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

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

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

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 4: The Vegas Gamble


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

As our customer base for QubeCalc slowly grew, we began to get requests for a “more powerful” version of the program.  This really hit home when we exhibited at COMDEX Fall in November 1988.  It cost us almost $3000 for a 10×10 foot exhibit space, and once we set up, we realized we were really out of our league.  We didn’t have employees, so I worked the booth by myself the entire five days.  We took the kids and drove down to Las Vegas, and spent the week at the Motel 6.  During the conference, all I kept hearing was “Can the program do this like 1-2-3?  Can the program do that like 1-2-3?”  It made it clear that low-cost wasn’t enough, the program had to be more powerful.

I returned from COMDEX and spent the next year on a rewrite of QubeCalc, taking what worked well, changing what didn’t, and adding more “wonderfulness” to it.  In September of 1989, we released “ProQube,” so named because I figured it was a “professional” version of QubeCalc.  We decided that to be taken seriously, it shouldn’t be shareware, and it should be more expensive.  People kept telling me that a $69.95 spreadsheet obviously couldn’t compete with $495 programs, so we priced ProQube at $249.95 and put it in one of those fancy 3 ring binder slipcases like Microsoft and other “real software companies” used.  The problem is, if you didn’t order thousands of those binders at a time, they cost about $25 each.

And then if your $250 program doesn’t sell very well, you’re stuck with a bunch of very expensive binders.  After a year of slow sales, I lowered the price to $99 and created a light version of ProQube (called ProQube Lite) which I released as shareware and priced at $25.  We switched to a much cheaper cardboard box like the one in this MicroWarehouse ad from 1990.


This decision brought in enough sales for one final shot at COMDEX.  We spent nearly every last penny to make an impression at COMDEX ‘90.  We even bought a full-page ad in the COMDEX guide book.  We knew that we needed something big to come out of this show or it would be the end of the road, and I would have to go get a “real job” again.

During the show, a guy from the Justice Department came by the booth and asked for a demonstration of our products.  He didn’t really say much, but came back the next day and said that the department needed a site license for their agents in the field.  It looked like our ship had finally come in.  They were actually interested in our InstaCalc program to install on the portable computers of all department field agents.  They didn’t want to pay the high price for one of the big spreadsheet programs, but they were planning to spend more than enough to put our little company in good shape.

After COMDEX had ended, I spent the rest of the year corresponding back and forth with government paper pushers and continued several months into 1991.  With each passing day, week, and month I became more convinced that this was not going to happen in my lifetime.  As I was complaining to my wife about it, she suggested I call the 2 guys in trenchcoats who had given me their cards back at COMDEX.  I wasn’t even sure where I had put their card since it had been 3-4 months since COMDEX ended.

I finally found the card under a pile of papers and decided to give them a call.  Some guy named Bob Parsons who had a software company called Parsons Technology.  I hadn’t ever heard of them, but I figured I had nothing to lose at this point.  I called Bob, and we talked for some time as he told me they were really looking to add a spreadsheet program to their product offerings.  After several weeks of negotiations, we licensed our ProQube program to them, and they renamed it ProCalc 3D.


This was the beginning of a new phase in our company’s history.  We were now a software development company rather than a publisher.  We no longer had to worry about sales, support, marketing or anything else other than developing and enhancing our software.  Even so, it became a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of software publishing from a much larger company.

With the release of ProCalc 3D, our first monthly royalty check from Parsons was more than we had made in a full year selling the software ourselves.  We were able to pay off credit cards, parents, and other assorted loans over the next year to put our company back in good fiscal shape.

But despite the success of ProCalc 3D, it was our next product that came to define us and set our company in a new direction that we have been traveling ever since.

NEXT: The World of Genealogy

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 3: The New Full-Time Job


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

As word of mouth spread about QubeCalc and InstaCalc, sales slowly picked up throughout 1987.  Then in August of 1987, we got our first “national” mention when Brit Hume wrote this article reviewing some shareware programs.

He actually called and talked to me about how much he liked the program, but I probably should have told him how to spell my last name.  My mom was so excited when she saw a syndicated copy of the article in her newspaper in Albuquerque.  I still have 3 or 4 copies of the article she cut out and sent to me.

The next month we decided to try and make this software thing a full-time business.  My wife Laurie was getting tired of trying to answer tech support questions during the day while I was at work and thought it might be nice if I got to answer the phones instead.  So we packed up and moved to Sandy, Utah.

Laurie’s parents were split on our decision to leave a nice paying engineer job and move 800 miles to be self-employed.  Her mom thought we were making a huge mistake, but her dad said we needed to go for it.  He said if we didn’t try we would always wonder “what might have been”.  Although there were many rough times during the early years, looking back now makes me appreciate even more the wisdom of that advice.

The first snag we hit after moving to Utah was our company name.  When we applied for the same FormalWare name, the state told us we couldn’t use it because it was confusing with a tux rental (formal wear) company.  Looking back now I realize that since we were in different industries we should have been able to use that name, but I was just a business novice, so I just accepted the decision and changed the company name to FormalSoft.  I chose that name simply because we were under a tight budget that let us keep our same logo, and required a minimal amount of changes to packaging and advertising materials.


We did tweak the logo just a little bit, making the bow tie and disk more “realistic,” but deep down I have always loved my simpler logo better.

