My genealogy do-over: switching from RootsMagic to Reunion for Mac

Reunion Family View

Reunion Family View

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:

Pros:

  • 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.
"Tree View" allows visualization of many members of a generation, not just a linear pedigree chart.

“Tree View” allows visualization of many members of a generation, not just a linear 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.
Map of all locations for individual

Map of all locations for individual

Cons:

  • 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.


The mad and successful hatters in my family tree

hats

Beaver hats

Apparently, making hats could be a lucrative business in the 19th century. Several of the brothers of Aaron Day, my fourth great grandfather, had taken up the trade, which they likely learned from their uncle, Daniel Day. Aaron’s oldest brother, John, resided in Starks, Maine, and his great granddaughter, Lucy Hutchkins, wrote the following:

John Day “The Hatter” was Grandpa Day’s father.  Born in Mass. (Ipswich, I think)…Perhaps it was in Hallowell that he learned the hatter’s trade.  He had a brother Aaron living in Starks at that time, he went there and met and married Elizabeth (Betsy) Skillings the oldest child of Lewis Skillings- May 1809.  They lived for a time on “Mount Hunger” in Starks.  Perhaps he gave it the name…

Grandpa told me once how his father made the felt hats.  Wish I could remember it better.  The washed wool was pulled apart very fine and the strands pressed down evenly into a large circular form, it was wet, under pressure (perhaps steamed) I think and shrunk until it became firm.  Then it had to be blocked by shaping it over a “block” of wood.  I suppose it was dyed, don’t remember just when but before it was blocked I guess.  Grandfather, the hatter, was only 56 when he died.

Before his death, John had much difficulty feeding his family; at least one of his children (Jonathan, the grandfather of Lucy who wrote the history above) was sent to be raised by relatives when he couldn’t manage to support all nine of them.

While the trade of a hatter was not so promising in the tiny town of Starks, John’s brothers Francis and Moses had much better success.  From the book, Manchester Maine 1775-1975, we learn the following:

In the early 1800’s the Crossroads [in Manchester, Maine] had its own hat shop, owned by Francis and Moses Day. An old “hatter’s iron” from there was in Mrs. Henrietta Sampson’s possession in 1902, and deeds for Day land definitely say where the hat shop was. We have no records of what kinds of hats they made, but in Winthrop “the making of fur and wool hats was begun in 1809” – “the manufacturing the various kinds of hats then in demand and dealing in furs.”

Early land transactions provide Francis’ occupation as hatter, while in later Kennebec county deeds his title is “gentleman,” a term usually reserved for those few individuals who were quite financially well off and did not have to work for a living.  Moses, on the other hand, did not fare so well. Lucy Hutchins wrote that Moses had a head injury as a child. It may have been this, or it could have been the trade of hatter that resulted in his institution in the Augusta “insane asylum” by the time he was enumerated on the 1850 census.

Wikipedia states:

Mad hatter disease, or mad hatter syndrome, is a commonly used name for occupational chronic mercury poisoning among hatmakers whose felting work involved prolonged exposure to mercury vapours. The neurotoxic effects included tremor and the pathological shyness and irritability characteristic of erethism…By the Victorian era the hatters’ condition had become proverbial, as reflected in popular expressions like “mad as a hatter” and “the hatters’ shakes”.

Perhaps this contributed to John’s relatively early death as well, and his inability to care for his family financially.  Now, someday, maybe I will learn if Aaron also followed this family trade!

 


Curio – the genealogist’s tool for organizing Evernote notes, Word and Excel files & more

Curio's Evernote tab let's you sort your Evernote notes by folder and tag so you can easily find the one you wish to import.

Curio’s Evernote tab let’s you sort your Evernote notes by folder and tag so you can easily find the one you wish to import.

Stuff. Yup, genealogists collect a lot of stuff. We save stuff from the web, stuff we’ve been emailed, and yes, stuff we’ve created.

Lots of my stuff is saved in Evernote. Lots of it is in Microsoft Word. Some of it is in Excel. (I live by my spreadsheets!) Of course, there’s stuff saved from online books, databases, microfilm images, digital maps, mind maps, charts, and graphs and…well…you get the picture. There’s S-T-U-F-F all over my hard drive.

Usually this isn’t problematic, but sometimes I forget what stuff I’ve already collected. Despite my best efforts at keeping notes and research logs, if something is out of sight, it’s out of mind.

That’s why I LOVE Zengobi’s Curio!!! It’s became my favorite Go To app – it’s a must-have, can’t-live-without app that lets me take all that stuff and organize it how I see fit. Best yet, it interfaces with Evernote, allowing me to drag my Evernote notes into folders or blank “idea spaces,” which are blank pages that can be utilized to save images or other information. (Unfortunately, the interface is only one way – you can save and view the Evernote page, but cannot update Evernote from within Curio.)

Mostly I’m using Curio to organize info. I am in the middle of tracing my Tibbetts family, a line which I’ve just begun researching.   Curio let’s me take all that info and organize it in folders or sections. So, when I find information from a book, I can either save it directly into Curio using it as a note, I can save the image on my hard drive and drag it into a Curio folder, or I can save the info into Evernote and place it in Curio….the options are quite varied. The bottom line is I can save the info however I like, in a format that makes the most sense for me. Continue reading


Awesome autosomal DNA solves the mystery of Martha’s maiden name!

