Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What I do? Meme -- More on Hardware

One of the most common statements made to me during my contact with genealogists, is "I don't know a whole lot about computers." Learning about computers and software can be as interest intensive as genealogy itself and most genealogists, I find, make the decision to focus more on genealogy than on learning about computers. They rely on a conglomeration of family, friends, associates and professionals to set up their computer systems and keep them running. It is common that the genealogist relies heavily on an experienced computer professional within their family to help with setting up the computer. Unfortunately, computer expertise and a good genealogical background seldom go hand in hand. I have the good fortune to work with both very experienced genealogists and computer professionals.

One thing I have learned from this association is that the computer professional usually vastly over estimates the computer needs of the genealogist. I see people with computer systems that are extensive and way more computer power than they need. Some of the least expensive off-the-shelf systems available through many mass merchandisers are more than adequate for the average genealogist. Choice of a computer system should be driven by need, not by what your nephew, the computer whiz, would like to have for his own computer. On the other hand, I see a significant number of genealogists who are struggling along with a hopelessly outdated system. I am certain that the main reason is a lack of finances. A new computer is not considered a necessity and those living on a very low fixed income cannot afford to buy the latest and greatest.

I would propose a middle ground. Talk to your family. Let them know about the genealogy work you are doing. Watch and wait. It is likely that one of the computer experts in your family will be upgrading their system soon. It is no disgrace to ask for the old system. Their old system may be many generations newer than the one you have been using. We have "donated' our old system to those in need of a "newer" computer and this works really well. Most used or older systems have little or no value on the market, and therefore, you can pick up a good deal. Be careful that the old system is not being dumped because it is fatally flawed, but in most cases the old system can function a well as a new one of the same age.

If you have a family organization, you may wish to start an old hardware exchange to make sure the genealogists in the family have an adequate system to work on. If the family organization is a Section 501 (c) organization, the contribution could be tax deductible if handled correctly.

Unfortunately, software does not always work the same way. Most programs are registered to the original purchaser and buying or obtaining old software copies is not always a good idea. But other than an operating system, most of the other software that might be used by a genealogist can be obtained for free from the Internet.

The other major expense in taking advantage of today's online world, is a network connection. This can be a major expense for a low budget family and there aren't too many ways to cut this cost. But you might try a bundled network connection with a cable provider or some other such arrangement.

If you really want to take advantage of all of the vast amount of online information presently available, you can also use a computer at your local library or Family History Library.

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