28 May 2012

Software Conversion - Moving to RootsMagic

Disclaimer: This post contains opinions based on my understanding of events and my experiences. Others may have different interpretations of these events.
Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been a secret heretic for almost a year now. At least, according to my genealogy software buddies. I’m switching to RootsMagic as my main genealogy software.

My software of choice changed in the beginning years of my research, but I’ve used one program for over sixteen years now. For a few months I used PAF which was limited in source citation implementation and other ways. I tried FTM and quickly decided it was only good for pretty charts as far as I was concerned. I found Everyone’s Family Tree (EFT) by Bill Dollarhide and happily used it for many years. By 1995 EFT wasn’t being updated and I had been reading about The Master Genealogist (TMG) and its advanced features. As a techie, being able to customize my software appealed to me in a big way. I’ve been a user of TMG since 1995—way back in the DOS days.

At the time TMG was the most sophisticated, advanced, user-customizable genealogy software of all the applications I tested. But in the last sixteen years several other programs have caught up with TMG. Some even surpass TMG in certain areas. I started using RootsMagic when a client wanted the research I performed to be entered into a database they could get at the end of the project. I didn’t want to have to teach a non-techie how to use TMG. While I really liked TMG, too many had trouble understanding it when I tried to teach it to my local society members.

I found features in RootsMagic that I really liked. RootsMagic version 4 has most of the advanced features I use in TMG. RootsMagic version 5 has even more. And both versions have some features that aren’t in TMG—some that are important to me.

Switching from one genealogical software program to another can be an excruciating ordeal. What convinced me to endure the pain of converting my data? Two big things and a few small ones:
  • Twice in the last ten years there have been long delays for new releases of TMG.
    • TMGv5 was delayed for over a year, in part, while features were added to entice customers of another software program that had folded (UFT). My personal research was at a point where I really needed one of the new features in TMGv5. I can’t blame the company for making a decision that brings them many new customers and more income. But it did impact my use of the program.
    • Since Microsoft 64-bit operating systems became widely available and the default installed on new computers, about 2006 or 2007, TMG users with a 64-bit OS have not been able to export genealogy reports to a word processor file. Suggested workarounds included exporting to a PDF or plain text file or keeping an old computer running Windows XP 32-bit version. As a techie I had a 32-bit XP laptop so this worked for me, until it died and had to be replaced with a Windows 7 system. But you can’t tell Grandma she has to keep an old computer when she just got her first computer and it has 64-bit Windows Vista on it. TMGv8 was finally released a few months ago, four years after TMGv7 and two-plus years after TMGv7.04. TMGv8 supports word processor output on a 64-bit operating system, but it comes months and months after I decided to convert.
  • TMG is based on a database application that Microsoft is dropping support for. At some point a complete rewrite of TMG will be needed to port it to a modern database engine. My programming experience tells me this is likely to result in another long delay before a usable product is available for users. For all I know this port has been in the works for years and could be released tomorrow. But I have to make my decisions based on what I know, not what I hope has been happening behind the scenes.
  • Some TMG users are so loyal to the TMG way that they don’t seem to see better options offered by other programs. There was a TMG-list discussion a while back about the new “Research Notes” report in RootsMagic. What some call a complicated process was documented to create a similar report in TMG. This demonstrated that the customization features of TMG can allow almost anything to be done. It also demonstrated how hard it is for a less-experienced user to do some things. In my opinion.
  • By switching to RootsMagic for my personal research, I only have to know how to use one program, not two, for myself and my clients.
So, other than the “Research Notes” report, what convinced me to switch to RootsMagic? It is based on an open-source, cross-platform database engine (SQLite 3, according to Wikipedia). RootsMagic has already done the port to a modern database that I think TMG will do in the future.

