Sunday, March 11, 2012

Getting Down to the Basics

More musings as I continue to think deep thoughts. The really good news is my husband will be home tomorrow and I'll rejoin the real world and actually do things rather than think.

Anyway, I really need to figure out just what I want my genealogy database software to do for me. It's got nothing, I repeat nothing to do with what "kind" of researcher I am. The software is a simply a tool. Right now it's not a very good one. I'm hoping that's because I haven't really thought through why I use it.

I inherited a Family Tree Maker database from my parents who took all the notes and charts my grandmother, aunts and other family historians had made, wrote letters to all their cousins asking for current information and entered all that data into the program. Heroic work that I truly appreciate for I am not a fan of data entry.

I spent several years validating their data, first using sources I had gathered in my own research and then using the online resources that were becoming available.

Since then I've been focused on two projects: researching those individuals or families that I could not document and digitizing the boxes of papers handed down to me. I haven't found any genealogy database software particularly useful for these projects.

So, an open-ended question for all you genealogy software users out there (especially the non-pro family types): What is it you use the program for? Specifics, I beg of you. As in -

  • I use it because I like the lineage reports it produces.
  • I like to keep track of my research and it's the best way I've found because it allows me to........
  • I collaborate with other researchers and it's a program that we all use.
  • I like the family tree structure it provides.
  • I love linking media to individuals in the tree.
  • I use it to produce GEDCOM files I can upload or share.
  • My family loves the charts and reports I share with them.
  • I use it to generate HTML pages for my website.
  • I use it because it does internet searches or links with Ancestry.com for searches.
  • I use it to keep track of my sources materials and write citations. 
  • I prefer entering information into a database. It's more organized that way.

There must be hundreds of other reasons. I really want to know. I must be missing something here and could use some guidance.  So let me know.

Why do you use a genealogy database program?


Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Ninja M.

31 comments:

  1. Before I started thinking about making genealogy part of my career, I'd used FTM for 15 years. I use it because it keeps all my digital information together in one place that's portable. I scan/photograph all documents and attach them to the appropriate person. I utilize the tasks/notes to keep track of my research and to help me set goals as I finish others. I also have the ability to create more than one database, so I can work on project trees that I want to keep separate from my own research.

    I keep all my physical material organized in a similar manner. This material gets used when I feel the need for connecting in a tactile way with the research that I'm doing.

    There is no right or wrong way. We each utilize the endless tools that are available to us to try to make ourselves organized. Hope you find one that works for you.

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    1. Great point about the notes/tasks, Laura. I use the notes to record conflicts and problems. I'd be lost without those.

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  2. I use my genealogy software for one thing only - data entry. That is why I use Family Historian which is a GEDCOM editor. Using it guarantees it will import and export GEDCOM files flawlessly including user defined tags and records. I then use my website at http://ancestorsnow.com for viewing, reporting, media, charts, and data analysis.

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    1. I think what I want more than anything is to just hand my files off to you, Tim, and let you take over. Care to adopt me and my thousands of kinfolk?

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  3. Re: "I use it to generate HTML pages for my website." Nope, not me!

    Re: "I use it because it does internet searches or links with Ancestry.com for searches." Sometimes, rarely.

    I use it for most of the rest of the above, PLUS to do lists!

    Concerning: "I collaborate with other researchers and it's a program that we all use." I only send reports to other researchers in a PDF format, so it does not matter if we have the same program.

    And, you know how I feel about multimedia. :-) LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I get even the most reluctant of my family interested when I start showing off the multimedia.

    Great article!

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    1. We've already established that our brains work differently. Too funny. Everything you love is what I like least - and,I suspect, vice versa!

      This musts be why the vendors are putting so many bells and whistles on the programs - something for each one of us.

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    2. The real beauty of this is, we don't have to use all this stuff! LOL

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  4. The #1 reason I use a genealogy database program is organization and tracking. I make heavy use of events, multimedia and sourcing so that I can find anything and everything I have on an individual very quickly and even see what I'm missing.

    Paper and I do not get along very well. I've tried several different filing systems but none of them work very well for me. It's much easier (for me) to keep everything filed in the proper place on a computer and have it all linked to the people in my database.

    As far as reporting goes, I've never seen anything generated from a software program that makes very interesting reading but they will give you the facts and make a pretty good outline for doing your own writing - if you entered more than just BMD info.

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    1. Linda, have you used GEDCOM exports much? How do they work with your heavy use of the events and source fields?

      And agree completely as far as narrative reports go.

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    2. I don't use GEDCOM very much. I can't remember the last time someone asked me for one - maybe it's because so much of my information is on my website and anyone interested can see it there.

      I do keep a tree on Ancestry so I use GEDCOM to create it but I don't include everything in that tree. I strip off everything except birth, marriage, death and burial info (no events, no notes). I also replace the sources with one generic source that references my website. (If someone is really interested in the sources, they are available on my website.)

      I don't think I would change my ways even if I had a lot of requests for GEDCOM exports. My database is for me. It has to be set up so that I can function. If that means I can only give someone a report that contains everything I have instead of a GEDCOM, I guess they'll just have to get a report.

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    3. Thank you so much for this answer, Linda! Great idea about a generic source going back to your website.

      REALLY need to get that website of mine live!!!!

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  5. Best reason - to keep my ancestors (and my ex-hub's) organized & detailed in a clear way: for sharing, for discussing with my kids, for adding stories to specific people. I love the research - it's the most fun for me. As for data-entry, I love to do it because it lets my brain ask lots of research-questions while I type in the specific data. Don't think there's a 'best' software program, and there are lots of people doing pen/paper ones too because they're only sharing with their close family members.
    Very good question Susan. I'll look forward to reading others' responses.

