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Newest version of Family Tree Maker is easy to use

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Many people have been doing genealogy research for years, and the advent of the personal computer and the Internet has made this pursuit even more available to the average consumer.

One of the most popular software packages used to assist in the development of the family tree has been Family Tree Maker, which unfortunately has been bounced around from owner to owner for several years. The most popular version, 2006, has been the gold standard for years after the company running things made some rather bone-headed moves with the interface.

This year, I thought I would upgrade my own version, partially because I was curious and partially because I got a new computer and could not readily lay my hands on the Family Tree Maker 2006 CD to reinstall it on my new hard drive.

So I backed up my family data file, which has about 7,000 people in it, and installed Family Tree Maker 2010 Deluxe on my computer, which is running the Windows 7 64-bit edition. Despite some reviews to the contrary, the program ran flawlessly following an immediate patch provided by the company automatically at first launch.

The Deluxe version is the middle ground in the software suite. There is an "Essentials" version that offers full program functionality and less online content access, and a Platinum version that offers longer-term access to online resources and some offline resources as well.

After installation, I took the copy of my family file and imported it, leaving my original intact — there is no going back to the older version if you don't make a copy, so make sure you do this step.

I was then met with a completely new interface, which has raised the ire of many a genealogy fan. I think if you had never used the program before, you would find the interface lovely and easy to use. It is only those who have used the old one for years who are sort of missing the old look and feel.

Entering information is easy. You simply start with yourself and enter the information you know to be true and the source. You may not have to find your own birth certificate but then for your parents and everyone after you should enter the information you know for sure, and the citation. With every kit, you get a trial membership to Ancestry.com, the paid service that gathers all kinds of information, including user-submitted trees.

In my case, I used the online access to Ellis Island information, census data, the Social Security Death Index and loads of other resources to either find or verify my ancestors. It's a great resource … the only downside is the cheesy way they make you sign up for the "free" trial period by making you use a credit card with automatic renewal unless you remember to call them to cancel.

The Essentials version costs about $30; the Deluxe version costs about $60 and the Premium version costs about $100, but pricing varies considerably online. I'd go for the Deluxe version, which includes three months of access to the online resources, which gives you plenty of time to get a taste.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com.