Family Origins® tips

and unofficial FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Family Origins is a genealogy program, and this web page contains user contributed information about it. It consists of Frequently Asked Questions and the answers to these.

You may have gotten here through a link from the website. That does not mean that this page is part of that website. I am not an employee of any company related to Family Origins. In fact, I work for a company named Micromuse. So please don't ask me why technical support is so slow, or what to do if you've lost your old program disks, or whether v10 can import files from v3.
Family Origins is no longer being distributed nor is it being actively developed. This web page is still relevant to the many people who still use Family Origins, and it also contains a lot of information which can be applied to any genealogy program.
If you do want a newer program, the brains behind has created a new genealgy program called RootsMagic.

It is in no way complete nor will it ever be. I personally can't take credit for all the information here. A lot of the information here has been gathered from the Family Origins users E-mail list, and this web page should really be considered a companion to that email list.

In this document, "FO" is used to refer to Family Origins. The format of this document is as follows: Each item has a title, which version of Family Origins the item applies to and the date when the item was created or last updated. I'm Danish which means dates are written as: Day Month Year.

Table of Contents

Entering and editing data

Entering international characters, accented characters and diacritics

Shortcuts when entering data

Sorting events

Scrolling and selecting after clicking the flashlightSelect person window

Anomalies in your data

Moving text to and from notes

23. November 1998
The following information actually applies to almost any Microsoft Windows application, not just Family Origins:
Many Windows applications have an "Edit" menu option under which you can find the options to cut, copy and paste. These options can actually be used for some amazingly clever stuff linking data from different applications with each other. We will just use the options to copy or move text from one place to another.
To copy text:
Highlight the relevant text either with the mouse or with the keyboard. To use the mouse, place the cursor at the beginning of the text you want to move. Then hold down the mouse button and drag the mouse over the relevant text. When all relevant text has become highlighted, release the mouse button. To use the keyboard, use the cursor (arrow) keys. Instead of holding down the mouse button, hold down the shift key. Now press <Ctrl>+<C>. The text will now have been placed in the Windows clipboard from where it can be pasted.
To paste text:
Go to where you want the text to be placed, place the text cursor there and press <Ctrl>+<V>.
If instead of copying the text you want to move it, use <Ctrl>+<X> instead of <Ctrl>+<C>.
To summarize:
  1. Highlight the relevant text. Press <Ctrl>+<C> to copy or press <Ctrl>+<X> to move.
  2. Place the cursor where the text should go.
  3. Press <Ctrl>+<V>.

I can't change the notes?

12. October 1999
FO has a limit of approximately 30.000 characters in a note entry. If you cross that boundry you will not be able to add any more text.
A solution if you need more space for notes would be to move some of the text to one of the events. Every event (such as for example a birth) in FO can also have a note attached.

Printing and reports

"Printing" reports to text files

Explaining custom reports (brief)

Sample custom reports

Custom Reports, a HOW-TO for Newbies (long)

Graphics and multimedia

Unsupported image formats

Where does Family Origins store the graphics?

If Family Origins doesn't store the graphics files, where should I put them?

How should I name the graphics files?

Which graphics file format should I use?

Graphics format Size in KiloBytes Supported in Family Origins?
TIFF (*.tif) 257 5.x
GIF 376 5.x
PNG 432 6.x
PCX 640 5.x, 6.x
TGA 992 5.x, 6.x
JPEG (*.jpg) 1649 5.x, 6.x
BMP 2577 5.x, 6.x
Size of a black and white picture from a census record

Graphics format Size in KiloBytes Supported in Family Origins?
JPEG (24 bit) 216 5.x, 6.x
PNG (8 bit) 255 6.x
GIF (8 bit) 274 5.x
BMP (8 bit) 506 5.x, 6.x
TGA (8 bit) 509 5.x, 6.x
TIFF (8 bit) 511 5.x, 6.x
PCX (8 bit) 520 5.x, 6.x
PNG (24 bit) 1126 6.x
BMP (24 bit) 1525 5.x, 6.x
TIFF (24 bit) 1526 5.x
TGA (24 bit) 1581 5.x, 6.x
PCX (24 bit) 1653 5.x, 6.x
Size of a colour picture at various colour depths

The graphics file formats I use with Family Origins are JPEG and PNG. JPEG I use for pictures of people, PNG I use for scans of census records, letters etc.

