Ancestry owned Family Tree Maker for over a decade before Software MacKiev acquired the desktop genealogy software. The software is available for purchase from the MacKiev website.
Family Tree Maker (or FTM to its fans) has been through six owners by my count. It has an interesting and checkered history. Read on for the juicy details.
A Summary Of Companies Who Owned Family Tree Maker
Family Tree Maker has gone through six owners. This is the timeline:
|1989||Banner Blue Software|
|1998||The Learning Company|
|2003||MyFamily.com / Ancestry.com|
A Detailed Timeline Of Who Owned Family Tree Maker
Ken Hess founded Banner Blue Software in the 1980s and released the first version of Family Tree Maker in 1989. Hess has since moved on to many other ventures. But his About page still mentions (incorrectly) that Family Tree Maker is owned by Ancestry.com.
It’s no wonder that people get confused. He didn’t sell it to Ancestry, and Ancestry doesn’t own the desktop software now.
Let’s sort out exactly what happened.
Ken Hess sold his software company to Broderbund in 1995. At the time, Broderbund was best known for a fantasy adventure game called Myst.
The Learning Company acquired Broderbund in 1998. We won’t spend much time on them, because Mattel bought them a year later. Yes, the Mattel that makes these ladies:
You may be wondering how Mattel could tie Family Tree Maker into its existing product lines. Well, they created a new product line for family history. They branded it with a website called Genealogy.com.
At this point, you may be wondering if Ancestry will ever be mentioned in this timeline. Hold onto your hats!
In 2003, Genealogy.com (brand and assets) was purchased by MyFamily.com.
Who, you ask? The MyFamily.com brand was one of several genealogy membership sites owned by one company. Another site within this company (called Infobases) was Ancestry.com. The corporate group finally settled on a single name as an overall brand. Ancestry.com was the winner.
If you’re as interested as I am in the history and ownership of Ancestry.com, I have a full article on the topic. But let’s get back to Family Tree Maker.
We can say that Ancestry acquired Family Tree Maker in 2003. And the company respected the history of its acquisition. Six years later, Ancestry celebrated the 20th anniversary of the software on their corporate blog.
Exit Ancestry and Enter MacKiev
Family Tree Maker had also been a Windows application. The first version came on floppy disks and ran on DOS (an early Windows operating system).
Ancestry outsourced the development of a version for the Mac to a Boston company called Software MacKiev. Ancestry rolled out the Mac release in 2010.
MacKiev continued to support the Mac software behind the scenes.
Who Owns Family Tree Maker Now?
In 2016, MacKiev acquired the entire Family Tree Maker brand and assets from Ancestry. MacKiev is the current owner of Family Tree Maker. They are licensed to use the Ancestry API to sync with the Ancestry website.
Was Family Tree Maker Discontinued?
Judging by questions on genealogy forums, there are a lot of people who see references to Family Tree Maker being discontinued. And they ask the reasonable question – is FTM still around?
Ancestry announced in December 2015 that they would discontinue Family Tree Maker. There was a strong adverse reaction from Ancestry customers. In February 2016, the company announced that Software MacKiev would acquire and maintain the software.
I dug up the original corporate blog post announcing the retirement of FTM. The post has since been removed from the Ancestry website. But I resurrected it with the Wayback Machine to see the reaction from customers.
There were over nine thousand comments. I’ve skimmed through many of them, and I couldn’t find a single positive reaction. And yes, I know how the internet works in terms of negativity. But it’s not usually 100% complaint!
By the way, the original post makes no mention of MacKiev acquiring the software. That wasn’t the intention when Ancestry tried to throw FTM overboard. The post was updated in February 2016 with the news that MacKiev was taking over.
Why Did Ancestry Want To Discontinue Family Tree Maker?
This is from the horse’s mouth i.e. the original announcement:
we’ve taken a hard look at the declining desktop software market and the impact this has on being able to continue to provide product enhancements and support that our users need…Ancestry corporate blog (Wayback Machine)
Our subscription business and website, on the other hand, continue to grow and we are doubling down our efforts to make that experience even better for our Ancestry community.Ancestry corporate blog (Wayback Machine)
Let me paraphrase: desktop software is tanking, and online is where the money’s at.
Ancestry actually started out as two friends selling historical archives on CD-ROMs. But the operation quickly moved online in the early days. And Family Tree Maker had long stood out as the lonely desktop application in their portfolio.
Developing desktop software and online software requires different skills – heck, it requires different teams. Which makes sense of Ancestry’s move as a sound business decision. But companies should try not to aggravate a considerable number of their customers.
How Did MacKiev Get Involved?
I mentioned that Ancestry had outsourced development of the Mac version of FTM to Software MacKiev in 2010. MacKiev handled the ongoing maintenance and support of the Mac software.
When Ancestry made its announcement of retiring FTM, it said that existing customer support would continue for at least another year. This would include bug fixes.
My guess is that MacKiev was lined up to take over all maintenance and support during this offloading year. I’m speculating, but the Boston company was in the right place at the right time.
It may seem like a very attractive proposition for MacKiev. All those loyal customers, and the FTM software had exclusive access to synchronization with Ancestry family trees. That could be a fantastic unique selling point.
Except that it didn’t play out that way. When Ancestry announced that MacKiev would take over FTM, it also announced another major development. RootsMagic, an alternative desktop application, would be given access to synchronize with Ancestry trees by the end of the year.
So, were the Chief Executives of MacKiev and RootsMagic walking into Ancestry HQ at the same time? I’m sure the scene played out like this:
RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker have an interesting history that partly intertwines. You can read more in our article on the origins and ownership of RootsMagic.
What Family Tree Software Syncs With Ancestry.Com Now?
Two desktop genealogy applications can synchronize family trees with the Ancestry.com website. Family Tree Maker was the first program to do so. RootsMagic now has the same capability.
Both applications have access to the Ancestry Tree API (application programming interface). Users can download family trees from the Ancestry.com website and work on a copy within their desktop software.
Unlike GEDCOM files, the software download includes media (images and documents) and Ancestry records.
Both software will also synchronize local changes up to the Ancestry website. Although the functionality starts to differ at this point.
How Do You Get Family Tree Maker?
The current version of Family Tree Maker is only available for purchase from the Software MacKiev website. There are both Windows and Mac versions of the software.
MacKiev do not offer a trial version of their software.
You should avoid purchasing older versions on Amazon or other sources. At the time of writing, there are listings on Amazon going back to version 4. Many are described as “unavailable”, but not all.
If you’ve read our timeline section, you can guess that the Broderbund 12 CD-ROM edition may not be the most up to date!
How Do You Get RootsMagic?
A free trial and paid version of RootsMagic is available from their website. RootsMagic 7 is a Windows application. The Mac version installs and runs on a Windows emulator.
We have several articles and tutorials on using RootsMagic with Ancestry:
- A review of backing up your Ancestry tree with RootsMagic
- How to merge Ancestry trees with RootsMagic
- How to split Ancestry trees with RootsMagic