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

30 thoughts to “Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 11: Rewriting RootsMagic”

  1. Been a long time user since Family origins 4.x and was so pleased to fine Roots Magic (6) after a long break from research. Love the new integrations. Coupled with family search and other DNA tracing services, it makes keeping a visual record of who and your family are such a pleasure. Its often emotional discovering “long lost” ancestors.
    Thank you for your patience and dedication to a great piece of software.

  2. I started with Family Origins. I didn’t realize that only 10 years has passed. I love RootsMagic! I am too busy and too slow researching to utilized all the functions that RootsMagic offers. The past week I began learning and using FamilySearch to attach the documents found for each descendant, as I loathe documenting sources. I don’t understand the source formatting and with my MS, it hurts my hands to type so much. But it is a two steps thing. Say one has to attach a census record to a descendant in FamilySearch, then use FamilySearch Person Tools in RootsMagic to download the source. Since I rarely done sourcing, it will take a very long time to attach all the possible sources.
    Otherwise I shall prevail and keep up the progress of a small company acting as a big company. RootsMagic is too valuable to be abandoned ever!

  3. Congratulations to RootsMagic on your 30th birthday and everyone involved with its success. After many years of using several different genealogy software programs from PAF, FTM to TMG and knowing that I wanted a user friendly, comprehensive, affordable program after using various complex databases during my career, I was so thrilled to finally find Family Origins and then RootsMagic.

    30 years is considered a generation. That’s an accomplishment. We’re looking forward to seeing as many more decades of good work from your company. JUST WANTED TO SEND A BIG THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!

  4. Ah, how I (so fondly) remember those days of yester-year :).
    Having been with you since Family Origins was a pup (well, it was a DOS program), I’m so pleased to see how RM has grown, and so happy that even with other programs out there, I chose to stay with RM.
    Now that I’ve retired, retired (once from the military and now from the ministry, and into Social Security) I find myself working with RM on a daily basis. Your links to FamilySearch, Ancestry, and the other services has advanced my searching so much.
    I was able to give my kids a Christmas present last month — a 2″ 3 ring binder with Ancestry and Descendant charts, and narratives that I have been working on since my first 20″ x 30″ poster board chart back in 1959 (wow, nearly 60 years ago now). Bruce, as we move into another year, I just want to thank you for all you’ve done to help me and others with our family searches.
    Besides visiting family this year, and making some trips to chase more ancestors and meet with distant kin folk — I hope to be able to meet you at one of the events you’re attending.

  5. I, too, have moved on since the dBase and FoxPro daze. I toyed a bit with Visual FoxPro, but when even MicroSoft abandoned it, I moved on also.

    I am curious as to which database format you migrated. Care to share?

    ~~Happy Dæ·

  6. I have been doing genealogy off and on for 56 years. Tried all the other products and Roots Magic is the best for me.
    Congrats to you and all the team. Your hard work and diligence is deeply appreciated. Wish you success in the coming years.

  7. I think I may have been with you for a number of those years. I have enjoyed the trip from learner to smarter learner,thanks to you fellows coming up with new features all of the time. Congrats on your 30 years. I expect we can look forward to more changes in the future. Thanks for a great program.

  8. I think I may have been with you for a number of those years. I have enjoyed the trip from learner to smarter learner,thanks to you fellows coming up with new features all of the time. Congrats on your 30 years. I expect we can look forward to more changes in the future. Thanks for a great program.

  9. I love this program and thanks for all the hard work. Sometimes the program freezes, and I have to reboot, but it’s still better than anything I’ve used since PAF was created decades ago.

  10. I love the way I can compare my information on a relative with what is available on FamilySearch. One click and the information is transferred to my database. WOw. Because of the huge amount of records being made available from the Indexers, I have enlarged my database from a little over 600 ancestors to today when I have 55,982 with thousands of ordinances completed and waiting. My next effort is to make my database available on an Internet site for my family and the relatives across the world. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SKILLS AND DESIRE TO KEEP YOUR USERS ABREAST OF THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY.

  11. Thank you for all of your hard work from Family Origins until RM7, I have been with you from the beginning and will always be with you because RM7 is fantastic. My wife teach genealogy at a local library and we recommend everyone get RM7 to complete their research. Keep up the fantastic job…we love ya

  12. I missed the posting of the first 10 installments of RootsMagic History but it has been a pleasure to relive my own path since my initial purchase of Family Origin in DOS. Memory cells don’t work well enough to recall how long I used the DOS version before your rewrite for Windows but I’ve been along for the ride and the frustrations with FTM and Genealogy.com.(you never mentioned that they were eventually bought out by Ancestry.com which has now invited you back after the abandoned FTM! 😉 ) Anyway, thank you for not abandoning us your faithful users. I always preferred you user interface over FTM in both FO and RM.

  13. Hi Bruce, Happy Birthday to you and all your ‘fellow workers’! What a wonderful database we now have – I’ve been working on my Family for over 50 years (I’m 91), and have used many pieces of software over the years (even from the days of only using pencils and cards)! RM has made life so much easier for me, and even my GrandDaughter has taken up the RM database to carry on what I’ve started. Please keep up the good work – we all enjoy the convenience and detail you provide.

  14. I certainly noticed how much easier to handle RM4 (and later) is, compared to RM3.
    (I do have one complaint – privatizing is missing some options, IMO.)

  15. Just discovered Roots Magic this year after 27 years using Family Tree Maker. Far prefer Roots Magic – more flexible, more intuitive, more stable, easier to load and also far cheaper, Keep up the good work! Thank you.

