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.

Leave a Comment