March 13, 2012

How I Use Reunion for Mac as my Genealogy Database

In her recent post Getting Down to the Basics, Susan Clark of Nolichucky Roots asked readers to share what they use their genealogy software program for, and why. It’s a great question, so I started to leave a comment. But as it grew longer, I realized I could write a whole post on this. I wasn't the only one. So far I've seen Jasia of Creative Gene, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, and Denise Levenick of Family Curator weigh in too. Here's my response: 

My genealogy software program of choice is Reunion 9 for Macintosh. I use it primarily for organization, record-keeping, and as a place to gather my thoughts on each individual in my database. The program seems relatively simple compared to others I hear about—not a whole lot of the latest bells and whistles—but its simplicity and flexibility work well for me. It complements my work rather than requiring me to learn a lot of complex details.

Naturally, I enter the facts I’ve gathered on each person—birth, baptism, marriage, immigration, occupation, death, etc.—into the database. That helps for sorting and indexing people. But the heart of the program, for me, is the “Notes” section for each individual.

I’m a big believer that writing up your research in narrative form helps you to see the big picture, as well as the little details you might otherwise overlook. Reunion gives me unlimited space to create running narrative notes on each ancestor. I structure this in chronological order, with sources attached to each point.

In the narrative, I write about all the details I find in census records, draft or military records, deeds, family histories, probate files, and so forth. I include full transcriptions of obituaries and other short records, and abstracts of longer ones. I even write reminders to myself right in the narrative about ideas I want to pursue or records I should check. Gradually, what I’ve written becomes something of a cross between a biography and a research report on the ancestor.

Granted, this takes a lot more time than just entering facts and sources. But the advantages seem worth it to me. I find that if I put a particular family on hold for awhile, having this narrative in Reunion allows me to pick it up and get back to speed again quickly and easily. It helps me see at a glance what I've already done so I don't waste time repeating my efforts. And perhaps most importantly, reading through it helps me analyze and correlate information.

So what do I do with conflicting evidence? Reunion allows you to add additional fields for any event, so if I have three death dates for an individual, I could record all three. But what I prefer to do is write about all three events in the narrative notes. That allows me to process my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each record, and develop a hypothesis or conclusion. Then I enter one date into the death field. If I still haven’t reached a firm conclusion, I put the qualifier “abt” before the date, as a clue to myself that more work is needed.

The other thing I like about Reunion is that the mobile apps, which cost about $15 each from the iTunes App Store, allow me to carry my entire database, including the narrative notes, with me on my iPhone or iPad. I can access it anytime, anywhere, even if I'm offline. So when I go to a library or archive I'm familiar with, my phone is all I need to take along. I can leave my computer at home much of the time. I can sync from the computer to the iPhone and vice versa. No cables are required for syncing; the devices just recognize each other.

Reunion exports GEDCOMs nicely. It also can create family tree web pages--a feature I haven't explored but want to. I found it pretty intuitive and easy to learn. There's a help manual built into the program, and for more help there's an active ReunionTalk forum. There's also a phone number that users can call to get a quick answer to a question from the company.

Reunion has its limitations. It’s not the most visually appealing program, and produces a limited assortment of charts. It won’t format source citations automatically in Evidence Explained style, and there are only 16 templates (the freeform template, however, is usable for even the most complex citations). At $99, it's expensive. And I wish Leister Productions, which makes Reunion, kept a higher profile in genealogy circles. Is it possible I might shift over to different software in the future? Yes. I’ve considered trying RootsMagic, using Crossover to run it on the Mac platform. But for now, Reunion meets most of my needs.

So that's how I use my software program. What about you? Do you use a genealogy database program, and if so, why? What makes it valuable to you?

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Leister Productions in any way, and paid for my own copy of Reunion several years ago.)

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  1. This is so helpful, Shelley. You've sparked lots of thoughts and questions (and maybe a post in response).

    One immediate question having to do with workflow (hat tip to Caroline Pointer) - what do you do with the facts and sources you've collected before you write the narrative? Do you have a holding file - digital or physical?

    1. Another good question, Susan! I print all my materials and keep them in a binder for that surname (subdivided by couples, to match my Reunion database). I also keep digital files on my computer. I could write another whole post on that workflow (hmm, maybe not a bad idea...)

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! I'm glad to find a kindred note-taker-user! I bought Reunion when I moved to the Mac and use it very much like to you do. I rely heavily on my chronological notes and only input events for major milestones or if I am focusing on a particular person or research problem.

    I'd love to hear how you handle your paper files and sources. It seems that many Reunion users keep a separate source log in Excel or a database with EE style citations. Do you try to link media to people or events?

    1. Glad to hear you use Reunion in much the same way! Ok, I will write more about how I handle my paper and digital files. For the sources, I've created a cheat sheet of my commonly used citation types as a Word document. That way I don't have to pull out EE every time I want to create a new source or forget the exact wording I used last time. I honestly believe I would have done that regardless of the database software I was using. It's just so handy.

      I haven't done a lot of linking of media or digital records to people in Reunion so far. I keep my digital files on my hard drive. Now that so much is moving to the cloud, though, I'm reconsidering this. It would be nice to have access to the media on my phone or iPad. I guess writing this up has given me even me even more to think about! What do you do?

  3. Yet another fan of Reunion's notes section here. All relevant transcripts (census, BMD records, newspaper articles, and more), discussions of conflicting evidence, source lists, To Do lists, and various miscellaneous items go there. Much of that information I enter first in Pages documents, then copy them over to Reunion. I love its simplicity and how easy it is to navigate.

  4. Sounds like we have a lot in common, Greta. For transcriptions, I too create Word documents first, then copy and paste to Reunion. I love having everything in one place. And I agree, navigation is a breeze. What can I say except great minds think alike? :)

  5. Shelley ~ What an excellent post. I too have Reunion because my hubby is an absolute Mac geek! :-)
    I use the notes - but sparingly. I really like the idea of consolidating my paper notes to digital on Reunion, especially those ideas I want to follow up on at a later date with a particular family. To have them all in one place, digitally is fabulous. (Shaking my head for not thinking of this before!)
    Wow! Thanks for opening my eyes to great solution!
    ~ Cindy

  6. Great post! I use Roots Magic, but have to admit that I don't use it as I should. I really consider Ancestry to be my most up-to-date database as I add a lot of my own customized events. I also write a "narrative" for each person using Word and it looks like a conversational timeline. Sounds like we are very similar on taking notes and keeping paper files in binders!



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