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MacHome Journal, March 2003

Excerpt from the article "Examining Your Roots" by Chuck Rogers

Fortunately, Leister Productions makes an excellent program called Reunion that will help you manage all your family information. This program received MacHome's highest rating when reviewed in July 2000. Using Reunion, you can enter your family information and then upload it to the Web as a GEDCOM (Genealogical Data Communications, a standard file format for family tree info) file for the rest of the world to see.

Originally written for Apple's HyperCard, Reunion was rewritten as a stand-alone application a few years ago. The latest incarnation, Reunion 8, is available for Mac OS 8.5 and higher (including OS X 10.1.3 and higher). The OS X version has a great Aqua interface, and both versions have an intuitive toolbar that gives you easy access to the program's many features.

When you first open Reunion it will ask you to either create a new family file or select a family file to edit. If you have versions 4 through 7 of Reunion, you can also upgrade a family file to the current version (users of version prior to version 4 will have to send their data file to the company for it to be converted to the newer format). To create a new file, click the New Family File button. Reunion will then ask you what word processor and browser you use. If you use Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer or Netscape, make sure you choose those in the appropriate pop-up menus.

The next step is to start creating your family tree. If you have another Reunion family file (perhaps from a relative that has already started a family tree), you can import that, or you can import a GEDCOM file. But most people will start by simply adding a record for a male or female in their family. Let's start your family tree by creating a record for yourself. Click the Add a Male Person button if you are male, or the Add a Female Person button if you are female.

This opens the Edit Person window. Remember all the data you collected previously? Well here is where you put it to good use. Enter the requested information in the fields. If you are female and married, enter your maiden name, not your married name. Reunion has a method for tracking spouses, which we will see a bit later. For accuracy and clarity, however, always use maiden names for female family members.

Don't worry about the User ID field or Soundex number - Reunion will take care of these for you. If you want your last name in capital letters, select the Last Name UPPERCASE checkbox. If you want Reunion to make sure the first letter of each name is capitalized, select the Initial caps checkbox. When you are finished with this screen, click the Events tab or press Command-2.

TIP: If you don't know the information for a given field, enter a question mark. Reunion can quickly find fields with question marks so you can fill in the information later.

Next, enter the important events in your life. When it comes to family trees, important dates are birth, death and perhaps religious events like baptism or confirmation. Don't enter things like when you were voted King or Queen of homecoming. In the Events pane, enter the date and place you were born. If you don't know the place you were born, you can leave it blank or enter a question mark to come back to it later. You can tab through the death fields; since you are reading this, we'll assume you are still alive.

Move to the Facts screen by pressing the Facts tab or pressing Command-3. This is where you will enter important facts about your life. Enter your occupation, details about your education, and religion. To add a new fact, select the appropriate type of fact from the Add Fact menu on the lower left of the window. You can choose from an extensive list of categories Reunion provides, or create your own.

Almost every person has something unique about them that does not fit nicely into one of the many compartments Reunion has for an individual's data. Things like immigration details, personal stories, a military record, or perhaps a notation in Aunt Millie's record that she has a large collection of family heirlooms, or that Uncle Milton has webbed feet. These bits of information go in the notes field, which you can see by clicking on the Notes tab or pressing Command-4. Don't skimp on the information you put in this area. What may seem trivial to you may be of vital importance to someone else in your family.

You can change the text style in the window, and import text files into this area.

TIP: A person's resume is a good place to collect the sort of information you might put in the Notes field.

Finally, you may want to flag a person who stands out for some reason in your family history. Switch to the Flags screen by clicking the Flags tab or pressing Command-5.

Once you have finished entering your information, click the Save button. This card automatically becomes your Home card, which appears automatically each time you open your family file. Now you can add your spouse, children, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

Note the plus sign that appears above your name. This allows you to quickly add a spouse or parent. Click the plus sign and choose New Spouse from the menu that appears (if you aren't married, go ahead and choose New Father or New Mother instead). Entering information on other individuals in this way is exactly like entering information for yourself, except the new cards will automatically establish the appropriate relationship with the card from which you started. This is not only the easiest way to enter information into Reunion, but very important when it comes to printing information in one of its many formats.

For now, enter as much information about as many people in your family as you can. Don't worry if you don't know all the information simply type a question mark so Reunion can help you find missing information easily as you are doing your research. To edit a card, click the person's name (it appears in bold black type near the top of the card). To move between related cards, look for names a the bottom of the main screen in blue type. If you don't see the one you are looking for, you can click the Index button on the upper right corner of the screen to see a list of everyone entered.

Once you have a bunch of people entered, with some basic information such as their birthdays, you can really put Reunion through is paces. The first thing you may want to do is take a look at a pedigree overview of what you have entered so far. To do this, select a person's card and click the Overview button in the toolbar.

Reunion also provides five charts, Pedigree, Fan, Descendant, Relative and Timeline. Each of these will allow you to look at your family in a different way.

Of course, all of this is just the tip of the genealogy iceberg. There are many other things you can do in Reunion, including:

Find Birthdays. Choose Calendar from the List menu. Choose a month from a pop-up menu. Reunion will list all of your family members' birthdays in that month. From there you can click a person's name to see their individual card.

How Old Were You When? Select your card and choose Ages from the List menu. The window that appears will list how old you were on the important events of your life, such as the day you were married or the days your children were born. Selecting the somewhat creepy Life Expectancy checkbox will even tell you how long you have left to live according to actuarial tables. The Day will even tell you the day of the week for each event.

SUMMARY

Following the tips and tricks in this article will put you well on your way to tracing your family roots as far back as the written word will let you (or it you're a little less ambitious, however bar back you're willing to go). Remember to take advantage of as many sources as possible when researching your data, including government records, census data, libraries and genealogical preservation societies (like the excellent Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation's American Family Immigration History Center; www.ellisisland.org). Morbid as it might sound, obituaries are particularly helpful in identifying not only when and where a person died, but also who their nearest relatives were (e.g. "Joe Williams is survived by wife Jeannie, sister Sally and son Billy Bob") and where they're buried.

We strongly recommend using Reunion to organize and store your data, as well as uploading a copy of your family tree to one of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Good luck, and happy archiving!

Chuck Rogers is a Macintosh consultant and freelance author living in New Orleans. He has traced his own roots back to the explorer George Rogers Clark.