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Heritage Quest, Jan-Feb 2003

Review of Reunion 8.0 for the Macintosh

Review by Larry Naukam

Overall impression - a robust and full-featured genealogy program for the Macintosh. The features available in this program are the same for both the OS X and the earlier (System 8.5 to 9.2) versions, and in general I have limited my comments to just saying OS X. That's the wave of the future for the Mac; this program will still work for the user if they can run one of the above earlier systems. This review tries to mention some main attractions, instead of telling the user how to do something or exhaustively listing the improvements. Those can be found on the web site (www.leisterpro.com). The key idea is that you can use this program very easily right out of the box, without a long learning curve to use the full amount of its' power. As you become more familiar with it, you can expand to do a great deal with all the features that have been included. These features are clearly explained and shown in the included online (on your hard drive) manual.

System requirements are any Mac that is capable of running System 8.5 (for the traditional version of the program) or of running OS X (for the newer version). Also, the program comes on CD, so a CD drive is necessary to install the program. Based upon my machine, the program folder and manual takes about 30 megabytes of space. The earliest that Reunion now supports is System 8.5, which to be fair is at least 4 years old at the time of writing. The installer senses under which system it is being run, and installs the "proper" version of Reunion. All the features are the same in both systems' versions.

Some people have an older Mac which works just fine, and are running System 7.x (I don't know anyone still running a version of System 6) and have an older version of Reunion (as far back as version 4). Some folks don't have the interest or funds to consistently upgrade their computers and programs. Well, some PC folks still run Windows 3.1 or DOS programs - and are happy but must do without features and programs available for newer more powerful system. Same on the Mac side of the aisle.

But as always with such things, one gives up the benefits of keeping up. Using OS X seemed to be a bit strange when I first switched over from System 8.6 and 9.x. But very soon I became adjusted to the X way of doing things and began to find ways to avoid going back to 9. I liked the fact that X simply did not crash or hang (with the rare exception of 2 Microsoft products, and even then only a couple of times in more than a year.) Soon, Reunion 7 was the only reason I ever started Classic (I no longer booted into 9 at all). Now that Reunion 8 for X is here, I'm X'd up for good. This program is a good reason to upgrade!

The advantages of this program are many: it runs natively in OS X now - not many others Mac genealogy programs do (some of the older main players in the field have simply dropped out of the game, and won't even run under System 8.5). It has a very pleasing aesthetic layout that is simplicity itself to navigate - I have tried some programs that are very frustrating to navigate because names, people and dates are not where you think they should be. The genealogy program and charting features are all in one program, without numerous little programmettes scattered on your hard drive. And the power of this program, with all its nice design interface choices and capabilities, are there under the hood of a screen that looks so straightforward.

Given the costs of a computer, and for that matter, travel, correspondence, and copies of official certificates, the cost of a genealogy program should not be the absolute determinant of a choice. Reunion costs 99 dollars. Considering that you get a complete, customizable genealogy program with fine source documentation abilities, feasibility checking, web site production tools, reporting capabilities in various formats built in, consanguinity calculation - well, my call is that the price is well worth it. And last but not least - Reunion is upgraded and bug-fixed, as good programs are. These tweaks and fixes are free. And when a feature is added, it's done for a reason. It took until late 2002 for the OS X version to appear - about 18 months after the new operating system itself. But now it runs very nicely. Some competing Mac programs are still waiting to be upgraded to X almost 2 years later, while some of the few X-ready other programs are still waiting for features that Reunion has in abundance.

The developer's web site is cleanly destined and nicely organized. Right on the front web page there is an easily available section that delineates known problems, their fixes, and advice. And the daily ReunionTalk email list, which is highly recommended, allows the asking of questions and receipt of answers in a very timely manner. Being a professional researcher, I am glad to report what you do not get with the program: no immense unverified collections of names; no offers for additional company products; no spam email if you choose to receive one of Leister's helpful mailing lists.

Conversion of data: The older files that you have are updated, and are left unchanged so that you can back them up and take them off your hard drive. The upgraded version is then a "new" file. How long does it take? I have a fairly old iMac and the biggest file is about 6000 people - seeing as how I was surfing the web, listening to iTunes, and doing some writing while the changeover was running - love that OS X! - it took just under 4 minutes for the whole new file to be converted and written.

