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


NOTE: This is Part 9 of our ongoing series documenting the history of our company. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8.

When we finally released RootsMagic 1.0, the book I had written for it was still a month or so away from coming back from the printer.  I had wanted to have it ready at the same time as the program, but there was still some editing to do, and I hadn’t designed a cover for the book yet.  I finally took the artwork for my Family Origins cover to help with the layout and modified the graphics and text.

The books arrived from the printer the day before I left for the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree at the end of February 2003.  This was the last Jamboree held at the Pasadena Convention Center.  I just loaded the books and software into the car without even really taking a look at them.  The first day of Jamboree, a customer brought the book they just bought back and asked me to take a look at it.

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When I didn’t find any damage to the book, I asked what the problem was.  They pointed to the spine… “Getting the Most Out of Family Origins.”  My heart sank.  I knew we had 5000 books exactly like that sitting in my garage, and couldn’t possibly afford to reprint all of them.  The customer wasn’t upset, and even made a comment about it being a collector’s item.  I made sure to make a note of that comment.

I called my wife to tell her about the book spine, and she said she already knew about it.  She just didn’t tell me because she didn’t want me to be upset.  When I got online that evening, I saw a big discussion about the incorrectly printed book spine.  I mentioned that when we reprinted the book, we would be correcting it and that this book was now a collector’s item.  After saying that, sales of the book picked up drastically.  We even had customers say they never needed or bought the book for Family Origins, but they were buying this one specifically because of the incorrect spine.  I still have users come up to me at conferences and tell me they have a copy of that particular book.

As sales grew, we realized how few people actually knew our company’s name.  Family Origins was known as a Parsons Technology product.  Very few people ever noticed that it said FormalSoft owned and developed the program, and that it was licensed to Parsons.  When we would answer the phones with “Thank you for calling FormalSoft, how may I help you?”, We would be greeted almost every time with “Is this RootsMagic?”.  Finally, we made one of the hardest decisions a company ever has to make.  On March 1, 2004, we issued this press release:

FormalSoft, Inc. Changes Name to RootsMagic, Inc.

SPRINGVILLE, Utah, March 1, 2004 – FormalSoft, Inc. announced today that, effective immediately, the company is changing its name to RootsMagic, Inc. 

“The name change to RootsMagic, Inc. reflects our commitment to the RootsMagic product line and to the family history market” said Bruce Buzbee, founder and president of RootsMagic, Inc.

“In addition, the overwhelming success of our RootsMagic genealogy software in just its first year has overshadowed the company name recognition built during all the years we licensed Family Origins to other publishers.”

Coinciding with the name change is the switch to www.rootsmagic.com as the official company website.

I guess I really did say that quote above, but the reality is that nobody knew us as FormalSoft, and it was just going to keep getting worse.


To get RootsMagic released in a timely manner, we had to leave out one important feature… wall charts.  I had already been working on them but knew it would delay the release another 6-8 months if we tried to include them in version 1.  In May 2004, we released RootsMagic 2, and with it the new wall chart functionality.  Around this same time, we started selling software from other companies, programs like Passage Express, AniMap, GenSmarts, and a relatively new program called Personal Historian.  We would buy copies of each of the programs, and then resell them on our website along with our own RootsMagic software.  I got to know and become friends with the developers of each of these products.

In May 2005, the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree moved to its new location at the Marriott convention center in Burbank, California, and we were there to exhibit as usual.  Unfortunately for the Jamboree, the move took its toll on attendance that year, and most of our time was spent talking to the other vendors rather than with users or customers.  But what was a negative for the Jamboree led to the most important development in our company’s history.

With nothing better to do that talk with other vendors, I spent a lot of time visiting with Michael Booth, the developer of the Personal Historian software we had been reselling.  I really liked the appearance of his screens, especially compared to the bland screens and graphics in RootsMagic 2.  I found that Mike created most of his own graphics and toolbar buttons, so I asked him if he would be interested in designing new graphics and toolbar buttons for the RootsMagic 3 I was working on.  I offered to pay him, but he still claims to this day that he offered to do it because he was sick of looking at RootsMagic’s ugly screens.

