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The newsletter of P.I.E. (Programming & Interfacing Enthusiasts) a computer user group.

Reunion 4

Discovering a New Tool

Ever had a tool, but no time to use it? I have had such a tool for three years. It's the genealogy program "Reunion" for the Macintosh. Between several volunteer commitments, grad school, and family obligations, I have had little time to learn new programs.

New Research Spurs Use of Tool

With my growing use of CompuServe and the Internet for my genealogy research, though, I have become more aware that a genealogy program is a useful, even essential, tool for compiling the results of one's hard work. I did some informal research on genealogy programs, and found that the three most popular are PAF ("Personal Ancestral File"), Family Tree Maker, and Reunion. PAF is the program produced by, and favored by, the Latter Day Saints (Mormon). My deep philosophical differences with them made me reluctant to buy the program, which, though cheap, is lacking in some refinements. At the time I was looking, I had not heard much about Family Tree Maker, but Frank Leister, the designer of Reunion, was available on CompuServe, so I talked to him.

Responsive Tech Support

Since I was confidant I could find tech support online -- Frank is on all major services and the internet -- I decided to buy Reunion. The deciding factor seems small, but it is important to me. Reunion can print blank forms! Only one who has worked on genealogy and bought preprinted forms can appreciate not paying 10 to 25 cents per page for them. My main reason for buying Reunion, though, was that Frank was responsive, friendly, and sent me sample printouts of charts created using Reunion. At the time, I could get it for about $99 from Mac Warehouse, though I had to ask if they carried it. It was not printed in their catalog.

Influx of Data

This summer, my uncle, suffering from terminal cancer, gave me all the genealogy he'd worked on for years. The papers filled a set of 10 binders! They were to go to my cousin, but I copied them all and condensed it into one very large binder. This binder, which I brought to show at the meeting, weighs more than my laptop! How handy that I had Reunion -- I immediately began typing in the pertinent information.

Effortless Data Entry

The beauty of Reunion now showed itself: data entry was almost effortless. The "family card" is the basis for organization, and the entries are typical of genealogical requirements: date/place of birth, marriage, death; entries for education or baptism, and the like. Entries can be specified "First letter capitalized," a real timesaver. A scrollable field is available for place names -- every time a place is entered it becomes part of this field. On the next occurrence, you can just click the place name to enter it. Reunion also accepts entries for multiple spouses (some programs only "allow" one or two), unlimited children, even children whose names are unknown as yet.

Room for Extensive Notes

With the click of a button, you can switch to the "notes," and here is where the program excels. The main notes section accepts any length text file, and can read them from popular word processors. Supplemental notes sections are also unlimited in size, and can be used for medical notes and research notes. Reunion's powerful "reports" feature can create reports from the notes fields, using only the fields that you specify.

Navigation Simple From Any Feature

I find it incredible that one can navigate the intricacies of a large genealogy/pedigree chart in so many ways. For instance, in "overview" (a names-only pedigree on screen), simply click on a name to go to their family card. You can also pull down the Quick List of the 150 names you last typed, click on a name, and get to their card. The Index feature also lets you navigate. In "Family card" view, you simply click on ancestors' names, or children's names, to get to their family card. Navigation is almost instant: no dialog boxes and watch icons. Click and you're there.

Fast and Small, What's Not to Like?

Reunion 4.0 is a very small program, both for hard drive space and running memory. It takes about 1 MB on your drive, and runs, according to the documentation, in 4 MB or LESS memory, depending on how many individuals are on file. On an 8 MB machine, this translates into plenty of room. On the more typical modern 16 MB system, it's wide-open spaces. You can run your word processor and Reunion simultaneously with no problems. I run it with Photoshop (for my scanner) up, and have no trouble.

The amazing thing is how fast this admittedly older program is. I run an 030 machine, but it should be almost as fast on an 020, and blinding on a Power PC Mac. I have run Reunion on System 7.0, 7.3, and now 7.5.5, and it has never hiccoughed. I have not ever asked if it's been upgraded, since it has run so perfectly -- and it may have been in the last three years! It displays linked pictures almost instantly, and can show several at a time. Unfortunately, several of my photos did not display properly at the CTT meeting place, since the school does not have QuickTime installed, and PhotoShop had formatted them requiring QT to display them. They work fine, and quickly, at home!

Photos to Enjoy

Yes, Reunion can display photographs and scans in the PICT format. Using a memory-saving 72 DPI (dots per inch), which is best screen resolution, you can scan photos, crop and save them, and "link" them to family cards for display. There is no limit to how many graphics that may be linked to a given card -- and you may link one photo to any number of cards! Since photos only take up memory while they're being displayed, you don't need to worry about what they might do to the speed of Reunion. Of course, photos DO take up drive space, so before you decide to take the comic-book approach to genealogy, make sure you have a good-sized hard drive or removable media.

Good Docs & Support

As I said at the beginning, I chose Reunion partially because I felt I could get good tech support online. However, that said, I have never needed it -- the program is elegantly intuitive, well-thought-out, and works so well that the most I've ever done is look at the book. The book itself is well-written and clear, taking the reader from basic Mac technique to advanced genealogical features you didn't know you needed til you try them.

I am more and more impressed with Reunion as I use it and learn all that it can do. If business programs could be so well-written, small, fast, efficient, and powerful, the GNP would be sure to rise meteorically.

© 1997 Marjorie L. Wilser.