Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 5 / MAY 1984 / PAGE 102

Put a computer on your family tree. (evaluation) J. Douglas Leith.

Put A Computer On Your Family Tree

Researching your family tree is a gentle sport, a little like bird watching: you try to pin a name on a more or less dimly lit bird, and then you try to describe its character and plumage, often from a distance. It is also a great excuse for domestic and foreign travel to meet your relatives in exotic places.

When you are ready, a librarian can steer you to your nearest genealogical resources and societies, and you can leap backward in time.

When my aunt sent me some family data in 1966, I drew up a family tree and sent it to various relatives, most of whom I had never met. In 1980, I mailed a revision with about 300 names in it and got back a steady trickle of changes. Every new birth, marriage, and death meant typing a whole page over again. I couldn't keep up.

Apple To The Rescue

Then in 1981 I got my Apple II and met Steve Vorenberg of Quinsept, a genealogist and a programmer. His neat program, Lineages, took care of most of my problems. He kept improving it, sending out free revisions to users and in 1982 came out with what has turned out to be an outstanding new version, Family Roots. The biggest advantage of the new version is that it had no limit on the number of people it can handle, but in addition there are many subtle improvements that make it a dream to use.

Family Roots comes as a group of interlinked programs on two disks, written in modifiable Basic. Because the data entered for one person are stored before you begin the next, it is impossible to lose any significant amount of information if the power goes off or the cat steps on your RESET key.

The main data entry program is Edit. You enter data in large or small chunks as you wish, with the program assigning identification numbers to new people. As you enter data, Family Roots keeps track of the relationships and adds a current calendar date if you wish.

Generally, you enter only once the data common to several people--a great time saver. Entered data are easily changed, either at initial entry or later. You can add special information fields on your people in addition to the basic ones built into Family Roots.

I added date of baptism, sex, occupation, and cemetery, for instance.

Program and Utilities

Charts is the main printout program. You can print out charts of predecessors or three kinds of charts of descendants for up to seven generations up to the line length of your printer. And of course it is all automatic. By naming #864, Johann Jacob Tremper, for instance, I can get a 28-page printout of his descendants.

Sheets can print records for individuals (you specify which ones or what range of ID numbers). These go well in a notebook, one person per page, where you can write notes about each as you learn more. Then you can transfer your new data into your computer files with Edit (or Text, below). Sheets also prints "family group sheets,' which are fairly standard with genealogists. They are nice to mail to the families involved. I find them hard to use in library research and prefer charts of descendants and predecessors for research use.

Lists makes alphabetically or numerically sorted lists of your people. You can make lists larger than your computer memory by merging shorter lists previously stored on disk. A complete alphabetic list is very useful in the library in conjunction with the Charts. When I run across a likely name, I check the list to see if I have it, and if I do, I take the name with its ID number from the alphabetic list and check it out on a Chart. That way I can either write in the new information by hand on the chart near that name or write it into a notebook if it is a new person. Again, all this will later be entered into my computer files using Edit or Text.

Lists now has a "Soundex' capability which allows you to retrieve the files of people whose names sound alike (Tremper, Trumpbauer). You can also collect people from fragments of names. Thus I collected everyone whose first name had MARG in it, including the Margarets, Margerys, and Ellenmargies.

Search looks for people satisfying specified criteria. You can find everybody who was born in Law Vegas and died in California between 1960 and 1970, for example.

Text is for storing long pieces of information about individuals, that if put in the regular record under Edit would make the charts messy. The text material is keyed to the person's ID number and can be automatically printed out on the individual Sheets if desired. There are no limits on length.

The first program you actually use is Configure. This sets the program constants (there are 165) to your own preference and hardware. It can accommodate many printers. Besides hardware adaptation, you can adjust the software, for instance as indicated above in Edit, in dozens of ways; this is the most flexible program I have seen. Every variable can be accessed via Configure, and the complete list is in the manual, telling what each is for and what its original value is: very helpful to tinkerers.

There are several Utilities. You can print blank charts, analyze the type of disk in the drive and its more important parameters if it is a data disk, set up a disk for data storage, reassign ID numbers to individual people or to a whole disk, print out all the addresses you have stored in the records of living people, and take Lineages data and convert them to Family Roots data.

There is also a new utility disk available for an additional $20. Changer allows you to change the disk formatting and move your old records into the new format. This robust program and also be used to transfer records from Apple disks to Rana Elite-3 disks.

Documentation and Support

The Instruction Manual is one of the best I have seen. It is clear, simple, direct, conversational, friendly, complete, and logical. It has examples just when you need them. When you use it you feel you have a friend looking over your shoulder.

The vendor support for this program is outstanding. All along, Steve has issued improvements every few weeks or months in letters, and in fact has offered to send you the updated program if you will send him a disk. He has been most interested in suggestions from users, and is a genealogist himself so he understands the users' needs. I usually deal by letter, but my occasional phone calls have received immediate and full attention and netted good advice.


Would you believe none? Really! The program might be overkill if you have fewer than 200 or 300 names, but if you have begun your own family tree, you know you can't stop there.

A word processing program serves well for fewer names, since with it you can interest and delete lines and characters easily. But it can only print out the data in the exact form in which you type it.

A mechanical, not a software problem arises with very large trees. With the standard setup of two disks and an Epson MX-80 printer, I found that my 28-page printout took two hours to create. Much of this was because the descendants were being selected from 1500 names on four disks, and I was spending much time switching disks (Family Roots tells you when and how). And also, as usual, when the printer was printing, the computer was idle. I solved these problems by getting a Rana Elite-3 disk, which can hold 2300 names, and a 16K buffered Grappler+ printer board. Now the same printout takes about 45 minutes, and there is no disk switching.

User Group

There is now a Quinsept User Group (5855 Santa Teresa Blvd., San Jose, CA 95123). The last newsletter says that "Family Roots' is now available in a CP/M version for the Kaypro and Osborne; this version is said to run also "under generic MS DOS using the MBasic interpreter.'

So. To wrap up, I most enthusiastically recommend working on your family tree as a hobby, and Family Roots as the instrument to use. If you spread the very reasonable cost over the number of years of fun you will have using it or over the number of relatives you will end up with, it is ridiculously inexpensive. And it will greatly multiply the amount of information you can manage and thus the pleasure and knowledge you can bring to yourself and family.

Table: Individual sheet.

Table: Descendants chart.

Table: Free-form pedigree chart.

Table: Family group sheet.

Table: Standard pedigree chart.

Products: Family Roots (Computer program)