As with TMG, techie RootsMagic users can write their own database queries (using SQL tools) to access the database. This should allow me to implement my own add-on to pull DNA data and lineage from my database to help with analysis of DNA results. I don’t want to spend all of my time programming instead of performing research, but it is nice to be able to access the underlying database when I need something not yet provided by a software program.

In the future I will post some of the details of modifications to the TMG output GEDCOM so I got the cleanest import to RootsMagic. I’ll also post with other information that may be of interest to RootsMagic users and those converting from other programs.

As an aside, one of the things I will miss the most about moving from TMG is the loss of Second Site by John Cardinal. It is an add-on product that creates a website from a TMG database, better than the website that either TMG or RootsMagic create. Second Site includes some of the best DNA charting tools I have seen for comparing DNA data stored in a genealogy database. I don't put my database online, but made frequent use of Second Site files to access my data without having to start the database program.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved


  1. I've been contemplating doing the same conversion for quite some time now But absolutely dreading having to go through the process. I'll be interested in hearing about your experiences. Maybe it'll help me to decide to actually Make the conversion.

    1. One other things that prompted me to go through the conversion now is -- even within TMG I needed to do a lot of cleanup. Way back in the 1990s I used "Evidence" style citations. After "Evidence Explained" was released I entered new data using my modified source templates. And, I hate to admit, I had some quickie citations I entered as bare bones data with a note to fix it later. Editing this in a GEDCOM file before an import is actually easier than doing it from inside TMG Windows. But it's still a massive undertaking to switch software.

      I hope the future posts help you.

  2. It's interesting that you chose to use Roots Magic. Did you consider Family Historian at all?


    I know everyone has their own favourite programs but this is to my mind the best one on the market. It is highly customisable, and you can tailor reports, and the sentences in those reports, to get a flowing text. There is excellent support for sources, and there are all sorts of user-generated queries and and add-ons that can be used to enhance the program.

    1. I have to admit I did not check out Family Historian. I was already familiar with RootsMagic, knew it would do most of what I need, and I am comfortable using it. The places where it is deficient are lower on my priority list.

      We are lucky that there are so many good programs out there to choose from. The information on the Family Historian website does look interesting. Their screen shots indicate it probably does most of what RootsMagic does. I wish they included more sample reports and listed some of the report options. Getting my data back out of a genealogy program in a way that is most useful to me is important. I see a trial download of Family Historian is offered allowing a user to test drive the product.

      I wish I had more time to test ALL of the possibilities before making a choice. I learned years ago that the descriptions used in marketing a product only give part of the story. If you look at a list of features, almost every product will indicate XYZ is supported. To borrow a phrase, "the devil is in the details" of how XYZ is supported.

  3. It would be great to get an update on your experience in converting your TMG data set into a Rootsmagic file. I am very interested in transitioning to Rootsmagic but the effort to do seems so overwhelming. Can you share some of your TMG Export settings and other actions you took to convert your TMG dataset to Rootsmagic?

    It is my understanding that an enhancement to Rootsmagic is under consideration to support a direct import of a TMG dataset. But who knows when that may happen. I have been a TMG user for many years and now I'm ready to use another equivalent program but transferring data is a major consideration. I have been very disappointed in TMG for the same reasons you cited.

    I have experimented with actions to transfer data using a TMG generated GEDCOM file. BUT so many of my TMG tags have multiple witness roles so only the TMG on exports data for the primary roles to the GEDCOM files. For example, TMG only exports census data for the primary role and does not include entries for witness roles such as relationship roles. This means that many household members in a census will not have any census data for the related census record. I have hundreds of TMG tags with census data that "shares" an event through witness roles with those in a single census record. A direct export into Rootsmagic could create "share" links between the primary role entry and "shared" records for those associated in TMG as a witness to the primary role. Without this direct import I would need to make hundreds of census entries in textual notes and then "share" them in Rootsmagic.

