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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Choosing a Program for Your Genealogical Research

I know there are still a large number of genealogists out there who are handwriting all of their research work. My father right up until he became too disabled to function, was handwriting all of his legal drafting and letters. He never even got to the point where he dictated most of his work. He did use a computer on occasion, but it was a painful experience. What I do see is that many of the patrons who come to the BYU Family History Library haul in mounds of paper in rolling briefcases and luggage.

One of my major themes in writing this blog over the years has been supporting and helping people move into the 21st Century. The reality is that we are moving into a complex, networked, online society. For genealogists, the most obvious manifestation of this movement is the digitization of overwhelmingly large numbers of source records. Searching, evaluating and recording all this information has become a major challenge.

We could all just withdraw and ignore reality, but we really need to fight back and accept the fact that we need to keep learning every single day. Even people who are somewhat comfortable with using computers are often very leery of storing all their research in digital format. But as I constantly pointed out, those who stick to a traditional methodology are very likely repeating work already done by others.

We have several options:

  • We can keep handwriting our paper copies of our work
  • We can keep some of our work on a computer but print off everything and still work on paper
  • We can move everything to a computer and feel lost and afraid we will lose everything
  • We can move all of our work to the computer and back up our work and begin to get digitally organized
  • We can start integrating computers into our workflow and develop new methodologies for producing and storing our work
  • We can realize the advantages of using online and local programs to manage the huge amount of information now available 
As I also wrote about recently, only about 5% of the people in the United States can be considered to be computer capable, so most of us are going to be at some other level of integration. 

Many genealogists saw the advantages of local genealogy database programs when they adopted the old Personal Ancestral File program as a place to store the results of their research efforts. Most of those people have moved on to newer programs. But now we have different choices than we did back in the PAF days. 

Here are the program options:
  • We can keep everything on paper
  • We can keep some things on paper and some on a computer program
  • We can keep all of our work on our own local computer program
  • We can keep some work online and some work on a local program
  • We can keep all of our work on an online program
What are our present options? I am not going to advocate any one program in this post, although my position on how this should be clear from my other posts. I am going to review the options. 

Using paper is obvious. You buy paper and download or buy forms to use. What about personal database programs. The source for finding and evaluating those programs that are still available comes from my friend, Louis Kessler's website, There are a total of 4275 reviews of 981 programs. If you select the option to view "Full Featured" programs and further sort the list in order by ratings in 2016, you will get a list of those programs that are currently highly regarded by their users. You can also view the list by those programs that run on Windows, Mac or online. You will need to be careful because some of the programs that are highly rated are really no longer available or have no support. You will also want to investigate what others around you are using for their own programs. 

Basically, as you investigate these programs, you will see that there is a definite option to use an online program or a desktop based program or both. You have to decide how you will approach these options. I might also point out that the most popular programs are somewhat geographically oriented. A program that is popular in England or Australia may not be well known in the United States and there are German, French and Scandinavian versions for those areas of the world. Also, some of the programs that are very popular online have no reviews mainly because most of the users of these programs do not realize that they are using a particular program and are not aware of the alternative. 

As you talk to genealogists about how they do their work, bear in mind that everyone has a tendency to advocate the program and methodology they have chosen. There is an advantage to using a program that is popular with your particular peer group, but it is also important to understand how and why they have chosen to use a particular program and decide for yourself. 

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