Family Tree Maker 2017: Color Coding

After a long wait and lots of hard work by Jack Minsky and the team at MacKiev, Family Tree Maker 2017 for Windows and Mac has been released. One of the features I was most excited about is the color coding that is available in both versions.

Years ago, Mary Hill developed a color coding system for genealogy filing using a different color for each ancestral line. I’ve used her system both with binders and file folders (I am a huge fan of notebooks and create one for almost any project I am working on) and in my digital filing system through the use of an app that allows color coding. She goes into a detailed explanation of how to set up the system at the link above, but basically its foundation is a simple color coding formula for each ancestral line:

Color Coding Genealogy Binders

Example of Binders Using Mary Hill’s Color Coding System


Paternal Grandfather’s Line – Blue

Paternal Grandmother’s Line – Green

Maternal Grandfather’s Line – Red

Maternal Grandmother’s Line – Yellow

In my notebooks I keep additional binders (such as the white Dupuis/Dupuy binder in the photo above) for current research for a specific line.

Family Tree Maker (FTM) Color Coding

Example of Family Tree Maker (FTM) Color Coding

One of the new features in the recently released 2017 version of Family Tree Maker is the ability to color code your ancestor’s profiles. These colors will not sync with trees on Ancestry, but they are very useful for quick visual identification inside of Family Tree Maker. To the left is an example of the color coding on the tree view – you’ll notice that the home person has all four colors, and the home person’s parents have the two colors each from their parents.

Along with the colors used above in Mary Hill’s system, additional colors are also available. The potential uses of these range from adding a specific color for individuals in your direct line, people who served in the military, immigrant ancestors, DNA matches, and more.

The blue squares indicate matches to FamilySearch trees, but I will probably turn those off until they indicate matches to FamilySearch records. Occasionally I find an individual in a tree with relevant records and/or sources attached, but so far most of those matches lead me to individuals with no sourcing.

Example of color coding for an island group

Example of Color Coding for an “Island” Group

I often create “island” groups of individuals who are ancillary to my ancestors (potential relatives with no proven link, individuals in their FAN, etc.) but not connected to the main tree. These individuals are in the tree file but are not related to the home person, so I color these individuals pink (for groups that are probably relations) and purple (for unrelated individuals in an individual’s FAN). Using this system, I can glance at my list of individuals and have a quick visual reference as to their place in the big picture.

I’ve finished color coding my tree and am now resolving all of the place names that I have ignored for years. It will be nice to finally have those in a nice hierarchical structure under the Places tab.

Are you using the new color coding feature? Let me know in the comments what you use the colors to indicate in your tree(s).

Pin this:

Color Coding with Family Tree Maker 2017

Collecting Cousins may be compensated for any of the links in this post through sponsorships, paid ads, free or discounted products, or affiliate links. All links are affiliate links.


  1. I like your idea about using colours to mark unrelated people. I have two quite large groups in my tree who MIGHT be related to me, but my link to them is so far unproven. Right now though, I’ve used up all the available colours – four for my ancestral lines, and the other four to mark people in military service – WW1, WW2 and the Revolutionary War – patriots and UELs. I wish there were more colours! Maybe FTM will add more at some stage, but meanwhile, I think I’ll undo my WW1 and WW2 coding and use those colours for my ‘maybe’ ancestors instead.

    • I thought about that, Linda, but decided that I would probably just tag everyone with military service with one color instead of doing a color for each war. At first they were only going to do the four colors, so I was excited to see the additional choices but I still could use more. 🙂

  2. Tom Burnard says:

    As much as I love the color coding idea in FTM 2017, I wish there was a way to one click the Paternal and Maternal lines so that all members on each line are color coded instantly in one action. Is there a way? I have been individually coding and it is quite time consuming.

    • Hi Tom – Although there isn’t a way to color all members of a line, you can tag all ancestors and all descendants:
      That is how I did my color coding and it went a lot faster. I went to each grandparent of the home person and choose All Ancestors with the appropriate color, then later I went up the line to the furthest back person for each line and did the same thing with all descendants to make sure I had all of the siblings for each generation. That left some stragglers, but at that point it was just a matter of going through the index and viewing the individuals without colors (usually spouses or island groups) and hand coloring them. I only have about 1800 people in my tree and had it done in a couple of hours.

      • Thank you Mary! I just started using this program today (had 2014 version) and this saved me so much time!

