• Devon Noel Lee

Is Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic Better at Cleaning Up Place Names?

Managing your family tree with genealogy software and between online family trees is a bit of a nightmare. However, of the two programs I reviewed, Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic, which one is better at keeping one part of your family tree cleaned up?


One fact field on our family trees that becomes the most muddled is when we are inconsistent in the place names we use.


Inconsistent Locations in Your Family Tree


There are times when we have merged our family tree with the trees of others.

As such, we might have been lazy, or a platform might not have allowed us to edit a name during the combing process.


We could easily have entries that say


Col, Frank, O

Columbus, , Ohio

Columbus, Franklin Co, OH, USA

Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, United States of America

Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, USA


Why does this happen?


For one thing, each online service has different standards for places. The most notable one is where FamilySearch prefers "United States" while Ancestry prefers "USA."

Another problem is on some genealogy websites, most notably Ancestry, their collections have inconsistent place names.


While doing a Genealogy Do-Over on my Geiszler family tree on Ancestry, I tried to rebuild the facts and sources for my closest relatives. While attaching sources and migrating facts from a record on Ancestry to the member tree, I had to be extremely careful when saving sources and migrating facts into my tree.

  • City directory entries said, "Columbus, Ohio."

  • World War II Draft said, "Columbus, Ohio" AND "Columbus, Franklin, Ohio"

  • Find A Grave entries said, "Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, United States of America."

  • Census entries said, "Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, USA."

Three commonly used collections on Ancestry have inconsistent place names for the same location. Of course, my family tree was a mess.


While we strive to patiently wait for the genealogy platforms to improve place names on their end, we have to resort to using off-platform tools to clean up place names for help.



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Family Tree Maker vs. RootsMagic


To compare the tools on Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic, I used the same initial family tree in both programs. I calculated the time spent cleaning up my trees and then syncing them to FamilySearch and Ancestry. Here are the results I found.



Syncing Trees


Set aside the fact that syncing our tree with FamilySearch is a time-consuming problem that neither Family Tree Maker nor RootsMagic can resolve. But, RootsMagic wins with writing to FamilySearch because Family Tree Maker can only read data from the free website, not write to it.


With Family Tree Maker, you can turn on an auto sync feature. Then Family Tree Maker will update Ancestry after you make each change. If you turn off the auto sync feature, you can batch process all your changes simultaneously. The process is quick and easy.


By contrast, RootsMagic does not seem to have a rapid sync feature with Ancestry, Their tree update feature requires manually reviewing the changes for each person. Unlike their tree update feature for FamilySearch, you can select multiple changes to one person at a time and update Ancestry in small batches.


Therefore, syncing our trees with Ancestry is better done with Family Tree Maker.



Historical Helps


In genealogy research, knowing when locations came into existence and monitoring boundary changes is a major skill to manage. In previous versions of RootsMagic, you received prompts when you entered a location and an associated date.


For instance, when I typed in a location such as Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio. RootsMagic will tell me that Cincinnati was founded in 1788 and Hamilton in 1790 ifI attempted to link an event happening in Cincinnati in 1785.


In RootsMagic 8, the County Check feature is available IF you turn on the feature in the program's settings!


Meanwhile, Family Tree Maker has no prompts when entering place names into your database. I wonder if it's because of Ancestry's recommendations that you use modern place names. Regardless of the reason, I'm frustrated that there is not that prompt activated when we key in place names on Family Tree Maker.


Therefore, learning about historical place names is better with RootsMagic.



Country Preferences


Given there is no standard for place names in the genealogy industry, genealogy software companies have a decision to make. Either they use the standard of the platform they primarily work with. Or they allow users to decide country preferences.


While RootsMagic may have historical place name prompts, they do not force you to use either historic or modern location names in your tree.


For instance, you can have a place name of Baden without the addition of Germany tacked on the end. This typically reflects the Duchy of Baden before German Unification in 1871.


However, if you want to have Baden, Germany pre-unification, RootsMagic doesn't tell you the place name needs cleaning.


However, when you run a place cleanup on Family Tree Maker, it attempts to force you into using modern place names.


If you attempt to use British North America, Upper Canada, or Baden without Germany, you will see prompts telling you the place name needs standardizing. Additionally, the place name sorting feature does not nest smaller political locales under the country of Baden or Upper Canada it does for Germany or Canada.


While I understand Family Tree Maker is using the Ancestry platform standard for member trees, it's frustrating for users who wish to have historically accurate place names.


Since they do not force you to use one place name practice over the other, RootsMagic is better for your country naming preferences.



Find and Replace


If you wrote a paper in Google Docs, Apple Pages, or MS Word, you could quickly change all instances of "Co, " to "County, " or "OH, " to "Ohio, " using a find and replace tool.


