Monday, March 12, 2012

Ten Reasons Why I Use a Genealogy Software Program

Following the discussion about genealogists who enter information into their genealogy software in an evidenced-based manner or in a conclusion-based manner (see Michael Hait's collection of genea-blogger posts in “Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” software use), Susan Clark wrote Getting Down to Basics on her Nolichucky Roots blog.  In that post, she listed several possible reasons for using a genealogy software program, and then asked the BIG question:

Why do you use a genealogy database program?

My answers are:

1)  A genealogy database program - I have and use RootsMagic 5, Legacy Family Tree 7.5, Family Tree Maker 2012, and Family Tree Maker 16 - makes my research logging, data organizing, source citing, document transcribing or abstracting, conclusion making, proof arguing, report writing, and chart making easier than if I had all of my genealogy notes and supporting documents in surname or locality binders or folders.  The issues are time, space, consistency, readability, and ease of use.

2)  I'm making the effort to minimize my paper collection.  In 24 years of "research," I have collected over 40 linear feet of paper in either three-ring binders or in stacks in my genealogy cave.  I hesitate to show you this mess with a photograph, lest you think that I'm a hoarder.  I fear being buried in an earthquake, which is why I'm trying to not add to it.  I have added many of the Event assertions in the paper records to my genealogy database, but I have not sourced it completely yet (I'm about 25% there!  I've actually added about 2% over the past year).  

3)  With my database, which consists of my ancestral families, my wife's ancestral families, several cousins ancestral families, several one-name studies (Seaver, Carringer, Vaux, Dill, Buck, Auble, Richman), I have over 40,000 names in my database.  Yes, I've always been a name collector, and I'm trying hard to be an evidence-based genealogy researcher following Genealogical Proof Standard principles.  The problem is that I wasn't one for about twenty years, and therefore what is in my database needs lots of work to bring it up to snuff.  I can find any person in my database within about ten seconds from clicking the button to open my RootsMagic software, and can see what assertions, notes, sources and media that I have for that person, or their family.  If my paper collection was perfectly organized, it would take me much longer to find the right notebook, and find the right family, and the right person in that family. Since it's not perfectly organized, it takes me minutes, and some moving of piles or boxes, to find a specific person in my paper collection.  So - the software saves me lots of time.

4)  I receive several emails a week asking me about one of my ancestral families or a person in my one-name studies.  Often, I create a pedigree chart, a family group sheet or a narrative ancestors report to the correspondent.  I usually save them as a PDF file so that they can be used as a guide to my correspondent.  Again, this is an almost trivial time exercise - the reports or charts are created in seconds, and can be easily attached to an email for transmission.  The alternative?  Use a photocopier to make an image of page(s) from the notebooks and send them by postal mail; use a scanner to make a digital image and attach it to an email; or ignore the request.  Again - the software saves a lot of my time, and creates a more readable report or chart, plus I'm sharing my work with other researchers.

5)  Genealogy software enables me to easily upload all or part of my family tree data, using either a GEDCOM file export or a direct upload (FTM 2012 to Ancestry Member Tree), to an online family tree website for sharing and collaboration.  Some software programs will permit the user to easily add information to the FamilySearch Family Tree, and a program like AncestorSync promises to permit a direct upload of your database from a specific software program to a specific online family tree (coming soon!).  There is no way I want to type in even 1,000 persons in an online family tree.  

6)  I transcribe or abstract from images of documents directly into the Notes of my genealogy software program using a multiple windows technique.  I know where all of this material is - it's in my genealogy software program notes.  I don't have to search through my computer file folder system to find a specific document, assuming that I transcribed or abstracted it in the first place.  I either did or didn't - and can find out within seconds of opening my software program.  Hell, I keep it open all day just to save on the five seconds it takes to start up from scratch (I just checked the time - five seconds!  Opening it twelve times a day - I save a whole minute every day!).  

