As Family Tree Maker software nears the end of its product lifecycle, many may wonder how far past the “expiration date” they should use it. Here’s my take.Family Tree Maker Discontinued

Ancestry.com recently announced that they will stop supporting Family Tree Maker, the popular desktop software that syncs with Ancestry.com trees online. Sales will end on December 31, 2015. Product support and major fixes for current users will end a year later. (Click here for full details.)

This means the clock is ticking for Family Tree Maker users to decide where to put their family trees. Or is it? Can you continue to use software after it’s officially “expired?” For how long? What risks do you take if you do?

Consider the “Best If Used By” dates we see on the food products we buy. There is currently still some life in this product, and will be for a year after they stop selling it. According to Ancestry, during 2016 “all features of the software, including TreeSync™, will continue to work, and Member Services will be available to assist with user questions. We will also address major software bugs that may occur, as well as compatibility updates.” So technically, the “Best if Used By” date is the end of 2016. But then what?

What Happens with Family Tree Maker after 2016?

The software will still function on your computer. But it won’t sync to your Ancestry online tree anymore, and there will be no upgrades to make it compatible with future computer hardware or software. So eventually, you’ll need to transfer everything out of Family Tree Maker software anyway to be able to keep up with evolving technology. That’s what happened to me with my first favorite genealogy software. When it was discontinued, I hung on to it for a long time, and honestly, I had no problem.

Eventually, however, the old software was no longer fully compatible with new operating systems and I had to upgrade. I took a risk in continuing to enter information into an obsolete system–and  wouldn’t take it again in retrospect. When it finally did come time to transfer, I was gambling with whether my system had gotten so far behind the times that it would be too difficult or even impossible to transfer everything. (Think how much our data transfer technology has changed in recent years: from floppy disks, CD-ROMs, CDs and DVDs to flash drives and now cloud-based transfers.) And I also ran the risk that there might be license limitations to how many computers my old software could be loaded onto.

Our genealogy software contains thousands of pieces of linked pieces of data: names, dates, relationships, source citation information, digitized photos and documents and more. This is not something we could easily re-create and I for one would not want to have to redo all that research (or even just key it in). Even if GEDCOM files continue as a universal file type for genealogy software, the ability to export every piece of information exactly as you want it in GEDCOMs is not guaranteed. For example, consider that when you download a tree from Ancestry, according to their customer support pages,”Any pictures, charts, books, views, or similar items found in the original file will not be included in the [downloaded] GEDCOM. Vital information, notes, and sources are usually retained after conversion.”

Why continue to load your Family Tree Maker software with data you might not be able to fully retrieve when you want to?

If you’re a Family Tree Maker user, I’m not saying you should panic. You have time to do your homework and carefully consider the best next step for you. You could start using new family history software with a reliable cloud-based back-up service for your computer, so your files are fully protected. You could migrate to another cloud-and-software-sync model over at MyHeritage (their desktop software is free). Click here to read more about those options and see current offers by RootsMagic and MyHeritage.com for Family Tree Maker users.

Bottom line: “Best if Used By” usually indicates that the sooner you finish consuming a product and move on, the healthier and better your experience will be. That is an applicable analogy for Family Tree Maker users. Research your options and move on to another product so your family tree will continue to grow and be healthy!

More Gems for Family Tree Maker Users

Here at Genealogy Gems we care about you and your data. Here are more resources for you:

What Ancestry’s Retirement of Family Tree Maker Software Means for You

Best Genealogy Software: Which You Should Choose and Why

How to Download and Backup Your Ancestry Data

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