Running Family Historian on a Virtual Machine


This advice has been obtained from FHUG members who have succeeded in installing Family Historian (FH) and Ancestral Sources (AS) into Oracle VirtualBox for Mac OS X Hosts. Using Bootcamp, Parallels or other Virtual OS emulation software should follow a similar procedure. These will all require a copy of Windows with a valid licence key.

The following advice applies to:

Note that BootCamp is integral with Mac OS X but only offers a dual-boot capability, that allows either Mac OS X or Windows to run, but not both at the same time. Whereas, VirtualBox allows both Mac OS X and Windows to run simultaneously, and to switch between them almost as easily as switching between programs.

VirtualBox Installation

Double-click on the VirtualBox for OS X Hosts installation file and a popup window will appear containing various items including:

  • VirtualBox.pkg installation file
  • UserManual.pdf that can be copied/dragged to a folder for an offline reference manual
  • VirtualBox_Uninstall.tool that is for removing VirtualBox at some later date

Double-Click to install the VirtualBox.pkg file, and supply your Mac OS X Login Password to allow the installation to make necessary changes to the system.

When complete, double-click to install the Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack that adds various features to enable Guest Operating Systems such as Windows to communicate with the Mac OS X hardware and external peripherals, and to share Mac Drives and User Folders, etc.

Note: If Mac OS X complains about launching either of the installation files when you double-click them “because they are from an unknown source”, then use the usual trick of holding down the Ctrl key whilst clicking on the file, and select Open from the options presented.

Create Virtual Machine

Perform the following steps to create the Windows Virtual Machine.

Create Virtual Disk

Launch VirtualBox from the Applications Folder or the Mac Launchpad.

Click on the New icon and type in the name of the Operating System to be installed such as Windows 10, choose 64-bit/32-bit as appropriate (64-bit if possible), and step through the guided setup accepting all the suggested options. This will create a Virtual Disk on the Mac OS X ready for the operating system to be installed. This process reserves the maximum amount of disk space the Virtual Machine will be allowed to use, usually about 28-32GB for a Windows Virtual Machine, depending on the version.

Install Windows OS

You will need a Windows Installation Disk (DVD) or a Windows ISO Image. For best results use Windows 10 or later. ƒh v6.x and later versions will not run on Windows XP so a later version of Windows must be used.

Using an ISO Image is quicker because hard disk file access is faster than reading a DVD. Windows ISO Images for all recent versions can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Centre if you have a retail Product Key.

Launch the Windows Virtual Disk created above by double-clicking on the icon in the VirtualBox window (or click on the icon and then the Start Arrow icon).

You should be asked to select the Windows Installation file. Use the dropdown box to navigate to the CD/DVD Player, or to wherever the installation ISO Image is stored on the Mac. Proceed through the Windows Installation as normal, and configure it as required.

When complete, use the VirtualBox Application options on the Mac Menu Bar to select Devices > Insert Guest Additions CD Image.., and Windows should ask what to do with it. Choose Run and allow the Guest Additions installation to take place. You will have to select Restart at the end to complete the installation. Eject the Virtual CD using File Manager by right-clicking on the CD Drive and choosing Eject.

Setup Configuration

When the Windows Install has completed and it works OK, then Shutdown the Windows OS as usual, and setup VirtualBox as follows:

  • Click on the Windows Virtual Disk icon in the VirtualBox window and choose the Settings icon from the Menu Bar.
  • Choose the General > Advanced tab and set Shared Clipboard and Drag’n’Drop to Bi-Directional to support copy/move data between Mac OS X applications and Windows applications installed in VirtualBox.
  • To store all Windows User data (e.g. the Family Historian Projects folder) in the My Documents folder within the Windows Virtual Machine (VM), then no further setup is needed, BUT the VM disk size will gradually increase with use.
  • To use the standard User Folders on the Mac OS X, then those folders must be accessible to Windows, e.g. the User Folders such as Documents and Downloads can appear as drives D: and E: in the Windows Virtual Machine. For this arrangement continue the setup as follows:
  • In the VirtualBox Settings screen, select the Shared Folders tab.
  • Click on the + icon, select the dropdown box other and navigate to and select your Documents folder, then tick Auto Mount.
  • Repeat the above process for any other Mac OS X folders to be shared the Windows Virtual Machine.

These ‘folder sharing permissions’ can be set up or removed at any time if you change your mind about how you want to work.

Install Applications

Launch the Windows Virtual Machine and then install and configure applications as normal such as:

If migrating from a Windows PC, then use the Family Historian Copy and Migration Guide.

If using the Shared Folders technique above, then in FH use File > Project Window > More Tasks > Project List > Choose Location for Projects to choose a shared drive and folder such as Family Historian Projects on the Mac OS X.

Configuration Tips

It tends to be much easier/quicker to install Windows applications in the Virtual Machine from installation files on the Mac OS X hard drive Shared Folders as described above, rather than directly from CD/DVD. e.g. If you have a CD version of Family Historian, it is best to copy the contents to a named sub-folder on the Mac OS X in the shared Downloads or Documents folder.

Windows 7 does not support USB 3 natively, so if you need to access any external USB 3 drives or other peripherals attached to the Mac OS X then USB 3 Drivers have to be manually installed in the Windows Virtual Machine. With external USB 3 Hard Disks you can get around that by setting up temporary Shared Drives when needed, as described above.

Functionality tips

Do not forget that you have to use crtl + C etc instead of cmd + C when running in a Virtual Machine.

Images can be dragged and dropped between the Mac and Windows screens if you have both open at the same time but patience is sometimes needed before dropping as it can take a few seconds for the communication between the os’s to occur, drag and drop of images does not always work between Mac and Ancestral Sources.

Last update: 09 Mar 2021