September 5, 2005

Genealogy Software

Way back yonder I began keeping my genealogy research on the computer using a program called "Roots." It was a large program; I think it took something like 5 or 6 of the 5.25" floppy disks to hold the program. As I recall there were three or four 3-ring binders to hold all of the instructions. The program was considered "state of the art." Then came Roots II, followed by Roots III and finally Roots IV. I had them all!

Then came the internet boom, and all sorts of companies started publishing genealogy software. I went through several before finally deciding on Family Tree Maker (FTM). I believe it was published by Brouderbund in those early days. I believe Genealogy.com eventually bought them out, and I continued using FTM up through Version 9.

All good genealogy software has, or should have, the ability to reclaim the empty space in a database. Version 9 was no exception. That feature allows for files to be reindexed which in some magical way reclaims all of the previously used space that is now blank after deleting people, sources, events, etc. That means that all of the cross references to individuals within the file are supposed to be faithfully maintained.

I trustingly upgraded to FTM V9 when it was released, and using the GEDCOM feature, moved all of my files from V8 over to V9. Then I reindexed the new files. When I checked to make sure that everything had worked as advertised, I found that hundreds of sources had been reindexed, but for the wrong people! For example, if I had found some information on John Smith and entered the source of that info, it was now indexed to Joe Jones, and someone else's source was indexed to John Smith. It was totally screwed up that I had to stop using Version 9 and go back to Version 8.

FTM had (and still has) a support website, including a forum for users to express ideas, ask questions, and the like. I reported the problem to the moderator, and was told (essentially) that I had apparently done something incorrectly. He could not duplicate the problem! The moderator and I went back and forth for several days with him maintaining that the problem was not a bug in FTM V9. Then, a member of a large FTM user group reported that his genealogy society had recommended that their members not use V9 because of a major bug. The bug was the one that I had reported weeks earlier.

FTM eventually admitted the bug existed, and provided a patch for V9 that corrected the problem. However, the company had waited too long to suit me, and had, in my opinion, treated me like an idiot when I first reported the bug.

I dumped FTM V9, and all previous versions of that software and purchased a program called Family Origins. That software was up to about V3 when I bought it, and it was supported through V5, if I recall correctly. In any event, the company decided not to support the software any longer. Fortunately, others took up the license, renamed the software to Roots Magic and designed it to accept all files created by Family Origins. I have been using Roots Magic for about three years now, and the company is about to release V3.

Version 3 of Roots Magic will have one of the features that I am most looking forward to. It will be able to create shareable CDs. That is, I will be able to create and organize my family history, then burn it to a CD. The CD will have a custom home page with personally created titles, photos and photo descriptions, contact info and a read-only version of Roots Magic. It will also have the ability to backup files to a CD. Right now, when I make a backup I have to use third-party software.

Bottom line: I have no reservations in recommending Roots Magic to anyone in the market for new genealogy software.

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