Thursday, December 17, 2015

How Should Someone Create a Long Lasting Family History?

I have been having an interesting discussion with a lady in email about how to organize her mother's genealogy and family history research into a useful and long-lasting form so that it won't be lost to her descendants.

Here are the ground rules she gave me:

*  Her mother has collected family history information for many years, mostly on paper.  The mother has a PC with Family Tree Maker (don't know the version), and has an Ancestry account and Ancestry Member Tree.  It is unknown if she has synced the AMT with FTM or not.

*  The daughter has a Mac computer, no genealogy software, is familiar with databases, but has no genealogy experience, but wants to learn.

*  They both want to enter genealogy and family history information into one database somehow.

*  They both want it to be available in some lasting form for their descendants.

Should they use an online family tree that they both can utilize?  Should they use desktop genealogy software?  Should they write e-books or publish books?

I am interested in what my readers would recommend.  I have my own thoughts, but I know that the knowledge and wisdom of a group of knowledgeable persons is greater than my own.   Crowdsourcing works!

What should this mother and daughter do in the short term, and in the long term, to organize and save the genealogy and family history information of the mother?

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T said...

Paper. Computers crash. Software stops working for no reason. Web sites evolve. Consolidate your information and get it on paper in several places. I might back up on disk or flash drive but bear in mind those won't work forever. Paper will.Cloud storage is a back up but I wouldn't trust it any more than web sites, disks or flash drives. I'm living through the ancestry fiasco and my FTM2014 just stopped working and of course I can't find my installation disk. All my documentation and photos are at ancestry and I have no way to download them with the proper person. I have 99% of all that on my computer but do I want to manually assign each of them to whoever they belong to in my 5,111 person tree using new software? No! I had started writing the stories of each couple but I still have a LONG way to go. The ancestry web site is a disaster and I won't use it. Now their software doesn't work. I'll be sticking with paper. No matter who cleans out my house when I die, will be able to read it and figure out what it is. Can the same be said for online storage? Flash drive or disk? I can't imagine anyone will put those things in their computer to see what's on it. It will all go directly to the dumpster. A box of paper might survive.

SusanW said...

Worry less about the technology and more about what you want to achieve first. Start with agreeing on what is important, or at least what is most important to begin with. Genealogy is more than just a tree
Is it:
• Finding new names and ancestors
• Lots of names and dates all totally sourced
• Family stories documented for several interesting people
• Finding military relatives
• All old photos, documents etc, tagged and sorted and scanned
• Is one family line more important than the other - - it could be because one line may be easier to get organized, or that a family member may be near the end of being able to provide oral history and clues.
• Evaluating software to find one that works best for each person?

Most people started genealogy with a few clues and grew out our trees over many years. Having vast quantities of data to sort thru can be overwhelming. Decide to start small and build on your success. For example: I want to create a family tree chart for my mother’s ancestors back 3 generations. Then I want to “attach” in some meaningful way, the stories and photos I have for all those people. Then I want to be able to create a printed chart or some sort of story to share at our family reunion.

Since the Mom has FTM and Ancestry, start there, even if she needs to start clean with uploading a new file from Ancestry to FTM. That way both she and daughter can work on the tree. Don’t worry about the “demise of FTM”. Use this year to use the Ancestry tree to get data organized, where both can work on the tree. Download regularly to FTM or some other software. Don’t ever rely entirely on online trees. Make sure the online tree is private between them and whomever else they want to open it to until, or if they are comfortable making it a public, sharable tree.

mbm1311 said...

How lucky to inherit this excellent start to genealogy research. I would advise them to consider what they are interested in doing and think about whether they should hire someone else to do a part of the project that they really don’t want to do.

When I wanted to scan 6,000 childhood photos I organized them but sent out the work to be scanned. The clerical side of genealogy is very time consuming!

I would hire a professional genealogist to create a data base on My Heritage. It sinks to Family Tree Builder, their desk top software. Also My Heritage has fabulous hints. Then they could load a gedcom from Family Tree Builder to any place , family search, roots magic etc.

The best defense against a changing genealogy world is to write a book. Desk top genealogy programs will create a descendancy report for each line in their family tree. Each descendant could be a single chapter. Either publish the book and or donate it to the 5 – 10 major genealogy libraries in the US.

dritchhart said...

