Bob and Martha Parsons, founders of Parsons Technology, a privately held, $30-million software-development firm in Hiawatha, Iowa, decided they had better become authorities on genealogical software after their 800,000 customers exhibited overwhelming demand for it in focus groups and surveys. The result of their efforts is a clever tool called Family Origins, which is the next best thing to a long conversation with an elderly relative with an acute memory. No family tree is too complicated for the IBM-compatible program, which generates 17 reports and charts tracing information on ancestors, descendants, pedigrees, and family groups. With the ability to track relationships of up to 7.7 million individuals, Family Origins is designed to accommodate the needs of even the most serious family historian. The product retails for $49 and is available at most chains, or can be ordered by calling a toll-free number.

-- Allesandra Bianchi