Monday, November 30, 2009

Why is Genealogy Software so Complex?

One of my society colleagues recently told me:

"All I want is a software program that lets me input my names, dates, places, notes, sources and photos so that I can organize my genealogy research. Then I want to be able to make nice charts, print out genealogy lists and reports, and upload my family tree to Why do they have to make this so hard?"

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Just a database. Oh, I want all of these features. And I want to be able to share it.

Having written some engineering software a long time ago, I know that "it isn't really that easy!" I marvel at the capabilities of all of the available genealogy software programs - they have not only the features that my colleague wanted, but almost everything that you and I, and the other million or so genealogy software users, want! Is it any wonder that genealogy software is so complex?

Genealogy software is very complicated these days because the genealogy industry is so competitive - each company wants to offer a complete suite of features, and a new capability from one program is often in later versions of the other programs. Also, genealogy research can be extremely complex (think about multiple and preferred facts, hundreds of source types, multiple spouses, adoptions, DNA, same-sex, LDS ordinations, etc.) - and the software programs need to include all possible capabilities so as to attract as many customers as possible.

Consequently, the software has been designed to satisfy the needs of beginners and professionals alike, and most commercial programs have advanced features in order to be competitive and to satisfy all of their users. In general, they all succeed at adding features and being competitive.

However, the users are often befuddled by a genealogy program and its capabilities. After the software installation on your computer, whether from CDROM or downloading from the Internet, how do you start inputting data? Some users have GEDCOM files available, or the new software permits an upload of an existing database from another program. But beginning researchers have to start somewhere, with Person #1. And then spouse, children, parents, grandparents, and on and on until they have built their family tree out to, perhaps, thousands of persons with facts, notes and sources.

Where do they find help to get them started, and to help them input data correctly? The answer is twofold - every software program has a Help item or tab on their menus, and most programs have online Help features.

In other posts, I will provide links and some detail about the Help features of Family Tree Maker 2010, Legacy Family Tree 7 and RootsMagic 4. These are the three programs that I am somewhat familiar with and that many researchers currently use. Earlier versions of these software programs have similar Help functions, but the online support may not be as extensive as it is for the three programs noted above.


Anonymous said...

I want all those features, plus it to be compatible with my MAC. I do not want to split my Mac to run PC prgrams.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Reunion works very well on the Mac, I found.

Bill ;-)