7)  My handwriting was poor to begin with, and it's gotten worse.  I cannot read some of the notes I made over five years ago.  It is faster for me to type than to write longhand (butt hen there'st het ypos...my figners are osmetimes faster than my brain).  Ergo - use the software, and damn the typos!  I keep finding them in everything I've typed.  I'm my own editor, as my readers know!

8)  I can feed my blogs, newsletter articles or email by copying and pasting material from the Notes in software, or from the reports created using the software, including source citations.  I don't have to type anything from scratch - so that my names, dates, places, sources, etc. are accurate (subject to editing in the software) and consistent in format.  

9)  If I wish, I can do online research from within my genealogy software program by accessing websites, capturing document images, adding source citations, etc.  I don't do that much now, but I can see the benefits of doing it.  I prefer to search online with my browser, and then type the new information into the database.  The exception is narrative, where I will copy and paste it and then edit it.  I resist attaching documents on Ancestry.com to my database because I can never be sure that the correct Events are entered and the sources for most of Ancestry's databases really suck.  I do capture the documents to my computer file folders and work with them, and sometimes attach them to persons in my program with a free-form source citation created using Evidence! Explained guidelines.

10)  Lastly, I can create web pages, wall charts and narrative books using my genealogy software.  The challenge is, of course, editing the narrative, getting the images in the right place, and making an index.  My opinion is that an imperfect book, or a deathly boring genealogy book, is much better than no book at all.  I'm not trying to sell books, or write peer-reviewed periodical articles here.  I think I understand why most professional genealogists want to write their own narrative with names, dates, places, notes, sources, proof arguments, and conclusions.  

Of course, all of the above assumes that I have collected sufficient and accurate data for each person of interest, entered my data into the software completely and accurately, with correct spelling and grammar, etc.  I admit to being imperfect in this regard - I'm still looking for original or derivative source material (especially probate, deed and military information) of my ancestral families.  I'm adding content to the database as I find it from my research work (often with a time delay when the "to-be-entered" pile stacks up), and I'm doing lots of editing of the material that I already have in the database (adding Events and source citations).  I will never be DONE with this task, but there will lots of stuff for other researchers to discover (and correct?) when it is all online or in published (but probably boring) books.

Where would I be without genealogy software?  I would not be as far along in my research, I'd have several rooms full of paper (ah, the Seaver ancestry room, the Carringer ancestry room, ...), and it would be even more difficult to find anything in a short period of time.  However, I'm sure that the three-ring binder collection would be better organized than it is now, having lain fallow for at least fifteen years.

Each of us is different, with skills and knowledge and experience - no two of us does things exactly the same way when we perform genealogy research at a repository or online, when we write or type the information we gather, how we cite sources or analyze data, or how we draw conclusions.   Many persons do one or more  of these tasks much better than I do, and a few do all of them superbly.  They're the ones writing the best how-to books, speaking at conferences, judging CG and AG applications, etc.  They're the ones I'm trying to learn from in the limited years I have left on this spinning globe.

I think that my readers can come up with at least ten more reasons to enter genealogy information into a genealogy software program.

What say you?  Agree? Disagree?  Have at it!!

The URL for this post is:  http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/03/ten-reasons-why-i-use-genealogy.html

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver

8 comments:

Kevin Doyle said...

Thanks for the great post Randy! I'm fortunate in that I'm a relative novice to genealogy and so started well into the computer and Internet revolutions.

One question I have from your post is why you use multiple genealogy programs?

Martin said...

In this whole debate of genealogical software, I haven't seen anyone discuss the issue of sharing v. not sharing. It is one thing to have an evidence-based input methodology rather than a conclusion-based input so long as you keep that information to yourself. It is another entirely when you upload that information to a public site. (That is your reason #5).

You run the risk that you are passing on bad information because it is evidence-based and not conclusion-based. Because these family trees are not vetted, they can't be trusted. They probably hurt more than help.

