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Although not as concise as family tree software the comes on DVD-ROM, version 9 of Family Tree Maker Collector's Edition from The Learning Company has trimmed the CD library down to 11 discs, putting a lot of their searchable databases online. While you'll still do some disc-swapping when searching on CD, the online searches can take only seconds with a high-speed connection, letting you view, download, and interact with over 200,000 researched family trees at the World Family Tree Collection (a two-month subscription comes free with Family Tree Maker Collector's Edition).
In addition to the extensive online searches, Family Tree Maker also includes several CDs typical of family tree software, including two family history discs, military records, and the Social Security Death Index from 1937 through 1999.
But it's the program's organizational tools that home genealogists will really appreciate. Family Tree Maker walks you through the steps of creating your own tree, displays entire family groups on a single page, and offers a variety of ways to personalize your tree. In addition to adding images for individuals, Family Tree Maker lets you insert audio and video clips to a tree as well as use a variety of borders, colors, and fonts. The click-through interface is intuitive for the average user, with wizards that step you through most of the creation and sharing processes.
Unique tools, such as the Personal Research Journal, help users keep tabs on tasks that need to be done for a tree, while the Relationship Calculator will automatically figure out the relationship between any two individuals in your family file (so you can see just how far removed that weird cousin Vera really is).
Family Tree Maker makes it easy to share your tree with family members in a variety of ways. You can display your tree in different formats for printing if you want to share hard copies, but you can also upload your tree to the free home page provided at Genealogy.com. In addition to the tree, you can also share slide shows, multimedia scrapbooks, and photos at the home page.
While searches with Family Tree Maker sometimes resulted in the same costly dead ends as other family tree software (where you have to purchase additional CDs or subscriptions to see the results of your search), for the under-$100 cost, it offers a lot of tools and databases to get the beginning genealogist well on the way to branching out his or her family tree. --J. Curtis