I am adding a new feature to this newsletter: about once a week or so I will republish an article that appeared in this newsletter exactly ten years ago. It should be interesting to see what has changed in genealogy in the past decade.
Ten years ago this week, one of the major stories I wrote was about a new genealogy program for Macintosh computers. I'll add a comment or two after the republished article:
CommSoft has long been noted as a leading producer of genealogy software for PC owners. Their MS-DOS series of programs called "Roots" have always been amongst the most powerful genealogy programs available. I first saw CommSoft's program when it was called Roots II. Over the years it evolved into more powerful MS-DOS programs called Roots III and then Roots IV. About a year ago CommSoft introduced a new Windows program called Visual Roots but carefully pointed out that it wasn't a true upgrade from Roots IV. It was a different implementation; it was simpler in some ways and also did not contain all the features of Roots IV. (CommSoft announced Roots V for Windows two weeks ago and said that it would be shipping in a few weeks.)
In early 1996 CommSoft signed a partnership with Palladium Interactive that created an interesting marriage. Palladium brought marketing expertise and a well-implemented online system to the partnership. The two companies then worked together to improve CommSoft's Windows product and to market it. The name of the improved program was changed to Family Gathering for Windows and was released in the spring of 1996. Family Gathering has apparently been successful. I see it on the shelf at local software stores and there is a lot of talk about it in the online forums that I participate in.
Macintosh owners have often felt ignored by the genealogy programmers. While there are more than 100 MS-DOS and Windows genealogy programs to choose from, Macintosh owners have been limited to a handful. In fact, there are only two popular Macintosh genealogy programs: the aging Personal Ancestral File and the much more powerful Reunion. (CommSoft did release Sesame for the Macintosh a few years ago, but it was more of a genealogy add-on utility program and wasn't designed to be anyone's main genealogy database.)
CommSoft and Palladium have now released a Macintosh version of Family Gathering, and it is obvious that they are serious about becoming the leading genealogy software producer for Macintosh owners. There is no doubt about this program; it is a heavy-duty genealogy system with almost all the "bells and whistles." Family Gathering contains the genealogy database functions that one expects in a modern program. It can record data and organize it quickly. Family Gathering can create all the normal printed reports I would expect, and it also creates "Family Journals" that are actual genealogy books, complete with footnotes and an index. These books and many of the reports can even include photographs, maps or almost any other digitized images. It can also import and export GEDCOM files.
However, all this is only part of Family Gathering's capabilities. It is the only Macintosh genealogy program I can think of that integrates World Wide Web functionality. It can create reports in HTML format for uploading to Palladium's Web site or to another Web site of choice. It also can create on-screen "slide shows" that can be useful at family reunions or other such gatherings (which makes the program appropriately named).
On the downside, Family Gathering requires a powerful and modern Macintosh. A 25 MHz 68040 or faster CPU or a PowerMac 601/60 or better is required. That leaves out many older Macintosh systems. 8 megabytes of memory is enough to operate the software, but 16 megabytes is strongly recommended. Family Gathering requires 22 megabytes of disk space for its own software plus an additional 5 megabytes per thousand individuals in its database. Still more disk space is required if the AT&T WorldNet software is installed. The Family Gathering specifications say that System 7.0.1 or later is required, which has been around for years. However, the optional AT&T WorldNet Service, which you can use to connect to the Palladium Web site if you do not already have an online provider, requires the minimum of System 7.1 or higher. Some configurations will require System 7.5.3 revision 2 or later before AT&T WorldNet can be used. A CD-ROM drive is required, and a separate word processor is also required to preview and print the reports. Microsoft Word and Claris Works are both directly supported, but most other Macintosh word processors reportedly will work as well. Family Gathering exports text in Rich Text Format, which can be read by most Macintosh word processors.
Comment: The use of an external word processor to preview and print reports seems to be common nowadays. Reunion for the Macintosh and for Windows has always operated in conjunction with an existing word processor, as does The Master Genealogist for Windows. Now CommSoft's Family Gathering uses an external word processor for its reports. This makes sense to me. Most computer owners already have a word processor that is more powerful than anything built into genealogy programs. In addition, computer owners presumably know how to use their particular word processor. Genealogy software programmers shouldn't spend hours inventing mini word processors; they should simply integrate into whatever word processor is already installed on the system. I suspect you will see this more and more often in future genealogy programs.
I installed Family Gathering for Macintosh on a PowerMac 6100 that has 16 megabytes of memory and System 7.5 installed. However, only 8 megabytes of memory was originally available to the Macintosh operating system as the other 8 megabytes was used by the 486 PC compatibility board. I was able to install and use Family Gathering in 8 megabytes of memory, but it was very, very slow. I then reconfigured the Mac, giving all 16 megabytes to the Macintosh operating system, and everything suddenly started running much faster. You can really believe CommSoft's specification of "16 megabytes recommended." I would add the word STRONGLY in front of "recommended." Performance was entirely satisfactory with 16 megabytes of memory. I did not use the AT&T WorldNet option as I already have online access via a different service.