Audio files

20. July 1998
If you use the "Browse" button to add a sound item to the multimedia scrapbook, the "Sound to add?" window will only show files with the ".WAV" file extension. Family Origins will in fact allow other audio formats to be played as long as the decoder for it exists on your system. Simply enter the filename WITH the extension.


10. June 1998
GEnealogical Data COMmunications is a data format which can be used to transfer genealogical data between different genealogical computer programs. The data format originated with PAF (Personal Ancestral File) and has become the de-facto standard. GEDCOM files can obviously be used for other things than simply transfer data from for example "Brothers Keeper" to Family Origins. You and another family member may be working on data for the same families. With GEDCOM you can give a subset of your data to other people.
Genealogy program v4.0 v5.3 v5.5 Notes
Family Origins 4, 5, 6

Family Tree Maker (pre-v4) x x

Family Tree Maker 4

Brothers Keeper x

Reunion v4 x

Reunion v5

x May also support v4.
Ultimate Family Tree (UFT)

Corel FTS

The Master Genealogist (TMG) x
x See note regarding TMG.
PAF 2.3 x



GEDCOM and Family Origins

28. August 1998
by Dale DePriest
Actually the questions included here are probably some that you never knew to ask. These are questions that related to the ability of Family Origin 6.0 and 7.0's ability to generate and read a correct GEDCOM file. Note these questions are specific to GEDCOM 5.5 and does not reflect earlier implementations. In fact some of the things not permitted in GEDCOM 5.5 are in wide use in the industry and dropping them would hurt the interchange of information.

How is a GEDCOM file organized?

The file is generally a plain ASCII file that can be read by any editor. (Technically it can have some foreign characters in it as well and is usually called an ANSEL character set.) It has lines that start with a number and a keyword. The rest of the line may contain information related to the keyword. The information is divided into sections as defined by the initial number. The major sections all begin with a 0. Within each major sections are other sections that expand on the information. The first section begins as: 0 HEAD. It contains header data about the file. The last line in the file begins as: 0 TRLR. It is a trailer record that marks the end of the file. Between these two major sections are other major sections defining individuals, family groups, source data, repository data, etc.

Within the individual sections, marked with INDI, there is an entry for each person in the database. The information about the person is defined as level 1 data, which relates to personal information or events in Family Origins (hereafter referred to as FO). A sample person entry might look like:

0 @I1@ INDI
1 NAME John /Smith/
2 SURN Smith
2 GIVN John
2 DATE 2 JAN 1901
2 PLAC Anytown, USA
1 NOTE This is a general note about John.
2 CONC This is a continuation of the note about John.

Which facts generated in FO are not supported by GEDCOM?

By support I mean both syntax and grammar. Syntax is the definition shown above for the structure of a file. FO generates correct syntax for GEDCOM. Grammar means that a program should be able to understand the content of the information contained in the file. For grammar there are two facts that are not supported in GEDCOM in version 6.0: excommunicate and Namesake are not in the list of level one events as defined above. These might be considered to be extensions to GEDCOM, see the next question. Don't use these unless you are sure the receiving program can read them.

Version 7.0 has added a few more but they are clearly marked as extensions. See the next question. Again they are not likely to be understood by another program.

What data can FO output that is considered to be an extension to GEDCOM?

Any data beyond the ones defined in the 5.5 specification (plus their substructures) could be considered an extension. GEDCOM defines an extension as starting with an _ character to indicate that this is known not to be directly supported by GEDCOM. Examples in FO 6.0 include the email tag used in the submittor record and the address record and the _NAME tag used in the address record. I really like these extensions and GEDCOM will probably adopt EMAIL as a standard in the future.

In 7.0 the TODO list is an extension as is the correspondence log.

Which facts can have sources and notes in FO but not in GEDCOM?

GEDCOM standard does not support notes or sources for AFN or REFN.

Which optional outputs are not supported in GEDCOM?

Surprisingly to me, both Address and Phone number are not supported by GEDCOM as level one data. In my opinion they should be. According to GEDCOM standard these should be inside a Residence tag. I prefer the residence tag to be used for past addresses myself and like the ADDR tag for current addresses.

Are there legal GEDCOM 5.5 constructions that are not understood by FO?

Yes, lots of them. It would be surprising to find a program that actually understood both the syntax and grammar of all the 5.5 constructions. Some programs map data that they don't understand into a generic note. FO discards this data and reports this in the list file.

Can the user defined facts be used to support GEDCOM defined facts that are not currently supported in FO?

