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Cumbersome Custom Reporting

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#1 MVS


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Posted 14 May 2014 - 05:23 AM

I have been a RootsMagic users since version 3 and a member of these bulletin boards for many years. I have never used the Custom Reports feature in earnest and yet so often I see other members of these boards offer work-rounds to problems using this feature. Now it may be that the things I have wanted to do are too complicated for the facility on offer (and I have developed my own external GED based programs to satisfy these needs or I use the RMTrix and other tools).

But as I had an hour and a relatively simple reporting problem to solve I thought I would sit down and try and do it and document what I did not like on the way. This is not an exhaustive test of the facility (in fact I found it so slow and cumbersome I wanted to give up after 5 minutes) but I thought I would record my thoughts anyway.

I should mention that I have spent 40 years working in IT so over the years I have used a great many simple, not so simple and sophisticated reporting systems. But I guess I am trying to look at it from what I would expect from a report generator, offered from within a software package, today.

Launching the Generator.

I did not find it that easy to find; hidden away in Create A Report, Reports, Custom Report. If you can get to it more quickly I did not see it.

Initial Custom Report Dialog.

No sample reports. So no library of base reports that might satisfy my need or be amended to satisfy my need. So I have to click New and learn from scratch.

Looking back, I realise I had to click the Create a Report to get to this screen where I can select any existing reports. So this is not a good button description and if I had been looking for existing custom reports I might never have clicked the button names Create a Report.

Custom Report Designer

Tiny little dialog box. Should be in proportion to the size of the main screen. I enlarge it, close it and reopen it and it is still small. Should remember my screen size settings.

Find that the cursor is situated in the first Column Heading. I would expect to select the field and then describe it if necessary so Tab down to first field selection. Realise that the drop down is not in the actual cell but above it so slight confusion. Launch the drop down and then realise it is full of, by my calculation, about 300 field names! No drop down should have this number of entries. Especially as I have no idea of what the name of the field I am looking for is. Spend several minutes looking though field names, get wound up, go and make a cup of tea.

Come back and decide to do a test report of names. See I can press the N key but then there are four name options:

1. Name-Given Surname
2. Name-Prefix Given Surname Suffix
3. Name - Surname Given
4. Name- Surname Prefix Given Suffix

So, not sure about my usage of Prefix and Suffix so decide to see if the fields are available separately. Find Surname and Given but this uses up two columns straight away.

Note that the Title field is blank. Surely the system would put in a default Title and just allow me to overwrite it if I wanted a non-standard column header no, I have to it type it all in.

Insert additional columns. Surely it would be better to have in initial display of a larger number of narrower columns. Cannot think that many people would want a two column report.

Go off to find other fields and fill them in. Want to change the order of the columns and seems I cannot re-sequence them with a drag and drop. Have to go into each drop down and change them or enter a new column in the correct position and then delete the old column from elsewhere. Cumbersome.

As columns build up they are autosized to an equal same length this means the field names of some are truncated. Have to manually resize to expand the columns where the field names are truncated and shrink the other columns where there is more space. Cumbersome.

(Interesting note when columns are resized and the report re-opened at a later time for further editing the column widths have been retained. This is a good feature a pity the overall dialog size still opens too small to show them because it does not remember its size/position from session to session).

Ran report to see what it looked like. Came out in Portrait and field were all wrapped round to make them fit. Go back to Edit the report and am unable to find how to put it to Landscape. Go back to the Custom Report dialog and see there is a Settings button to the right. Use this to set to Landscape. Run report and it looks better.

But am curious about why the Landscape setting is not associated with the report. Close down RM and start it up and go to run report again and it is back to printing in portrait. So this means I have to remember to go to settings each time I run a report (which in practice means I will always run a landscape report, then realise it is printing the wrong way, then go to the settings to change it to get it right).

At this point my hour ran out. To be continued.

(I appreciate I may have missed some shortcuts/features. I am only recording my realworld experience and reminding myself of some of the reasons I do not use the Custom reporting features of RM.)