      • Hi Mary! I’m confused on how you are suggesting to do it. I went to each of my grandparents and chose 1 color, all ancestors. That worked fine. But what exactly is your next step? So you would go to great grandparent and do what? Sorry for my confusion.

        Also, How do I apply two colors to my parents and then all four colors to myself? When I click on myself and try to choose four colors on the current person it keeps replacing the previous color.

        • Hi Bob – You have to use the “all descendants” choice on the ancestors in order to get more than one color for the home person. In my reply to Tom above, I describe how I was able to do that and included a screenshot showing where to select that option. Hope that helps.

  3. Tom Burnard says:

    Thanks Mary. That method is just brilliant and took very little time. I am now left with the stragglers to hand color which will be done over time. I already had color coding for Military and Naval so I have devised a color chart for handy reference as you can be easily fazed when not in daily contact with FTM.

  4. Tom Burnard says:

    Having completed color coding of all direct family lines I now have 4 colors for myself, 2 colors for my parents and then 1 color for each of my grandparents. The colors now extend all the way up to the end of the line and then back again through the descendants. As there are so few colors on offer, I would be interested to know how you tackled which color to use on all the spouses and their extended families. I am inclined to color them the same as the line they married into so that when you scroll down through the index you know that all those unfamiliar names are indeed part of your ancestral line. I have had messages from Family Tree sites about my connection to a certain person which has me scrambling to check the relationship to my ancestral line. If I color them as suggested above then it would make the task of quickly identifying them as married into to one of my ancestral lines so much easier. What are your thoughts on this?

    • I colored all related persons the same color as the direct line for exactly the reason you gave – it’s a quick visual clue as to where they are in the tree when someone asks the relationship. If you have ever seen colorized fan chart, that is how the spouses are colored. If you haven’t read Mary Hill’s explanation of her system, I recommend doing so (the link is in the post above).

  5. Tom Burnard says:

    Thanks Mary,
    It is good to be on the same page, I had not read or looked at Mary Hill’s color coding system and having done so it confirmed my intended color coding. Mary’s webinar was most instructive. So thank you again and I know your comments have been very helpful to my other genealogy friends.

  6. How does one print the color coding. While I can change the ancestors to the colors in tree view, when I go into the publish charts, no colors show up.

  7. Hi, I’ve automatically added the ancestor colours and have added an additional colour for military. I wanted to do another colour for relatives who also do genealogy. But when I add the genealogy colour to someone in the military, the military colour disappears. Can you please tell me what I am doing wrong?

    • Hi Roseanne – It seems that you can only add a color if the color that is already present was added as part of All Ancestors or All Descendants. When you have manually added a single color to an individual, selecting a second color manually replaces the previous color. I’m not sure if this is a bug or an intentional feature, but it wouldn’t hurt to let MacKiev know that it is happening and it is not the preferred behavior. It might be a simple fix that they could add to a future update.

  8. Love the colour coding, but for me there isn’t enough colours. Not when there are 15 children and only 8 colours.
    In the families I’m researching most have 10, 12 and 15 children.
    More colours please!

    • Hi Peta – Color coding for genealogy can certainly be personalized to your preferences, but the FTM system is based on Mary Hill’s 4-color system (linked above in the post). It starts with the home person and goes up the pedigree, which means there are always 4 branches to color – one of each of the home person’s grandparents. It is a quick visual way to determine which line someone is on.

  9. Not sure if this is the right forum to ask this question, but is there a way to view the tree by color?

    • Hi Lisa – I’m not aware of a way to view the tree by color. It would be nice if we could filter by color in the index of individuals in the left panel, but that isn’t currently possible.

  10. Susan Doherty says:

    You mention that you could use a color to indicate immigrant ancestors. I’ve done this, but find I can’t sort for these people. Am I missing something about the ability to filter for a particular color?

    • Unfortunately there isn’t an ability to sort or filter by color – the only option is to scan for the color you set in the index of individuals.

  11. Dawn M Patzke says:

    Greetings Group,
    I do a Reunion and I color code per children from 1 specific relative. Each group has a color. I would love to have more color options. There were 12 children and not that many colors. Working on Reunion things this year. July 21 is that date! I also color the 1 page pdf tree I get printed at Office Depot. (I color that with colored pencils- much cheaper) I print all name tags in the corresponding color. Everyone can see what color Family your from. Been doing this 10 years now.

