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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Using Smart Technology to Jump-Start Your Genealogical Research: Part Three

Synchronizing Files Between Applications

The biggest challenge to genealogy in the today's rapidly changing technological environment is the difficulty in moving data between apps and programs. It is now common for genealogists to have multiple copies of their family information and these different copies of the data quickly begin to contain different entries and details as work is done in various programs. Even if a researcher focuses on one primary program, the task of adding online sources and coordinating research quickly becomes overwhelming.

For example, let's suppose that you choose one "program" as the primary repository for your data. That program can be a dedicated genealogical database program or the equivalent in one of the database websites. Now, let's further suppose that you are doing research online and in various paper repositories. In addition, you realize the advantages of letting the large online database programs find record hints and start accumulating these piles of suggested source documents. You will almost immediately begin to realize that moving all this information into one chosen program requires constant and significant effort. In many cases, the researcher has to start ignoring obviously useful data for the simple reason that there is no way to adequately consolidate it into one program or website. The more active the researcher, the greater the challenge.

From my own standpoint, I could spend all my time just adding record hints and cleaning up entries and adding research to one of the websites. As it is, I spend as much time as I can looking at the larger websites with their automatic record hints, but record hints only go so far and when I start to do research on any one line, I immediately run into the overhead issue of moving the data into one central repository. The tragedy is that some of the prickly research questions I have may already be solved by the data that is just sitting there waiting to be integrated because I do not have the time to spend looking at the piles.

In most cases, adding one source citation to one program is a time consuming, manually intensive process even if you disregard the need to evaluate and integrate the information from that source.

What tools do we have presently? I should point out that there are a few data paths that have been opened in a very limited way. For example, some of the large online database programs have subsidiary, desktop dedicated programs that synchronize with the online family tree program. A good example is's Family Tree Builder program. maintained its Family Tree Maker program for many years and then spun it off to a third-party developer, As of the date of this post, is still synchronizing the program with an online family tree. However, these dedicated programs do not begin to address the overall issue of moving data between different programs. For a further example, what if I want to move some data from a family tree on to another family tree on Or what if I want to move data from either program to another family tree such as one on And by extension, what if I want to move data from an online database such as some record found on to any one of the programs?

There are a few cracks appearing the in this impenetrable wall of data. For example, the program allows you to synchronize some types of data between your desktop RootsMagic program and the Family Tree and has announced the same features to synchronize data with an family tree in the near future, perhaps by the time you read this. Ancestral Quest from Incline Software also synchronizes some of the information in the Family Tree with its program.

There is a utility program from that works as a browser app and copies source information into both the Family Tree and into family trees. You can also use the program to extract the data needed to make a citation from almost any website and then use copy and paste functions to insert the data where you need it.

By the way, none of these programs create a source citation that conforms to any of the major academic citation standards, such as the Chicago Manual of Style or the APA or MLA. There are programs such as, that automatically extract citations from many online programs and create formatted citations.

Source citations are only a very small part of the overall issue of moving data between programs. Another problem is that the various programs store their data in different formats. One very obvious example is that some websites standardize on using the "United States" and a location, while others insist on "USA" for the same information. In moving any data from one program or source to another, these types of differences must also be taken into account.

Most researchers who are not tied to paper, use the computer's operating system to copy and paste information. The limit is is that only a small amount of information can be moved in this way. Even more advanced researchers use a combination of programs such as and/or to create souce citations that can then be added manually to one or more other programs. But when data such as individual details has to be moved, there is presently no other method except to copy and paste the information or retype all of the entries.

But one of the most important lessons from these not so promising examples, is that there are computer tools that make moving information possible even if the process is still rather tedious. I still see many researchers who forget that you can copy and paste information. I also see many who forget screen captures and digital cameras as ways to capture larger quantities of information quickly. There may be no way to move information efficiently from one program to another, but there are methods that make the transfer less painful.

Here are the previous posts in this series.

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