Saturday, November 6, 2021

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - Your Computer History

 It's Saturday Night - 

Time for more Genealogy Fun! 

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (cue the Mission Impossible! music) is to:

1) I am a slave to my computer - how about you?  What is your computer history - what have you used, when did you get it, what did you do on it, etc.?

*  Tell us in your own blog post about your computer history, or in a comment on this post, or in posts on Facebook.

Here's mine:

1)  I started on computers at San Diego State University in about 1965 - with punch cards and FORTRAN programs for my engineering classes.  I also had a slide rule that I used in math, engineering and science classes all through high school and college.

2)  In my first paying job in 1966, I used an electronic four function calculator with a small screen to make calculations, but it didn't have a square root function so I had to do that with a short process.

3)  When I started at Rohr in October 1967, the engineering group had developed some FORTRAN programs for analysis work, so I was able to use my programming skills and develop more analysis programs.  We filled out coding sheets and sent them to the keypunch operators who sent us back a card deck, which we put together, put in a box with rubber bands around the punched cards, and carried them to the computer center.  Every morning, we would go to the computer center to retrieve our card deck in the box (and hope the cards had not been scrambled) and the 11 x 17 printouts from the dot matrix printers.  If the program failed, the printout included a core dump in hexadecimal numbers (base 16) so we could figure out where the program failed.  We then revised the coding, got new punchcards, put the deck together, and submitted it again, hopefully by the end of the day.  

Department secretaries transformed our handwritten pages into engineering reports on typewriters, which we then edited and redlined and they typed them again.

When hand-held calculators, with all of the functions including logarithms and trigonometry functions, came out in the early 1970s, I bought an HP-35 and later an HP-45 and used them for engineering calculations for decades.

4)  In the mid 1970s, we got keypunch machines in our work area, and punched the FORTRAN program and input data cards ourselves.  By the late 1970s, we had a card reader in our work area so we could submit jobs to the remote computer center without walking over to the center.  We also had a printer in our work area that received the printouts.  By the mid-70s, the first word processors were provided to the department secretaries so they could edit the memos and reports.

5)  In the early 1980s, Rohr got a VAX 11/780 computer system for engineering, and we got terminals in our work area to replace the punch cards, although some engineers still used the punchcards.  On the terminals, we could create a FORTRAN program file, add control cards, and electronically submit our program and data deck to the remote computer.  The printouts still came to our work area printer.  Since the terminals had upper and lower case letters, and Greek letters, some of the engineers typed the memos and reports on the terminals, printed them off, etc. (I did). 

6)  In February 1983, I bought an IBM 8086 PC with no hard drive, two 360 kb floppy drives, MS-DOS, and a dot matrix printer for about $3,000.  I used the EasyWriter program for word processing at home, and wrote BASIC programs for my radio wave propagation hobby.  I had this computer when I upgraded to a hard drive in the late 1980s, along with a 300 baud modem, and started my genealogy work in 1988 using the Personal Ancestral File software program.  I still had this setup in 1992 when I used the Prodigy network to connect with other researchers in their forums using the modem.

7)  In 1994, I bought a 80386 PC, with a larger hard drive, 3.5 inch floppy drives, Windows 3.1, and Microsoft Works.  I used this for correspondence, the online services and email, plus Personal Ancestral File for my family tree.  

8)  In 1998 I bought a Windows 95 PC with Microsoft Works and MSWord, with a zip drive, an internal modem and an inkjet printer, and started using the Internet for genealogy research on message boards and mailing lists.  I bought Family Tree Maker Version 5 and transferred my genealogy database into that program.  In 2001, I subscribed to for the record collections and have continued that to the present. 

9)  I upgraded again in about 2004 when the previous computer crapped out, again upgrading to more RAM, faster CPU, Windows XP, CDROM, and a scanner and an inkjet printer.  By this time, we had cable modems and routers.  I bought a laptop in about 2002 so I could make genealogy presentations at genealogy society meetings.  I switched from Family Tree Maker 16 to RootsMagic Version 3 in 2006 for my family tree program.  I started blogging in April 2006 using Blogger and still do this daily.

10)  I upgraded again in 2010 when the 2004 desktop computer crapped out, with Windows 7, an all-in-one printer, DVD and CDROM drives, etc. I switched to Gmail as my email client in about 2011 because Thunderbird was so slow.  I started using Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for social media, and Dropbox to save data and presentations to transfer to the laptop.  This computer lasted until July 2021, and my files were being backed up on iDrive and an external drive.  

11)  I got a new laptop in 2012 with Windows 7, another in about 2016 with Windows 7, and another with Windows 10 in 2020.   These were used mainly to give presentations at conferences, seminars and society meetings.  Now, I read ebooks, email and social media on my laptop while watching television (sports, news, etc.). 

12)  When the previous Windows 7 desktop computer failed, I bought a Windows 10 PC with more hard drive and CPU at Costco in July 2021.  I was able to transfer all of my genealogy, personal, music and photo files to the new computer from the iDrive backup system.  I still use Gmail for email and still use RootsMagic (now Version 8) for my primary genealogy software program.  I use Zoom to watch society programs and Mondays With Myrt.  I have subscriptions to,, Fold3, com, MyHeritage, Findmypast, GenealogyBank,, American Ancestors, and Family Tree Webinars.  I use free record providers like FamilySearch, Find a Grave, and WikiTree, for online genealogy research.  I work 8-12 hours a day on genealogy on my desktop computer.