#2 Nettie


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Posted 14 May 2014 - 07:36 AM

Thanks MVS  for being very specific/detailed and  this has been one of my frustrations also.  I used it with RM4 and gave up.  Even watching the webinar no. 11 , then doing it was time consuming. Interesting to see what other info is gathered...

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#3 Jerry Bryan

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Posted 14 May 2014 - 08:10 AM

Launching the Generator.

I did not find it that easy to find; hidden away in Create A Report, Reports, Custom Report. If you can get to it more quickly I did not see it.


I think you meant that you clicked on Reports on the Menu Bar and that your sequence was Reports -> Print a Report -> Reports -> Custom Reports. 


A much shorter sequence is Reports -> Custom Report where Reports is on the Menu Bar and Custom Report is the ninth item down.


I would concur that Reports -> Print a Report exemplifies some of the worst excessive clickiness in RM. I don't use the Print a Report menu option and I wish it just wasn't there. I'm sure it's there to make reporting options easier to find, but I think it actually makes them much harder to find.. I get into reports in two basic ways. One is Reports on the Menu Bar and then to choose the desired option directly from the drop down menu without using the Print a Report option. The other way to get into reports is simply to right click on an individual and select the Reports options fro the drop down menu. This works fine for reports that are oriented towards an individual. For reports that are not oriented towards an individual such as custom reports, I use the first method.



#4 Renee Zamora

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Posted 15 May 2014 - 08:55 AM

This is an advance feature of RootsMagic so admittedly it's not as intuitive as other options. Customizing is a difficult thing to design because everyone's expectation are different. MVS might think we need more than 2 columns by default but other users would be annoyed to delete X number of columns they don't need. You might think there are two many name options but many users need all those options because they use them at various times for various types of reports. 


If you go into Help>Contents and search for "Custom Reports"  you will have a better understanding of the Custom Reports and how they function. 

We also have a webinar that will demonstrate this feature


#9 - Creating Custom Reports with RootsMagic - http://www.rootsmagic.com/webinars/  


Once you start creating custom reports you realize it's not that hard to use after all.


#5 Alfred


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Posted 15 May 2014 - 12:25 PM

After you click on Reporst - Custom Reports, ( or, Alt+r, c, )

pressing the help key, F1,  might help you a bit.


#6 Laura


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Posted 15 May 2014 - 01:42 PM

I would never design a Custom report where I had so many columns that I had to print it in Landscape where it would be difficult for my mind to sort out the various data.

Instead, I would add more Rows where the report would be more compact and printed in Portrait.

When a user gets over the idea that a Custom report should just have one row with multiple columns, there are all sorts of possibilities on how to arrange the data in multiple rows.

For instance, for a custom report with name, record number, Birth date, place and note, and  Death date, place and note where the notes will read across the page:

No header labels.  Column 1 for each Row will be the Text labels.

Row 1:
  Column 1 = choose Text instead of Field and enter Name:
  Column 2 = Choose Field, Name - Surname, Given.  Merge Columns 2 and 3.
  Column 4 = Field, Record Number

Row 2:
   Column 1 = Text, enter Birth:
   Column 2 = Field, Birth date
   Column 3 = Field, Birth Place details
   Column 4 = Field, Birth Place

Row 3:
   Column 1 = Text, enter Birth note:
   Column 2 = Birth note field.  Merge Columns 2-4.

Row 4:
   Column 1 = Text, enter Death:
   Column 2 = Field, Death date
   Column 3 = Field, Death Place details

Row 5:
   Column 1 = Text, enter Death note:
   Column 2 = Field, Death note field.  Merge Columns 2-4


#7 GeoffB



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Posted 16 May 2014 - 10:11 AM

I very much welcome having the facility to write customised reports within Rootsmagic since I'm sure many of us have our own individual 'wish-lists' for reporting and it is not realistic that all can be met by innumerable standard report formats.
Laura very helpfully explains the procedure for constructing multi-row interrogations which both permits data from many fields to be presented and printed. A certain amount of flexibility can be incorporated into the design by employing the ability to merge field cells, aligning left/right and adding text for labels etc.