So, I think for your own private consumption, you can (and should) enter evidence into a genealogical software as you go, but only share, upload and publish, a conclusion-based genealogy. At the very least you need to warn people about how you've come to the conclusions you have and that they should do they own research.

Russ Worthington said...

Martin,

Question. What genealogy management software does that for you? What do YOU use?

Thank you,

Russ

Martin said...

Reunion for the mac.

Carmen Johnson said...

Randy - I wholeheartedly agree with every one of your points. My database is about 74,000 people and I am constantly contacted about the Gallup family or Gage, Dollar, and Pennington among others. The only thing that I would add to your list is that the software helps you make connections. I usually put in the parent's names if I know them and I have found siblings who married cousins and several other unexpected patterns. Like you, I am trying to go back and add other data to individual entries and have also synced my Family file on Ancestry. I keep it private so it isn't accessible to others - but it is accessible whenever I am at a computer and have access to the internet!

Keith Riggle said...

Randy, I agree with all your reasons, even #5, which bothers Martin. I believe our genealogical information should be shared, not only as repayment for all the help we've received from others over the years, but also to open up more opportunities for collaboration. If you enter your data correctly, using alternative facts and events, and cite everything properly, then people can go back to your sources and evaluate them for themselves. You can also spell out your conclusions in your notes. My heartburn with most family tree websites is that they usually show only preferred facts and events, and some of them, like Ancestry, keep notes private except for people invited to your tree. Personally, I would like people to see my notes so they know my thinking about the evidence.

By the way, there have been discussions on other blogs about sharing vs. not sharing. See for example http://www.cluewagon.com/2011/08/in-which-i-say-geni-and-crap-but-not-in-the-way-you-think/.

Beth Cassidy said...

I know I'm late to this party but I just stumbled across this blog and found Martin's reply particularly infuriating.

Coming from a science background as well as genealogy: There can be no Conclusion without Evidence. Conclusion based input methodology still must be supported with evidence citation. So to suggest that those of us that use the Evidence input method should 'keep it to ourselves' is rather arrogant.

I have tried several software packages and all have had a notes function or the ability to attach a document. I use these features to include my conclusion statement of the evidence input. I have used these evidence inputs to include counterfactuals as well. Example: City directory of 1851 has ancestor at X address. That address is in Ward 7, District 112 on the 1850 census. Ancestor not a head of household in that Ward/District on 1850 census. Ergo, ancestor likely not at that address in 1850. Search Elsewhere.

I've published location specific surname studies on Ancestry.com for the sole purpose of trying to correct some of the most egregious misinformation out there. It doesn't take long using that program to know bad information is out there. But I enjoy using Ancestry.com as a great time saver over other programs. Professional genealogy is a business of time. Every second I waste manually assigning a census record to the 12 people in a household, or digging through my paper notes to see if I checked and excluded a potential source is money out of my pocket.

Even the strongest, GPS based Genealogical Proof Statement can be overturned in the face of new evidence. All genealogical work of others should be taken with a grain of salt and self verified. This is just good practice. But if we 'keep our work to ourselves' we give up the rich collaborations that are possible by sharing.

The goal is to produce work that can be verified and repeated by the next person for own their evaluation. Ones choice of method is personal.

Liv said...

Hi Randy, your ten reasons for using genealogy software to manage your genealogy research pretty much sums up my reasons for using genealogy software too. I'm a techie, so when I started out with paper pedigree charts and family group sheets, I always came home from libraries and courthouses and entered my information in my Family Tree Maker software. Because I am a long time FamilyTree Maker software user, I'm a big fan of Ancestry.com too! I had not used any other genealogy software until I received a HP netbook for Christmas a couple of years ago. Because my mini didn't have the large hard-drive like my desktop, I found installing my FamilyTree maker software to it wasn't possible because of the size of that software. But RootsMagic Essentials installed to my mini instead without any problems and therefore, I've been able to continue record my findings in electronic format and transfer that informationover to my desktop software.