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Family Tree Magazine (UK), April 1998

Reunion 5 for Macintosh

Review by David Tippey

Introduction

If you own a Macintosh and want a family history database with all the features of the best genealogy programs, crammed in a lean, genuine Macintosh implementation, then put your hand in your pocket, because Reunion 5 has arrived! Although I thought Reunion 4 was excellent, version 5 is even better. If you are still using any other Mac program, then raid your piggy bank - this has now got to be "the" program to run on your Mac!

Reunion 5 is the long awaited and rather overdue upgrade to Reunion 4 which has become a popular program in both the Mac and Windows PC formats. The authors, Leister Productions, recently sold the uncompleted Windows version of Reunion 5 to Sierra and have concentrated on the Macintosh platform; back to the origins of the program, which was originally written in Hypercard. The upgrade is not just a tweak of the existing program but a complete rewrite, making available the many features demanded by today's computer genealogist.

Having seen and tried other recent Mac offerings, I was amazed to see that it still arrived on a single floppy disk - a bit of a shock in these days of hard disk hungry software. Family Gathering gobbled 19 Mbytes and Family Tree Maker about 9 Mbytes of my precious hard disk (HD) space. The Reunion 5 folder, once fully installed, only occupied around 3 Mbytes of HD space. That alone is quite impressive but the program will also run on virtually any Macintosh, not just the latest and fastest. Not many software authors take into consideration the fact that many family historians are using machines which, in computer terms anyway, are already ancient ancestors. It is good to see that a fully featured program can be written which doesn't require a supercharged machine or leave your hard disk feeling bloated.

System requirements

Unlike other recent Mac releases, Reunion 5 will run on almost any Mac, PowerMac or Mac clone running system 7.0 and later, as long as it has a 68020 or faster processor and 4 Mbytes of RAM. This only rules out a few early machines like my recently departed Classic. With earlier system versions you may need to add or upgrade the Apple QuickTime extension; version 2.5 is needed for some of the multimedia and web features. This is included on the cover CDs of magazines such as Macformat and MacWorld or is available from your Apple dealer if you need it on disk. Leister says the program requires 4 Mbytes of RAM but this appears to be total RAM, not free RAM, which is good news for older machines. The default memory allocation is only 1 Mbyte each for Reunion 5 and Superchart on 68K Macs, and 2 Mbytes for PowerMacs, although you may need to temporarily allocate more memory if you import large GEDCOM files. You only need 3 Mbytes of disk space for the program and associated files, plus 400 Kbytes for every 1,000 people in your family file.

Installation

The program came simply packaged, with the single program disk shrink wrapped inside a well produced, readable manual complete with a useful quick reference card. Installation was simple and, when the program was launched, clicking the Upgrade button in the file selection window immediately showed the list of family files in my Reunion 4 folder ready for selection.

I still thought that Reunion 4 was the best Mac genealogy program, even after new programs started to appear with features it didn't have. Reunion always seemed to work like the program you would have written yourself, if you could. It was written to complement the Mac and it was easy to forgive the lack of one or two whistles and bells, especially when it included an editable charting program like Superchart!

New look family card

The improvements in Reunion 5 start with a new look family card, the main viewing and navigation screen, which still feels familiar but looks a little different. The button bar along the top has changed; some buttons have gone, their functions to be incorporated elsewhere. Others are totally new, like the web connection button which connects you to Leister's Reunion 5 web site. All the buttons now have a written label as well as an icon, to help you remember what they are for. There is also a dustbin on the button bar; drag and drop editing is now supported, so that you can now throw your least favourite relatives in the bin! However, its legitimate use is to move those wrongly linked ancestors from one family card to another or to remove incorrect links. You can simply drag them off the wrong family card into the trash bin, open the correct family card and then pull them out again. A rogue entry can also be deleted from that bin. It seems a little undignified, throwing your ancestors in the bin, but the system is very easy to operate. The new family card is also happy to accept same sex couples and even those of unknown (or undecided?) sex.