That's my story in a nutshell - I'm sure it bored most readers.  


Copyright (c) 2021, Randall J. Seaver

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Seeds to Tree said...

In the early 1970s, I took a couple of computer courses at University of Illinois with punch cards. I struggled with programming but made cookies (the sweet kind) and brought them to the engineering dorm so I got a lot of help and still use what I learned. But it wasn’t until 1982, when I worked an underwriter for a large insurance company that I had reason to use a computer. There was one computer for the 80 people in the office. I don’t remember being able to use it myself but giving information to someone else.

In the early 1980s my father hired me from time to time to work in his office and he had a computer with wordperfect and a database that helped track inventory, print invoices. I had several part time jobs in the 1980s where I used wordperfect. One of my supervisors was writing his doctorate thesis which I typed, and learned a lot about word programs. My parents, in the late 1980s, gave us the old office computer. We used it mostly to play games such as Oregon Trail and Mavis Teaches Typing.

In 1996, my daughters explained that we should get a new computer and get internet. They would be going away to college soon, and they explained that I would definitely use it for communication with them. They also thought I could use it for genealogy. (They were right!) I remember being very excited when familysearch came online in 1999 and Ellis Island came online in 2001. I spent a lot of time at the library using Ancestry and decided to get a subscription in 2004 which I still have. We’ve had maybe three desktops, and three or four laptops since then. There are just two of us at home, but between us, we use four computers – including work laptops.

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

Here is mine. My experience with computers started with a field trip in 6th grade.

Deb said...

Here's the link to my post. We could have just written one post, as our careers were so somilar. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
Debbie Atchley

Janice M. Sellers said...

Here's my contribution.

ByAPearl said...

This is my post.

CS said...

Loved reading your recollections because it truly reminded me of my journey with computers. i also started with punch cards in an honors political science course about 1969-we were fortunate to have access in our dept. I went into teaching, earned a Masters then decided n 1982 to attend computer classes at our local community college (earned a technical certification after completing a two year program). That decision launched me into the adult computer education field—best decision ever, one I absolutely loved. Now, can I recount all my hardware purchased, not a chance-in spite of the fact that I was fairly miserly when it came to urges to upgrade. Thanks again.

dritchhart said...

Randy: Impressed that you can remember all of those dates and computer versions. I would have to be more vague about the year and exact version of s/w. In 1969-70 I attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA and we learned Fortran IV, with the punchcards. There were many nights at 11 pm or midnight turning in homework and hoping we would get the readout back by time for next day's class. When I retired from the Navy in 1984, I decided I needed to know more about computers, so while working during the day for Booz, Allen & Hamilton consulting; I took night classes at American University. Among the classes I took was Cobol. Our Booz, Allen office received an Apple One with about a 9 inch screen. We had 5 people in the office, so they put the computer in the conference room. That was great, as I could do my homework during lunch breaks. It was at least a year before each of us had one on our desks. I evolved through several HP desktops over the years and probably got my first laptop around 2005. I used it mostly for travel. In 2019 I converted solely to a laptop, which I connect to a 21" monitor and keyboard,mouse and external hard drive. It works great, as all my data is in one place when I take it to locations for Genealogy Presentations or research. I am on the computer about 8 hours a day, not always doing genealogy; but certainly spending a lot of time on genealogy. I am forever grateful to my mother for making me take typing in High School. One of the best things I ever did, as I have used it almost daily throughout my adult life. I got into Genealogy in 1994 and got a Family Tree Maker program, which I have used since then. I also subscribe to Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, Archion,, Fold3, Archives, and have taken DNA tests with FamilyTree DNA, 23AndMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage and Living DNA. I also use the major Free Sites such as Family Search, etc. . . . Del

Linda Stufflebean said...

Compared to everyone else's techie life, my is quite simple and short.

Gary Mokotoff said...

I started programming computers in June, 1959, developing the system software that went with the IBM 1401. I was the author of SPS, SPS-2, co-author of Autocoder and the Fortran compiler. In 1963 I was drafted into the Army and installed the first computer at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Read about me on Wikipedia

Gary Mokotoff

Tess said...

Here's mine :) A fun look back!!

Matthew Miller said...

I don't think I'll create a post for this Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. This is only because anyone who knows me knows I'm a lifelong computer geek. I don't think I'd be able to list all of my computers. I don't think I remember them all. From my Commodore Vic20, which I bought after using my friend's TI99 computer, to assisting in running a BBS in the late 1980s, to my first Windows computer in 1994 complete with my first flatbed scanner, to building my own computers starting around 1998. Instead, I'll list my career path. I took programming in high school in the early 1980s, and my first stint at college learning more programming. After a detour into a retail management career, eventually I got a job selling computers, then repairing them, then getting a computer installation and repair position for a major IT sales and service company, to being a member of a team managing a regional bank computer network, to my current position as an information security engineer. Yes. My life is computers. But to me, they're just a tool I use to do most things in this world. Addicted to my computer? I don't know if it can be considered an addiction if it's your life.

Louis Kessler said...

Not boring at all, Randy. Thanks for the prompt. Here's my computer history:

D. Taylor said...

My post is here: From BASIC in high school during the 1960s to Computer testing with the FBI.