Jun 29, 2022

The Genealogy World of 26 Years Ago

This week I decided to take a trip down memory lane. I re-read the first 50 issues of this newsletter, all published in 1996. The genealogy world indeed has changed. Here are a few of the more memorable newsletter items from nine years ago, along with a few comments:

Only the more advanced computer users in 1996 had state-of-the-art software: Microsoft’s latest operating system, called Windows 95. However, because I was now writing a “techie” newsletter, I purchased a very high-speed system (a 90-Mhz Pentium I) with a huge amount of memory (32 megabytes) so that I could use the latest professional operating system from Microsoft: Windows NT 3.51. During the year, Microsoft also released Internet Explorer version 3.0. Most of the 30 million users of the World Wide Web used Netscape, however. A few used the older Mosaic web browser.

The annual GENTECH conference was held on Plano, Texas, with several hundred attendees.

The National Genealogical Society held its annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society announced a new online presence on a section of CompuServe. This apparently was the first major genealogy society to serve members online. Things have certainly changed since then!

The New England Historic Genealogical Society held its annual summer conference in Farmington, Connecticut. The luncheon speaker was Dick Eastman, speaking on “The Future of On-Line Computer Communications for Genealogists.”

Family Tree Maker version 3.0 by Broderbund added the capability to read genealogy data CD-ROMs produced by a company that Broderbund had recently acquired: Banner Blue.

A previously unheard-of company called Progeny Software introduced their first genealogy product: PAF*Mate.

Bill Harten, GEDCOM coordinator for the LDS Church’s Family History Department, announced that GEDCOM 6.0 was under development. (Twenty-six years later, GEDCOM 6.0 is still “under development.” According to, GEDCOM 5.5.5 is the latest version, released on 2 Oct 2019.)

CompuServe shocked the computer industry when they announced a new offering of UNLIMITED online time for only $19.95 a month. All online services had previously charged by the hour. (It seems ironic that CompuServe was later acquired by its rival, AOL, and later both organizations simply faded away. So much for trying to be the industry’s low-cost leader.)

An online genealogist in Scotland was rescued from possible death by a group of other genealogists in the U.S., including this writer, when using a genealogy chat room. Reverend Ken Walker, a Scottish history expert who lived alone, had a seizure while online and was unable to disconnect his computer from the dial-up computer’s phone line in order to call for medical help. The online genealogists in the same chat room deduced his location and placed a trans-Atlantic telephone call to the police in Walker’s hometown. An ambulance arrived within minutes. The doctors who later examined Walker at a local hospital stated that he probably would not have survived without immediate medical attention.

I wrote a review of the “books” written by Halberts of Bath, Ohio. These contained no genealogy information, only listings from telephone directories. (The company later went out of business.)

“Relations” was a new genealogy program for Apple’s handheld Newton devices.

Geni, a Psion 3 genealogy program, was released.

CommSoft, the company that produced Roots IV for MS-DOS and also Visual Roots, announced their latest genealogy program: Family Gathering for Windows. A few months later a Macintosh version was announced. Late in the year, the same company announced the release of Roots V for Windows.

Other genealogy software reviewed in the 1996 newsletters included KinWin 1.1, GENTREE (in French), Family Tree Maker version 3.0, Tree-O, Family Matters, Kith and Kin, Brothers Keeper for Windows, Personal Ancestral File for the Macintosh version 2.3.1, Family Tree International, FamilyBase, PAF*Mate, Ahnenforscher (in German), Genius for Windows, FamilyTree for OS/2 (do you remember OS/2?), Cumberland Family Tree for Windows, The Master Genealogist’s new Windows version, Family Origins version 5, Family Matters, Family History Composer for the Macintosh, and Corel’s “Family Tree Master.” How many of those programs are still available?

Yes, 1996 was a newsworthy year. I must say that I have also enjoyed the succeeding 26 years.

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