At the risk of being called a genealogical heretic, I’ve come to the resounding conclusion that my genealogy software program is just that – a program that manages data and relationships in my family tree. It does not matter which program I use – just that it works in my workflow.
Hello? Are you still there? If you haven’t closed your browser’s window on me yet, here’s my rationale: whether I use Legacy, RootsMagic, Reunion or another program, the real work is done elsewhere – in Excel spreadsheets and Word documents.
While I have been one of RootsMagic’s biggest fans (and remain a huge advocate for the program), I’ve been debating a switch to Reunion since becoming a Mac user in 2013. Reunion 11, recently released, provided the inspiration for me to do what I’ve needed to do – overhaul my database, and begin re-organizing hard and digital copies of my media files.
The process actually began last winter, when I began scanning, labeling and placing photos in archival quality storage materials. Kind of like when you are painting a room in your house and you suddenly realize you can’t paint without buying new drapery, and can’t do new drapery without new carpet, and then decide you must have new furniture to go with the paint, drapes and carpet. Well, all that scanning, labeling and archiving made me think about my current digital organization system which I’ve previous described as horribly inadequate and needing to be overhauled. With thousands and thousands of pieces of digital media, it was quite an overwhelming project to think about renaming PIC 001 to SIMPSON_Goldie_b1921_pic_001. So my first step was deciding what was going to provide value and where to start.
Like many new genealogists, when I first began entering family members many years ago, I thought if someone was related – even distantly – they should be in my family tree. Consequently, my digital tree continued to grow to nearly 5,000 individuals. Of course, that earliest research was not sourced, and I had no intention of ever going back and revisiting my 3rd cousin 10 times removed! So, I created a GEDCOM file that pruned away those distant branches, and included only my direct ancestors, and four generations of descendants for each ancestor. For example, the GEDCOM for import contained my 3rd great grandfather, Benjamin Stanwood, and his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren. This should provide enough depth to continue cluster research without cluttering my database. It effectively whittled my file down to just over 2,000 individuals.
After importing my pruned GEDCOM into Reunion 11, my next step was to address the source list. I’ve been working to recreate many sources, as they were quite jumbled after import. This was fine, as I’ve decided from now on I’m using freeform text for my citations, and no longer using source templates. It’s given me a good opportunity (starting with my direct ancestors) to review my sources and clean them up using Mills’ Evidence Explained standards. To help, I’ve taken EE citation examples, and created my own templates in Evernote. These are then copied/pasted into the source’s freeform text field and then modified for the actual source.
After spending about 40 hours so far with Reunion, I’m glad I’m making the switch. I have many, many hours more to get things back in shape, but am simply focusing on lines I’m currently working on, and will eventually address the others when I resume those families. So here’s my review of the strengths and weaknesses of Reunion when compared to RootsMagic:
- Drag and drop. Sources can be dragged and dropped from the side bar onto the appropriate event for citation.
- Events can be copied/pasted from one person to another, and carries the source citation with it.
- Media linked to people or events opens in Preview. I LOVE this! No more trying to see the file in the RM tiny, awkward window.
- Reunion forces me to get detailed in my citation. By not cheating using templates, and sticking to freeform text only, I’m using good citation methods and will be confident when I share my research with others.
- Documents and similar media is attached to sources, not to events. This makes me less likely to “cheat” by attaching media to a source that hasn’t been fully modified for that specific item. In other words, each media item has it’s own source.
- The “Tree View” was one of my primary reasons for making the switch. Like Ancestry.com’s trees, one can view their family by generation, not just in a pedigree chart.
- Many different types of notes can be created, and are not limited to events or general/research.
- “Map All Places For This Person” opens a map (you can choose Google or Bing) that shows all places in which the individual has events. Hovering over pin shows the event coded for that location.
- Reports suck. I will likely export back to RootsMagic periodically when I wish to share various reports with other researchers. I often used RootsMagic’s “Individual Summary,” and liked how it was formatted.
- No shared events. This isn’t such a big deal, as one can simply copy/paste an event to multiple people. Also, shared events in RootsMagic didn’t always show up in reports, so I’d found the safest way to ensure printed reports for children reflected each year they’d been found in a census was to enter each census for each individual. Consequently, there’s really no change there.
- Price. Reunion is quite expensive compared to RootsMagic. Reunion sells for $99, while an upgrade is priced at $49. (RootsMagic is currently $29.95 for the full program, and a modest $19.95 for an upgrade. Of course, one can also use the free RootsMagic Essentials.)
I’ve been a very happy RootsMagic customer for the last ten years, and will still use their product for reports and periodic tasks that Reunion is unable to perform. However, I am very happy with my switch. I love the look and feel of Reunion. It has many features that can’t be beat. Plus, it’s provided me with the impetus to prune, clean and get my database in good working order. That alone was worth the hassle of completing my own mini genealogy do-over.