While Mike made good on his offer to do some new graphics, this was only the beginning of the biggest (and best) decision I ever made for the company.

NEXT: New Partners & Products

The Winner of our 30th Birthday Contest

The votes are in and the winner of our 30th Birthday Contest is Kelly Leary, who wins a Shotbox portable light box! Here’s the winning story:

The Nonagenarian

by Kelly Leary

At his 90th birthday party, my grandfather handed me his birth certificate and asked me if I could find his family. He was the baby and always felt that there were things his elder sibling did not share. I was working as Account Exec at Prudential Financial at the time. I had no idea what genealogy was nor did I know how to spell it correctly.

Thankfully I called NEHGS, and they helped guide me. They said that I should have a desktop software program as well as a family tree on Ancestry. That’s when I started using RootsMagic to help document information I found, record, and help me with citations. That’s when I fell in love with RootsMagic.

After work, I would research until 8 or 9 at night because I didn’t know how much time I had. My grandfather was 90, had latent diabetes, and his kidneys were beginning to fail. Because I had RootMagic to work with I was able to link pictures and documents to people and create my own RootsMagic folder. I was also able to use the program to write a family history for him. I researched and wrote for a year and sent the story I had so far to my grandfather on his 91st birthday. Grandpa died at the age of 92.

The 7 other finalists also win autographed copies of RootsMagic and Personal Historian! If you haven’t had a chance, be sure to read them below (in no particular order).

An Elegant Program

by Kathy Agard

I opened the green case, uploaded the program, and with a certain sadness typed our parent’s names in their respective boxes. Then our names, and with joy our children and our grandchildren’s vital information. There it was – our “little family.”

Having failed with two other genealogy programs, I was amazed and hooked by the ease of use. This is a simple program! I played with the color combinations, and color coded our family lines. Initially attracted by the friendliness of the program, slowly over time like many great loves, I discovered the “inner beauty” and the complexity of the program.

This isn’t a “simple” program – it is an “elegant” program. Complex, sophisticated, approachable, RootsMagic is thoughtfully constructed in ways that reflect the knowledge and caring of the creators who know the passion and tasks of family research. My loyalty was cemented when RootsMagic immediately came to the aid and offered support to family researchers being abandoned by Ancestry.

Now I open my computer every day and see a large branching family tree – each generation composed of someone’s “little family” living out their lives. Great work RM! Thank you for providing a critical tool to advance my understanding of our family.

You Had Me at “FamilySearch”

by Sunny O’Bryan

I have been addicted to family history since high school when I first created a four generation pedigree chart and began collecting family stories from my grandparents. I spent hours using snail mail to collect information. I even packed blank forms to take with me on my honeymoon in Britain so that I could copy information from materials I found in England and Scotland.

When I finally got a computer, I went through a string of different software programs but got annoyed with all of them. They each were missing things I felt I needed, and after re-typing all the information three times, I didn’t want to start over again with a new fourth program, so I stayed in my frustrating rut – working with inferior and sometimes infuriating programs.

Then, a friend asked me if I had ever tried RootsMagic. He told me what he felt were its strong points and I could almost hear the Hallelujah Chorus playing as a light bulb went on over my head. In the movie, Jerry McGuire, Renee Zelwigger tells Tom Cruise, “You had me at ‘hello.’” My “hello” moment came when he said, “FamilySearch support” and “you hit one button, and it sucks all the information for that person from FamilySearch right into your RootsMagic file.” No more re-typing? No more copy and paste? An easy way to identify relationships like adopted, step, biological? It seemed too good to be true – but it wasn’t.

RootsMagic was everything he said it was. I have been sold on your software ever since. I tell everyone who asks me questions about getting started on their genealogy – check out RootsMagic. Download the free Essentials and if you like it, buy the full program. It won’t break the bank. Thank you for taking the frustration out of genealogy software, so I can focus on the joy of piecing together my family history jigsaw puzzle!