    I also found the following problems with data during the TMG GEDCOM export to a Rootsmagic import.

    a. TMG creates QUAY tags during the export for surety data BUT ALL surety data is rejected by RM.
    b. All TMG Flags are not exported in GEDCOM files.
    c. All TMG custom sentences are not exported.
    d. All TMG place start and stop dates are not exported.
    e. For tags converted to a NOTE, all dates and sources are lost.
    f. All person tag roles are not exported.

    These are just a few that I've discovered. I'm sure there are more issues that I have not discovered.

    I would be interested in hearing others describe their experience of converted TMG data to Rootsmagic.

    Ken Macomber

    1. Ken, my apologies for the delay in getting your comment posted. Somehow this got overlooked as I was processing comments.

      I used fewer custom TMG features than many other users so I had fewer problems converting. I used options to export all of my data except surety values, but didn't use any special options as best I remember. It was almost a year ago so I don't remember every detail. I never made much use of sureties even though I tried for a long time to map the values to a realistic evidence evaluation scheme.

      I decided I was ready to move to RootsMagic and did not want to wait longer for a custom import. I would bet there will always be some things that can't be imported seamlessly. Converting data between two programs with different design features and philosophies can be difficult. My conversion process has made me more cautious about which custom features I use and looking for ways to enter the data that comes closest to getting the desired output without making me forever dependent on one program.

      My advice to anyone considering a software conversion is to export your data from the old program, import to the new one, and carefully review all of the data onscreen and in reports. If the data does not appear as you wish it to, then enter some data in the new program until it appears as desired, then create a GEDCOM export from the new program. Compare the two GEDCOM files and determine if you can modify the old program's GEDCOM to more closely match that of the new program.

      Admittedly, this is much easier to do if you understand the GEDCOM spec and have some programming skills. As you probably know but other readers may not, the GEDCOM file is a plain text file that can be read and edited in any plain text editor (not a Word processor). I did some manual editing, used search and replace for some items, and used a Perl script to do some processing. After some changes I imported to RootsMagic, reviewed the data, then repeated the process until I got close enough. I still have some cleanup to do, but work on it as time allows.

      In the case where TMG does not output witness roles it is difficult. I seem to remember someone several years ago writing a utility that would read a TMG database and create multiple GEDCOM events for the witnesses. You might search the TMG list or forums for references. But you might still have to do a lot of manual work to make those shared events in RootsMagic.

      I'd like to hear the process others have used for conversion, too. It really comes down to deciding whether to invest the time now or wait. Bruce Buzbee at RootsMagic is very helpful and might be able to give you some advice to reduce the pain as you convert. Good luck.

    2. Debbie, thanks for sharing your experience. I have used many custom features in TMG that include custom sentence structures. I went through a conversion from Roots, UFT, and then to TMG in the 1990's. Now after many trial GEDCOM runs I have concluded that the only certain way to retain my data is to spend a lot of time after the GEDCOM import updating the converted data in RootsMagic using two monitors. It did help me to change the tag types in the TMG GEDCOM file prior to importing the file into RM. I don't have a lot of confidence that the direct import feature in RM will be available anytime soon. In the meantime I'll just be hacking away trying to convert this data. Thanks Again.

    3. With any luck maybe the BetterGEDCOM / Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) group will actually come up with a good way to transfer complicated data between programs so we don't have to spend so much time hacking away individually. Good luck and I wish I had easier solutions to offer.

  4. I just migrated from TMG to RootsMagic. All went smoothly except for some of my sources in RootsMagic are listed as Gedcom File Imported on...
    Any suggestions on how to get full sources to migrate from TMG to RootsMagic?

    1. Robin, if I remember correctly RootsMagic asks on import whether you want to add a citation to the GEDCOM import. I answered no to that question. All of my sources were imported, but the import brings them in as free form citations. I hope someday there will be a utility to convert from free form to proper source types. In the meantime I have converted citations on people I am actively researching and am entering all new sources properly. Good luck with RootsMagic. I hope you like it as much as I do.