The first several years in Utah were bumpy ones.  Expenses always seemed to exceed sales, and we didn’t have enough of a track record to get outside funding.  If it weren’t for our maxed out credit cards and loans from our parents, the company would have never survived those years.

But then in February 1988, we thought our fortunes had changed forever.  We started getting a bunch of phone orders from people who told us our software was awarded PC Magazine Editor’s Choice, which at the time was probably the highest honor a computer program could receive.  And not only that, but we now had two Editor’s Choice awards.


Sales took off and we figured we were on easy street, but this was to be a great learning opportunity.  Within a few weeks, sales had dropped back down and were barely higher than before.  Fame is fleeting, especially in the software business.  We realized if we wanted to continue to grow, we needed to do more advertising, but at least now we had these awards to use in our promotions.

We bought a pop-up booth to use at trade shows and in April 1988 we attended our first trade show, the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco.  I only owned one computer, so we hauled that out to California to demo our software to customers.


Over the next couple of years, we took our booth to numerous trade shows, including the big one in Vegas, COMDEX Fall.  Very rarely did we break even, but we kept pushing hoping that eventually we would get noticed.

NEXT: More products, and a chance encounter

Happy 30th Birthday, RootsMagic! Part 2: Getting off the Ground


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

Now that I had both a company and a product, all I needed to do was figure out how to sell software.  My engineering degree certainly hadn’t taught me that, and I knew that selling a spreadsheet in the world of Lotus 123 was way beyond my budget.  So I decided to try out a new way of selling called “shareware”.  This was a newly emerging way to sell software where you made your program free to share and distribute, but asked customers to pay for it if they liked and continued to use it.

I sent copies of QubeCalc out to all the shareware distributors, including the big ones like PC-SIG, Public Software Library (PSL), and Public Brand Software.  Many PC Users groups also had shareware libraries that were happy to add my program.  And then there were the bulletin board systems (BBS).  This was before the invention of the World Wide Web (WWW), and if you wanted to download a program, you did it from a dial up BBS.  My phone bill became my biggest advertising expense, uploading QubeCalc to bulletin boards all over the country.  I would spend hours uploading, and was up late every night because long distance charges were much cheaper after 11pm.

Despite all the time and effort I put into trying to start a software company, it was a good thing I still had my job as an engineer.  From the time I started the company, it was almost 4 months before we had our first sale.  And it happened to be to one of the shareware distributors we had sent a copy to months earlier.  On this copy of the invoice from our first sale, my biggest dilemma was what invoice number to start with.  I didn’t want to use 10000 because I didn’t want them to know we hadn’t sold a copy yet, and 12345 seemed a little too obvious as well.  So I finally used 10234 as the first number in our order system.


For obvious reasons I didn’t have thousands of manuals sitting on a palette, so they received a glorious hand bound manual just like this one I made the same day (except that theirs didn’t have my name written on the cover).  As you can tell, my artistic abilities were (and continue to be) unparalleled.


Now that we had our first sale, we were ready for the big time.  Sales started slowly coming in for QubeCalc, and I had just about finished writing our second program InstaCalc.  InstaCalc was also a spreadsheet program, but it had the special ability to “terminate and stay resident”.  Younger computer users will never be able to appreciate the magic of a “TSR” program.  In those old DOS days (before Windows), a computer could only run one program at a time.  If you wanted to run a different program you had to completely exit the program you were in, and start the new program.  If you wanted to go back to the first program, you had to completely exit and then start the other one back up.  There was no clicking to switch between programs… in fact there was no clicking at all since most computers didn’t even have a mouse.

InstaCalc would load itself into memory and then “terminate”, but it didn’t actually remove itself from memory (it “stayed resident”).  So you could then start up another program (like your word processor), and InstaCalc would wait in the background until you pressed its “hot-key”, and it would then pop up over the top of your other program.  When you exited InstaCalc it would switch right back to your other program.  It was like magic.

And with the release of InstaCalc in early 1987, we doubled our product offerings, and upgraded our manuals (no more laser printer covers for us).


I was still gainfully employed as an engineer, and our sales weren’t enough to make me want to give that up.  But my wife and I did talk about “what ifs”.  Little did we know that in less than 6 months we would be trying to rely on this software company to completely provide for our small family.

NEXT: A move, a name change, and a big award!

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!

FamilySearch Will Be Down Monday, June 27th

The FamilySearch website will be undergoing a technical upgrade Monday, June 27th starting at 12 midnight MDT (6am UTC), and may be down for up to 24 hours as they test the system.

The entire FamilySearch system will be down, including the API that RootsMagic uses to interface with it, so during that time you will be unable to:

  1. receive or view WebHints from FamilySearch
  2. access FamilySearch to find matches, share data, or otherwise work with FamilySearch from inside RootsMagic.

This is a major upgrade to the FamilySearch back end, but once complete you should not experience any adverse effects in RootsMagic from the change.  We will, however, be closely monitoring the interaction between RootsMagic and FamilySearch once they have completed the upgrade to make sure there are no issues that creep in.

If you do encounter problems with FamilySearch after they have completed the upgrade, give it a couple of days to “shake out”.  If the issues continue after that please let us know the specific details at support@rootsmagic.com.