  16. I have lost track of how many years I have been using Rootsmagic. I am pretty sure I started with Rootsmagic 2 but it may even have been version 1. I have flirted from time to time with other genealogy programs but always ended up sticking to Rootsmagic. It has gradually got better, the interface suits the way I like to do things, and searching my Rootsmagic database is so good and flexible. Congratulations on 30 years of excellent work!

  17. I thought the old Family Origins was the greatest genealogy program. Thanks to Bruce, his work on Family Origins lived again as RM when its publisher abandoned FO. Our family society has developed a large genealogy database of just under 200,000 people. The creator started it on a mainframe at his work before there was such a thing as PC, Microsoft and any home computer. Later he migrated the database to TMG and made the database available to members of the family society. With TMG at one end, and RM at the extreme other end of everything about genealogy programs, I was delighted that Bruce and RM was the only (I think) program to enable to covert TMG to RM. Must have been extremely difficult. So now I upload a new version of the society TMG database, a very cumbersome and multistep process I might add, then with a single click RM converts TMG to RM. Takes a long time to convert almost 200,000 people in the TMG database with almost 134 separate files scattered around the computer into a single RM file, but it is an accurate, complete, error free, and an easy one click job. Thanks Bruce.

  18. I remember the teasing of the features well and the pain that came after those 2000 testers missed the bugs, I genuinely felt for you.

  19. I have been a user of Family Origins since the beginning V.1. The program has always been user friendly to a non-tech such as I. Admittedly, I have tried several other programs in the distance past but have always stuck with Family Origins. Keep up the good work!!!!!1

  20. Been using your software for 22 years now- started with Family Origins 5.0 Deluxe in 1996 (before that had been using Brother’s Keeper) went through FO 6.0 and 10.0 then RootsMagic 4.0 for several years now.

  21. I love RootsMagic – have used it since Family Origins, which I switched to because PAF, which I had just ordered, was a DOS program and I was using WordPerfect so didn’t want DOS if I could get something better! Didn’t realize my good fortune at the time, because that made the rest of my family history life great.

  22. When I started my CARBIS family research it was just to satisfy my curiosity about the name. This migrated to a full-on CARBIS name search and to do that properly Reunion was used.
    Reunion for others than with Apple mac closed down, which meant finding another platform . tried a num,ber n ot always satisfied with the end result until fortunately ‘RootsMagic’ was shown, and having tried it in very early format, was most grateful and have been collecting the various upgrades ever since.
    Brilliant and a huge ‘Thank you’ and may you long continue producing excellent software.

  23. When I started my CARBIS family research it was just to satisfy my curiosity about the name. This migrated to a full-on CARBIS name search and to do that properly Reunion was used.
    Reunion for others than with Apple Mac closed down, which meant finding another platform. Tried a number not always satisfied with the end result until fortunately ‘RootsMagic’ was shown, and having tried it in very early format, was most grateful and have been collecting the various upgrades ever since.
    Brilliant and a huge ‘Thank you’ and may you long continue producing excellent software.

  24. I started with Discover Genealogy bought at a local genealogy fair for $5. It was wonderful to have something that was intuitive and worked the same way every time. Graduated to Roots Magic and love it just as much. The Family Search and Ancestry interfaces are great.
    Congratulations on the 30th Birthday. Looking forward to continuing with a great program

  25. Congratulation on achieving 30 successful years of providing a program that continues to remain current, however, being a MAC owner I would hope that the company would address several issues that are not handled by Roots Magic 7.
    These include
    Roots Magic To-Go
    Create Shareable CD
    Backup to Google drive or dropbox and
    Understand Bruce will be in The Villages in March and hopefully provide a time table when these issues will be addressed and finalized.

  26. I started with PAF checked out several other programs but not being a computer whiz found Roots Magic to be user friendlier than others.
    Having developed a hand disability several years ago and lack of time I have not been able to utilize all the functions. I hope to learn more about using the DNA material I have. Its a great program
    and I feel so lucky to have chosen it!
    Thank you for all the work you have accomplished!

  27. I purchased Roots Magic 6 after Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was no longer supported because it was “certified to share and collaborate with FamilySearch Family Tree” according to your advertising. At first it worked fine, but without warning Roots Magic 6 stopped connecting to FamilySearch. An online search led to finding your explanation that FamilySearch had changed the way the connection was made. Instead of fixing this problem you asked users to buy your new Roots Magic 7 if they wanted to continue to have the function that they had paid for with Roots Magic 6. The cost for the “upgrade” is not too much, but I stubbornly refuse to buy Roots Magic 7 because I am unwilling to pay twice for the same thing.

    Reply: RootsMagic 7 was already released when FamilySearch changed their login procedure. We only update the current version. The FamilySearch tools are fully functional in RootsMagic 7 Essential, the free version. The database file format is the same between RootsMagic 6 & 7, it can be opened in either version, going back and forth as needed. This allows you to keep the full version RootsMagic 6, and use the FamilySearch tools in RootsMagic 7 Essential when desired. Only have the database open in one version at a time.
    Renee, RootsMagic

  28. I have been a loyal user since 1994, beginning with FO 3.0.
    I remember feeling threatened when the upgrades came along….as it was going to affect my “book”, which was one of the features of 3.0.
    Oh how wrong I was! Now I’m using Personal Historian and loving it.
    Thank you for continuing with your amazing product….you have made being the family researcher one of the greatest joys of my life!
    (I actually have the User’s Guide for FO 3.0 for Windows (it says Parsons Technology across the top)

  29. New to RM and ‘real’ genealogy so still floundering BUT following the history of its development (in one read)has been illuminating. Great!

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