Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 1: The FormalWare Co.


Part 1: The FormalWare Co.

Happy 30th birthday to RootsMagic!  Well, not RootsMagic the program, but RootsMagic the company.  This month (October 14th to be exact), marks the 30th birthday of the company we now know as “RootsMagic”.

Like a lot of people, RootsMagic has gone through a number of names, moves and changes since 1986.  With October being National Family History Month, I realized I have never put together a history of our company.  Pretty hypocritical for a company that encourages people to document their own history.  So let’s hop into a time machine and set the dial back to the mid 80’s.

Barely out of college, I finally had a “real job” as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley.  Although most of my personal computer experience had been on my Apple II, I bit the bullet and bought an AT&T 6300 PC clone (which I still have in a downstairs closet, much to my wife’s chagrin).  It had a massive 10MB hard drive that I knew would be impossible to ever fill up.  But I still needed programming tools.  At work I used C, Fortran and assembly language, but they were prohibitively expensive for a young married guy like me.  I decided to take a chance on a brand new programming tool which had just come out called Turbo Pascal.  At $49, it was an order of magnitude cheaper than anything else.  Turns out it was also faster and more powerful than the other tools I had been working with.

I now had a computer and development tools, now all I needed was something to write.  My previous attempt at writing a genealogy program for the Apple II left a bad taste in my mouth after I accidentally deleted all my source code with 2/3 of the program written.  This was my initial introduction to “why backups are important”.

My first program turned out to be a shareware spreadsheet program called QubeCalc.  Now QubeCalc wasn’t just any spreadsheet, it was a 3D spreadsheet.  In my day job as an engineer I became aware of a couple of 3D spreadsheet programs, both developed by airplane companies (Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas).  Both products were thousands of dollars, and I figured I could write one and sell it for under a hundred dollars.  I spent many evenings and weekends working on this new project, and in September 1986 I had something I felt comfortable trying to sell.  The only problem was I didn’t have a company to sell it.

Having never started a company before, I learned you don’t just say “Hey, I’m a company” (especially in California).  So I registered my awesome business name (with the great logo of a floppy disk wearing a bow tie), and filed all the papers they required.


And on October 14, 1986, we got our California seller’s permit, and the future RootsMagic, Inc. was born.

Little did I know that the next 30 years would bring the highest highs, the lowest lows, and the in-betweenest in-betweens.

NEXT: Our first sale, and a new product!

49 thoughts to “Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 1: The FormalWare Co.”

  1. Thank you! I can’t wait to hear your story. RootsMagic has been my favorite genealogy database for the last decade, in spite of the fact that you don’t have a native Mac version! Your responsiveness as a developer and programmer has always been first-rate. Best wishes on continued success.

  2. As in the Chicago song “Beginnings”.
    “Time passes quickly” and it’s “only the beginning”

    Much continued success.

  3. Thank you – didn’t realize that RM was created right in my backyard (Saratoga, CA)
    Looking for the “the rest of the story…”

  4. I remember not many years before that, I was thinking that a program for doing genealogy would be a Good Thing. And also knowing that I wasn’t anywhere near good enough at programming to make it work. (I’d been taking CS classes; this was when I had had data structures and was getting a feel for the different languages and how they control what you can do.)

  5. You wrote QubeCalc? I remember that program and even did a review on it, I believe, that we had posted on the Heath/Zenith Forum on CompuServe way back when. I was the librarian on that site and was always hunting up good software for us to keep in our libraries and I think I put a copy of it up in one of our libraries.

    Glad to see that you’re still around and, hopefully, doing well! Small world.


  6. Hello RootsMagic,
    I have been “doing” my family history and tree since about 1977. Lots of travel, lots of search (original documents in those days), lots of painstaking longhand copying and chart producing. In 1995 when I retired my working life I learned to build and use a computer. Low and behold Idiscovered Roots Magic. Quite magic—to say the least.
    Ralph Boreham aged 78. Sheffield, UK.

  7. I got started with Family Origins when I realised how well organised my family history could be presented and how easy it was to do, I got started. It has been fantastic and it just keeps growing. Thank you for your enthusiasm and perseverance to make this happen and to keep improving it. Well done and happy 30th anniversary.

  8. I retired on 31 Dec 1989 and returned to the USA in 1990 and began my genealogy with Family Origins (which I believe to be one of your first programs) and have not stopped since. I have to thank you for making Roots Magic such a great and easy program to use. Good luck for the next 30 years!
    Fred in Chile

  9. While doing a little archive digging on the Way Back Machine (https://archive.org/web/), I came across references to Family Origins (v)8 by FormalSoft, Inc. on 28 November 1999 (https://web.archive.org/web/19991128142710/http://www.formalsoft.com/) and RootsMate being renamed to RootsMagic as captured on 4 October 2002 (https://web.archive.org/web/20021004004534/http://www.rootsmagic.com/).

    I’m looking forward to the ***complete*** story of RootsMagic, Inc.’s history and the evolution of RootsMagic (v)7. The Way Back Machine has really piqued my curiosity to read the whole history behind RootsMagic. Looking forward to your future blog installments of your company’s history. May RootsMagic, Inc. and RootsMagic (the software) have a long and prosperous life ahead of them!