Strong points: Sources are very important in genealogical research. Typing data into a program without noting where it came from is something that should be avoided. Reunion makes the sourcing of the information you find an easy task. The program gives the user a choice of 16 kinds of sources - from census to CD, from web site to email, from GEDCOM to interview to letter. In other words, the user has an easy way of choosing the kind of source and can utilize the pre-defined fields or change and add further ones of their own. Sources can be utilized for multiple records, when they are created and filled out. The list of sources may be sorted by type of source, source number, and data. For example if the user sorts the source list by type, it is useful in finding a source to cite something. Reunion also allows the user to see a list of sources that have not yet been used (say that you enter all the Family History Center films for a town you have researched, but have not yet assigned them to data). If Reunion finds unused sources, they may be noted or deleted. Just as usefully, the source usage report allows the user to see what source records have been used and which records cite each source.

Reunion also allows the user to add their own GEDCOM tags (if they wish - this is not for the new user), and to set "flags" for whatever they want - immigrant ancestors, convicts (what if you are Australian with a lot of ancestors who were transported that way?), religion, educational accomplishment, born in "wherever", and the like. And if you want to remove or simply move a field? Can do. Search and replace globally because you just found the correct spelling or full location? No prob. These are features all programs should have but I have seen many that do not.

Other reports are nicely done. There are the standard descendant, family history, tiny tafel, etc., but the addition of the New England "Register" type report (where the descent of an individual is traced back to the starting person, in parentheses) even nicely takes into account the female line marriages. Superscripting is built in and looks very nice in a word processing document - which is only one of the choices. Of course, the new version 8 allows automatic creation of a table of contents and index - which actively update if you make changes in the word processing document - in Microsoft Word.

There are nice little features like being able to set the colors of the data screens. I still wince at some of the bland or bilious non-changeable color choices other programs have. The layout is logical and informative - main couple on a screen, with both sets of parents (or one, if the person is single) above, and children below. There is a confidence clue feature - men's names are in rectangular boxes, women's in rounded ones. These can be colored to indicate status - twin, adopted, illegitimate, step, and so on. Direct lines may be bolded. Persons with offspring have a different color indicator to indicate children. The user can add more tags of their own devise, or remove any that are not used (though I am tempted to use the pre set alien abductee for some of the people in my relation!). The underlying concept is that you can customize the program a fair amount without worrying about turning it into a one of a kind job that no one else can communicate with. And the choices are clearly described in the manual - you need not learn how to script or program in order to make these changes.

Notes can be as large as 64 K in size - that is, about 32 typed pages. This should suffice for even the most verbose researcher. Also, media are supported - the user can link any individual to a QuickTime digital movie (or more than one), a sound file, or to pictures, specifying a default. These pictures can also be printed in reports or other printed or web output.

In acknowledgement of the fact that many persons take advantage of the Internet to publish some or all of their genealogical research, Reunion will produce - and quickly (a sample hundred person family was "Webbed" completely in less than 20 seconds) - web output with customizable looks. The user can also set limiting features, such a suppressing sensitive data (which stays in the disk database original but doe not appear in output) or specifying a date beyond which people are described as "living" and their detailed data does not appear. Some new way of creating web-ready output are the capability to include a "footer" on web pages- making it easy to include an URL, a copyright notice, or other short information.

The user can drag a GEDCOM file on to the application icon, and have a new file open up and automatically import the data into a new database ( small timesaver, but a very nice touch - and the Reunion files can easily be combined into one another). By the way, we all know to open acquired data from websites, Familysearch, or from cousins in a separate database, review it, and then import it into the master database, right? The fact is, most GEDCOM transfers work fine, and in over a decade of using them have had very few mishandled data sessions. I feel that Reunion's capabilities here are fine. Match and merge works smoothly.

Other new features include the ability to show children in a boxed list on the family card instead of using the default child buttons. The user can then see the age, birth date, death date, status, and sex for the children in that particular family. (How? Click a small box in the lower right corner of the card.) Simplicity itself.