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    1. Fascinating comment on data-entry, Celia. That's one of my biggest problems. Those research-questions pop up and I'm out the virtual door to look for the answers. It's that something sparkly thing that distracts me.

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  6. You've asked the right question. Almost all genealogy are designed for one basic thing: To get you to spend countless hours so you can enter all your data into a big black hole. Thousands of hours getting data in. A few non-helpful reports that don't adequately allow you to use it.

    Sort of reminds me of many years ago when I religiously entered all my financial data into Quicken. When I compared the input time and effort to the output usefulness, I immediately quit that.

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    1. Louis, you are the voice at the back of my head. I really am going to have to add Behold to my learning curve.

      And I so agree about Quicken.

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  7. I use it to get an overview, to see connections. I research little parts of my tree, I isolate it, give it its own database, I try things out, keep notes (.txt files!), and when I'm satisfied with my deductions and conclusions, I combine this with the appropriate tree. I use an Ancestry.com tree to recklessly combine families, just so I have the underlying source reference information available for later research. I export it (for said source information) and delete it every so often, and replace it with a more accurate one I maintain in Legacy. And that's only for my American research. For my Dutch research, I'm using Legacy as well, but I find more and more that it's geared toward American research, not European. It starts to become a problem when you take your research back into the 17th century and beyond. There's no point in having my Dutch tree on Ancestry, as it hardly contains any Dutch sources anyway (mainly weblinks). If I had more time, I'd kick-start my blog, and start publishing my conclusions and transcriptions as a reference for myself and others. My goal would be, that my blog posts can serve as a source. I think I would need to quit my day job to be able to do that properly, though :) I'm using Legacy to enter my data, Behold to see my data, well, as it should be seen, I'm using GenViewer to see gaps and obvious errors in a database, I use Excel to get different viewpoints on available data. I use commenting on blogs and G+ to vent :)

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    1. I like the way you operate, Taco! Pretty much mirrors mine save for Behold (see above). That's exactly what I'm using the blog for when I'm not pondering this stuff.

      Do you do much sharing data with others? I'm doing more since I've been blogging and am seeking a quick formula.

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    2. So far, I've been e-mailing reports made through either Legacy or Aldfaer (Dutch free(!) genealogy software, produces great high standard Dutch reports). I've also written out some of my conclusions as a narrative and sent those out, and some of these have now been reworked into blog posts. I haven't shared any GEDCOM, and I'd be reluctant to do so.

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  8. Thanks for asking! Plain and simple... I use a program to help me collect and organize my data. What I need and want from database software is a bit more complicated... I want everything from ease of use to an attractive interface.

    I've used Legacy, RootsMagic, and PAF on Windows and Reunion and FamilyTreeMakerMac2 on the Mac. Nothing is perfect. But I do keep looking...

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    1. Loved your post on this, Denise. Sharing your specific requirements make it so much easier to compare to our own needs! (Back to that we do things so differently theme.)
      http://www.thefamilycurator.com/home/2012/3/12/my-needs-and-wants-for-genealogy-database-software-how-well.html#comments

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  9. I use "Reunion" on my mac to keep track of my data and to be able to quickly look up family relationships and dates.

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    1. How much data do you enter, Kristin? Your blog has such rich detail. Is all that captured in Reunion or just the basics?

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    2. Just the basics. I keep the other stuff (photos, stories, letters) in binders and on the computer in folders under family groups.

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  10. Great question, Susan! It prompted me to write a whole post about how I use Reunion 9 for Mac. It's not perfect, but it suits most of my needs. You can see it at
    http://www.asenseoffamily.com/2012/03/how-i-use-reunion-9-for-mac-as-my.html

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    1. Great answer, Shelley! I love your narratives. That's what I'm aiming for. Just got to figure out how to get there.

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  11. I use it for easy access. I can't remember all the information about all of my ancestors off the top of my head. I dump it into a database and when I need details about a particular one I pull it up. I have not found any one program that is perfect. I used FTM until the 2012 version then I switched over to Legacy. I have used PAF (yes, really!) to create a website for me to upload to my personal site (I have issues with uploading my data to proprietary sites).

    So I guess I used my program primarily for storage as a data dump. I also print out family group sheets to take with me when I do research in the field. I know many people bring their laptop and do everything electronically but I'm not there yet. I still like to scribble notes.

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    1. Marian, do you use Legacy to share information with others? If so, what form/reports do you use?

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    2. I also print out family sheets and like to scribble on them even as I research online.

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    3. Does anyone remember Brother's Keeper??That was my first software!
      If you can believe it,I am still hanging on tight to my old PAF 5.3 ! It's pathetic as I installed Legacy on my son's computer and fed some gedcoms in it,then installed ROOT MAGIC on my husband's,to make a comparison and will test drive more .Prefer Legacy over RM so far .
      My private family site is generated by TNG.I never used FamilyTreeMaker or uploaded to Ancestry.I like WeRelate wiki for public family trees.
      Btw,I have been using Behold to examine my gedcoms and it's useful product in that respect.I work with Excel(or Google Doc Forms) for my research log. After 30 something years ,I guess PAF is very reliable for data entry , plain and easy and without a lot of bells & whistles (with the PAF campanion for printouts). Let us know what you end up choosing !

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  12. Susan, I'm a little behind in responding. I'm using FTM and RM. I know you asked about GEDCOMs, I do one every week, because that is what I have to prepare to update my RootsWeb tree. Legacy seems to be the popular software, so I might look into getting it.

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    1. Some place to put all that information, that's it. Occasionally print out a report but not often.

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