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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What is a Genealogy Program? No Simple Answer

In response to my recent Top Ten list, I got a challenge that the programs I listed weren't really "genealogy" programs and the title to my post was misleading. Hmm. It seems when I do "genealogy" I must be doing something different than the commentator. I guess I should have confined myself to listing only those "programs" that have the word "genealogy" in their title. Wait a minute, I don't know of any program that has the word "genealogy" in its title. Wait again, what about the term "family history?" That isn't much help either.

Maybe I should have confined my list only to those programs that help me find my ancestors? No, that doesn't work because doing a Google search for your ancestors is a fundamental step in starting any genealogical research project. So I must list Google as a "genealogy" program even if the word "genealogy" is not usually associated with Google per se.

What about the other "programs" I listed? Apparently, there is also an issue with calling them programs at all. The new word, "app" is rapidly replacing the word "program" but the word "app" is merely a shortened form of the word "application." Whatever you want to call a list of instructions to a computer is alright with me. Here is the definition of a "program."
A computer program is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer. A computer requires programs to function, and typically executes the program's instructions in a central processing unit.
Computer program - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
That definition seems to me to be pretty inclusive. If I use Google Search to search for genealogy information, when does it become a "genealogy program?" Eventually? Never? I think the answer verges on the metaphysical. When a program becomes included in my or your own list of "genealogy" seems to me to be arbitrary.

Let's talk about programs that create a family tree and store information about your family. I could use a dedicated program, such as some of the ones I have mentioned, or I could use a general purpose program such as Google Docs or Google Drive. Isn't it either interesting or perhaps important to know which of these types of programs we use for genealogy? But, you argue, that doesn't make them genealogy programs. Well, there we are. I happen to consider what I use to be useful for genealogy and ergo, for me, they are genealogy programs.

OK, so I admit it. The title of the blog should have qualified my list to say something like, "The Top Ten Programs (or whatever you want to call them) that I use when I am doing what I like to call, genealogy (your opinion may differ)." I didn't realize I was being genealogically, politically incorrect.


  1. Well said James - it seems that political correctness is alive and well :)

  2. When I set up my Google+ community I had to think what to call it and the accompanying blog. I went for Mastering Genealogy Software to encompass all the software programs that we use. Even a simple report generated on a computer uses software. It may not have been specifically written for use by genealogists but it is still a tool that we need to understand to make the best use of all its capabilities.
    Anyone who thinks they know how to use Microsoft's Word program but hasn't had any formal training should watch the introductory video that Thomas MacEntee recorded for Legacy Family Tree webinars.
    We all use numerous programs that have not been written specifically for genealogists they are our tools. Whatever tool we choose to use we only get the most from it if we understand how to use it.

  3. I would suggest a Genealogy Program is software that enables a person to record their genealogy.
    Websites such as familysearch are not genealogy programs as such but are rather databases of genealogical information.
    Other programs such as Photoshop are utilities that allow items, such as images to be processed and are general utilities not genealogy specific.
    If you had titled your blog as “The Top Ten Programs I use for Genealogy Now” or something similar I would have agreed with much of your selection but the way you termed general programs as Genealogy programs is inaccurate in much the same way as you would argue that much of what some genealogists claim to be proof is not proof or evidence is not evidence.