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MacWorld, January 1998

GENEALOGY SOFTWARE: Use Your Mac to Find Your Roots

Review by David Pogue

The Mac is the perfect tool for family-history nuts. Not only does it make recording, storing, and organizing family data efficient and enjoyable but the Internet also lets genealogists worldwide effortlessly swap information. Three software companies have revved their genealogy programs -- and one is sensational.

Family Tree Make Deluxe

Broderbund's Family Tree Maker (FTM) is the best-selling Windows genealogy program: Its crystal-clear design features a simple, large-font card for each husband and wife. Filing-folder tabs take you to the card for each person's parents and children, making it simple to climb up or down the family tree. Since the program recognizes names and places, its autofill feature saves typing -- a necessity for a hobby that involves repetitious data entry.

Nonetheless, FTM is a flop as a Mac program. Its installer deposits an unforgivable 11 extensions into your System folder, and the program needs 10MB of RAM. For example, click on the main dialog box's close box, and the whole program unceremoniously quits. The manual highlights Windows screen shots. And a critical feature is surprisingly missing: The program doesn't accommodate photos (let alone sound or movies).

Indeed, FTM's greatest attraction isn't the program itself, it's the promise of instant research gratification. FTM links directly to a huge private Web site and can access any of 60 optional CDs filled with genealogical data. (They average $30 apiece; this version includes three.)

The CDs include little more than public-domain government records; worse, the actual program relentlessly pressures you to buy the CDs. For example, the built-in FamilyFinder command lets you search 115 million names. Great, except that it doesn't product any useful data on its "hits" -- it simply identifies the CD you must buy to get information.

Ultimate Family Tree Deluxe

Family Tree Maker isn't the clunkiest genealogical PC port on earth; that honor goes to Palladium Interactive's Ultimate Family Tree Deluxe -- an equally resource-hungry, Mac-hostile database that doesn't even offer good design as a consolation. This Microsoft FoxPro document takes over a minute to load and requires 35 seconds to import a ten-name text file.

Click in a blank field and try to type -- nothing happens. There's no autofill, and you must put annoying slashes around each last name. You're required to burrow through three nested dialog boxes to add a spouse or attach a photo. And the program's text labels are hilariously clumsy.

To be sure, deep inside the FoxPro database beats the heart of a real genealogy program. Here you'll find you can add photos and generate tree charts. There's even direct integration with the Palladium Web site, and the Netscape Navigator-based, narrated slide show offers valuable research hints. But genealogy software should save time, not waste it.

Reunion 5.02

If FTM and UFTD are modeled for the PC, Reunion 5.02 is blue-blood Macintosh. The results are spectacular. Talk about optimized: This fast, elegant program comes on one floppy disk. It accommodates any family setup: multiple marriages, same-sex marriages, adoptions, even unknown gender. The program's attractive "family cards" offer autofill, autocapitalization, a "ditto" keystroke that duplicates your last entry, and so on. You can drag and drop; attach pictures, sounds, and movies; and change the font, size, and even color of nearly any text. The separate but self-launching chart-making program instantly churns out any kind of genealogical chart. Configure charts in any orientation, complete with photos, with the option of dragging branches of your tree around before printing. (The Timeline chart, showing your clan members' life spans against a grid of history, is especially valuable.) The program doesn't offer automatic integration with Web data, but it can turn your family tree into gorgeous, hyperlinked Web pages, ready for posting online.

Most appealing is the way Reunion puts your data to work. It prints birthday calendars, marking days to remember or showing each relative's age. it even generates startling averages (such as "age at marriage" or life span) for your clan.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Family Tree Maker Deluxe Edition II and Ultimate Family Tree Deluxe may have PC fans, but those people never had to use these clumsy adaptations. Reunion 5, on the other hand, isn't just great genealogy software; it's an outstanding Mac program. Genealogy can be a rewarding life-long quest; fast, flexible Reunion should be your companion.
-- David Pogue


Family Tree Maker Deluxe Edition II 3.02

RATING: **/4.8
PROS: Well-stocked Web site may help with research.
CONS: Appalling RAM, hard-disk, and extension demands; slow; too much sales pressure.
COMPANY: Broderbund (415/382-4700, www.familytreemaker.com).
COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $89.99.

Reunion 5.02

RATING: ****/8.7
PROS: Beautifully designed; infinitely flexible; fast and stable.
CONS: Chart maker is technically a separate program.
COMPANY: Leister Productions (717/697-1378, www.leisterpro.com).
COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $99.95.

Ultimate Family Tree Deluxe

RATING: **/3.0
PROS: Integrates with Web site; useful interactive research-tip guide.
CONS: Unusably slow; confusing, inconsistent interface; nested dialog boxes required for most functions.
COMPANY: Palladium Interactive (812/829-4405, www.palladiumnet.com).
COMPANY'S ESTIMATE PRICE: $59.95.