The Hesitant Genealogist

by Clytee Gold

I rather hesitantly went to my first genealogy convention/conference at a Family History Expo in 2007 at the South Towne Expo Center. I had not registered, I didn’t feel I was a worthy enough genealogist to really be there, but I was so curious and driven that I wandered around Sandy, Utah looking for the place, parked, and wandered in (ready to be “busted” that I didn’t belong) and was allowed into the Expo Hall.

And, right there, wearing a green shirt was my bishop from 25 years previously in Ames, Iowa- Gordon Booth! Fortunately, there wasn’t a big crowd (it was probably during a lecture hour), and I sat down and asked Gordon a thousand family history questions, and he patiently answered every one.

He got me so excited. I bought RootsMagic, eventually put in on my computer and was hooked from then on. I had finally found a place to put my 25-year collection of family group sheets- and I could organize them together in families and find individuals at a later time by name!

It was powerful and really got me jump started on family history again. 10,000 plus names later in my database I use it more than ever. And I’ve attended every RootsTech, some NGS, and FGS conventions and SLIG.

Even today, with all the capabilities of FamilySearch Family Tree, and all the on-line “trees,” that’s where I put my living family and cousins, and cousin’s kids, and it’s where I work out theories on my not-ready-for-prime-time distant relatives as I find things. I can write what I’m thinking in “notes,” I can cite the source my way (sorry Thomas Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills), it’s private, I can print reports and share. Still very, very useful in 2016! Thanks, Gordon & June & Michael & Bruce!

Loyal to Family Origins

by Patricia

I think the first magic came in the retail store comparing the software “box” of Family Origins 1 with other software programs out at the time. I remember being drawn to the intuitive entry screens pictured on the box and remember “having to have” the printable report options so I could “print my data” and take it to the library with me to do research. Remember, this was way before laptop computers and smartphones.

I also liked how it was set up to make adding source information easy which meant I would actually source. So, I bought the software and then spent hours typing in my info. From the very first report, I knew I had chosen wisely. I upgraded periodically through the years – usually when I upgraded my hardware and was distraught when Family Origins announced its end.

Through the years, a close friend has tried to get me to switch. I held strong! I stubbornly refused to give up my Family Origins program even in the face of no more new bells and whistles. So, when RootsMagic was announced, I eagerly bought a copy and “felt the magic” all over again. I didn’t think I would ever like anything more than Family Origins, but I was wrong – RootsMagic is everything and more. It’s a great product, and it’s also backed by a great company. Thanks!

Oh, and the friend who tried to get me to switch through the years? She finally bought a copy of RootsMagic for herself. LOL.

BAM! He was done

by Charlotte Shockey

I started my genealogy journey in 2002 using Ancestry’s original genealogy program. I swore I would never change to anything else despite it being YEARS old and no updates. That all changed when I went to my first Shockey family reunion.

All the genealogists on the board were using RootsMagic. I still thought to myself that mine was still worth using. My stubbornness changed when Les just clicked and dragged my tree into his and BAM! he was done. I was like, “OMG, that would make things so much easier!” When I went home after the reunion, I downloaded the free version and started using it right away.

Of course with the very few options available on the original Ancestry program, I still have a LOT of cleaning up to do as instead of events my old program had “notes” for anything other than birth, marriage, baptism, death, and burial but it is well worth it! I ended up purchasing the full program when I saw this wonderful tool called “color code people”… I started coloring lines so that I wouldn’t stray too far from my main line.

Then there’s that wonderful “swap spouses” feature that I’m in love with. You don’t have to worry about unconnecting or deleting someone to fix where the person sits if you accidentally made a male a female, which surprisingly can happen! RootsMagic has completely changed my way of thinking on doing my family tree on my computer.

I love how I can share events instead of putting them on each person (didn’t see that til a couple of months ago – more clean up!). Or, using Alternative names to find women under their married name.

