Sunday, February 21, 2010

CGSSD Program Review - Aaron Underwood - GenSmarts

The program speaker at the Computer Genealogy Society of San Diego (CGSSD) meeting on Saturday, 20 February, was Aaron Underwood, developer of the GenSmarts software. Aaron's background and presentation summary is posted here. I had a chance to talk to Aaron and his lovely wife, Angie, both before and after his presentation.

Aaron started his talk by posing a research problem - Abel Fike married in 1805 in North Carolina, had two children, and died in 1852 in Illinois. What resources would you search to find more information about his family and his life? The audience quickly offered census records and county histories. What other resources would you search for?

GenSmarts is an artificial intelligence program that takes the known facts of a person's life and suggests potential records that might exist in known resources - online databases, several genealogy libraries, and the Family History Library Catalog. The program makes educated guesses about missing information - dates, locations, etc. based on the known facts.

There is no real guarantee that the suggested records exist, but that they might exist. For instance, the program would suggest for Abel Fike not only the census records and county histories, but War of 1812 and other military records, cemetery records, land records, probate records ,tax records, church records, etc. The program accounts for the time span that various records cover - so it didn't suggest the Social Security Death Index for Abel Fike since he died in 1852, but if he had died in 1982 it would have suggested the SSDI.

GenSmarts reads your genealogy database file in the native file format (e.g., .FTW for Family Tree Maker 16) or in a GEDCOM format. The list of genealogy programs that it can read, and other Frequently Asked Questions, are listed here. It works only on Windows computers, not on Macintosh, although it can use a GEDCOM file created by a Macintosh but has to run on a Windows computer.

Aaron showed several comparisons of GenSmarts results versus a Google name search and versus a Family Tree Maker 2009 Web Search. For Abel Fike, the FTM 2009 Web Search found two hints - both census records. GenSmarts listed 13 suggestions for further research.

Aaron demonstrated using GenSmarts to create suggestions for a specific person in your database, to make a query for someone not in your genealogy database, to identify problems with place names in your database, and to create a research list for a specific repository, such as the Family History Library.

GenSmarts doesn't modify your genealogy database - you have to do that yourself after finding records using the GenSmarts suggestions. For each person, the user can identify the suggestions that were followed up on so that future searches will not duplicate those suggestions.

GenSmarts Version 2 is available for $24.95 retail as a download on the GenSmarts Buy Now page. A CDROM with more information plus the program is $29.95. They have a trial version that is free to download, on the Gensmarts Download page. A Version 1 owner can receive a $5 discount on the price for a Version 2 download.

Throughout the talk, I was working in GenSmarts Version 1 on my laptop, and the screens were somewhat different from what Aaron was showing for Version 2.

This was an interesting and helpful program demonstration and presentation for the attendees, and for me!

After the meeting, Aaron gifted me with a CDROM with a damaged case, which I really appreciate! I will use the program to help identify some resources for my elusive ancestors that may be hiding on the FHL shelves, FHL microfilms or in online databases. Doing a reasonably exhaustive search seems to be never ending, but GenSmarts can help.

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