  12. Denis Raphaely says:

    Is it possible to print an extended family tree with the color coding assigned to specific individuals?

    • As I mentioned above, the color coding appears to only be available for internal use within the program. It doesn’t sync with Ancestry, and it doesn’t appear on reports. An alternative to consider is the Charting Companion by Progeny Genealogy. I am not using it because it is only for PCs and I have Macs, but it has some lovely report options.

  13. Denis Raphaely says:

    The strange thing is if I goole “printing family tree with color coding” and select “images” I get a done of reports that look like they could be printed. See for yourself

    • The term “printing family tree with color coding” is not the same as “printing family tree from Family Tree Maker with color coding” – there are many family tree software packages that have options that FTM does not offer, including color coding. Even if the search is done using “Family Tree Maker” in the search term, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the results will be from FTM since search engines all have different algorithms for returning results. If this is a feature you’d like to see in Family Tree Maker, I recommend letting Mackiev know through a feature request.

  14. Denis Raphaely says:

    Uggh – sorry for typos
    -> google
    -> ton of reports

  15. Denis Raphaely says:

    Is there a way to print a selection of a family tree (excluding some members on a basis other than relationship)? I want to show selected members of a blended family who are living in a house together (I did want the color coding to indicate which were living on which floor, but that isn’t possible in standard FTM). Thanks.

  16. Denis Raphaely says:

    Mary Ann, thanks for all your responses to me and others. In fact (and even with Charting Companion), as far as I can tell it it isn’t possible to do what I am trying to do except to hand tool it myself. That is, save to PDF to some image format, open in graphic program, and erase the members I don’t want to see and color-code. Of course, this means one might has to hand tool every change also! Unless I am missing something, none of the charts have SELECTED INDIVIDUALS option, and the reports would never include the complete set (e.g., spouses of the step-sibs and their offspring). It’s interesting how traditional values are built into the ‘views’.

    • Hmmm – it looks like that option isn’t available in the pedigree chart. I’m sorry to have misled you. I don’t usually filter individuals in that chart, so I was relying on what I have done in some of the other reports.

      I think a solution might be to use the export function, which allows you to filter individuals before export, to export in FTM format to create a new (temporary) database. You could then open the new filtered file and use it to create the reports you want, deleting it when you are done. I would name it something that makes it obvious it isn’t the main database you are working with on an ongoing basis. You would have to do a new export after making changes to your main database, but it sounds like this is not something you would be doing on a frequent basis once the chart is created.

  17. Denis Raphaely says:

    I found a way to do it in standard FTM! One uses MARK SELECTED BOXES in one of three colors in Extended Family Chart. 🙂

  18. Vanessa says:

    Ok.. I am submitting to the color coding but I am not sure.. do I start the first generation with my two year old son and then I will be researching both his Father’s lines and my lines would be red and yellow and then his fathers blue and green.

    OR start with me and do all four colors
    and then his father all four colors? I have already started using these colors to assign to lines slightly– just with bowtie consecutive charts to lump them together.

    Also which program makes the Fan that is not Family Search free PDF, I want something not affiliated with a religious org for inclusivity. I have a MAC but legacy is not for MACs. I bet you have some ideas? The color fan chart is so helpful to the eyes and to clearly distinguish lines!

    • Hi Vanessa – Whether you start with yourself or your son when you code the colors is entirely your preference, but I would definitely be consistent if you are using color coding elsewhere. I started with myself and did the four colors, and did my husband separately with the four colors, but I have separate databases for each of us. If you have one database with your son as the home person, I would suggest doing yours red and yellow and his father’s blue and green.

      I uploaded a gedcom to to print a fan chart with colors (it creates its own colorization based on the home person in the gedcom file; it doesn’t use the colors from FTM). They are FamilySearch certified (you’ll see this on many sites – it means that the site they can access FamilySearch data from the site through the API, similar to the way websites can interface with Facebook and display content but are not affiliated with FB) but I don’t think they are affiliated with them.

  19. Terry Alexander says:

    I recently had to go to a backup after a failed sync. All of the color coding was gone. Any idea?

    • Hi Terry – I don’t use the sync feature and haven’t needed to restore any backups, so I’m afraid I have no idea what might have happened. Mackiev is very responsive and I’ve heard good things about their live chat support. You might try that.

Leave a Comment