I’m sure there are still more features I haven’t fully used, yet that will make me oh so happy! Seriously, I can’t ask for a better program. I tell everyone about it and how they should get it instead of anything else. I LOVE RootsMagic!

The Growing Addiction

by Kathie Evans

My father died in 1979, and I discovered that I knew very little about him except that he was an only child and mother and father both died before he was 15. So I began searching and researching and writing everything down on family group sheets. But I could not stop with just my immediate family. Cousins, aunts and uncles and their spouses’ families, and their families, and their families.

Pretty soon, I had a stack of family group sheets in my Book of Remembrance that I just could not organize to my liking. I could not find anyone in that mess that I was looking for. My early pioneers sometimes married a second cousin; then I really did not know under which family to file them.

I was fortunate to use some of the very first computers used for professional work in our province of Saskatchewan. I was a long distance operator. At the time I really did not see the need for computers. I thought the cord boards were much more conducive to great customer service. There was nothing wonderful about this new fangled machinery. I just could not think of one saving grace about it.

Then on a trip to Salt Lake from my home in Canada, I made my usual visit to Deseret Book to pick up my yearly supply of family group sheets. How I loved to look at all the new forms in the genealogy section. But about 1993 I spotted something very new – Family Origins 3 software. I studied the box; I asked the sales person about it; then I studied the box again. The cost was reasonable. So I decided to try it……… but I still purchased my yearly supply of group sheets!

As soon as we got home, I purchased a computer (something I swore I would never do). And………I began. It was simple, and I spent days entering all the information I had (even with my 100 wpm typing skill). By the third day, I was hooked. I convinced all of my family that this was truly the way to go. We could easily share this and that information by printing up a report instead of writing out group sheets. The ease of it inspired me to get going again. I had been somewhat discouraged with all my paper.

My younger brother and I spent the whole summer tracking cemeteries, speaking to country folk, researching archives, and……..entering it all into Family Origins. We argued about whose turn it was to enter what we found – we both wanted to do it. It was the best summer I ever had; he and I still reminisce about it.

Lots of time has gone by since then, and we now have about 150,000 histories in RootsMagic. I have faithfully updated my software to each new update and look forward to what is new. I firmly believe that it is the best that is out there. By the way, my view has changed regarding computers. How could we do this work without them? But I have never thrown out my Book of Remembrance. I show it to my grandchildren now and then as a historical artifact!

Happy birthday to you. I appreciate all the hard work put into your software. Family history is what I do almost every day of my life, so RootsMagic and I are inseparable and a very effective duo!

A Poor Student

by Valerie N. Williams

I felt the magic the first time I used Family Origins. It was affordable for a poor student. A lot of the other software of the time was incredibly costly and required buying other folks’ genealogy as add-ons. To me, that was a racket.

So when I saw Family Origins, and at such an affordable price, I was sold. Then when Family Origins went away, I was crestfallen. How could such an amazing program be shut down?? I continued using FOWIN regardless. Then, when I first saw RootsMagic, there was a real familiar feel- it was, well, MAGIC!

It wasn’t a difficult choice to buy RootsMagic. My FOWIN files moved over easily, and there was so much more; more reports, easier documentation, and one of my favorites, colorization of each line so I could look and know if it was one of my lines or an ancillary line that I had entered. Needless to say, I’m a long time fan of RootsMagic. I plan on getting a copy for my son, who is now getting into genealogy, and finally, understands all those trips to cemeteries when he was young… 🙂

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 8: The Birth of RootsMagic


NOTE: This is Part 8 of our ongoing series documenting the history of our company. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.

Shortly after I finished writing Family Origins 10, I realized that A&E wasn’t really doing anything to promote the program.  When I would get my royalty check, it was obvious that the copies I was buying and reselling greatly outnumbered the copies they were selling directly to customers.  Royalty payments were dwindling, and it was getting tougher to make ends meet.  The company just wasn’t making enough to keep our family going.  I even went out and applied for some other jobs to try and help out, but the one that was a perfect fit said I was “overqualified”.