Wouldn't it be nice if we could do this using a genealogy software program?


RootsMagic has this feature, but Family Tree Maker does not.


The rapid find and replace feature was super helpful in converting

  • Twp to Township (or visa versa)

  • TX to Texas

  • removing the word County or adding it


Find and Replace is a timing-saving place name feature only available on RootsMagic.


Update Place Names While Working


While typing in new place names into your database, another helpful feature involves being able to update place names as you work without having to go to the place name list.


Family Tree Maker has this feature, whereas RootsMagic does not.


While cleaning up thousands of place names in my family tree, I looked at a profile in Family Tree Maker and notice inconsistent locations.


I could edit the place name on the specific relative's profile. Then Family Tree Maker would ask, "Do you want to change only this instance or all instances of that previous place name at the same time?"


Family Tree Maker rocks with this feature. I used it often to ensure each profile had a consistent flow for individual profiles. And this helped me improve place names while actively researching rather than taking time to clean up place names.



Which Program is Most Efficient in Cleaning Up Places?


The answer depends on your goals, your standards, and what you are trying to achieve.


If you are only working with Ancestry, then use Family Tree Maker. For one, their place cleaning tool is great, you can continuously update places while you work, and you can sync your changes to Ancestry without further effort.


If you plan on sharing your family tree between FamilySearch and Ancestry, neither program handles the process effectively on its own.


After spending two weeks cleaning up the places in a 1,000-person family tree, I found a system that combines both programs, if you can afford them.


1. Use Family Tree Maker Unrecognized Place Names


  • Connect Family Tree Maker to an Ancestry family tree.

  • Run the Unrecognized Place Name tools.

  • Either force place names to modern equivalents as prompted by Family Tree Maker.

  • Do not do DEEP corrections that would be best handled by RootsMagic Find & Replace feature.


2. Sync Family Tree Maker to Ancestry


After cleaning up the places, sync your Family Tree Maker tree to Ancestry.


3. Download Family Tree from Ancestry to RootsMagic


Since RootsMagic does not allow you to link their files to an existing Ancestry tree, you have to download the updated Ancestry file to RootsMagic as a new file.


In the future, when you make that systemic connection, you can run a look for changes report and skip this step.


4. Use RootsMagic Find & Replace Tool


  • With your Family Tree Maker program open, run the RootsMagic Find & Replace feature.

  • Do not use the "replace all" option when making a change.

  • Use the "replace" one at a time option.

  • As you find a location, such as one that includes Co that you want to change to County, find and update that location manually in Family Tree Maker.

5. Use RootsMagic Place Clean Tool


  • Run the RootsMagic Place Cleaning tool.

  • Sort places with smallest to largest geopolitical entity, such as city, county, state, and country.

  • Sort places in reverse order, such as country, state, county, and city.

  • Clean up the places that the Family Tree Maker Unrecognized Place Names tool missed.

  • As you find a location that needs fine-tuning, find and update that location manually in Family Tree Maker.

6. Auto Sync Family Tree Maker to Ancestry


The reason for updating Family Tree Maker manually as you find places in RootsMagic is that when you are finished, you can quickly sync your tree with Ancestry when finished.


This is a time saver because uploading the changes to Ancestry is done manually per person.


7. Convert Locations to FamilySearch Standards With RootsMagic Find & Replace


With your Ancestry tree synced to its standards, prepare your RootsMagic file to FamilySearch standards.

  • Use the Find & Replace tool to convert "USA" to "United States."

  • Review locations that could have historical place names, such as Upper Canada or Duchy of Baden, and adjust your RootsMagic file.

8. Update Individuals on FamilySearch from RootsMagic


  • Use the tree comparison tools to write to FamilySearch.

  • Update each event for a person manually.

  • Write a reason statement for the change.

  • Be sure to see what reason statements exist in FamilySearch and do not overwrite them with blank or 'standardized place names' if the previous reason statement is not blank.

  • Copy and paste the reason stated as a new one with the addendum "standardizing place name."


Should You Bother Cleaning Up Places?


Whether to clean-up place names depends on how you do genealogy research. I strive for accuracy, consistency, and shareability. Consistent place names help future researchers and me know a specific location for an event in my ancestor's life. It also allows for a deeper analysis, such as how many ancestors married in the same location. This could lead to more genealogy clues. And who doesn't want that?


For that reason, I do work to clean up my family tree and migrate a master copy to my relatives on FamilySearch and to my research tree on Ancestry.


Since FamilySearch prompts users to standardize place names with an eye toward historical place names, I make my tree follow that standard. Therefore, I typically stay in RootsMagic even though I like two of Family Tree Maker's place clean-up tools.


However, if either program adopts some of the best features of each other, I might need to review what is the best way to update my online trees on FamilySearch and Ancestry.



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