After testing the most recent upgrade to RootsMagic <www.rootsmagic.com> genealogy software, I’m convinced its name is no misnomer: Version 3’s enhancements — combined with the hallmark features from previous editions — make the challenges of managing your genealogy data disappear.
Perhaps the most exciting new feature is RootsMagic’s ability to create shareable CDs and DVDs. Even though the program produces nice-looking family history books, you can save money by burning your family files to a CD. The disc includes your data files and a limited version of the program. A bonus of this feature is its custom menu that describes what’s on the CD, something most other genealogy programs don’t have. These CDs — similar to Family Tree Legends’ <www.familytreeIegends.com> (see opposite page) — allow you to share your data with all your relatives, even if they don’t have genealogy software.
CD backups also let you protect your data from getting zapped due to a hard drive failure or power surge. Keep in mind that you have to separately back up images and other items in the Multimedia Scrapbook.
Documenting your sources can be a chore, but RootsMagic simplifies this important task by letting you apply a source to multiple people at once. For example, when you find an ancestral family in a census record, you can add the citation to that entire group in one step.
Sometimes you want to keep certain family information confidential or make research notes to yourself. Now you can designate a fact or note as private by surrounding it with brackets. You can then choose to exclude private facts and notes when you print reports, create a Web site or export a GEDCOM file.
Additionally, while most genealogy software gives you little control over how pictures appear in narrative (book-format) reports, RootsMagic lets you specify a maximum picture size between 1 and 5 inches. You also can save your narrative reports, with pictures included, as RTF files in your word processor. This means your pictures will be inserted automatically — you’ll no longer have to place them individually once the report is in a word processor or page layout program.
RootsMagic lets you color-code selected people, such as all your ancestors or all the descendants of an immigrant ancestor. The colors used to show up only on your computer screen, but now printed reports can display the color-coding, too.
Switching from other genealogy programs and exchanging data with other researchers is a cinch with RootsMagic. You can import files directly from Family Origins (a now-defunct program from the makers of RootsMagic) and Personal Ancestral File (PAF) <www.familysearch.org>, helping you avoid losing data during a GEDCOM import. Copying information between two open RootsMagic files is much simpler, too. Just drag and drop records from one file to the other, or link them to an existing database.
RootsMagic has few shortcomings. Like other software, RootsMagic lets you search several online databases, but its search tool isn’t quite as sophisticated as, say, Family Tree Maker’s <www.familytreemaker.com>. In addition, Web sites created with RootsMagic include only the primary photo for each person and no photo title or description. Other programs such as PAF include all your pictures along with titles and descriptions.
Once your data’s in RootsMagic, the software’s Pedigree, Family and Descendants views give you three ways to navigate your family tree. The Pedigree view can display six generations on screen at a time, instead of just the five generations earlier versions could show. The type is tiny, though, so the five-generation view still works better unless you have a large monitor.
RootsMagic’s user-friendliness, well-designed reports and numerous other capabilities make it one of the best genealogy programs you can buy. It’s an excellent program for new users, and current users will be enchanted with the latest version’s enhancements. Let this program work its magic, so you can focus on the detective work that makes genealogy fun, instead of spending hours figuring out how to share and organize your findings.
Price: $29.95; $19.95 for upgrade
Biggest draws: Shareable CDs, excellent printed reports, ease of use
Drawbacks: Less-sophisticated online searching than other programs