Mapping Software for Genealogy: Part One

Welcome to this week’s blog post. This will be the first in a series about my search for good mapping software. As you might have noticed, maps are a bit of a theme in my writing at the moment!  There are no doubt other posts which give an overview of the pros and cons of all sorts of programs. In this series, I also wanted to explore the options in terms of copyright limitations as well.

The search begins…

For a long time now, I have been interested in finding a good way of mapping various places associated with my ancestors using computer software. Whether that is where they were born, died or where they lived in the census years. There are many times in our ancestor’s lives where we may want to plot their address, no matter if they have stayed in the same place for most of their lives, or if they moved elsewhere. A map of these locations can be helpful as a visual aid and as a collection of the information we have.

There are many different programs available to help with this, so I wanted to discover which one would be most useful for me by taking a look at a few. This is by no means a comprehensive list and personal preference does come into the decisions I have made, so do consider these and any others that you find yourselves too.

What and Why?

To begin then, which programs have I looked at? Firstly, as I already happen to have Family Tree Maker, I have explored their in built mapping function. I have looked at two other software based programs: Family Atlas from RootsMagic and Map My Family Tree. I also looked at two web based programs: Google Earth Pro and the Ordnance Survey online facility. Today’s post will explore Family Tree Maker.

You can imagine that accurate mapping and an ability to input multiple locations on different maps would be of use. Price would also be a factor, but as a genealogist, the ability to share maps with others is also important. This brings me to the issue of copyright. As I also undertake client work, how do these programs set out their copyright clauses? Would I be able to edit a map with the information of a client’s ancestors and include that in a report? Let us find out!

Family Tree Maker

Family Tree Maker is not for everyone. It so happens to be the software I use for creating family trees, but it is certainly not the only one- I have just got used to using FTM over the years. As such, it is perhaps a little expensive in comparison to other programs. The current price (at time of writing) is £79.95 and the main purpose is not really for mapping. That is just a part of the program. Maybe it is not one for those specifically looking for mapping software, who do not already own FTM. After all, the clue is in the name- Family Tree Maker!

Mapping Software for Genealogy, Part One_Shersca Genealogy_FTM Person map view
FTM map view, sorted by person. The vital events plotted are those for Edward James Gouly (c.1827-1916). Map is copyright of Microsoft (Bing Maps) and FTM copyright of McKiev.

What are the features?

Having said that, if you do own it or are considering it, the mapping facility is not bad. It uses Bing maps, so an internet connection is essential. It works off the places you enter for each person in any specific family tree and there are two ways of viewing them:

  • By place- this is an alphabetical list of all places associated with people in the family tree. Clicking on a place will then show you who it is associated with and you can expand the person to show the event it is connected to.
  • By person- this is again an alphabetical list, but of each person in the family tree. You can then check the boxes of the facts you would like to see on the map and then each checked box shows the place associated with that fact.

An advantage of the second option, is that each plotted place is connected with a line. This means you can easily see where an ancestor was located at various points in their life. I personally prefer this view as it fulfils more of what I want when it comes to mapping my ancestor’s lives. A downside though, is that the points plotted only show which event it relates to when you click on it. The details come up in another window and basic details automatically shown on the map itself.

Other useful points

There are different map views, including a Road map, Aerial and Birdseye views, as well as Streetside and Ordnance Survey options. They include the facility to check unrecognised place names in order to resolve errors and misspellings, although I have not yet found that helpful for the particular tree I used. This tree belonged to some research I am currently undertaking about a language teacher named Paul Benoit Joseph Gouly de Chaville. He was briefly mentioned in my previous post about the history of my own house. Paul was French and born in Viroflay, in what would have been Yvelines, Seine et Oise. FTM doesn’t recognise this and suggests ‘Oise, Picardie, France.’ This doesn’t capture all of the information I would include for Paul’s birthplace. Of course, the program will only be as good as its code and this will dictate how well it recognises more unusual and/or historical names. You can also create migration maps for families, but that is something for another time. I am notoriously terrible at reading the manual, so I highly recommended that you do! The manual will tell you all of the things that the program can do, which I cannot go into here.

Copyright issues

One of the most important things for me, is of course the ability to share maps. FTM does allow you to print maps and share a place usage report (essentially the list of places and the ancestors associated with them). For printing, it captures the specific image/page you are currently looking at. But what about the terms and conditions? They are a bit of a maze, as they also have to take into account terms and conditions from other providers (yes Bing itself uses other providers and links to their Ts&Cs!). Unfortunately, they do not leave me feeling any clearer as to whether I could use their maps in client reports.

The Print Rights section seems to allude to the permissible use of sending PDF prints to customers, under the commercial purposes clause. For some reason, this is specifically for the Microsoft® Bing™ Maps Platform API.[1] On the other hand, the Microsoft Bing Maps and MapPoint Web Service End User Terms of Use, declares,

“Bing Maps and MapPoint Web Service is for your individual use, solely for internal use by you for your business, or for your own personal use. You may not modify, copy, distribute, transmit, display, perform, reproduce, publish, license, create derivative works from, sublicense, transfer, assign, rent, sell or otherwise convey any information, software, products or services obtained from Bing Maps and MapPoint Web Service without the prior written consent from Microsoft.”[2]

This certainly suggests that I could not reproduce anything in a client report without written permission. Bing Maps is obviously not going to be written with genealogists in mind. I would want some further clarification from them before I used any of their maps in a client report- even through FTM.


The conclusion I have reached is partly inconclusive! The mapping facility is OK and is easy enough to use. It seems to do most of what I would like, but it has a few drawbacks in that a printed map just shows plotted points. There is no indication of what they relate to. Not ideal. Then there is the copyright situation, which I would definitely need to clarify before I use the maps in client work. If any readers have experience with using Bing Maps for client work, I would be happy to hear about it!

Onwards to the next post then, which explores Family Atlas from RootsMagic and Map My Family Tree. Will they be more suitable? Will they be any clearer in terms of copyright? Join me next time to find out!

© 2021 Shersca Genealogy.

[1] Microsoft. Bing Maps: Print Rights – Under the Microsoft® Bing™ Maps Platform APIs’ Terms of Use. : accessed 09 February 2021.

[2] Microsoft. Bing Maps: Microsoft Bing Maps and MapPoint Web Service End User Terms of Use and Embedded Maps Service Terms of Use. : accessed 09 February 2021.