Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 11: Rewriting RootsMagic

NOTE: This is Part 11 of our ongoing series documenting the history of our company. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 123456789, and 10.

As 2007 rolled around, we began talking about rewriting RootsMagic from scratch. We were still using the same old dBase file format we started using in Family Origins over 10 years earlier. Among other problems, it didn’t support Unicode (which meant it couldn’t handle special characters like Cyrillic and others), and each RootsMagic database contained over 30 different files, which users didn’t always keep together properly. We also wanted to add some new functionality which we couldn’t just squeeze into the existing code. Once the dust had settled, we had not only chosen a new database format, we also changed the programming language we were going to use.

As we began work on the rewrite, the first thing we realized was we weren’t just rewriting our own code, we were having to find replacement libraries for all the behind the scenes things as well. We had to find new libraries to handle spell checking, zipping files, image manipulation and a dozen other functions, and had to rewrite several other libraries ourselves. It was turning out to be a much bigger project than we originally planned for.

Adding to the work, we were approached by FamilySearch during this time about a new system they wanted us to support. They were calling it “New FamilySearch”, and it was in the early stages of development. It was good timing for us since we were redesigning everything anyways, but it was trickier from a marketing standpoint. Everybody wanted to see our new FamilySearch features, even though we hadn’t even released the new version yet. We began demonstrating the FamilySearch features at genealogy conferences, but keeping the main part of the program basically hidden. I still find it funny that we ended up winning two FamilySearch awards (“Easiest to Sync” and “Best Dashboard”) two weeks before we officially released the program.

bruce and mike 2

Over the next year and a half we worked on RootsMagic 4 in secret. As time went by without us releasing a “new version” some customers began to worry that we had “abandoned” the program, even posting those thoughts on our forums and mail lists. We didn’t want our competitors to know we were doing a rewrite, so we slowly leaked info that version 4 was in the works. But it wasn’t until July 5, 2008 that we started spilling the beans. On that day we started a new blog, and began writing “insider” articles about the new features coming in RootsMagic 4.


We knew we were still months away from being able to release the program, but we also knew we had tons of new features to write about. We started with the smallest new features, and worked up to the major new features. We blogged through the development, community preview, beta test, and release of the program. Little did we realize when we started the blog that it would be over 8 months of blogging before we actually released the new version.

RootsMagic 4 Insider

Finally, on March 25, 2009, we officially released RootsMagic 4. It felt like such a relief to finally get it out the door. But the first 6 months were a rocky road, as bugs were getting reported faster than we could fix them. Apparently having 2000 users testing the program during our community preview, and even more during our public beta wasn’t enough to find all the bugs. Mike and I worked around the clock trying to fix bugs, but users were getting angry that we weren’t fixing them fast enough. There were more than a few times that Mike and I wondered aloud if it had been worth doing the rewrite.

We kept plugging away fixing bugs and things began to settle down. Sales were great, but we knew there had to be a way to reach even more people. I began to think about my old shareware days, and wondered whether something along those lines might work. Since the old Family Origins days we had provided a demo version of our software. The demo version had all the features, except that it would only hold 50 people. I had always hated that 50 person limitation, but figured that was how demos worked.

Mike and I talked about getting rid of the demo, and instead offering a free “lite” version of the program, one which had all the “essential” features necessary for a genealogy program. But our main criteria was that it use the same file format as the full program. We had a lot of customers who wanted to share their database with a family member, but didn’t want to have to buy another copy of the program to do that. We made a list of RootsMagic’s features, and then painstakingly went through each one to decide whether that feature was essential to tracking your family history. Some items on the list were easy… people, notes, sources, pictures, pedigree charts and family group sheets were all essential to a good family history. Some were not so easy… is it essential to be able to create wall charts of your family?

RootsMagic Essentials

Finally, on November 18, 2009, we released (what else?) RootsMagic Essentials. While we were excited about this new direction, we were also nervous about whether offering a fully functional free version of our software would eat into our sales, or whether the added exposure would make up for it. We were so worried we even made sure we had the ability to switch back to the limited demo version if things got too bad. Luckily that wasn’t necessary, as RootsMagic Essentials became one of the best ideas we ever had.

Next: Growth and New Products

It’s Here! RootsMagic releases Ancestry Features


Last year, we announced we were working with Ancestry® to integrate Ancestry Hints® and Ancestry’s records and online trees with our software. After months of development and the feedback of thousands of testers, we’re pleased to announce the release of RootsMagic 7.5, a free update to RootsMagic 7 that adds two amazing new features: TreeShare™ for Ancestry and the addition of Ancestry Hints to RootsMagic’s WebHints™ feature.

TreeShare for Ancestry

RootsMagic’s TreeShare for Ancestry will let you move data between your RootsMagic files on your computers and your personal Ancestry online trees. You can transfer people, events, notes, source citations, and even pictures between the two systems.

RootsMagic users also gain the ability to easily share and collaborate with others by giving family members access to their Ancestry online tree. Using the new TreeShare feature, family members can then synchronize the latest changes and additions to both the online tree and their desktop computers.

Ancestry Hints Integration


RootsMagic leverages the Ancestry Hints capability, and as possible matches are found, users may conveniently review them from within the software. RootsMagic then lets you add new information and media from matching records into your file.

Free RootsMagic Essentials Software

For those that are just starting their journey into the world of genealogy, RootsMagic offers “RootsMagic Essentials”- a free version of their software with a limited set of features tailored towards beginners.