I decided to write another program to help supplement our income.  Rather than write another family tree program, I decided to write a program to help users organize their records: documents, certificates, photographs, addresses, etc.  But rather than just storing information about these records, any record could be “linked” with any other record.  It was a very powerful idea, with a very confusing interface, and when I brought in some early testers, I realized that this would be a tough sell.  I spent a lot of time trying to explain my thinking behind the program and realized that if I had to explain this much to my testers, there was no way I was going to make this understandable to the general market.

The further we got into the testing, the more discouraged I became.  I knew that even if I released this new program, we could never sell enough copies to be worth it.  But I didn’t want to waste my time writing another Family Origins upgrade since I knew it wouldn’t get marketed as it deserved.  Then one day as I was looking through my contract trying to figure out a way to get Family Origins back, I realized that the one thing the contract didn’t include was a non-compete clause.  The contract did require me to license any upgrade to the Family Origins program to them, but didn’t prohibit me from writing a totally new genealogy program.

A lawyer friend advised me that while I could do this, I needed to make sure there was no connection between Family Origins and this new program.  So I unplugged my computer with all my source code, bought a new computer, and started writing a new genealogy program completely from scratch.  I knew this was a daunting task, and would probably take a couple of years to finish, but I felt energized by the decision.  I plowed into my programming, determined to make this new program even better than Family Origins.  I wanted it to have a similar look and feel to Family Origins since I knew its best chance for success was if I could switch over all those existing Family Origins users.

I kept this decision a secret from all but my family.  A couple of years after we released Family Origins 10, A&E called and asked me to do a version 11 upgrade.  I declined, saying that I didn’t want to spend that much time on a program I knew they wouldn’t promote.  They suggested I make a few minor enhancements, and they could call that version 11, but that just made me madder.

As I continued to work on the new program, I found the hardest part was coming up with a new name.  I wanted a name that would be memorable, but more importantly, the .com domain name needed to be available.  My first stipulation was that I didn’t want the word “family” in the name since most of the existing genealogy programs had family in the name, and I wanted something more unique.

When I asked my family for suggestions, I realized that while teenagers weren’t that helpful with real names, they were great for gag names.  Their suggestions included “Frankancestor”, “Genealogy Blaster”, and “PediFile”.  I almost bit on that last one until I said it out loud.  As we came up with names that I might consider, I registered the domain name just in case.  At one point I probably had 10 or 12 domain names registered, but finally decided on “RootsMate”.

In May 2002, we unveiled RootsMate at the NGS conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The program was still in development, but I wanted to start getting the word out.  Dick Eastman wrote about RootsMate in the May 20, 2002, issue of his blog.


As the year progressed, so did the program and testing.  Then in September, one of our Australian testers casually asked how committed we were to the name “RootsMate”.  When he explained why he was asking, I emailed another of our Australian testers and asked him his thoughts on the name.  He responded, “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but when my wife saw the name at the top of the beta website, she asked what kind of website I was visiting”.  I asked whether the problem was the word “root” itself, or just in combination with “mate”.  As an example, I said what if “root” was used with a different word, like “magic”.  To this day I don’t know why I used the word “magic” other than it started with the same 2 letters.  He not only said it would work ok, but that he really liked the name RootsMagic.  When I ran it past our other testers and my family, they all agreed.

And despite all the work and votes our testers went through, my announcement was nothing more than a reply to another post on the ROOTSMATE users list.  I guess I didn’t feel it was a big enough decision to warrant its own post.


My plan had been to release RootsMagic in time for the holiday season since we were completely out of money and our credit cards were maxed out.  Family Origins users were hounding us wanting to get RootsMagic for Christmas, but we had to tell them it wouldn’t be ready until January.  This was bad news all around… they wanted it now, and we needed the income to keep the company alive.  Then “Charlie” (a long time Family Origins and RootsMagic user) made the suggestion that solved all our problems.


