I have decided to write software reviews of all of the leading genealogy programs available today for Windows, Macintosh, Android, Apple iOS, and cloud-based genealogy programs. I will start with RootsMagic, one of the more popular genealogy programs for Windows. I will later review genealogy programs for other operating systems as well.
RootsMagic also offers optional useful apps for both Android and Apple iOS (iPad and iPhone). I will write about the Windows version now and about the Android and Apple iOS apps separately when I start reviewing genealogy apps for mobile computers.
RootsMagic is best known as a genealogy program for Windows that features a user-friendly interface. If you are looking for an easy-to-use genealogy program for a Windows PC, RootsMagic absolutely should be on your list of programs to consider. Despite the simple user interface, the program also offers most all the features demanded by experienced genealogists: a good system of recording source citations; unlimited people in the database, facts/events, notes, sources, and more; many different types of printed reports; support for international character sets through Unicode integration (allowing for use of umlauts, accents, and other characters found in European alphabets); automatically checks for duplicates as you add people, alternate names to make it easy to find a person by their maiden or nick names; the ability to add links pointing to websites that contain information about the people, sources, places, etc. in your database; multiple relationships, such as adoptions, foster parents, etc.; DNA information; ability to add history, latitude and longitude for each place; user-defined fact types; private events that you can suppress from printing or exporting; save reports to PDF format; save reports to your favorite word processor in RTF format; print color coding in pedigree charts, group sheets, box charts, narrative reports, wall charts, ahnentafel, descendant list, and timelines; a built-in help system; a date calculator, a relationship calculator, a Soundex calculator, and much more.
RootsMagic is available in two versions: RootsMagic Essentials is a FREE genealogy program that includes all the basic functionality but omits some tools, reports, and advanced features. Those features are visible but not active in the free Essentials version; when you select such a feature, the program presents a note explaining that this is in the full version of RootsMagic and also provides purchase information. The full-featured RootsMagic program includes everything and sells for $29.95, a rather modest price for a genealogy program with all these features. You can use the free RootsMagic Essentials for as long as you like, and the program does meet the needs of many genealogists. However, should you decide to later upgrade to the full-featured version, your previously-entered data will be available immediately after upgrading. There is no need to re-enter all the information again.
Both RootsMagic and RootsMagic Essentials can import and export GEDCOM files. This is useful if you already have genealogy information stored in a different program. Almost all modern genealogy programs support GEDCOM. If your other program supports GEDCOM, you can use that program to export all your information in a GEDCOM file, exit the other program, launch RootsMagic or RootsMagic Essentials, and import all the information. As with any genealogy program that imports GEDCOM files, you may need to do some clean-up of the data after importing, but that is much easier than re-entering everything manually!
RootsMagic is not limited to GEDCOM files, however. It also will import information directly from Personal Ancestral File, Legacy Family Tree, Family Origins, Family Tree Maker (2006 and earlier), or older versions of RootsMagic. Selecting one of the direct import options avoids the use of GEDCOM and results in a more accurate data transfer, requiring little, if any, manual clean-up. You should always select the direct import, not GEDCOM, if your genealogy data currently resides in one of the listed programs.
I installed RootsMagic Essentials Version 6 on a Windows 7 virtual PC (see my Plus Edition article about virtual PCs at http://eogn.com/wp/?p=31851.) The installation was simple, about the same as most other modern Windows programs. I went to the RootsMagic.com web site, clicked on DOWNLOADS, and then clicked on the RootsMagic icon. I was asked for name and email address, but no credit card was required. I was then allowed to download the installation file.
After the download completed, I clicked on the newly-downloaded file, followed the instructions, and then was viewing the opening screen for RootsMagic Essentials a minute or so later. After a bit of information about the program was displayed on the screen, I was offered several options: create a new genealogy database, open an existing RootsMagic database, import a file created by a different genealogy program, or search for files on this computer.
I selected “import a file from a different program” and then specified the location of the file. If I didn’t know where the file was stored on my hard drive, RootsMagic offered an option to search the entire hard drive for the file. In my case, I knew exactly where it was stored. I selected a GEDCOM file that I had previously exported from The Master Genealogist.