More items: keyboard shortcuts also appear - type nmc or nfc and a new male child or new female child is created mouselessly. Add a slash (that is, type nfc/jennie) and a new female child for that family, with an initial capitalized given name of Jennie, appears automagically. Mac using members of the Latter Day Saints church will be glad to know that features have been added which allow easy manipulation of data for special purposes. The items are even color-coded to show whether or not they qualify for use. If someone was never married this can be chosen as a status. An Internet URL (address) in any text field (note, memo, source, place, etc.) can be command-clicked to open your web browser and have it go directly to that web page.

Searching for the occurrence of a partial name in a 6000 person database took less than a second - I could not time the retrieval as it was so fast, even on my aging Mac. The user can search for over a dozen main types or places where data is kept, with sub fields bundled within those - several dozen choices. And then one may specify up to 4 part searches. If you can't find things with that much power, you probably didn't enter it in the first place. Yet the initial search screen is clean and the user can determine how much power to use.

An item I have found useful for a long time is Speed Names - if you type a name you have used within the last several hundred entries, the program auto-finishes the typing. This is especially useful when it comes to foreign names. Need to move a person from family to family? That's easy, as the user drags the subject person to the clipboard icon; they are stored there; and when the proper location is found, the user can drag the person out of the clipboard and they are automatically linked in the new location.

Charting has features which allow the output to go to the printed as done or be modified . Printing to a plotter or Postscript file is also supported. The former Superchart program has not been seen I Reunion for some tie now as its' features have been expanded and included in the standalone program. The names and boxes appearing in the charts can be moved, dragged, and placed as the user sees fit (a warning to those who, like me, are graphically impaired!). Data is even instantly updated from the family card, until printing occurs. The program has also added support for scrolling mice wheels, enabling any place in the program that shows a scroll bar to use that enhancement. And lastly, if a media file is linked to more than one person in the database, only one original file is used, instead of duplicating large media files for each use of them.

Of course, there are some competitors in the Macintosh genealogy field. I wrote about these in the past, with about 45 genealogy and specialized utility programs available. But most people will settle on one main program. Sometime cost is a determinant - free is great; shareware is good, commercial software like Reunion is at the top end. But what the user is looking for here is a package which provides for the "standard" operating system of the Mac (which is going to be OS X); a program which looks nice and doesn't have strange design and layout decisions in your face; which has reliable and quick GEDCOM import and expert; has a good choice of formats for lists and reports; and does customized Web output. The difference is that in some programs the user says "I'm still looking for this.." while in Reunion the user exclaims, as they discover yet another nice little feature, "look at that!". There are programs that do some of these various features very nicely and quickly indeed. I have had the good fortune to examine most, if not all, of these for reviews. But the one that I consistently come back to for all my needs is Reunion. Others are quick. Others do web pages. Others have nice reporting features. But none bundles all these features in one package as well as Reunion.

Are there some cons to the program? Yes, as with ay human endeavor. One thing I cannot find or figure out is how to sort the index of people by date, without exporting data to a spreadsheet or database and then sorting it. I do this all the time when going to a library or courthouse for records, to give a printed list which has data and "holes" in it, so that I can fill in the holes. I would really like to see that capacity, which I first wrote about in another context back in 1987. And showing age of people is a tad odd - an individual born in 1672 and having no death date will show up with an "age" of a question mark on their individual card. That's good. Showing as a parent to their child, the age reads (in the example above) as 330 years old. Odd to say the least, but this will probably be addressed in a maintenance fix. It could even be "user error" in that I have not yet seen how to modify the age feasibility checking to remove that. And in fairness, the ReunionTalk email list has a regular string of people asking "how do I?". If the answer is that the program doesn't yet or can't do the particular question, the support team says so, and offers to help - in public. In several years of using this program's various versions, I have yet to come across a showstopper problem.

So in sum, Reunion offers a series of new, well-designed features, capability of running on the newest operating system (missing in some competitors), web data creation, some user customizability, and fast operations. This is a mature program which others have yet to seriously challenge.