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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The most valuable computer tools for genealogists to learn to use

There are a bewildering number of software programs. The choices seem endless. Added to the tens of thousands, if not millions, of programs you can buy or download free for your own computer, there are millions more that run on the Internet. Then, of course, there are all the programs for your computer that use the Internet for all or part of their functions. Where to start and where to concentrate your time and efforts while still doing genealogical research becomes a real challenge. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between needs and wants, entertainment and productivity. 

Learning to use a computer is like any other skill, such as playing the piano. There are some basic things you need to know for both a piano and a computer and in each, once you have learned the basics, you still have to learn the individual music pieces or computer programs. If you learned to play the piano at all, you likely remember going to piano lessons and practicing. So why do do we think that we can work on a computer without the same type of lessons and practice? This situation reminds me of the old joke,
The absent-minded maestro was racing up New York’s Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal, when a stranger stopped him. “Pardon me,” he said, “can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” 
“Yes,” answered the maestro breathlessly. “Practice!”
People are always saying to me, "Oh, I wish I could know all the things you know about genealogy and computers." I guess my real answer to this statement would be, "If you had spent the amount of time I have spent working on computers and doing genealogy; you would."

It usually does me no good to try and teach someone how to use a genealogical database program if they lack some basic computer skills. Too many times, I see people, both young and old, struggling with using a keyboard. One of the few useful skills I learned in high school was how to type. In computer skills, I would put the ability to use a keyboard as the absolute first and most basic skill needed. If you don't know how to type, take a typing class or download a free typing tutor software program and follow the instructions. Keyboarding (typing) is a skill and it can be learned. To the extent you improve your typing or keyboarding skills, you will begin to find computers in general easier to use. Do an online search for free typing tutor software or look for a commercial product.

Almost as important as using a keyboard, is the skill of using a mouse or trackpad. I use a trackpad for both my laptop and my desktop computer about 95% of the time. There are still a few things, such as clicking and dragging, that are easier with a mouse, so I keep a mouse and a trackpad next to my desktop computer. Once again, using either is a skill. It takes time and practice. If you went to piano lessons and skipped all the practice would you learn to play? Not likely. If you think you can just sit down and use a mouse or a trackpad, you are just as wrong. Both take time and practice. Once again, there are both free and commercial programs online that you can download to learn how to use a mouse or trackpad.

Once you have these two skills, the ability to type and use a mouse or trackpad, you will find that learning other types of things about the computer will come a lot easier. Once again, there are programs, many of them free, to teach you basic things about using a computer. I am always amazed that people think they can just use a computer without taking any classes or practicing.

Moving on, the next basic skills to learn and practice involve your own personal goals for using a computer. If you are trying to store your genealogical information and share it with family members, I suggest you start by learning to use a word processing program. Once again, there are free programs you can download, or there are commercial programs you can buy. You can take a formal class at a local school or community college or you can check out books from the library and teach yourself. You just might try reading the manual for the program you decide to learn.

Once you have learned one program, it is time to tackle the Web. Again, classes, books, practice will all help you to conquer the mysteries of the Internet. When you get right down to it, one of the most valuable tools for anyone, genealogist or otherwise, to learn is how to learn.


  1. I love this you are so right I am a graduate of BU Collage. And learned many things about researching. With the tools I have now I am a better researcher and things that I thought I new before where not correct
    Thank you

  2. Congratulation for the great post. Those who come to read your article will find lots of helpful and informative tips.

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