Surprising to me, No! The user defined facts all become one of type EVEN which is the supported event tag. You cannot use this feature to define mapping from foreign programs which I had originally hoped to do. Foreign GEDCOM files with level 1 tags that are unknown to FO will be ignored on input. You could edit the GEDCOM file and modify it to map these facts to the supported general event structure but it is a lot of work.

What FO data is lost by outputting GEDCOM and then re-importing?

For version 7.0 there is no data lost that is related to your database.

For version 6.0 the loses include the todo list and the links to the Multimedia images. This means that if you were to export a GEDCOM file from 7.0 and import the data into 6.0 this data from the GEDCOM file would be ignored.

What legal data can FO output that would be meaningless to GEDCOM?

Certainly FO outputs syntax that has meaning to GEDCOM. However, the grammar may not be understood by other conforming GEDCOM compliant programs. I would not recommend using some tags for this reason. STILLBORN generates a generic event type data in GEDCOM while the standard wants this information in an AGE construction that FO doesn't support or understand. Similarly AKA should not be expected to be understood by another program although the information will be preserved for interpretation by the human reading the data. Depending on what you meant when you used AKA it might be a nickname or an alternate name for the same person. A nickname is defined in the GEDCOM name structure but not supported this way by FO 6 or 7. If you meant an alternate name for the same person such as an adopted name GEDCOM defines that the NAME structure be repeated but I doubt that many existing programs would properly interpret this.

What explicit data is required by GEDCOM but only implicit in FO?

All event structures as defined above will either exist or not exist for a given individual or family. In GEDCOM 4.0 the existence of an event name implied that the event exists for the given person or family. In GEDCOM 5.0 and above this is not true! An event exists if there is a Y after the event name or a date or place is given for the event. You could have a note or source about an event without implying the event exists according to GEDCOM 5.5. I can't defend this but that is the way it is written. Importing BK files would break if FO enforced this rule on input but I would like to see conformance with the rule on output. FO currently works like BK.

What unusual thing happens if you output a shorter file over the top of a FO generated GEDCOM file?

What I experienced here is that the old data is not zeroed out. If the new file is shorter then old data is still stuck on the end after the 0 TRLR record. This data should be ignored by any program reading the data but it is probably a minor bug. (I haven't checked this behaviour in 7.0 so it may be fixed.)

What happens when legal GEDCOM data that is not supported by FO is imported?

FO will generate an error in the .lst record and ignore the data. It doesn't matter whether it is legal 5.5 data or not. It only matters if FO can understand it. For this reason I would recommend a trial import of any foreign data into an empty database before adding it to your live data. This way if you need to hand edit the GEDCOM file to get the data you can do that and re-import. You only get one shot if you are going to your real database.

Will FO generate a GEDCOM file with syntax errors?

I have discovered that an email address generates a technically illegal syntax for GEDCOM. Email addresses have an @ in them somewhere and GEDCOM states that there must always be a pair of them. If you want one then you must have in the GEDCOM file to be legal. You can add this manually but I wouldn't worry about it too much as I doubt if many program would be confused by this error. I have been in contact with the GEDCOM people and they haven't yet decided how to handle this.

Can the same event data appear multiple times in a GEDCOM file?

Yes. For the most part FO will handle this ok. For example you could have multiple BIRTH entries in a GEDCOM file and FO will import all of them. In some cases FO will ignore multiple entries but you should see an entry in the list file. Many other program do not support multiple entry of facts and will produce undefined behaviour usually keeping only the first or last of the supplied entries and may or may not report this.

What Date conventions does FO and GEDCOM understand?

GEDCOM understands dates in the form they are generated by FO. It is possible to modify dates to indicate date ranges and date uncertainty. FO will let you add any text to a date field but will not interpret some of it as a date and gedcom will accept but not understand some of it as well. You can also just leave out the part of the date that is unknown to indicate uncertainty. FO understands other abbreviations for some of these modifiers as well as the full spelling of the word and will translate them to the modifiers understood by GEDCOM. Some programs do not like entries in the GEDCOM file date fields that are not actual dates as defined in the GEDCOM standard.
Modifier FO GEDCOM Notes
ABT Yes Yes About
BEF Yes Yes Before
AFT Yes Yes After
BET Yes Yes A single date that is between the dates given which are separated with the keyword AND.
FRM Yes Yes A period that begins on the date
TO Yes Yes A period that ends on the date. FO does not understand this keyword except in a FRM statement.
EST No Yes An estimate that is based on an algorithm (similar to ABT but without any supporting documentation)
BC Yes No Before Christ

