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Genealogical Computing, Winter 2001

Reunion for the Macintosh - back better than ever.

Review by Larry Naukam

This program has been around now for a long period of time and has, like all of us, gotten better with age. It is a lineage oriented program (where you put the people with their families and note the sources) rather than an event oriented one (where you search for the parties to an event). The key items to keep in mind here are that it uses good thoughtful design and elegant implementations to work with the user to accomplish the storage, presentation, and retrieval and output of their genealogical information. It comes on a CD and is installed from there. The manual is on disk - it installs onto the hard drive and is usable from within the program.

System requirements are modest indeed in these days of bloatware. Storage of data takes about 400 K of space for every 1000 people. It takes about 10 megs of hard drive space for the program and all it's ancillary files; memory requirements are only about 2 megabytes. With most new machines far exceeding those specs, there should be no problem. For older machines, one should know that it is now a Power Mac native app. It will not run on 68 K chip systems, and it requires at least System 7.6. It was tested on a Revision D November 1999) iMac 400 MHz G3, with 196 megs of RAM. By mail order or direct it costs $99.00, from Leister Productions in Mechanicsburg, PA (717-697-1378); http://www.leisterpro.com, with reasonable upgrade fees and free - yes, free - incremental changes downloadable from their web site.

Time out for a reviewer's comment. Actions like this are in a nutshell what makes software like this of good quality. How many times has a user purchased a program and wished it worked differently? Have you ever been able to affect the development of a program by feedback to the developers (ever had a letter to Redmond, Washington acknowledged)? The developers here have tried to design their software so that you hardly need to refer to the manual at all save for specific items that you want to accomplish.You definitely will not have to crack your brains getting the program to work or to navigate around in it. It's easy to get started and you can use more features later on.

It also is a looker. My personal preference - which others may not share - is to have a program which gives me confidence clues and intuitive operations rather than a mostly text based interface. By having differently shaped entry boxes for the genders, allowing color coding of data (adoptions, natural children multiple births, etc) and showing parents, couples, and offspring on a nicely designed page layout, it is easy to see your data at a glance. I do admit that the design of Reunion is appealing, and some other programs have very nice features as well, but just don't look right to me. That only comments on my artistic sensibilities, not on their functionality. Programs which are primarily textual or which use odd screen design (like off to the side of a screen requiring turning one's head) may be usable, but frankly my head is turned more by Reunion's elegant design. It's the software equivalent of having a good looking spouse who also is brainy and easygoing. OK, now you have read my secret.

The linkage of data is done on a form which looks somewhat like a file card.These cards are linked (easily) in a useful and logical manner. You can add events, facts, notes, citations, and sources; the same source can be used for multiple people of events. You may also search on (and create new), flags such as a specific occupation, status, decade of birth - the choice is yours. The display is quite customizable, which sources and events being able to be seen or suppressed, and the screen colors, may also be changed to your liking. The user can enter the data they have acquired; document it, and produce charts, displays, reports, and choose what information they wish to appear from a series of menus. This can be pictures, movies or sounds. Family information is adjustable as new or corrected information is found. Data about persons may be compared and merged, as may sources. Also, the user may calculate common ancestors, in-family marriages (very useful when a family has been in the same geographical location for hundreds of years and there are intermarriages of distant cousins), and use the ability to print questionnaires, calendars, and to make graphical charts with a now built in charting program.

While there are several pages of the manual which describe the new features [in version 7], some items which have been introduced are the ability to open multiple files and easily suppress selected data (such as information on living people) for reports or web pages. There is feasibility checking (where ages at children and marriage can be filtered for logical sense) as well as filtering persons by other categories such as extreme age or number of children. Virtually all the reports that you can generate are capable of being opened in various word processors, databases, spreadsheets, or even on linked-for-you Web pages. This takes the tedious task of linking all your data correctly and designing backgrounds as well (you can choose from prepackaged items or paste in your own design) off your desk and places it in the capable speedy chips of your computer. Importantly for privacy concerns one may selectively suppress data on the living or other specified groups of people, with some thought (but little effort) required on the users part. With the increase in posting of information to the Internet (for better or worse), having a program do the coding and linking for you - and have it look nice - is a decided plus.

How is data entered? Other than by GEDCOM import, you open a person's card and tab through the fields entering what data you know. You can set auto capitalization, and the program gives children the default name of their father.The Soundex code for the surname is automatically generated and tucked onto the family card and person edit screen. Sourcing can be done then or later. There are easy choices to add male or female children, and if you are not sure, unknown can be selected. Reunion will drop data which you specify into word processors, databases or spreadsheet formats so that you manipulate it as you wish.

Documenting your research with source citations is comprehensive yet easy. This means that you can add numerous types of source materials and references and reuse sources common to different people, edit them, and cause them to be presented various ways on screen and in printed reports. You may enter footnotes to events, record reference footnotes, and cite specific sources. Reunion also has a nice feature which I did not find in some competitors. That is the capability to search for and replace all three levels of place, case sensitive or not, eliminating the necessity of retyping entries which might have been entered incorrectly. It also can be set to auto-capitalize the first letter entered in a field, and to capitalize the surnames on screen and in printed output.

How does the program guide and document research? It makes the addition of source documentation for places, dates and events very easy and gives the user plenty of room to do so, plus being able to reference the same source from many individual records.There are several methods of adding sources and references to any given record or event, which are all printable. Any source may be indicated and used any number of times.

The program will also print family group sheets, pedigrees, ancestor lists, and a list of persons in the database by number or alphabetically including person number, sex, birth date, and name. When changes are made to the data file, the program automatically saves the changes and reindexes before you quit. You can also print a listing of all individual records which have notes attached to them, and individual or family records which have footnotes attached to them, including the footnotes and the associated legends.

We researchers want to take advantage of programs that save us time. On-screen lists are preferable to having to print them out (which takes paper and time). Software should be logical and easy to use, versatile, well featured, fast in operation, provide a range of reports and output as well as good provision for source documentation. We want to be able to enter names and link them together quickly, rather than fill out a form and then link it by hand to the parents, children and spouse. Because Reunion does this well, it deserves a high rating.

It doesn't come with CD databases to search. No, and I don't do my library research in the supermarket tabloids either (overly harsh and not completely true besides, but necessary to make a point). Bells and whistles aren't very useful if the data isn't correct, or is unproven. Undocumented data (many online sources are just as guilty of this as are CD products) is next to worthless. What this program does do is give you a stable, logical yet personally tweakable platform with which to store, search, and report from.

The pros for this program are continued well thought feature adding, ease of use, elegant design and customizability, thorough manual, and various methods of support and contacting the developers.

Reunion functions easily and reliably, meaning that when you go to start up the program you like the way it looks, it operates without a hitch, and you almost forget that you are using it since you simply don't have problems with it. When all is said and done, Reunion still remains ahead of it's rivals.

Should you buy this program? Yes. It has many very useful features that are well implemented. The publisher is very responsive and is committed to making continuous timely improvements in the program. You have a good selection of reports, speed, and good provisions for source documentation. And if you have Net access, there are updates and a very good mailing list support group.

© 2004 Larry Naukam

Larry Naukam is head of acquisitions at the Rochester, New York Public Library and also works the genealogy/local history reference desk there. His interests include Internet genealogy, German research, and the Macintosh computer platform.