Importing the GEDCOM file was fast! RootsMagic imported my 3,000+ person GEDCOM file, including source citations and other notes, in less than five seconds. When I started browsing through the database manually, it appears that all the data was imported and placed in the appropriate fields within RootsMagic. However, my GEDCOM file did not include any multimedia “scrapbook” items, such as pictures, videos, sounds or other such items. I will add those manually at a later date.
One item will be important to anyone who uses FamilySearch’s online Family Tree: RootsMagic will read information directly from FamilySearch and also will export information back to FamilySearch. The FamilySearch Family Tree is an online system that allows users to search for ancestors, contribute new persons and information, and retrieve missing information from a single, central database. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Family Tree is also the system through which temple ordinances are checked and reserved. More information and video tutorials on using RootsMagic with FamilySearch Family Tree are available online at http://www.RootsMagic.com/fs and you can read a lot more about FamilySearch support at http://www.rootsmagic.com/familysearch/FAQ/.
I really like the user interface of RootsMagic. It is simple, easy to read, and easy to understand. I am including some screen captures below as examples, courtesy of the RootsMagic web site. Click on any image to view a larger version:
RootsMagic Main screen
Editable Timeline View puts a person’s life in context
The Edit Screen puts all a person’s information at your fingertips
Create and customize wall charts
I am an experienced genealogist and found that I never had to resort to reading help files or to reading the user’s manual. (The user’s manual is available as an extra cost item, either as an electronic file on CD or as a printed book.) Newcomers to genealogy may occasionally need to look at the help files or at the user’s manual, however, and while not a necessity to use the program effectively, I’m told it has a lot of good tips. If you are thinking about using the program, you can even read the help files now at http://www.rootsmagic.com/help/ and watch a “get started” video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrueNODibOE.
One feature available in the full version of RootsMagic was a pleasant surprise: the ability to back up files directly to Dropbox or to Google Drive. Actually, almost any genealogy can do that by simply specifying that backups are to be stored in the Dropbox or Google Drive folder on the computer. However, non-computer experts will appreciate the simplicity of having the feature built into the menus, avoiding the complexity of figuring out where everything is located on the local hard drive. RootsMagic will also back up to any other directory of choice or directly to a CD burner.
Selecting “Print a Report” produces a long list of possible reports to create, including all sorts of charts, family group sheets, family calendars, individual summaries, scrapbooks, gummed labels for things to be mailed to relatives, all sorts of lists (ancestor lists, descendant lists, missing information lists, and much more), research reports (correspondence, repositories visited, research log files, lists of sources, a to-do list, and more), and various wall charts. The program also will print a number of “fill in the blanks” reports that you can give to relatives and ask them to write in the information and return the form(s) to you.
A number of these reports are available only in the full version of RootsMagic, not in the free RootsMagic Essentials.
One of my favorite reports is a to-do list. I am often mystified why a few other genealogy programs do not offer the same. I often use to-do lists to record things I need to check on a future visit to a specific library or repository. I might not visit that repository for months, possibly years. However, when preparing for a visit, I open the to-do list and find all the tasks I have previously recorded for that location and then then either print the list (although I rarely print anything on paper) or copy the tasks to a to-do list that I keep in my cell phone that is always with me. Luckily, the full version of RootsMagic includes a very effective to-do list.
Quoting from the RootsMagic help files:
The to-do list helps you track what needs to be done for an individual (a Person To-Do task) or a couple (a Family To-Do task) in your database, as well as general tasks that need to be done, but are not associated with a particular person or family (a General To-Do task).
General To-Do tasks can only be added through the To-Do list that is opened from the Lists, To-Do List menu, or from the To-Do list menu on To-Do button on the Toolbar. Person or Family To-Do tasks can only be added from the respective To-Do list buttons in “Edit Person” window, or from the Person or Family menu items on the To-Do button on the Toolbar.
