As I wandered the aisles in the Exhibits Hall at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies' conference, one word stuck in my mind: maps. Everywhere I looked, there were vendors exhibiting maps. There were companies selling maps of villages in Ireland and England, other books showing land grants in the public lands states in the U.S., and many more. One product that caught my eye was software that allows you to create your own maps that show your ancestors' locations and migrations. I obtained a copy of the program and used it once I returned home this week.
Map my Family Tree is a Windows program created by Progeny Software. Yes, the word "my" is always shown in lower case on the program's packaging and when the program's name appears on the screen. Map my Family Tree automatically geocodes your family tree in seconds so that you can see where your ancestors were born, married, and died.
NOTE: In this case, "geocode" means to add latitude and longitude information to each location stored within your genealogy database. However, Map my Family Tree never writes that data to your primary genealogy database. It only reads your data and then stores all new information in a separate database that is internal to Map my Family Tree.
Of course, adding the geocode information is only the first step. Map my Family Tree then displays that information onto computer-generated maps in a variety of methods. For instance, you can track family migrations using the world map and then zoom into any part of the world to see detailed events in that location. Map my Family Tree uses state-of-the-art vector mapping technology so that you see more, not less, geographic detail as you zoom in.
You can also print your maps on a wide variety of paper sizes and electronically publish them in many popular file formats to display on websites and email to family and friends. You can use these published maps to collaborate with other researchers.
I was impressed with Pierre Cloutier's demonstration of this program in the Progeny Software booth. He moved quickly and easily around the generated maps, drawing and redrawing new maps every 2 or 3 seconds. I wasn't sure just how powerful his computer was. I wondered if I could do the same on my aging system at home. I walked away with a copy of Map my Family Tree with the intention of finding out.
A few days later I inserted the single CD-ROM disk containing Map my Family Tree into my computer and closed the CD drive's door. A few seconds later, a colorful logo appeared on the screen, soon followed by a typical software installation screen. I clicked on NEXT several times, and the software was soon installed and launched. The entire installation seemed to be complete in about a minute, with me doing nothing other than clicking on NEXT several times.
My ZoneAlarm monitor watches for any program that attempts to connect to the Internet. I wasn't surprised when ZoneAlarm popped up a window and reported that Map my Family Tree was trying to connect to a web site someplace. I enabled the contact, and a second or two later Map my Family Tree reported that I had the latest version installed; there are no newer versions of the program. Apparently, Map my Family Tree checks for new updates each time the program is launched. I think that is a nice touch; so, I told ZoneAlarm to always allow this program to obtain full access to the Internet.
Map my Family Tree then asked for the location of my genealogy database. It will directly read data from:
- Ancestry Family Tree™
- Ancestral Quest™
- Family Historian
- Family Tree Maker®
- Heritage Family Tree Deluxe
- Legacy Family Tree
- Personal Ancestral File
- The Master Genealogist
I am impressed that Map my Family Tree will read data directly from all of those programs without using GEDCOM and all the problems associated with that file format. However, if your favorite genealogy program does not appear on the above list, you can still create a GEDCOM file in your present program, and Map my Family Tree will also read that file. Map my Family Tree will read GEDCOM 5.5 files, including data with Western European diacritics. Almost all of today's genealogy programs can create GEDCOM 5.5 files.
I told Map my Family Tree to read the data from my favorite genealogy program. My data was read, and then a world map appeared on my screen and red dots started to appear as the locations in my database were geocoded. The process required several minutes to complete. When done, I was looking at red dots on the world map, signifying all the locations that are mentioned in my database.
When watching Pierre demonstrate the program earlier, I had joked that displaying all my ancestors' locations would result in a very small map. My ancestors haven't moved very far in the past 350 years! Indeed, my prediction was correct. The first map that I saw was that of the entire world but with lots of red dots clustered in a very small space near the town where I was born and raised!
A few other dots did appear, however. As I investigated further, I realized that some of them were for the military bases where I served years ago; some were the homes of my cousins who have left our hometown area where we were all raised. I also saw a few locations in England, France, and Switzerland, identifying the areas where ancestors lived many years ago.
One dot in Jamaica seemed to be a mystery until I did some investigation and found that my database contains a record for a great-great-great-great uncle (not a direct ancestor) who died of fever while on a sailing ship anchored in a Jamaican harbor.
The opening screen of Map my Family Tree shows the world map in the upper half of the screen and a list of events in the bottom. To the left, there is a list of countries. Clicking on country names results in an almost instant display of a map of that country, and red dots within that country show the locations of events of interest.
I clicked on "Switzerland" and immediately was shown a map of the country with one red dot, showing the birth location of my one Swiss ancestor. I must admit that I had never looked up the location before. For the first time, I was able to see exactly where the town is located. I then spent the next half hour or so clicking on various countries and dots to see where various ancestral events took place.
Map my Family Tree automatically checks your genealogy database for place name typos, missing counties, and other inaccuracies. You may then copy and paste corrections to your genealogy file. The program's database contains more than 3.3-million place names from around the world plus U.S. churches and cemeteries. Longitude and latitude references are included.