So in late November we started selling gift certificates, redeemable for a copy of RootsMagic when it was released.  On January 31st, our CDs were delivered, but of course, that was a Friday at 5 pm.  We spent the weekend packaging orders, and on Monday, February 3rd, 2003, we shipped the first RootsMagic orders.  Since we had the addresses of everyone that had ordered a certificate, we sent out the orders without requiring them to return the certificate. NOTE: if any of those original users still has a copy of that certificate laying around, I would LOVE to get a scanned copy of it to add to this history.

The day we announced the release of RootsMagic, I received a telephone call from A&E, who still had the rights to our Family Origins.  After congratulating us on the release, they asked if I knew that our contract gave them the rights to our RootsMagic program as well.  I pointed out that RootsMagic was written entirely from scratch, and that if they wanted to pursue that, they better make sure their lawyers looked over that contract with a fine tooth comb first.  Apparently, their lawyers saw the same thing mine did, because I never heard from them again on the subject.

While finally getting RootsMagic out the door was a reason to celebrate, it was also a little scary.  Our little company was now back in the software publishing business, and the need to do sales, marketing and support were once again our responsibility.

NEXT: A Publishing Error

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 7: Missed Opportunities and Murky Waters


NOTE: This is Part 7 of our ongoing series documenting the history of our company. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

During the first few years that we licensed Family Origins to Parsons Technology, I built up some good friendships and a solid relationship.  Parsons did a great job of promoting and supporting Family Origins, and I was able to concentrate solely on making it better.

In 1993 I had the opportunity to visit a local company called Automated Archives, which created CDs with genealogy data on them.  They talked about acquiring a genealogy program and asked if I thought they could buy Family Origins.  Since our license with Parsons was exclusive, I told them they would need to talk to Parsons.  But I pointed out that Parsons was a much bigger company than them, and it would be easier for Parsons to buy Automated Archives than vice versa.  I was surprised when they asked if I thought Parsons would be interested in doing that.

I tried to convince Parsons to buy Automated Archives until I was blue in the face, but it was to no avail.  They apparently felt like selling genealogy data on CDs wasn’t a money maker.  After Banner Blue bought Automated Archives the next year and started successfully bundling those same data CDs with Family Tree Maker, some of the Parsons higher ups wondered out loud why nobody had brought this to their attention.  Needless to say, they were probably lucky that I lived over a thousand miles from their headquarters.

1994 brought the first of many mergers and acquisitions.  Intuit (the makers of Quicken) had just gone public and acquired TurboTax to add to their portfolio, so it was a bit of a surprise when they also acquired Parsons.  Many Parsons employees thought it was so that Intuit could kill off Parsons’ competing accounting and tax programs.  But Intuit claimed they were going to allow Parsons to act as a subsidiary and continue to do business as usual.  Although the marketing of Family Origins was Parsons’ job, I worked hard to try and convince Parsons to add “From the makers of Quicken” on the Family Origins ads and packaging, but the closest I could get was “Parsons Technology: An Intuit Company”.


But Intuit was true to their word and not much changed… until the bombshell on May 29, 1997.

I received a call at home from my contact at Parsons.  She sounded worried and told me that Intuit had just sold Parsons to Broderbund.  She had no other details, but the one thing we did know is that Broderbund owned Banner Blue, the makers of Family Tree Maker.  We had just been acquired by our main competitor.


The next few years brought a string of acquisitions, each one bringing more uncertainty about the future of Family Origins.  In 1998, Broderbund was acquired by The Learning Company.  The next year The Learning Company was acquired by Mattel.  Yep, Family Origins was now cousins with Barbie and Hot Wheels.  Every time another company took over, they focused more and more on Family Tree Maker, and less and less on Family Origins.

Finally, in late 1999, Mattel spun off the genealogy products in a partnership with A&E Television networks and several others to create a new company called Genealogy.com.  This new company concentrated totally on Family Tree Maker at the exclusion of everything else.  Not only did they basically ignore Family Origins, they acquired and discontinued numerous competing programs, including Ultimate Family Tree, Family Tree Creator, and others.