If you have an account with Ancestry, RootsMagic Essentials includes the ability to upload your file to Ancestry or download your existing online trees from Ancestry.  If you are a subscriber to Ancestry, RootsMagic Essentials also allows you to search and view all of the content in your subscription.  Those wishing to compare and transfer individual records between RootsMagic and Ancestry will want to use the full-featured RootsMagic software.

Celebrate with a Giveaway

To celebrate this monumental release, we’re holding a special giveaway. We’re giving away a 1-Year Ancestry World Explorer Membership as well as 3 Ancestry DNA Testing Kits. To enter, use this entry form:

RootsMagic TreeShare Giveaway

Available Now

The update is free for users of RootsMagic 7 and RootsMagic Essentials 7 and is available via direct download or through the “Check for Updates” feature within RootsMagic. To learn more about these features or to take advantage of a special offer for Ancestry users, please go to http://www.rootsmagic.com/ancestry.

Questions about upcoming Ancestry features? We’ve got answers!

TreeShare Questions

There’s a lot of interest in our upcoming update which will add Ancestry integration to RootsMagic. We’re getting many questions through all our support channels about this, and we’ve tried to share as many details as we could. But there are lots of spinning plates in the air, and there are many people from multiple companies working to make this happen. So we haven’t always been able to give answers as specific and detailed as some have wanted.

Now that we’re getting close to releasing these features, we’re able to share a little more information and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

What are these Ancestry features?

RootsMagic’s TreeShare for Ancestry will let you move data between your RootsMagic files on your computers and your personal Ancestry online trees. You can transfer people, events, notes, source citations, and even pictures between the two systems.

RootsMagic’s WebHints will automatically search Ancestry’s extensive collections of historical records from around the world. As possible matches are found, you may conveniently review them from within the software. RootsMagic then lets you add new information and media from matching records into your file.

When will these features be released?

As already mentioned, many people and companies are working hard to make sure the new features are fast, stable, secure, and valuable to you, our users. The features are currently being scrutinized by an ever-growing group of testers. As problems are found, we correct them and put out a new update for the testers. Things are looking very promising and, barring some unexpected problem, we anticipate releasing the Ancestry integration to the public before the end of April.

How will I connect my RootsMagic file with my Ancestry online tree?

At release, you’ll have two options: 1. Upload your RootsMagic file to a new Ancestry online tree, or 2: Download an existing Ancestry online tree into a new RootsMagic file.

Can I connect multiple RootsMagic files to a single Ancestry online tree?

Yes. This means that you can use TreeShare from different computers working with the same Ancestry tree. In fact, we chose the name “TreeShare” to highlight an important side-effect of this. You can invite family members to edit and add to your Ancestry online tree. Each family member can then connect their RootsMagic data with the central tree to collaborate with one another. RootsMagic will also give you complete control over what information you share with each other.

How will I keep my RootsMagic file and Ancestry online tree synchronized?

After the initial upload or download, everyone will be in sync between the RoothsMagic file and Ancestry tree. As changes are made to either RootsMagic or Ancestry, RootsMagic will let you know who and what has changed and will allow you to easily select what to move back and forth. Rather than force your RootsMagic file and Ancestry tree to always look exactly the same, you as a user will choose what to share. This is what allows two (or more) different people to be able to connect to the same tree without forcing each other’s data into the other’s file.

Can I use TreeShare to backup my data to Ancestry?

The best backup strategy is to have multiple backup strategies. Saving your data to an Ancestry online tree is a great additional option for preserving your work. All the essential information including people, events, notes, sources, and media which are common to both systems are kept in an Ancestry online tree. However, RootsMagic-only data such as To-Do lists and Research Logs won’t make the journey.

Will any of the Ancestry features be included in the free RootsMagic Essentials software?

Yes. RootsMagic Essentials is the free version of our software which has a limited set of features tailored towards beginners. RootsMagic Essentials will include the ability to upload your file to Ancestry, download an online tree from Ancestry, and search Ancestry’s collections for WebHints. More advanced users wishing to compare and transfer individual records between RootsMagic and Ancestry will want to use the full-featured RootsMagic software.

I have multiple computers and operating systems. How many RootsMagic licenses do I need to buy?

Just one. Our software license is for the household, so you are welcome to install it on all of your own computers. You can even use RootsMagic To-Go and install to flash drives to take with you. The license covers both our Windows and MacOS versions.

I already have RootsMagic 7. How will I get these new features?

TreeShare for Ancestry and WebHints will be in a free update to RootsMagic 7, expected to be released sometime before the end of April. When you run the software, it will check for any updates via the internet, download, and install them. We will also send out an announcement via blog, mailing list, and celebratory dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Other Questions

If you have other questions, first check our previous list of frequently-asked questions and their answers. If you still can’t find your answer, feel free to contact us through one of our many support channels.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. Based on the feedback from our current testers, we think you’ll love these new features and find them worth the wait.

[Edited to clarify details about the synchronization process]

Previous Articles

A Sneak Peek from the Underground Labs

RootsMagic at RootsTech 2017: The RootsMagic Daily Giveaway

RootsMagic at RootsTech 2017: GBA Colossal Giveaway

RootsMagic at RootsTech 2017: Join us at the largest global genealogy conference

An Open Letter on RootsMagic’s Sync with Ancestry

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 10: The New Partnership

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 9: The Collector’s Item