Note: Macintosh owners might want to read my "Family Atlas for Macintosh Users" article that appears immediately after this one.
Family Atlas has a dynamic mapping engine. In this case, the word "dynamic" means that you can zoom in and out, scroll, and move the map as you wish. As you do so, the map displayed on your screen constantly rebuilds itself to display fresh information. You are not scrolling around a fixed or "static" map; all information is displayed dynamically as needed.
The dynamic map display allows the user to do all the following:
- Drag to rotate or pan the dynamic on-screen globe/map.
- Zoom in to see more map detail (such as county boundaries).
- Click on any place to see all events which happened in that spot.
You can use Family Atlas to do all these tasks easily:
- View family information on an interactive world map (either spherical or flat).
- Zoom in or out to see additional detail, such as state and county boundaries.
- Automatically geo-code places by matching them against the 3.5-million-name world place database included with Family Atlas.
- Pinpoint sites of important family events by adding custom markers automatically tied to the genealogy data. Markers can be based on either specific people and events or your entire family tree, making it easy to see migrations and clusters in family data.
- Add markers manually, making possible historical marker sets such as "Civil War Battles" and personal marker sets for locations such as "Our Family Vacations". Both hand-entered and data-based markers can easily be combined on the same map.
- Save or print beautiful maps.
- Enhance maps with text, migration lines, text bubbles, photographs, and other objects.
- Export maps to PDF or a number of popular graphics formats for use in reports, books, or websites.
Family Atlas will allow you to:
- Import data directly from your genealogy software.
- Create sets of markers that are tied directly to your genealogy data.
- Create sets of markers that aren't tied to your genealogy data.
- Create different markers for different groups of people or events.
- Hide or display different sets of markers in the same atlas.
Family Atlas is a great tool for showing where your ancestors and (optionally) other family members lived. It also plots migration patterns in a manner that almost "jumps out of your computer screen." As a side benefit, you can often find places to look for records when you see where your ancestors lived and traveled. To be sure, you might be able to do that by reading text, but it sure seems a lot more obvious when you are looking at a map.
Family Atlas also makes gorgeous maps. Trying to describe them in a text newsletter is impossible. I'd suggest that you look at the Family Atlas web site at http://www.familyatlas.com to see examples.
While written by the same company that produces the RootsMagic genealogy program, this mapping program will work with almost any of today's genealogy software. It does so by importing data directly from RootsMagic, Personal Ancestral File for Windows, Family Tree Maker, or Legacy. If you use still another program, you can create a GEDCOM file in that program, and then Family Atlas will import that file. In short, Family Atlas should work with any genealogy program produced in the past ten years or so, even Macintosh programs.
I installed Family Atlas on Window XP. The installation was simple: insert the CD-ROM disk, and follow the on-screen instructions. A couple minutes later, Family Atlas was installed and operational.
After reading the help files for a bit, I decided to import a GEDCOM file of more than 3,000 people. The import process was equally simple: select FILES, then IMPORT, then GENEALOGY, then GEDCOM. I then used the browser built into Family Atlas to find the file I wanted and clicked on it. When the import started, I watched the screen for a minute or two as the program geo-coded various places names (that is, it looked up and recorded latitudes and longitudes). Upon completion, Family Atlas displayed a list of place names that could not be located, along with a list of "best guesses." I went through the list one at a time and double-clicked on the appropriate place under "best guesses" for each of the unmatched place names.
In almost all cases, the first place listed under "best guesses" was the appropriate one. The one exception was for "Acadia." Several towns in the U.S. and Canada were listed as guesses, but not the original Acadia that has since been divided into the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.
Even with one or two missing places in the list, I was able to specify all the locations within a few minutes. This made me realize that I need to re-check the spelling of many of my ancestral locations in France and a few in Quebec. I apparently used old spelling names as listed on old records or had used English spellings or had simply made spelling errors in the names as I transcribed them. I suspect these three causes produced the few missed places . In any case, Family Atlas quickly pointed out these inadequacies in my database.
