Saturday, April 4, 2015

Almost A Meaningless Cancel Button

For splitting files or deleting unwanted individuals, families, or branches the report I see recommended most often is the Extended Family Chart. The various forums of FTM and Ancestry repeatedly refer to this as the best tool available.  

So one would think that this report would be one of the easiest for users to run. Certainly not this user and I have been complaining about it for a very long time. 

Admittedly I am probably not a typical user.  I have been using FTM for nearly 20 years and my approach to genealogy is not that of a real genealogist. I do the vast majority of my research online and am not rigorous about who I put into my database. If the data for an individual, a family or a longer lineage looks as if it fits into my tree that is usually sufficient for me to add as much as I can capture to my tree. Consequently my database is approaching 60,000 individuals.

FTM  has proven to be horrid at managing a database of this size and 2014 is no exception.  Reports take a very long time, often hours to produce, and it is not uncommon for internal errors to occur and for the system to automatically abort. When it does work, I can literally sit in front of my computer and visualize the system slowly walking the paths of the database to collect data or even to reposition the database following a request I made. 

When I was working for a living I was a computer consultant and database manager so I am quite familiar with the inner workings of databases. Especially databases that manage files with millions of records. For some of my clients and users 60,000 records was too small of a file to even test with. 

When I request a report from FTM it immediately starts running that report using the last settings of that report. If those settings are not what I want this time around that means I must wait for the report to run so I can change the setting to the way I want them this time. There is NO alternative. So I have learned that once I have successfully run a report I carefully reset the setting to use the smallest amount of data the next time the report is opened. That way I do not have to wait an extended amount of time for a meaningless report to finish. However, if I happen to be running a major report like the Extended Family Chart using all of my data and the system fails and automatically aborts the problem does not end there.  Once there is an abort, when I return to the reports system, the Publish option, it immediately returns to the failed report and begins processing automatically. 

Oh how nice, the little box that showing the system is processing has a Cancel Button. The problem is, it does not cancel immediately. As near as I can tell it continues to walk the database collecting all the data, another hour or more, and only when it begins to format that data for printing does it accept the cancel button.   It certainly does NOT immediately cancel the process. 

No corporate user would long tolerate this from their system and they would demand that it be fixed. I have been at corporations that when the vendor of the software failed to do that management switched to a different vendor and different software.

The problem that we FTM users have is that Ancestry has been very successful at cornering the genealogy market to the point where there is little or no competition. So we have to take what the Advertising Department is willing to provide us. And it is a very small bone that they throw at us. 

I say Advertising Department because no Chief Information Officer would ignore the technical and user issues I and so many others encounter. But since FTM is not for internal use but is for the public to purchase and use there is no need for a CIO to manage and decide on technical priorities. The priorities of Ancestry and Family Tree Maker are entirely different that those of users like myself and others.  

I want a functional, efficient and working database with all of the associated tools that one finds with a database.

Their priority is to make lots of money.



  1. I agree that FTM does a poor job of handling large trees. What constitutes a large tree? Well, my tree of 22,596 records has trouble loading the Extended Family Chart, but when I click the "Cancel" button, it cancels immediately. My tree of 5,000 records has no difficulty with anything. Perhaps part of the problem is your machine. I have a 2008 Macbook Pro with 6 GB of RAM and a 1 TB solid state disk. The SSD really improved the performance of my machine. Granted, FTM should not require such high-end specs that it doesn't run properly on the average machine.

    But if FTM performs so poorly for you, why have you kept using it for 20 years? While it is true that it's the only software that syncs directly with, it is not true that they have cornered the market. But there are many other viable alternatives. The GenSoftReviews website has reviews and ratings for a large number of programs. Here are the full-featured programs for Windows: I have used RootsMagic and found it a good alternative to FTM.

    I agree that Ancestry's priority is to make lots of money, but that's true of any company. As long as people keep buying FTM and don't complain very much, they'll keep putting out a mediocre product. Although they've removed the ability to contact them through their website, I have found that they still respond to email: support (at) ancestry dot com. People should write them every time they find a bug, like the one you found with the lag in the cancel button. You could also try writing the developer, although I don't know if they will respond: FTM-Dev (at) ancestry dot com.

  2. My reason for staying with FTM is largely due to my experience when I first began using it. I downloaded the trial or free versions of a number of the then top genealogy software and found problems with all of them. The one that was easiest to use and had the reports and charts I was seeking was FTM. Once there I guess I became a captive.

    When I read reviews, pros, and cons of current top 5 systems I see that none of them come off unscathed. However, I am so unhappy with FTM at the moment that I am considering trying another. Thanks for your suggestion.

    In the past, I have written to them and found them extremely unresponsive. I stopped trying.