  10. You’re really bringing back the memories Bruce. I came on board with Family Origins 2.0 I think. 😉 It’s been a wonderful ride!!! Thank you for your commitment genealogical research!

  11. You’re really bringing back the memories Bruce. I came on board with Family Origins 2.0 I think. 😉 It’s been a wonderful ride!!! Thank you for your commitment to genealogical research!

  12. Great post. I found the sentence, “It had a massive 10MB hard drive that I knew would be impossible to ever fill up.” very funny! It’s amazing how far technology has come in just 30 years! Keep up the great work!

  13. have been with bruce and family since 1994 started with the program Family Origins . at the time i was using PAF.. and have folled his programs to ptesent . the best on the market .. and now that it also supports the MAC to that is good to . thank you Bruce and FMILY and staff fro a lot of good years ..

  14. While I haven’t been with you for 30 years (discovered you in Nov 1992 when I also was “infected” with the Genealogy bug) I am more than happy to say it has been a great ride from the days of DOS to Windows 10. I definitely plan on staying on-board as long as I can use a computer.
    Your attention to detail and focus on the importance of proper source citation made me select “Family Origins” and now helping by providing correct historically accurate place names is sure to keep doing research fun while leading newbies toward ever improving quality of research work.

  15. I started with Family Origins and my husband used PAF but when I discovered Roots Magic I have have used nothing else and also convinced my husband to use it too.. Love it and wouldn’t use anything else..Congratulations on your 30th birthday and many many more!

  16. I thank you RootsMagic 7 (up graded from 6). I can’t afford the Ancestry and I love the privacy of RootsMagic. Thanks from the oldest living person on both maternal/paternal side. Anna

  17. Congratulations on living the American dream. A dream that includes untold hours of work, for which you have a strong internal passion (and no sure payoff), working through difficult times, and the extreme highs and lows that accompany that dream.

    In the process, you have given joy and satisfaction to people like me, who’ve been involved in genealogy research since even before you started your business,

    As a retired business professor, your story is wonderful, and instructive, for all of the budding entrepreneurs in our classrooms.

    Also, as a retired business professor, I would encourage you to compile (no IT pun intended) and distill your story, with all of the ups and downs, distilled, and offered to textbook publishers or just to business and perhaps computer science professors as a reading for their courses.

    If helpful, I would be glad to help write your story (gratis), but I don’t have a ready email list of potential recipients.

    Selling your story is not likely (but you never know), but the publicity, and possible additional sales, could be beneficial. Along with the lessons you can pass on to younger people.

    Patrick Brady CPA MBA
    Professor Emeritus
    Allegany College of Maryland
    Cumberland MD 21502

  18. Addendum:

    Although I am retired, I retain my work email of pbrady@allegany.edu and references are available.

    I’ve been using Rootsmagic since it began and was just struck by the beginning of the story. It is unique, but it is universal! I had started some small businesses along the line, and was successful to an extent, but then moved on to other endeavors.

  19. I remember attending a genealogy convention back in the 8os and saw this display called Family Origins. Not a soul was visiting this booth so I sat down to chat with a fellow named Bruce. He was very interesting and presented the basic ideas of this new program in an easy to understand way. I thought it was a great idea and talked about presenting it to my beginners classes back in Cleveland, OH. But oopps, I didn’t have a computer. I convinced my husband and college age son this was the way of the future……we got one…..and away we went. It is now 2016, I still am an strong advocate of Roots Magic……and have every disc as the program grew in my files. Not that I can use them on my new computer ever, but they make me feel connected to Bruce and Company from the get go. You have done an exceptional job in the growth of this program and I wish you the best as you continue on with ROOTS MAGIC. Your long lost customer, Pat Whaley

  20. Thank you Bruce. I have been married to RM since I was a user of Family Origins. I was forced to go to FTM until you issued RM. There never has been a comparison of merit between the two, I love RM. I actually run Paralells on my MAC in order to have the full benefit of RM. I have RM installed on MAC but it runs slow. Your software has so many features that help us not to make a mistake in our tree growth, and the one I like most is the automatic alert to duplicates, which the on line host of tress, Ancestry.Com does not. Your customer care service is great.

  21. I’ve always been a big fan of RootsMagic. I’ve really enjoyed Part 1 of your story. It puts a personal touch to the product. Great luck in the future!

  22. Been a customer since Family Origin Days with Parsons Technology. Thats a loooonng time and still keep up to date with my 11,000 people. Thanks so much for a great product.

  23. Thanks for some earlier history then me. I started with Family Origins when Parsons Technology sold it. I held off with Roots Magic until I was sure I would be able to keep what I had intact. I still have a couple of 3
    1/2 discs of backup material.Been through 5 RM versions since and seriously doubt anyone will build a better software for genealogy ever.