The new version family card shows additional information such as alteration dates for each individual, and you can now mark individuals rather than whole family card. It is no longer necessary to toggle back and forwards from the facts t notes fields as they are both in view on the new card. Child buttons are different too; the boxes are still highlighted to show the child status but there is a choice of 14 categories now, to cover most possibilities including Family Pet! I thought that one rather strange and similar to the programmer's humorous "Alien Abductee" until I realised it probably meant the favourite child! Additionally, the names on the child buttons become highlighted in blue to show that they had children themselves.

Data entry and editing

The data entry "Edit Person" window for individuals has changed considerably. When opened, it now presents a series of five stacked cards with name tabs which you click to bring each card forward, ie Name, Events, Facts, Notes, Flags (there are also keyboard short cuts). The program will now allow an unlimited number of user defined events or facts per person, and up to 100 flags and 100 user defined notes in note fields that you can specify and create. As well as individual notes and events there are family ones too. The flags allow you to mark a person to indicate anything that you want, places and facts.

The "Edit Family" window has a similar set of four tabbed cards, which includes the marriage and children cards as well as the events and notes that I mentioned. These additional features and alterations to the data entry and editing windows make the program very easy to use but allow great flexibility in how data is stored and used.

Further enhancements

The program has loads of command shortcuts which will speed up its use as you become more experienced. It is much faster to press a couple of keys than to reach for the mouse every few seconds. When viewing the family card, simply typing "nme" then [Return] will bring up the entry card for a new male child; typing "nmeDavid/Tippey" then [Return] would instantly create a male child button for David Tippey. These mnemonic shortcuts are easier to remember than many of the command key shortcuts.

Reunion 5 also has a Speed Names feature which will guess at place names as you type them. It is a pity that it won't do the same for first names, as they frequently reoccur in families too.

Reunion now allows unlimited sources, which can be freeform, as they were in version 4, or structured to suit particular types of record, eg Census or Books, where specific fields are used for each part of the source record. Like all the recently produced family history programs, Reunion 5 supports web publishing of your family history. It will product a neat and professional web cover page, plus web family cards similar to the ones you normally view in the program and web versions of the reports. It is not state of the art presentation but neat and usable. If you really want to create fancy Home pages, you need special web publishing software and plenty of time. You can then view the created pages with your web browser before uploading them.

Chart improvements

Superchart has also been considerably improved. It has always been one of the few programs in which you could really edit the charts, once created, and even though the trade-off is the program being slower than those which produce "Instant" but non-editable charts, this has always put it well ahead in my book. Many times I have managed to squeeze a chart onto one A4 sheet where other programs would have used the three or four first suggested.

Two new chart formats stand out. The first is the Relative Chart which includes all the ancestors and descendants of a person. This is almost the "Global" chart of all your research that many people try to create, and includes all the relatives of a person. The Timelines Chart plots the lifespans of your ancestors against a dateline, to which you can add notes and dates of historic events such as monarchs' reigns, battles, etc.

There are a lot more options for using colour in the charts and you can create extra linked boxes to update a chart without redrawing it and losing all your other editing. Of course, you can also add pictures, graphics and labels aplenty. This is definitely the best Mac genealogy charting program.

Customer support

Leister runs active and very helpful e-mail lists for both Reunion 4 and Reunion 5. Leister's Reunion web pages can be found at www.leisterpro.com where you can subscribe to ReunionTalk Digest. There is a lot of interaction between program users and the company within the mailing list, and Leister is very responsive to comments and suggestions... all the users on the mail list are most enthusiastic about the new program. The company responded with an almost immediate update posted to their web site...You won't get that sort of instant reaction with Microsoft or the other software giants!

Conclusion

Basically, for my money, there is not any real choice for the Mac at present. Reunion is the best commercial program that is available and will run on all but the most elderly Macs. Version 5 is a major improvement on its predecessor, which was already an excellent program. I cannot honestly promote Family Tree Maker for the PowerMac as it is nowhere near as good as the PC version. Progen seems to have died of natural causes; PAF for the Mac is lacklustre and unsupported by the add-on programs which prop it up on the PC version, and Ultimate Family Tree does not seem to have appeared for Mac. Reunion 5 remains, but it will not sell in sufficient numbers to bring the prices tumbling like Ultimate Family Tree and Generations, but does represent excellent value.