I also noted that Family Atlas uses present-day locations but very few historical names. For instance, my ancestors helped found the town of Dover, Maine, and lived there for several generations. Dover was across the Piscataquis River from the town of Foxcroft. In 1922, long after my ancestors had left the town, the two towns joined together to become a single town known as Dover-Foxcroft. My records all show the place where my ancestors lived as "Dover" since that was the appropriate name when they lived there. However, Family Atlas could not find the town of Dover. It only knows the modern name of "Dover-Foxcroft." In any case, it was a trivial issue as I was quickly able to add the town of Dover as being equivalent to the town of Dover-Foxcroft. However it is something you will want to remember as you start to match up locations within Family Atlas: look for the modern name.
Counties work in a similar manner: you can elect whether or not you wish to display county lines on your maps. However, the program always displays modern-day county lines, not as they existed at some point in history. I can't say that I am surprised. Trying to keep track of all county and other boundary lines throughout history would be a monumental task!
I was surprised at the number of locations listed in Family Atlas. The program claims to have a database of 3.5 million place names. It even correctly identified Robinson, an area within the small town of Blaine, Maine. Robinson is not even a separate town, simply the name given to a village that is separate from the "downtown area" of this small town of a few hundred souls in northern Maine. I suspect that Family Atlas has thousands of other small villages in its database as well.
For towns or other locations that do not (yet) exist with the Family Atlas placename database, you can easily add new locations. You can add one or more places or even import an Excel spreadsheet that lists hundreds of places.
Once the GEDCOM file had been imported and the place names identified, it was time to have fun. I spent an hour or more making all sorts of maps. Migration patterns "popped out" quickly. In my case, I was surprised at how many of my ancestors lived southwest of Quebec City, a fact I had never appreciated when looking at place names on a piece of paper. However, when the same information is displayed as dots on a map, this and other facts become obvious.
The ease of use of this program is impressive. Want to zoom in and out? Click on the appropriate magnifying glass. Even better, you can "drag" the displayed map around the screen to scroll in different directions.
I was most impressed by the "Time Slider," however. Invoking this option displays a horizontal line across the bottom of the screen. You can then "drag" a small icon along this line to indicate the years of interest. As you do so, various dots appear and disappear on the screen to indicate event locations mentioned in your database during those years.
For instance, with the icon set to a time span of 100 years, I could move the icon forward and backward in time. As I did so, dots would appear on the map, showing that an event was listed in the database at a certain location within those 100 years. As I moved to later years, the dots would disappear from previous locations as new dots appeared in later locations, indicating that my ancestors had moved on. This shows migration patterns in a crystal clear manner! I doubt if I could ever gain the same understanding by reading words from pages of text. What's more, clicking on any of the dots displays a list of events at that location that occurred within those years.
Family Atlas lets you create an unlimited number of atlas files. An "atlas file" is simply a grouping of markers and events that will be displayed on the maps. You can have one atlas file for your father's ancestors, another for your mother's, and still another for your distant cousin.
Of course, displaying data on your own computer's screen is great, but sooner or later you will want to show that information to someone else. In fact, Family Atlas allows you to do that easily. You can:
- Customize map colors and settings.
- Annotate your maps with text, lines, bitmaps, or other objects.
- Print full color maps on your printer.
- Save maps to numerous graphics formats, including PDF, JPG, GIF, PNG and BMP file formats.
Maps that you have saved as files work like any other graphic file. You can send them by e-mail, import them into web sites, or include them in a word processing document or bring them into most modern genealogy programs. In fact, you can even export markers directly to Google Earth and then "fly over" your ancestral locations!
You can customize your maps by adding lines, text, pictures, bubble pointers, titles, legends, and more. The program even includes a mini paintbrush program that adds many options. You can color certain sections of a map as you wish or add text. You can select the shapes, colors, and fonts of your annotations. You can also save your customized maps so that you can open and edit or print them later.
Family Atlas requires Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, or XP. I also used it on a Macintosh when writing this article; see the details of that in my "Family Atlas for Macintosh Users" article that appears immediately after this one.
This article has only introduced the major features of Family Atlas. A full review of all the features would probably fill several newsletters. Instead, I will point you to the program's web site at http://www.familyatlas.com for further information.
Family Atlas sells for $29.95 plus shipping and handling. It is available via a safe and secure online shopping cart system at http://www.familyatlas.com.
You'll have to excuse me now; I want to experiment with some more maps.