I have been asked to document an explanation of how Family Tree Maker 2012 links sources, source citations, media and 'facts', to assist somebody who is very visually/structure oriented to describe to somebody who has recognised the need to cite her sources after a few years of doing her family history how it all hangs together.

As I don't have access to a copy of Family Tree Maker 2012, I'm asked for help here.

I can find a lot of blog posts on how to cite sources using FTM2012, but nothing that has a (preferably succinct) description of the data model.

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    The Family Tree Maker data model is not publicly documented. To understand how to cite sources in FTM, you do not need the actual data model, you need to read the manual or help file, view some videos and try it yourself. Perhaps this video helps? youtube.com/watch?v=zJIS4p57LDY – TamuraJones May 10 '13 at 9:31
  • @TamuraJones, I was hopeful -- until it created a cemetery as a source! – user104 May 10 '13 at 9:34
  • @TamuraJones Also, the person I am trying to help does need to understand the model -- it's the way his brain works. – user104 May 10 '13 at 9:38
  • Well, if it's worth something for him, why can't he just pay $ 29.95 for a downloadable copy, install it on his PC, and invite you to play with it and detect the model from the way it works? – Enno Borgsteede May 14 '13 at 21:28
  • @EnnoBorgsteede The downloadable version doesn't seem to be available in the UK. The physical version is £33 ($50) including postage, which is a lot of money. But yes, reverse-engineering the diagram from the software (plus some good practice guidance on using it) is the way forward -- I was just hoping somebody had already done it. – user104 May 15 '13 at 8:51

If you're asking only about the FTM2012 source citation model, it's pretty straightforward. I think it can be inferred from the video @TamuraJones referred to, but just in case it's not obvious:

Repositories are collections of source material (e.g., libraries, or newspaper archive websites). So sources link to repositories many-to-one.

Sources can be created ad hoc or using templates. The templates do a passable job of following Elizabeth Shown Mills "Evidence Explained" source descriptions, and details of some of the template variations aren't obvious without familiarity with Mills' system. A source may (should) link to a repository, although with template-based sources some don't, per the template.

Citations link to sources many-to-one, adding citation details (e.g. page numbers), and optional citation text (and optional URL - oddly, only citations have the optional URL field).

Facts link to citations many-to-many.

Any entity - sources, citations, facts, individuals, or "marriages" (family groups) - can link to media. Media must be local electronic media (jpg, doc, pdf, etc.), not URL-based media. They can be reused, so it's also a many-to-many link.

Notes can be included (in-line, not attached) with sources, citations, facts, individuals, marriages, or media (although for sources they're called "comments" and for media "media details").

I have a feeling you're looking for something more than this, but if you can tell me what's missing, I can update it.

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  • That is exactly what I needed; I can draw a data modelling diagram from this! There are significant differences with the software I'm used to: many-to-one links between citations and sources and citation URLs, for example, plus the use of EE templates (which I would love, but not enough to ditch the other excellent features of the program I use), and the points at which media can be linked, plus the use and terminology for notes. – user104 May 15 '13 at 16:27
  • One question, if I may: are media files linked via "media records" (i.e records in FTM that point to the local file) or directly (i.e. each entity -- 'fact' etc. points to the relevant file directly?) – user104 May 16 '13 at 6:51
  • Each entity points directly to the associated media file(s). There appear to be some sort of internal media records, identifying type and category (which can be assigned at link time) but if so, they can't be directly manipulated. – cleaverkin May 16 '13 at 19:08
  • What you are calling "citations" are really source details. A citation is the formal way of writing/formatting a source detail. – lkessler Oct 26 '13 at 1:05

From what I've found, most of the family tree software packages use a proprietary data system.

For ease of explanation and visual, is you can basically call it a hierarchical system in reverse.

A hierarchical system basically means that at the "top", you have one singular person, you. You have two biological parents, which would be the next layer. They each have two parents, and so on. I say in reverse, because most hierarchical models show the base unit at the top and go down, while family trees show the base unit at the bottom and go up.

It's not an exact relationship, as if you have 4 children, each of them become their own "base" for the tree, etc. However, for a visual representation it should be a good starting point, and at least gets the idea across.

For the rest of it, it becomes a relational model, which is harder to explain. A relational database is more like a really big dresser. The database is the dresser, each drawer in the dresser is it's own table, and then each table can have different fields of information describing it.

Such as a database (dresser) called clothes. This database has a table (drawer) called Socks. Each sock has a description (fields) such as size, color, type, etc.

Now to relate them all together, each time you make a new entry in a table, that table automatically assigns it a unique identifier. That unique identifier can be assigned in various ways to your unique identifier, so that you can say something like "Go to the dresser, and get all of the socks that belong to person # 100". This would get socks numbered 1, 2, 5, 10, etc.

That's pretty simple when you have one person that might own a pair of the socks, it starts getting complicated when you have multiple people that might own the same pair socks. This is where things like pivot tables and other data mechanisms start coming into play. But, the pyramid hierarchical and the dresser of clothes should be enough to start on for now.

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There is a Manual on the Installation CD, there are a number of Knowledge Base articles on this topic and I have a Blog on how this works. If you want something specific documented, I'll create a blog post


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  • Russ, many thanks for the offer. The Installation CD is in Australia, unfortunately, and the recipient of the explanation (temporarily) and the person who needs to explain (permanently) are in the UK. I couldn't find a picture in the knowledge base (or anywhere else) that showed how (using the terminology I'm familiar with) a 'source' is linked via a 'citation' to a 'fact' or 'event', how 'Source templates' fit in, and where 'source media' can be linked -- and (if there are multiple ways of linking things, which I'm sure there are) which is the best and why. [contd.] – user104 May 15 '13 at 9:03
  • I'm beginning to suspect that most people don't need to understand the data structure to use the product, and are happy with tutorials that just walk them through the screens, so a blog post for a very limited audience probably isn't a good use of your time. – user104 May 15 '13 at 9:04

Does your explanation have to exactly describe FTM's data model? Here's a (woefully-outdated) description of The Master Genealogist's data model. If it's only the sources/citations/media & "facts" entities you're describing, how about using the Gentech data model as a jumping-off point?

Re-reading your question, I think I'm probably off-base here. It sounds like you're trying to help a FTM user to locate & fill in the appropriate FTM fields/attributes to document their sources, not trying to help them understand how a genealogy app works "under the hood".

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  • Thanks, but it does need to be the FTM data model. I'm familiar (for example) with the Family Historian model, but there are almost certainly differences for FTM. For example, I know it uses source templates, which FH doesn't, and may well have different options for how media are linked. In addition I expect there are terminology difference. – user104 May 10 '13 at 7:28
  • Also, not off base -- although the end result is explaining to an FTM user how to fill in the right fields, the basis for doing so is explaining how it all hangs together (i.e. the why as well as the what). – user104 May 10 '13 at 7:28

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