If they want the information to be available in some lasting form I suggest they do two things. First, since the information is already on FTM and Ancestry (and I assume they have an older version of FTM that doesn't sync with Ancestry); I would determine which of those two trees is the most complete and current. If the one on FTM is the most current, I would use the Book Creation tool under the "Publish" pull down tab and create a simple book by using the Pedigree Charts for each major branch of the family. I would also do an Ahnentafel Report for the Daughter (or Mother). This is essentially a report on all the ancestors which puts into a written format all of the pertinent facts that you have for each individual. After you have done that the Book feature will then create an index (very critical). You can then export the document as a PDF file and either print it out yourself or self publish by using one of many available self publishing companies.

If the tree on is significantly more current and complete than the one on FTM and FTM is not a version capable of syncing , I would export a GEDCOM file to my computer and load that on my FTM program by selecting Tree Settings<Manage Your Tree<Export Tree. I would then create a book as discussed above.

The second thing I would do would be to be to switch my records from FTM to another of the more well known programs such as Roots Magic, Reunion or Family Tree Builder. A lot of people like Legacy; but using it with a MAC requires parallels or other programs to interface the program with the MAC. There need not be a big rush as FTM will continue to be supported for another year. Since the daughter seems to have an interest and is a MAC user, she should choose the program she is most comfortable with.

Unknown said...

There is no guaranteed method of preserving the research. Paper is best, but we all know how well it does in building fires, for instance!

What might be best in terms of organizing the research depends on some things they will have to decide. They could use a common offline program and merge files from time to time (yes, I know one is on Windows and one is on a Mac -- keep reading!); this could be problematic if they live some distance apart and the file sizes get too large to transfer electronically. They could use an online system and work on it that way.

I'm not familiar with all the available online systems, just Ancestry and FamilySearch. I've long been less than enamored with Ancestry's business model and practices, and I'm also not a fan of collaborative trees, so I'm not sure I could recommend either of those specifically. In my mind, the two most important factors in an online system are (1) the ability to keep data private, and (2) what can be stored, downloaded, and uploaded reliably. As people are learning, putting photos online is no help if you can't migrate them to another site!

As far as desktop programs go, there are some that work on both Windows and whatever the latest Mac operating system is called. One would hope that the data structure is common! The ability to transfer data back and forth and merge databases would be a critical factor here.

I'm a long-time FTM user and with 30+ years in the software industry I realize the program isn't going to hit a magic date and suddenly stop working. On the other hand, being the dutiful genealogical society president and computer users group coordinator that I am, I've started looking at an open source program just so I can talk about it intelligently (the one I'm looking at is Gramps, but there are others out there). The beauty of open source software is that there are no corporate interests behind it that can change their business model at any time. The danger of open source software is that there are no corporate interests behind it that can ensure it is maintained properly. One thing that made me choose Gramps to look at is that is was last updated this October and was written for genealogists by genealogists, so they have a vested interest in keeping it functional.

BTW, I'm not specifically endorsing Gramps at this point; I've been looking at it less than a week. It just happens to be the program I'm looking at (as I said, there are others out there -- this one happens to have been updated recently and I'd heard of it before).

For a side-by-side comparison of genealogy software I actually recommend the Wikipedia page (Comparison of Genealogy Software). By this past Sunday, when I first looked, it had already been updated with the news of FTM's phaseout. The other frequently-mentioned site, which I can't remember right now but is a review of top genealogy programs, might have more in-depth discussion of its Top Ten but nothing on other programs.

Unknown said...

My suggestions parallel Delbert Ritchhart’s: paper is a must, do run those reports. Do find an organization system which works for you. I use ring binders for a branch of a family (& when it’s full…I split it into 2 ring binders. I use those plastic sleeves for each person using both the front and back the sleeve, so I can tuck other info into the sleeves. This system began when genealogy was done at the library with books and xerox copies, and later with print outs. You can have several plastic sleeves per person, depending on the information. And be sure to provide the source citation, footnote, etc for where you found the info, regardless of the system you use.
I’m a Mac User who finds no problem downloading from I use MacFamilyTree, FamilyTreeBuilder, and I am looking at Gramps to see if it functions on my Mac (OS X-El Capitan). You can keep things in the cloud as long as you have them on paper. Also, keeping up to date with your data entries is a must to avoid feeling overwhelmed-both on the computer and on paper. Ancestors have a way of increasing exponentially

mbm1311 said...

I also have all my documents in 3 ring binders. I start with the oldest known couple and bring them forward with all siblings and descendants. I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 after reading a great article from Dick Eastman's website.

I scan each binder as one file. It's a pdf that opens and reads like a book. I can easily give copies of all my documents to anyone and since I back up my hard drive on and off site, I'm protected in case of house fire, flood or other catastrophe. I am almost paperless!