I entered several generations of Bill Clinton's ancestors as a data entry exercise. Entering data seemed to be straightforward. Like Roots IV, surnames are enclosed in slashes, but Family Gathering does this automatically. Entering events such as birth or marriage is done by clicking on an event field and entering the appropriate data. Family Gathering not only supports the normal events (birth, christening, baptism, Bar Mitzvah, marriage, death, etc.) but the user can also create new event types of any kind. Multiple events can be added in cases of conflicting information, such as two different birth dates listed in different documents. Text notes can be attached to each event, with each note containing up to 65,000 characters. Text can be imported or exported, either by a "cut-and-paste" technique with the mouse or by importing and exporting entire files. The text can be spell checked as well. The spell checker contains 140,000 words and also includes the 10,000 most-popular names. Of course, the user can add more words as well.
The printed reports include all the standard items that one might expect, including pedigree chart, ahnentafel (list of ancestors) chart, descendant report, direct drop report (one ancestor plus one of his/her descendants listing all the individuals in between) and family group records. In addition, Family Gathering will generate a complete Family Journal report with pictures. A "Family Journal" is a complete book such as you might give to someone for a present. Family Gathering also prints nice box charts. All these printouts actually are not printed directly by Family Gathering. Instead, it creates RTF files which are then printed by almost any word processor.
One thing that serious genealogists will appreciate is the use of a separate "Evidence Window." It provides the tools to enter and organize evidence used as proof for information contained in a Family Gathering database. Evidence can include either formal source citations or free-form text (or both). Source records can be entered once and then re-used time and time again. For instance, a Source Record might be "Billerica, Massachusetts Vital Records 1643 to 1850." That one record reference does not need to be re-typed on each and every child with a birth record listed; you enter the record once and then attach it to each birth event as appropriate.
Family Gathering also has a nice system of free notes footnotes. Quoting from the users manual: "Use Free Notes as evidence in a proof. ... Evidence that is formatted as a footnote will appear as End Notes. Evidence that has not been formatted as footnote will not appear in reports." That confused me when I read it originally, but a few minutes of keyboard time clarified things. It really is easier than it sounds.
Family Gathering creates Web pages in HTML format. It will include scanned GIF or JPG graphics and even audio files in WAV, AU or AIF formats. These can be uploaded to a personal home page. Palladium provides such a service for a fee on the Family Gathering Web site, or the files can be uploaded to another Web provider. I didn't test the upload features, but I did create HTML files and looked at them on the hard drive by using Netscape 3.0's "View File" feature. Everything looked normal.
Family Gathering has many nice features, too many for me to discuss in detail. But a quick list of the things that I found includes: mailing labels for living individuals, a relationship search to find individuals directly related or related through collateral lines, a lengthy and complete Medical History section with all sorts of conditions listed. You can even search the database by medical conditions.
In short, this is an excellent program that will be welcomed by many Macintosh owners. It's a very powerful program at the "street price" of $49.95. If you are dissatisfied with your present Mac genealogy program, or if you simply want to see what else is available, I would suggest that you consider Family Gathering.
For more information, contact CommSoft at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com or look at: http://www.sonic.net/~commsoft/
2006 Comments by Dick Eastman:
Do not attempt to use the e-mail addresses or the web page mentioned above. They all went away some years ago. In fact, the company known as CommSoft is still in business but is no longer producing genealogy software. Instead, Howard Nurse returned to his first love: ham radio. The company can now be found at http://www.commcat.com/.
I find it interesting that CommSoft's specification stated: "16 megabytes recommended." Wow! Has the world ever changed in ten years! Sixteen megabytes was a lot of (expensive) memory only a decade ago but today it is impossible to purchase a system with less than ten or twenty times that amount. Also note that the article specified, "Family Gathering requires a powerful and modern Macintosh. A 25 MHz 68040 or faster CPU or a PowerMac 601/60 or better is required." When was the last time you saw a 25-MHz CPU?
I made a prediction ten years ago that never came true: "…CommSoft's Family Gathering uses an external word processor for its reports. This makes sense to me. Most computer owners already have a word processor that is more powerful than anything built into genealogy programs. In addition, computer owners presumably know how to use their particular word processor. Genealogy software programmers shouldn't spend hours inventing mini word processors; they should simply integrate into whatever word processor is already installed on the system. I suspect you will see this more and more often in future genealogy programs."
Now that genealogy programs have integrated word processing and web publishing, what other functions might they integrate next?