Adding a GEDCOM file to an existing Family Origins datafile

GEDCOM data received by E-mail

Getting FO to import more GEDCOM data generated by other genealogy programs

Additional GEDCOM information


Suppressing information on web pages created by Family Origins

Some spouses are not linked on web pages

Problem with upper-case/lower-case file names for web pages

Creating a web site on Parsons Technology's web server

Privatizing information on the internet

1. September 1998
Many people are uncomfortable with having fairly detailed information about living relatives available on the internet. FO7 therefore has the option to "privatize" information about living relatives, leaving out potentially sensitive information such as birthdates, birthplaces, previous marriages etc. Be aware, that the option to privatize the information on the web pages does not privatize the information in the GEDCOM file that you can opt to put onto your web pages. To privatize a GEDCOM, use one of the GEDCOM utilities.

What is the GENDEX.TXT file for?

Affected version: 7.x
1. October 1998
When you create a web site with FO, the directory containing all the files will also contain a file named "GENDEX.TXT". This is a specially formatted text file for the Gendex website. The Gendex website contains a searchable database of names.
You as a user can access this database, search for information and potentially find other genealogical websites on the internet with the names you searched for.
If you have created a website with you genealogical research, you can tell the Gendex database about your website. It will read the GENDEX.TXT file and add its information to the database. This will then aalow other people on the internet to find your genealogical information.
The important points to make are: Latest update: April 2004 the gendex website ceased to be a website about genealogy.


Upgrading and datafiles

28. August 1998
As Family Origins for Windows has progressed through the versions, so the structure of the datafiles has been changing. The changes to the datafiles make the datafiles used by a particular version of FO incompatible with any previous version of FO. Installing a new version of FO has always required a conversion of the datafiles used. Using the previous version of FO to load the "new" datafiles runs the very real danger of damaging the datafiles. If for example you keep both FO7 and the 32-bit version of FO6 on your system, FO6  would automatically load the last datafile that FO7 had opened. This in self would probably not result in any damage. If however you were to make any changes to the data the possibility of data loss would be very high.
Therefore, the only way data can be transferred to older versions of FO is to export the datafile to GEDCOM and then import the GEDCOM file into the older version. As new features have been added to FO, this step would result in some data not being transferred. A few examples:

Location of data files

30. August 1998
It is often a good thing to have datafiles in another directory than the one where the program files are stored. FO does not have a program function to tell it where it should store datafiles. So by default it will always suggest the FO program directory when trying to open an existing file or creating a new one. There is a way around this.
The Windows 9x way: Create a directory where you want your datafiles stored. Click on the "Start" button. Choose "Settings", "Taskbar and start menu". Click on the "Start menu programs" tab and then click on the "Advanced" button. Explorer will now start, highlighting a folder called "start". Go into the folder where the FO icon is and right-click on the icon. Choose "properties" on the menu that appeared. In the field "start in" you enter the path for where you want the data files located, the directory you created.

Data corruption

    1. Use the "File > Pack (compress) database" menu option.
    2. Delete the index files and get the program to rebuild them. This suggestion was picked up on Parson's discussion group from one of their own technical supporters. The following files need to be deleted: FOWIN.INI (located in the Windows directory), <your database name>?.CDX. After deleting these files, you will be presented with Family Origins start-up questions. Open your current database and let Family Origins re-index the database. This will most likely not be helpful if option 1 didn't make a difference.
    3. Do a GEDCOM export, create a new database, do a GEDCOM import to the new database.
    4. Use a previous backup instead.
    As is usual when performing almost any of these actions, a backup is a good thing, two backups is an even better thing.


Version 4 used a proprietary backup format. Since version 5, FO has been using the ZIP compression format to backup FO datafiles. Since the backup method supported by FO has been the same since version 5, the following comments on backup all pertain to any version 5 or higher of FO.

Year 2000 and data integrity in Family Origins (Y2K problem)

Can I change entries in the user dictionary?

12. October 1999
The file SPL_USER.TLX (located in the FO directory) contains any entries added by the user to the dictionary. If there is a need to change any of the entries therein, the file can be opened in a text editor and after any changes saved again as an ASCII text file with the exact same name.

Bug fixes or other errors

What is new in Family Origins?