During this time customers became increasingly worried about the future of Family Origins.  I even set my company up as a reseller for Genealogy.com, bought my own program from them, and resold it myself on our FormalSoft website.  I tried to reassure customers that Family Origins wasn’t going to die even though I was uncertain myself, but I had one advantage over the other programs.  Family Origins was licensed to A&E, but I still held the copyright, which meant they couldn’t kill the program, they could only release it back to me.  But this cut both ways; it also meant I couldn’t get the program back from them unless they agreed.  And they had no intention of releasing Family Origins back to me to compete with them.

Tensions ran tight between me and A&E.  Their lawyers made it more than clear that even though they weren’t promoting Family Origins, they were not going to release us from our licensing agreement.  They were planning on just sitting on the program until it died on its own.  Things got so bad that they even offered to pay me to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t badmouth Family Tree Maker (since, as they claimed, I was an “icon in the genealogy community”).  I have never badmouthed a competitor publicly (and never will), but I was happy to take their money to agree to do something I would have done anyways.

Finally, after several years of stress, it became clear that I was never going to be able to get Family Origins back.  And since my licensing agreement said they were entitled to sell any upgrades I wrote, I had only two options.  I could either wait for Family Origins to slowly die, or I could buy a new computer, lock up the one with the Family Origins source code, and start writing a new genealogy program completely from scratch (so that it didn’t qualify as an “upgrade”).  Call it stubbornness, or call it vindictiveness, but I had no intention of going down without a fight.

Next: The birth of RootsMagic

Choose the Winner of our 30th Birthday Contest


It’s our 30th birthday and we asked our users to share about when they first “felt the magic”. We received so many great stories and experiences. The staff here at RootsMagic had a difficult time narrowing down the list to only 8. Congratulations to our finalists: Kathy Agard, Sunny O’Bryan, Kelly Leary, Clytee Gold, Patricia (Name withheld), Charlotte Shockey, Kathie Evans, and Valerie N Williams! They have each won autographed copies of RootsMagic and Personal Historian!

But we still have one Shotbox portable light box to give away and we need your help choosing the winner!

Visit our finalists’ page to read 8 different stories from our finalists and tell us which one you felt was the best.

The entry that receives the most votes will win the Shotbox portable light box!

Voting is open through Sunday, November 20, 2016. The winner will be announced on Monday, November 21, 2016.

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 6: The Rise of Family Origins


NOTE: This is Part 6 of our ongoing series documenting the history of our company. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Now that we were basically a software “development” company rather than a publisher, I devoted full time to working on Family Origins.  Our agreement with Parsons was that we provide a new upgrade once a year, and they handled everything else… sales, marketing, and tech support.

The first couple of years were mostly uneventful.  We worked on new features that customers were requesting, and Parsons took care of the rest.  But there was always one item hanging over my head.  There was this newfangled operating system called Windows that customers wanted a genealogy program for.  The only problem was that I had absolutely no experience programming for Windows.  And it wasn’t a simple transition.  Programming for DOS and programming for Windows were two different animals.  In hindsight, I realize how many programs just disappeared because the company couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make the transition to Windows.

Realizing what a big job it would be to rewrite Family Origins to run under Windows, I decided on a different route.  Rather than cut my Windows programming teeth on a major project like Family Origins, I taught myself Windows programming while writing a much simpler program.  This little program started out as not much more than a calendar tied to a word processor control so that you could type in some text for any day past or future.  I tweaked it a bit more, and as it got stable, I approached Parsons to see if they would be interested in selling it.  We ended up licensing it to them, and they released it as Daily Journal.

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Although Daily Journal started out as simply a way for me to learn how to program for Windows, it became very popular, and we ended up releasing 3 versions over the years.

Once Daily Journal was published, I began working full time on the Windows version of Family Origins.  Parsons decided to just continue the version numbers, so the last DOS version of Family Origins was 2.5, and 3.0 became the first Windows version.  Version 3 turned out to be just the first of several rewrites of the Family Origins software.