While working with this program I was able to identify a few "problems" with my database. For instance, I had an ancestor in colonial days who was known to come from Wessex, England, although his exact place of birth is unknown. When I entered his information into my database many years ago, I simply entered his birth as "Wessex" and neglected to add the word "England" onto it. After all, I know where Wessex is. When Map my Family Tree first mapped the data, it interpreted the name Wessex as the town of Wessex, Alberta, Canada, and displayed a red dot in western Canada. That is not the correct location! However, the error was mine. I cannot blame Map my Family Tree because I neglected to add the word "England" onto the record. Instead, I need to spend some time cleaning up my database.
I also noticed that my genealogy database contains information about my own military service in Texas and Louisiana; but, apparently, I neglected to enter the fifteen months I spent in Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. Map my Family Tree is not advertised as a genealogy database correction and suggestion program, and yet it obviously does help bring some kinds of errors to light.
Progeny Software has compiled a gazetteer of more than three million geographical names from around the world, along with each location's unique latitude and longitude. Using this gazetteer, Map my Family Tree will geocode or pinpoint every location in your genealogy data file and identify any place name inaccuracies.
Just as a spell checker allows you to add new words to its data file, Map my Family Tree will allow you to customize your gazetteer of place names. You can easily add locations that no longer exist or personalized place name descriptions, such as "Grandpa's Homestead" or "Where great-grandmother killed the bear."
The built-in gazetteer can also be used as a stand-alone tool for you to see if a place name currently exists and identify its longitude and latitude reference points so that you can find it on a map. It contains almost all towns in North America, Europe, the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as all the cities in the rest of the world.
Map my Family Tree uses state-of-the-art vector mapping technology so that you see more, not less, geographic detail as you zoom in. I was very impressed with the speed of this program. Unlike some mapping programs I have used in the past, Map my Family Tree redraws maps almost instantly. I was able to zoom in and out on any of the maps almost instantly. When displaying a map of the state where I was born, I was able to zoom in to look at my hometown by repeatedly clicking on the location. Each click zoomed in further, resulting in almost instant display of each new map. I also found a "slider bar" that zooms in and out quickly by simply dragging the center of the bar from left to right and back again.
Trying to describe something visual, such as mapping software, in this text-based newsletter is a challenge. I would suggest that you look at the examples shown at http://www.progenygenealogy.com/map-my-family-tree-details.html. Click on any of the thumbnail-sized maps on that page to view a larger image. Those pictures will convey more information than anything I can write in many thousands of words.
Map my Family Tree also includes a built-in link to MapQuest. You can select a place name from the results list in the Gazetteer, and then click on the MapQuest button to see a current map for that place. You can even obtain driving directions to that place (on modern roads, not the trails your ancestors used) by using MapQuest's capabilities. Of course, you must have an Internet connection in order to use MapQuest. Such a connection is not needed when using the other features of Map my Family Tree.
Of course, looking at maps on the screen is nice, but eventually you will want to print something on paper or perhaps upload a map to a web site or place a map into a document that describes your ancestors' lives. The Publish feature in this program can do that easily by allowing you to save maps in JPG, GIF, BMP, PNG, and TIFF formats. You can print on any Windows-compatible printer, including the huge plotters found at Kinko's and other office supply stores and services.
Map my Family Tree also contains many options to customize your maps. As already mentioned, you can add new locations and new names to the maps. In addition, you can customize font sizes and styles and vary map colors to suit your tastes.
Map my Family Tree is a great addition to any genealogy database. You can publish your research in the form of a geographic map and share it with friends, relatives, and colleagues. You can see how your family is distributed across the country or the world.
You can analyze migration paths, trends in name, event type and place correlations, and other interesting facts. You can spot new opportunities for research by identifying courthouses, archives, etc., in proximity to your ancestors' homes.
Keep in mind that the maps show political boundaries as they exist today. If your ancestor was born in Arizona territory or in a principality in Europe that no longer exists, the maps displayed will show states and countries of today, not of long ago.
I have enjoyed using this program for the past few days, and suspect that I will use it again and again in the future. As mentioned on Progeny Software's web site, "Because life is a journey, see your ancestors' lives on a map with Map my Family Tree™."
Here are the system requirements:
- Windows 2000 or XP (it does not work on Windows 95, 98 or ME)
- 300 MHZ-speed Processor (Pentium III or faster recommended)
- 64 megabytes RAM minimum with a strong recommendation for more memory than that
- 260 megabytes of free disk space - Additional disk space will be required to create a geo-coded file from your genealogy database.
- VGA or better monitor
- Internet connection required to view maps on MapQuest.com (optional)
Map my Family Tree has a retail price of $49.95 (U.S. funds) but is available right now for an introductory price of $39.95. If you are a registered user of Progeny Software's earlier product, called World Place Advisor, you can update to the new, more powerful program for $19.95.
For more information about Map my Family Tree or to order the program via a safe and secure online shopping cart system, go to http://www.progenygenealogy.com/map-my-family-tree.html