All To-Do tasks for everyone in the database appear in the “master” to-do list accessed through Lists, To-Do list menu or the To-Do List on the To-Do button on the Toolbar. Person To-Do lists only show the Person or Family tasks associated with the particular person.
A full to-do list is offered in the full version of RootsMagic but not in the free RootsMagic Essentials.
There is one feature in RootsMagic and most of the other good quality programs that is often missing in lesser programs: a Problem Search. Some programs will call it a “sanity check.” It is a method of searching your genealogy database looking for obvious problems, including mothers giving birth at thirteen years of age or younger, birth after a mother’s death, people who lived to be more than 110 years old, people entered without being listed as male or female, fathers aged 70 or above when a child is born, and similar problems. I have found such problems in my own database that were caused by typo errors when entering the data as well as one or two times when I selected the wrong person as a parent or child. The Problem Search won’t find all possible problems, but it certainly identifies the more flagrant errors.
RootsMagic also offers a unique program with capabilities I have not seen elsewhere: RootsMagic-To-Go. It allows you to copy the RootsMagic program and your data onto any USB flash drive or removable drive. Take the drive to another computer, plug it in, and run RootsMagic directly from it. RootsMagic-To-Go is not only an excellent method of carrying your data with you but it also allows you to give copies to relatives. As long as your relative has a Windows computer, he or she can read the information you have provided.
Another nice feature in RootsMagic is the ability to open multiple databases at once or even multiple views of the same database. This is handy when a distant relative sends you a GEDCOM file where you want to copy-and-paste information about a few individuals but do not want to import the entire file. Another use is when you want to split off part of your database to create a new database, either for your own use or to email to someone else. Simply create a new database, then drag and drop people from your first database into the new empty one.
A source citation in RootsMagic shows where you found the information that you entered into a person’s record. Unlike many lesser genealogy programs, RootsMagic allows for using a single source citation to cite several pieces of information. For example, you may have a family Bible that gives you birth dates and wedding dates of several ancestors. You would enter the Bible itself only once, and then cite the page numbers where the detailed information is found in the individual records. That simplifies both data entry and also keeps the source citation database smaller and easier to manage.
Another time-saving feature is the ability to “memorize” a citation for a source that contains several facts and then “paste” that citation into each fact as you record it. If you just think of a census record for a family with four children, you would enter the full citation just once, memorize it, and then paste it to cite each birth date and place as well as the residence for the census year and any occupations. That’s a lot of time saved!
RootsMagic also (optionally) offers LDS support and will record the extra information that is of importance to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).
I could go on for many more pages writing about all the features available in RootsMagic. However, a long list of features already exists at http://rootsmagic.com/RootsMagic/Features.aspx. If you are thinking about trying either the free or paid versions of RootsMagic, you might want to read that list carefully.
Here’s a hint: I suggest you first download and install the free version, then use it for a while. It is a no-cost method of becoming familiar with the program. You may find the free version meets all your needs and you can use it forever. If the free version is insufficient for you, however, it is a simple process to upgrade to the full version at any time.
RootsMagic works with Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8. It also works well on a Macintosh if the Mac has a virtualization program installed, such as Parallels, VMware Fusion, or VirtualBox. I suspect it will also run on Macintosh’s Boot Camp as long as a full copy of Windows is also installed. However, I haven’t tried Boot Camp myself. All of those programs allow Windows programs to run on a Macintosh although they also require a full copy of Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 in order to run Windows programs.
Several years ago, I wrote a review of a much earlier version of RootsMagic. At that time, I wrote, “All in all, RootsMagic is a winner. It is a very powerful genealogy program with all the features found in most competitive programs, plus it is very easy to use and has a modest price. I suspect that I will be recommending it to many people.”
Nothing has changed since my earlier review, except for the addition of many, many more features in RootsMagic. Today, I feel even more strongly that RootsMagic is an excellent genealogy program for use on Windows, and that it is available at a modest price. Indeed, my summation remains the same: “All in all, RootsMagic is a winner. It is a very powerful genealogy program with all the features found in most competitive programs, plus it is very easy to use and has a modest price. I suspect that I will be recommending it to many people.”