Windows NT

32-bit vs. 16-bit Family Origins

Affected version: 6.x
7. August 1998
Since v6 of Family Origins, there has been both a 16-bit and a 32-bit version. There are really only 3 differences: The font used in some of the windows differs, the performance of some functions (such as backup, packing the database) is faster in the 32-bit version and the allowable filenames (16-bit version only allows 8 character filenames, 32-bit version allows 256 character filenames).
The long file names can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Multimedia files can now have long descriptive names. If you and a family member both use FO, one the 16-bit version and the other the 32-bit version you need to stick to 8 character file names or you won't be able to share FO datafiles.
If you bought FO on floppy disk, you will have received either the 16-bit or the 32-bit version. The Family Origins CD-ROM contains both versions. The installation program does not recognise Windows NT 4.0 as being a 32-bit operating system and therefore defaults to installing the 16-bit version of Family Origins, rather than the 32-bit version.
Here's how you can tell which version is being installed: During the installation procedure, a window will appear asking you to "Select Destination Directory". If it suggests "C:\Program Files\Parsons Technology\Family Origins" you are installing the 32-bit version. If it suggests "C:\FOWIN" you are installing the 16-bit version.
Here's how to tell which version you have installed: Choose the "Help > About" option. If it says "Family Origins v6.0" you've got the 16-bit version. If it says "Family Origins for Windows 95" you've got the 32-bit version
The following explains how to"force" a 32-bit installation: On the CD you will find the subdirectories "x:\famo\16" and "x:\famo\32". In the "x:\famo\32" directory you will find a program called "Setup32", run that to install the 32-bit version.

Reference manual

Is Family Origins going to be discontinued by Parsons Technology?

18. June 1998
I don't recall the exact time, but about ½ a year ago, Parsons Technology was sold by Intuit to Brøderbund. Brøderbund sell Family Tree Maker, another genealogy program. At the time, a lot of users were panicking as to whether Family Origins would now be discontinued. I am in no way affiliated with Parsons, Brøderbund or Formalsoft. The following comments are my own, but to a certain extent based on messages from Formalsoft on the FO mailing list.
Formalsoft are the creators and owners of Family Origins. Parsons Technology are the distributors of Family Origins, they license the product from FormalSoft. You can pretty much tell from the "Help > About Family Origins" menu option. Who owns the name I don't know. If Parsons Technology (Brøderbund) did decide to discontinue Family Origins, it would reappear through some other channel, maybe with a different name. There is in fact a new version in the works.

What is the 'Deluxe' version of Family Origins?

30. August 1998
There is no difference in the FO program itself, but the 'Deluxe' package contains additional products, a placefinder program and a family reunion planner as a help file.

Importing data from PAF

Other Family Origins Internet Resources

FO users E-mail list

14. December 1998
There is a Family Origins email mailing list for users of the program. Send E-mail to "" with the with the word "subscribe" in the body of the message. Subscribing in the above manner will result in you receiving a separate E-mail for everyone sent to the list. It is also possible to subscribe in "digest" form. In digest form, one large E-mail is sent by the end of the day containing every E-mail that was sent to the E-mail list that day. This does make it more difficult to reply to messages or toollow a particular subject. All E-mail messages to this, and other genealogy oriented, E-mail lists are archived and can be searched via the internet. Accessing this link will present you with a web page where you are asked to enter a "Name of list". You must enter the name of the E-mail list which is: FAMILY-ORIGINS-USERS-L


12. August 1998
is the company that has created Family Origins. FormalSoft has put some web pages on the internet that give a lot more information about the program than the information given out by Parson's themselves. Amongst other things, a demo version of Family Origins is available for downloading. The demo will allow up to 50 users to be added in an empty database. What might be of more interest though, is the fact that it will work fine with existing databases no matter how large they are. Reports do print out with FO Demo plastered all over them though. This could be a way to share your genealogical research with family. Give them a copy of the demo version of FO and your database, and they can look up data as much as they like on their own computer.

The Genealogical Companion

12. August 1998
"The Genealogical Companion" (TGC), a free companion program for Family Origins. Can create lots of different reports not (yet) available in FO.

Other stuff

Disclaimer: I have no connection to Parsons Technology, or any of the other suppliers of Family Origins, or to FormalSoft, the creator of Family Origins, other than being a user of the program. I acknowledge all trademarks of products mentioned herein.

[Homepage of Bjorn Graabek]

Originally created: 20. July 1997, Last major modification: 10. January 2000, minor modifications (fixing dead links) 2. October 2004

© Copyright by Bjorn Graabek