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

16 thoughts to “Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 5: The Origin of Family Origins”

  1. I was one of the very early adopters of Family Origins and loved the program from the start. Not only did it make keeping track of my genealogy research easier, but it also helped me share my work with others and collaboration is a big part of genealogy. I have had every version of it and RootsMagic since. Thank you Bruce Buzbee for all your hard work and persistence. I am use it was not always easy or fun but for so many of us it was truly worth it.

  2. I think i bought family origins when it first came out and have been using it and its children ever sense. I have encouraged anyone else who asked me what program I used to look at Family Origins and now RootsMagic.

    The program is great, but could still use some improvements.

  3. Family Origins was the program I used for years. I was always telling people who used FTM, how user friendly Family Origins was compared to using FTM. FTM has become more user riendly in the last few years, but I only use it to keep my Ancestry.com trees in sync.
    I was very upset when Family Origins was not being produced any more and had to find a new program for my genealogy. I chose another company and still use it and I have tried Roots Magic but it doesn’t seem the same as the original. I use it for trying gedcoms I get from other people. Mayabe over the winter, I will look at it again, but I don’t like transfering my information via Gedcom because I l lose my sources availability, meaning I can’t see them without printing out a report. I still miss Family Origins software. I think I still have the last version on one of my older computers.

  4. Family Origins was my first genealogy software and finding it on the rack at the office store was what kick-started my simmering interest in genealogy. But now I feel old!

  5. I was using PAF for genealogy, but I got the Parson’s catalog regularly because they had some other programs I liked. I also like the price of their programs :).
    I had never cared for PAF’s method of recording sources and notes and something in the program’s description prompted me to give the program a try. I was working on several families in Alabama at the time and I loved the fact that you could enter the source once and use it for multiple people, and as soon as I had enough of my database converted to the new system, I printed a narrative report. Have been with the system ever since.

  6. Those were the good old days ….. I was one of those quick to grab at this opportunity and became a Parson’s VAR, carrying their full line even though all I was really pushing was FO. Marketing heavy at NGS conferences and others ….. Couldn’t recall if ws in Portland or Jacksonville that made big intro about it …. based on your timeline had to be Jacksonville…. know I did a push at Baltimore, and remember giving FO5 as contest prizes when it first came out at several conferences …..

  7. I was using Roots II for DOS when I got my first windows computer. FTM was getting a lot of attention so I tried it but found it just as clunky as the DOS program and it didn’t do anything new. Then a friend came home from a workshop with a new program called Family Origins. We played with the program that evening and I was hooked. We have published several books and worked with many people on projects but never wanted to change our from your program. Thank you for all your help over the years!

  8. I began gathering genealogical data in about 1962 and was personally introduced to computers in 1991. I went looking for a software program to manage my data. It was in a book/software store that I found Family Origins, probably in ’92. It was far cheaper than FTM and about $10 higher than another offering on the shelves. I saw FO made provision for LDS Ordinances. I am not an LDS member, but my logic was, “If this program is food enough for LDS genealogists, it’s good enough for me. I bought it and followed through on purchases of subsequent upgrades. But I was dismayed when there were some corporate shake-ups that led to the word that tech support would no longer be offered for FO. Then one day I learned the NGS was having a convention in Pittsburgh, 60 miles away. I excused myself from the office mid-afternoon and scurried to the ‘burgh. I wandered around looking at all the displays and figured it was time to head home. Just then, I looked up and saw a sign…something about Family Origins. I was then I met Bruce Buzbee and was introduced to RootsMagic that I have used exclusively ever since in all of its upgraded manifestations. I shout it from the highest hilltops and recommend to friend and foe alike…as the best investment they’ll ever make in genealogical research. Right now I’m creeping up on 50,000 people in my database to whom I am related by blood or marriage no matter how far afield that may be. I love RootsMagic and highly respect Bruce and the work he has done for us all. Keep it up, Good Sir! Your devotees are following at your heels.

  9. Since genealogy is just documenting your ancestors and there were no real genealogy programs out there when I started using computers in the 1970’s, I started documenting using VAX Document on a PDP VAX 11-780 computer. I was able to create a book of all the information that I had gathered and print out a very pleasing document for my family. But it was in a document format, not a database.

    In 1995, I bought my first PC and discovered Parsons Technology software, Atomic Clock, Address Book, etc. I still use Address Book on a Windows 10 system, it loads and runs with very few problems. This lead me to Family Origins. Sorry to say, I was not an early adapter, I started with FO Version 2.
    I have keep up and bought every version since. I am thankful that Bruce keep his mailing list after Parsons folded so that he was able to contact his uses and let them know about RM.

  10. Being in Salt lake City, the Morman Vatican, have you found genealogy talent there helpful in development?
    When will part 4 be available. There is no link now.

  11. I found Family Origins as my successor to Personal Ancestry File (PAF) which was very slow to adapt to this new platform called Windows. But back to that Apple II – my guess is, like me, you paid close to $3000 in 1980 money for one or two floppy drives and perhaps not even a monitor.

  12. I began using Family Origins when there was a link to a free download of the demo on the old CompuServe Genealogy forum(s). Nowhere could I have found a better education for getting started with members like Dick Eastman who were patient and kind to a ‘tadpole’ just learning how to swim.
    Of course I later purchased Family Origina and used it until it became RootsMagic and now that is my program – and no one could talk me into changing! And many have tried! In fact I think I might still have an old copy of a Family Origins database somewhere in my files.
    Now I own all the programs associated with RootsMagic and you just keep making it a more pleasurable world in which to do research.

  13. I was in a retail software store in St. Louis on 20 Dec 1993 buying MS Office for my PC when I spotted Family Origins v. 2.0 in a bin. (I still have the invoice.) I pain $22 for it and I remember thinking, “Only $22 — this can’t be very good, but what the heck.” But as soon as I loaded it and saw the pedigree screen and the intuitive navigation I was hooked. Been hooked ever since. I can’t imagine doing my family history without RootsMagic. Thank you Bruce!

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