  24. Bruce, I went from Family Origins to Roots Magic and have never looked back. I believe I spoke to you years ago and was impressed with that access to you. Great job and great company.
    Best to your family, crew, and yourself. Bill

  25. Bruce – I’m delighted to see you’re writing a history of your companies as I’m sure there are a lot of us users who will find it very interesting. At a conference today in Dayton OH we got three new people interested in our RM Users Group! I’m looking forward to the next installment!

  26. I started with Bruce’s Discover Genealogy from Parsons Tech in 1996 and switched eventually to RM.

  27. Thank you for this program. had to change from PAF, and it was so easy to do. I also had Family Tree and was not happy with it. Now if only I could find the rest 0f my 11busby family. Thishas been so easy to use

  28. My question is?

    Who is Sherman?
    Who is Mr Peabody?

    I know these questions are for the Baby-boomers but maybe somebody will know.

  29. Great start I cannot wait for more. I personally want to hear more of your wife’s input since her name is on the first company too.

  30. Loved your first history installment. I enjoy early programming and startup stories. My first program was a 1040 tax preparation program written in basic on a Commodore 64. It worked, but professional software came out that put mine to shame. Anyway, keep up the good work!

  31. Waiting for the rest of the story! You started how I imagined. This explains why the program works and is safe to use. I remember those days.

  32. A lot of skeletons are coming out. I worked with Zenith or ZDS when they still thought every computer should come with the Macro Assembler.
    I guess I got on board with Family Origins early on. I thought it was before Parson’s as I remember thinking programs went there to die.

  33. I started with Family Origins and it was a great program.
    Sherman was/is Mr. Peabody’s boy. Mr. Peabody is a braniac dog who was in the same cartoon show as Rocky and Bullwinkle. What is a mooseberry bush?

  34. Thanks for the history lesson on your founding. I “discovered” ROOTS MAGIC on my computer from my wife who did much work. I tried a few other database’s but grew to like “Roots” best. Thanks for all the work involved in the development.

  35. Bruce,

    I still have my old TeleVideo I got in 1984 with a 10 MB HD in the basement and it still works. And I like you said I would never fill up that drive and guess what? I never did. Love RootsMagic! Oh by the way white cake is my favorite.

  36. Thank you for your dedication! Rootmagic is by far the best genealogy database software. Thank you for all your attention you give to your subscribers and never make them feel sad because of their silly questions. Best Wishes!

  37. Wow! Can’t believe we’ve come this far!
    I began researching my family history in about 1977, and it was soon necessary to find a program that would handle all my information and documents. My son in law – who is a computer engineer- gave me Parsons Family Origins software in floppy disc form,and I’ve never looked back. 3.0 followed, and I still refer to it on my present computer, even though I’ve moved on to Roots Magic 7 and Personal Historian.
    I can’t thank you enough, Bruce, for designing and following through with your idea! My family and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts – all 5800 of us.XXOO

  38. Began on paper in 1986, then found computing and PAF. When it stopped found RootsMagic 7. Such a wonderful transformation dropping my years of Genealogy from PAF into RootsMagic 7. Thanks so much for your determination, history and making it so easy to keep my information and transfer it from one program into another program.

  39. With the internet becoming available I saw a great opportunity to research my ancestry. In early years only a few programs were available for this purpose and most were unsuitable to help organize my file the way I wanted it. I kept on searching for a good program and finally found a free version of RootsMagic which I tested for my use. Now I could not think of being without it. RootsMagic 7 makes it even easier to research and organize ancestry data. I also use the Family Atlas and the Personal Historian 2. My experience shows that RootsMagic keeps the programs up-to-date and provides excellent customer service.
    Congratulation to the RootsMagic Team!

  40. Of all the genealogy programs I have used, in my experience, Rootsmagic is one of the most user-friendly programs I have tried. I am always looking forward to upgrading to the latest version when it becomes available. Thank you for the hard work you put in.

  41. I used Cubecalc and found it superior. I remember a PC magazine review of Lotus 123 and Excel which compared those two programs to Cubecalc. I thought you had it made. I probably still have the disks. Remember leading the Blue Chip computer club genealogy SIG? We came to most of the meetings. When Roots Magic came out, I miss heard it as Bruce Magic. It still seems to be a valid name for your program.

  42. I am an old duffer! 86 to be exact. When I retired I decided it was time to collect all genealogy sheets I had accumulated over the years see if I could organize and make sense of them.
    My daughter had recently moved from California to Mapleton, Ut and mentioned that there was a Program she thought I should investigate. I bought “Roots Magic” and have been a fan ever since. I have 222000 names in my file.

  43. Entering “RootsMagic” at a late date in my life(86)and, with only basic knowledge
    of programming, and genealogy, I found
    the changes from “5” my first awareness
    of your ‘program’, a tremendous help in
    organizing my search into my family background, with each change (6 and 7)
    more informative and easier to understand
    correcting past entered data in better formats and filling in “questioned” material. A marvelous revelation to continued research.

  44. Began charting my family tree with Parsons Tech. software, I think it was family origins, but RootsMagic has been the best tool by far. Keep up the good work!

  45. although I’ve used RM7 for several years I’m still learning all of the amazing things that it does for me to make me look good & smart when I show it my family & friends–
    thanks to you & your dedicated crew

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