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Using Computer Programs for Genealogical Record Keeping

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Consider using a computer genealogy program to manage your genealogy information. These programs give you great flexibility in compiling and analyzing your research, as well as making it easier to share data.

After entering the data into the computer once, you can arrange it in many ways. All the programs use a family group sheet format to keep track of your information, and all print pedigree charts. The differences in genealogy programs lie in the amount of information they enable you to enter and what you can do with that information once it is entered.

Pedigree Pitfalls

Avoid computer genealogy programs that do not provide adequate space for source citations. Look for programs that advertise full documentation with complete sources for each piece of your information.

The programs range from very simple ones, which are merely an organized collection of names with the capacity to print basic forms, to very sophisticated programs, which produce customized reports and allow for extensive research notes, footnotes, and bibliographies to help you produce complete family histories. Many programs incorporate multimedia and provide tools to connect you to the Internet and to put your genealogy on your own Web page.

Computer-Generated Reports

Computer genealogy programs are especially helpful for preparing charts, both ascendant and descendant. The program knows from the information you enter just what names and dates it needs to gather from your lineage-linked database to compose the chart you select. Using a computer program makes it easy to print new, correctly numbered charts as you add newly found information.

Putting together a complete descendant chart by hand is tedious work. You must scour your files for all descendants and group them by generations. This is a task well suited to computers. In moments the computer searches through all the material you entered and finds everyone connected to the person you designate as the starting individual. It then creates a descendant chart based on your preferences.

Having all your data in a computer program makes it easier to write research reports for yourself and to share information with others working on your lines. A good computer program enables you to enter everything you find. It provides space to write evaluations of your data and sources, and space for remarks to yourself or for recording research tasks, such as “Check the 1850 census of Indiana to find sibling's family.”

Computer Searching: What Do You Want to Know?

With a good computer program you can search your data for nearly anything. You can look for all individuals in your database born before 1900 in Grundy County, Illinois, get a list of every person in your database who had military service, or find the average age of marriage for all the females in your database. Just creating a list of all the marriages in your database can be helpful.

Lineage Lessons

Most commercial programs have a built-in conversion program, so that if you switch to another genealogy program, you do not have to reenter your data. Look for GEDCOM-compatible (Genealogical Data Communications) programs. However, these conversions are not fail-safe; you will have to carefully check your data for possible errors introduced during the conversion process.

Most programs let you view your materials in different ways, making the work of connecting people much easier. You can search for patterns or interesting statistics. How many men died of heart disease before age 60? Find all the women in your database for whom you need maiden names. How many relatives share your birthday? Remember, these searches depend on the data you have entered. If you have not entered information about military service, then the computer cannot give you statistics on how many men in your database served in some capacity.

You can determine your relationship to everyone in your database. How are you related to all the individuals you've researched so far? (If you collect records on several hundred people, you will have difficulty figuring this out without a computer.)

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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