourself (Me).

  • Or you can enter an ID for a profile page on Ancestry.

  • Then, you’ll choose how many generations of ancestors and descendants to include.

    • You’ll want to keep how much collaboration tree information you import into your desktop to a minimum. Of course, you can always download more relatives later.

Also, decide if you want to include ancestors’ descendants.

  • These descendants include 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, and so forth.

  • Since you can always download more relatives later, I select this box and limit the generation to 1-2.

  • Once you’re sure the information from FamilySearch is accurate, you can expand in the directions you’re most interested.

Family Tree Maker automatically names this file the FamilySearch Tree. I recommend renaming this file. Perhaps use the root person you selected in “Home Person.”

Click "Continue."

Family Tree Maker will download that information to your computer. Now you can begin researching (and cleaning up) your family tree.

Now that you have the start of your family tree, you’ll want to learn how to maximize the program. Stay tuned for our next video that will teach you just that.

Continue Learning About Family Tree Maker

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