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Using Computer Programs for Genealogical Record Keeping

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Computer technology allows some sophisticated programs to store the photographs of your ancestors. All those charming photographs you have gathered, Aunt Lizzie on her first bicycle or Grandma tending her garden, can be stored on the computer and used to enhance your family histories.

Distant family members may not have seen the photos you can now incorporate into your genealogy. Pictures of the rude log cabin or the primitive sod house add immeasurably to descendants' understanding of what life was like in the early days of our country. Imagine the children's glee as they look at the very bushy eyebrows on third Great-Grandmother Harriet and discover the origin of their own eyebrows.

Some programs can incorporate audio clips with the material you gather. Grandpa recollecting his capture in the Battle of the Bulge or your cousins in Germany explaining the original pronunciation of your name add color to your family history.

Computer programs today are not usually bundled with CD-ROMs of resources, indexes, or family trees as they were at one time. However, those CD-ROMS are still used by some individuals working on their family history. Be cautious about accepting the information on them at face value. Many of the lineages on CD-ROMs that were bundled with computer programs have no source citations. Other materials in those bundled products, such as the Social Security Death Index, are now out-of-date and some resource materials were incomplete or had serious abstracting flaws. Though helpful as clues for further research, you'll need to research and document the information to be sure it is correct.

Continuing Development

Technology advances continue to be integrated into genealogy. The proliferation of personal data assistants led to the development of genealogy programs for these mobile units. You can carry all your genealogy information in something the size of a cell phone. Utility programs (small software applications also called add-ons) work with major genealogy programs to enhance the products. They may facilitate printing fancy charts, prepare slide shows, or use artificial intelligence to analyze your data and deliver suggestions of specific resources to help you find the missing pieces.

Finding a Computer Program

Most programs have demonstration versions you can take for a “test drive” by downloading the demo from the site. Trying out the programs will make you more knowledgeable as you compare their features by reading reviews in the magazine Genealogical Computing or by reading the message boards devoted to computer software at RootsWeb.com. Many local genealogy societies have computer interest groups that meet regularly for demonstrations and discussions of various programs. Computer programs change constantly, so make your choice based on the latest information you can find.

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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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