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  • Computer Genealogist: RootsMagic — A New Program Enters the Arena

    Rhonda R. McClure

    Genealogists have come to expect certain functions from their software programs. In the relatively few years computers have been used as an aid to genealogical research, consumers have quickly developed likes and dislikes, and seem to know just what they want. In a word, they want everything. Above all they want a genealogy software program to be easy to use. This wish is understandable given how uncomfortable some researchers are using computers. The good news is that RootsMagic offers many of the features demanded by consumers in an easy-to-use interface.

    RootsMagic is the latest program by Bruce Buzbee and FormalSoft, the maker of Family Origins, another well-respected genealogy program. The new program, first released in January 2003, is the result of major work by FormalSoft to offer many of the features that genealogists have asked for over the years. According to Buzbee, starting anew with the software code gave him an advantage over other developers. Instead of struggling to work new functions into existing code, he could incorporate them as he was writing the code. As a result, RootsMagic, version 1.0 comes out of the starting gate with many useful features.

    If your computer system is set up to run CD-ROMs automatically, then you will find that the RootsMagic CD automatically launches the install program. You can select the location on your computer in which you want to install the program or simply choose the default path. Regardless of the method you use, installation is easy and quick.

    Once the program has been installed, a RootsMagic icon will appear on your desktop and a menu item will appear on your Start menu. Selecting either item will launch the program, taking you next to a blank RootsMagic screen where you will find the New and Open toolbar icons active. Most users will begin by creating a new RootsMagic database, even if they are importing information from another program or file through a GEDCOM file.

    Once you have created the new database, import your data before beginning work in the program. While the GEDCOM import is not difficult, you may find that a few of the things you did in your previous program do not import as cleanly as you might like. However, in comparison to other programs through which I have imported GEDCOM files, RootsMagic effected a smooth transfer and handled most of the data from the previous program, making it easier to launch quickly into working on my tree.

    One of the features I particularly like about RootsMagic is the ability to have more than one database open at a time. This flexibility allows me to create a new database from the GEDCOM file of another researcher and compare it to my personal database to see what data is different from mine. I can even drag and drop from one database to another, allowing me to move a tree from the one into the other, rather than having to create a GEDCOM file of the individuals. When dragging the individual in question, I am prompted as to who I want to put in the new database, the individual, the ancestors, the descendants, and so forth. I have the power to control the number of generations and can tell RootsMagic to include the spouses in each generation as well. Such a feature allows me to evaluate the new GEDCOM file and then add just those individuals of interest to my personal database.

    There are many ways in the program to add information; one can use the menu bar, tool bar, or right-click mouse menu option. Double clicking on an individual in the pedigree view, the default view in the program, opens the Edit Person box that allows you to add new facts about the person, include source citations, notes, multimedia or LDS Ordinance dates. There are sixty-nine facts already included in the program and the ability to create new facts should you need them. In addition to the standard life events, RootsMagic has included a wide array of religious facts, making it easier to record all special events in the lives of your ancestors.

    When looking into any genealogy program, the feature in which I am most interested is the source citation ability. I scrutinized the RootsMagic source feature to see what I could do. I feel that a good genealogy program should allow me to cite the appropriate source, rather than try to make the source’s citation details fit into a default source. I would rather have the ability to design my own source templates or a free form text field that would “fix” the citation to follow the format I prefer to use for each of the source types I use.

    RootsMagic offers source citation templates — what they refer to as the SourceWizard — that allow those new to genealogy or to a specific type of source to fill in the template fields when citing the source (to ensure that all pertinent details for the source get included). Once the template has been filled out the information is saved to the actual source record that can then be manipulated as needed. You can also italicize, underline and bold portions of the source citation to make it easier to understand or read. Changes to a source in this Edit Source record affect the use of that source throughout the database. The details pertinent to that individual or event are included in a separate box, and remain untouched if you make changes to the source citation.

    Adding relatives to a previously entered person is easy through the right-click mouse function. Right-clicking on the individual produces a menu which allows you to go directly to some of the individual edit options, as well as to add parents, spouses, or children. You can also add an unrelated individual.

    The right-click mouse menu offers the option to unlink an individual as a child from his or her parents, and from a spouse. You can also delete the individual or family. The right-click mouse menu is a nice and sometimes overlooked feature that provides instant access without having to move the mouse up to the menu bar or tool bar.

    Entering a family is easy and changing information on an individual goes smoothly — with one exception. If you have been unlucky enough to enter the wrong gender  and then married them and linked children, you will find that you cannot change the gender until the person is no longer linked to any spouses. Similarly, you cannot link two individuals of the same gender in a family. For those who have families of alternative lifestyles this limitation is frustrating.

    Once you have entered some data you begin to wonder what options are available for sharing the information with others. RootsMagic offers many different types of printed reports, the ability to create a full book, and website-compatible features. Many of the reports can be printed directly or saved as a PDF (Portable Document Format, requiring Adobe Acrobat Reader — a free download — to view). Some reports can be sent directly to a standard word processing program. Previewing the reports on screen allows you to review for mistakes or formatting discrepancies before sending the report to the printer, thus saving paper and toner.

    The RootsMagic Publisher is where you create your book. Here you can add chapters — the different reports available — and then organize them. Once you have added a chapter, you will also find you can change page layout, add a header or footer, and control how and when sources are printed in the final book. As you select each report to include in your book you are then shown the list of individuals in the database to select the primary subject for the report. This last is a nice change, as some other programs assume that the last person on whom you worked is the one you wish to use as the subject of the report.

    With RootsMagic’s approach I can easily create a complete book with many different reports on anyone I want to include. Each report selected opens the options for that specific report, allowing me to include only what I need.

    Creating a website will not intimidate anyone who uses the program. The windows that open are easy to follow and walk you through the creation of files. You can determine what sources, notes, and photos to include, and you can protect living individuals in your database. You can add additional links to other websites you think visitors to your site might enjoy. After pages have been created, RootsMagic will let you know where they are saved on the computer, so that you can find them when you go to upload them.
    If you haven’t used genealogy software then you will find RootsMagic easy to navigate. If your present software isn’t doing everything you had hoped, you may find RootsMagic has what you were looking for. All in all, it is a powerful, easy-to-use program that can greatly aid researchers in family history.

    RootsMagic is available for $29.95 ($39.95 if you also want Getting the Most Out of RootsMagic by Bruce Buzbee), plus postage and handling from FormalSoft, Inc., P.O. Box 495, Springville, UT 84663, 1-866-GO-ROOTS, or at the website System requirements are Windows 95 or later, 32 MB of RAM, CD-ROM drive, 50 meg free hard disk space.

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