That said, I am inclined to agree with MVS’s views that using the report generator is both cumbersome and less than intuitive and putting together a presentable, complex report can be time consuming. The drop-down field list is indeed long and might perhaps be improved if there were separate selectors for date, place and notes fields.

Although the drop-down list seems quite comprehensive, I have yet to discover how more than one spouse can be included and, of course the marriage data relating to each. Unless I’ve missed it, I cannot see any way to include the children (& of each spouse). And no sources/citations?

The report has options to enable the font to be changed for both the data and headers. However, there does not appear to be a way of varying the font between the text (eg in field labels) and the data or to apply attributes such as Bold or italic attributes to make the report more readable. The width of data cells can be adjusted, though not the height of rows. There is also a facility to add shading to alternate records and to add blank rows or lines between records.

However, it does not allow you to include page breaks between records – especially useful for multi-row records. You can, of course save the report as a text file and edit it this with a third party program outside Rootsmagic. But that is a work around and true of most things – not the reason why we invest in Rootsmagic!

I am no doubt baying for the moon in suggesting that it would also be extremely helpful to be able to incorporate media items within custom reports. This would address one of the long standing and serious omissions within Rootsmagic (an overwise very good program): the ability to incorporate more than one media item within narrative reports.

It would, in my view, be invaluable to be able to include media items – if present - along with their title etc, adjacent to the field data to which it relates. It would be necessary to be able to specify the size (ie row height) and position to accommodate the media item. Frankly, the ‘Scrapbook report’ treats original media data – more often than not fundamental evidence underpinning our research – as little more than an afterthought. Again there are work-arounds whereby, if you spend enough time, you can edit media items into you reports outside Rootsmagic but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having the program?

Lasting, it doesn’t appear to be possible to be able include a saved custom report into Publisher.

In short, the custom report editor is an important component of Rootsmagic but equally one that would benefit from more than a superficial make-over.

#8 Renee Zamora

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Posted 19 May 2014 - 11:20 AM

Confirming enhancement requests are in our tracking system. I do have a few comments or questions.




The report has options to enable the font to be changed for both the data and headers. However, there does not appear to be a way of varying the font between the text (eg in field labels) and the data or to apply attributes such as Bold or italic attributes to make the report more readable. The width of data cells can be adjusted, though not the height of rows.


In the Custom Report Settings - very first screen, if you click on the Fonts button you can use Bold, Underline, Italics or Strikeout for the Text or Header fields. If you increase the font size it will automatically adjust the height row. Did you need it to do something else?


However, it does not allow you to include page breaks between records – especially useful for multi-row records.


In the Custom Report Designer under Options you can select to:

1. Draw lines between records

2. Shade alternate records


This also works on multiple rows.


#9 GeoffB



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Posted 20 May 2014 - 04:33 PM

Many thanks Renee for adding these suggestions to the Tracking System.


You asked for some additional clarification on a couple of points:


As you say, the user can certainly change the font (&/or its attributes) for the Header and for the Text (ie everything in the body of the report.  My point was that you are not able to specify a different font/attributes for the text (ie the field labels of other descriptive wording in the body of the report) and the actual field data.  To be able to do so would, in my view, significantly improve readability.


Similarly, by specifying a font size, you can vary the height of a row.  However, this does not enable you to have a wide row with text vertically aligned in the middle  - ie so as to give good separation from adjacent rows - since the larger font still fills up the row.  You can, of course insert blank rows either side to achieve this but that seems an odd approach: you can adjust column widths and do not need to insert blank columns.


Finally, although blank lines or shading of alternate records helps to break up a report, where a complex report - say with many field rows that may produce a record that runs over a page - I believe it would be helpful to be able to specify a page break (rather than a line) between each record.



#10 kbens0n


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Posted 20 May 2014 - 07:04 PM

Fortunately, users can save their Custom Reports as RTF, PDF, HTML and TXT files. Generating those formats allow for many ways of changing the final output.

Unfortunately, Custom Reports are not an option in RootsMagic Publisher (and should be).

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#11 Renee Zamora

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 12:43 PM

Confirming enhancement requests are in our tracking system.