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After the release of Family Origins for Windows, it became clear that we needed to increase the limitations of the software.  Family Origins was limited to 32,000 people in a single file, which was sufficient for most people but was increasingly limiting to users.  The file format of the original Family Origins was a proprietary format that I made up myself but to handle larger files I decided to switch to a real database engine.  I settled on a dBase file format, which at the time was a safe choice.  Since this was going to be a complete rewrite anyways, I also switched programming languages from Turbo Pascal to Microsoft C++.  I didn’t really want to change languages, but Parsons Technology had recently been purchased by Intuit (the Quicken people), and there were rumors that Microsoft was planning to buy Intuit.  I figured if Microsoft bought Intuit, then Family Origins would need to be written in a Microsoft language, and I didn’t want to have to do yet another rewrite if they did.

Once we had Family Origins 4 out, Parsons started testing out other markets.  One short-lived product was a German version of Family Origins called Ahnenforscher.  We translated the program, help files and documentation into German, but sales weren’t sufficient for Parsons to want me to create any updates to the software.

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Another market Parsons wanted to test was the bargain bin CDs in office supply stores.  They had me modify an older version of Family Origins, which was then renamed Discover Genealogy and sold for $9.95.  Although sales weren’t spectacular, the low price of Discover Genealogy did open up the world of family history to thousands of people.


We continued to release a new version of Family Origins every year for 10 years, with several of those upgrades being rewrites to support things like multiple databases open at the same time, and dragging and dropping people from one file into another.  Over the years Family Origins became well known, but most users never knew anything about FormalSoft, the company that actually wrote the program.  But no matter how much I enjoyed writing new versions of Family Origins and adding features that users requested, it was the behind the scenes issues that ultimately led to me “abandoning” Family Origins and starting back out on my own again.

NEXT: Mergers, acquisitions, and fights for the rights to Family Origins

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 5: The Origin of Family Origins


NOTE: This is Part 5 in our ongoing series documenting the history of our company. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

I made some friends at Parsons Technology during those early years, mostly in the “acquisitions” department.  One of those friends was Deb Winter, who was my primary contact with the company.  One day as we were talking on the phone, I mentioned my interest in family history.  When she asked if I had ever thought about writing a genealogy program, I told her that not only had I thought about it, but I had accidentally erased all the source code years earlier for an Apple II genealogy program that was 2/3 done.

She confided that Parsons number one request was for a genealogy program.  Family Tree Maker had just come out a couple of years earlier, and they wanted a program to compete with it.  When she said that it needed to be a clone of Family Tree Maker I declined, but I knew I needed to rewrite my long lost genealogy program for the PC.  I also knew that I would have to market it myself since Parsons began work on their own genealogy program at the same time.

In late 1991, I finished the first version of AncestraLink, the program that started it all.  It could hold up to 30 thousand people, but unlike most programs of the time, it supported real sources which could be entered once and reused for other people or facts.  Having learned a little about marketing from Parsons, we priced it at $29.95, and we’ve never strayed from that price point since.


We weren’t sure about how AncestraLink would sell, but we managed to get it into some retail stores and sales were nothing to complain about.  Every month sales increased, and it looked like we had a winner on our hands.  My main thought was that we needed to build up some market share before Parsons could release their program.

Then about 6 months after we starting selling AncestraLink, I got a call from Deb at Parsons asking if we would be interested in licensing our program to them.  Apparently, they discovered that writing a genealogy program is much more complicated than most other programs, and hadn’t even finished writing the libraries they needed to start.  They didn’t even care that our software wasn’t an FTM clone.  I knew that they could market AncestraLink in a way we could only dream of, so we agreed to an exclusive license with them.

They gave us a list of items we needed to address, mainly just changing the name of the program.  It only took a couple of weeks to make the changes, and in early 1992 Family Origins was born.

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I didn’t realize at the time what a big part of my life had just begun.  Our ProCalc 3D program never saw a version 2, but Family Origins grew to be one of Parson’s best-selling programs, and in the process brought me more joy and heartache than a software program should be allowed to.

NEXT: Family Origins’ early years