Autosomal DNA. One of the most powerful tools in the genealogist’s toolbox! No, it will never, ever replace the elbow grease required in completing an accurate family tree (nor would I want it to – it would spoil the fun of the hunt!), but used correctly, the results are incredible!

I’ve previously shared how I used autosomal DNA to determine the parents my third great grandmother, Cynthia Day.   (You can read the post here.)  No, the DNA itself didn’t tell me who they were, but cousin connections put me on the right path. I can now state with confidence that Cynthia’s parents were Aaron Day and his wife, Martha.

As we all know, one answered question often leads to several more inquiries. So now: who is Martha? While I was hopeful that maybe one day DNA would provide clues to that answer, I put the question on the shelf and didn’t pursue it further. I figured it would be a puzzle to be solved some time in the future. However, the future came considerably faster than anticipated! Thanks to an email from another cousin connection on FamilyTreeDNA, I was given a few hints.

First, some background info. What was known about Martha was minimal:

  • Her headstone read, “Martha, wife of Aaron Day, died Feb. 16, 1844, AE 66.” Short and sweet. However, from this, we know Martha was born about 1778.i
Headstone of Martha, wife of Aaron Day.  Upper Ferry Cemetery, Medford, ME.  (Photo courtesy of Sherece Lamke)

Headstone of Martha, wife of Aaron Day. Upper Ferry Cemetery, Medford, ME. (Photo courtesy of Sherece Lamke)

  • Aaron and Martha’s first three children (Nathaniel, John and Sarah) were born in Starks, Somerset County, Maine, where Aaron, was also enumerated on the 1810 census.ii It seemed likely that Martha lived and married in that region.
Starks, Maine Town & Vital Records, FHL microfilm #12060

Starks, Maine Town & Vital Records, FHL microfilm #12060

I searched through a dozen rolls of microfilm, starting with Starks and working outward, hoping to find the marriage record of Aaron and Martha. My search was in vain, but I became very, very familiar with families that lived in the locations around them, and one name in particular stuck with me: BUMPS/BUMPAS.

So it was with considerable interest that I learned of a FamilyTreeDNA match who had a BUMPS in her family tree. Even more interesting, her ancestor, Mary (Tibbetts) Bumps named a son, AARON DAY Bumps. Bingo. Continue reading


Photo books – share your family history (and still be invited to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner!)

The Bursley & Stanwood Family History

The Bursley & Stanwood Family History

If you’re like me, sometimes it’s hard to find the balance in conversations with our relatives. While my intent is to have a casual conversation designed inspire and pique their interest in our shared history, I fear they equate me with a religious zealot trying to proselytize them. (I’m hoping my hairstylist doesn’t also feel this way; he said he was going to go home after my last appointment and sign up for Ancestry.com. I hope he was sincere and not trying to get me to shut up!) But I digress.

Sharing our interest can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. About two years ago I began working on the story of my ancestors, specifically Lavina Bursley and her husband, Albert Stanwood. I wanted to know who they were, not just where they lived and what they named their children. I wanted to share this information with my relatives, hoping to inspire them and not turn them off. I was a little uncertain how to tackle the sharing part of the project, until visiting Lynn Palermo’s Armchair Genealogist blog, where she has several posts about using photo books to share family history stories.

Photo books are great. The old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is so true. Pictures draw the reader in. They get them interested. They don’t feel “preachy.” They make the viewer feel part of something bigger, part of a legacy. Pictures are powerful.

For Christmas, I decided to make three photo books to give as gifts to my sister and my two aunts.  Each book contained two parts: a customized section with photos of the recipient’s own family and family tree, and a second, core section that was the same in each book, containing the story of Albert and Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood.  The books were designed to: Continue reading


Finding the families of Ernest Loren Simpson

I had other plans for today, but as I began organizing my office, I became distracted with this photo:

Deloise Jessie Pearl Simpson

Since finding this picture, I’ve been captivated by it.  I’ve cropped it down, but the full portion of the back is shown below:

Jessie Pearl's note to her sister-in-law, Abbie (Dalton) Simpson

Jessie Pearl’s note to her sister-in-law, Abbie (Dalton) Simpson

She writes: Continue reading


Evidence-based Reasoning Reveals the Parents of Cynthia (Day) Bursley

As Elizabeth Shown Mills states, often we will never find the “smoking gun” – that single document which states the parentage of an individual. This is certainly the case with Cynthia (Day) Bursley, who was born in rural Maine in the early nineteenth century, in a place and time in which few records were kept. In fact, the first known record directly naming Cynthia was the 1850 Federal Census, in which she was enumerated in Bangor, Maine at the age of 37 with her husband, Benjamin Bursley.1 Despite this obstacle, however, using evidence-based reasoning, along with the genealogical proof standard, one can deduce Cynthia’s parentage with a high degree of confidence.

Cynthia (Day) Bursley

Cynthia Bursley died 13 May, 1874, in Santiago, Sherburne County, Minnesota, at the age of 60 years and 3 months.2  (We can thus extrapolate her birth as approximately February 1814.) The certificate of her death states she was born in Maine to parents simply listed as “________ Day.”   This document also indicates her parents were natives of Maine as well.

Cynthia (Day) Bursley death certificate

Cynthia (Day) Bursley death certificate

Nearly twenty years later, in 1892, Cynthia’s daughter, Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood, began the process to probate Cynthia’s estate.3 These documents confirm that Benjamin Bursley, with whom Cynthia was enumerated on the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses, was in fact, her husband. Continue reading


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