As you’ve looked through your home sources, you’ve probably come across at least a couple of vital records, birth, marriage or death certificates, perhaps some church records, military records or even some diaries or personal records. You can continue to keep track of your research on your family group sheets and with your notes, but you may want to look at genealogical software to help you organize the information you’ve found. One of the benefits of utilizing software is when you add information you can print out updated family group sheets and charts. The software that is available today enables you to store photographs and scans of documents, to print a large variety of charts and forms and even produce books. So how do you choose?
Do you want to keep track of your information on your personal computer, or save it online? You will have a great deal of flexibility by using your personal computer but remember to back up your work on a regular basis. You don’t want to lose all your work if your computer crashes or is damaged. One of the benefits of saving your work online is that the owner of the online database provides backup and the information can be accessed not only by you from anywhere, but also by others to whom you give permission. Also, if you are looking to connect with cousins, having your information available online is an ideal way to make connections. This past month an individual from England contacted me saying she had come across my website and knew an individual in my database. She put me in touch with the individual and reunited me with a branch of the family that had been totally lost to me. If you are going to select an online provider, make sure it is one who you believe will be in business in the future. You don’t want your information to disappear if the company folds.
I actually use a combination of the two approaches. I keep my main database in my computer. It contains all of my research notes, my sources and because it begins with my children, it includes both my husband’s family as well as mine. I can select particular branches of the family and produce reports, charts or web cards and share the information selectively. My database includes all individuals, however, for privacy reasons, I don’t publish information on living people online. You can see an example of my website databases by going to About Me and clicking on the icon for the Mitchell:Beighton Family at the bottom of the page. That’s not the only site for my information...I also maintain a tree on Ancestry. Why? Ancestry has one of the largest databases on the Internet and is a place that people may visit, just to see what’s there. The Family Tree section of Ancestry is free to both post and view and is an effective place to “troll” for cousins, the equivalent of posting a query in the past. I keep this Family Tree “private,” which means potential cousins will be told there is a possible match and I’ll be advised of the individual and can contact them. In addition, since I do have a subscription to Ancestry it also notifies me of potential matches as new information becomes available.
You might wonder how I have time to keep all of this information up to date. The answer is, that my personal computer database is my master. I can move information to other software, to my iPhone or to the Internet using a utility called GEDCOM. Most databases both online and off accept GEDCOM as a way to move data. You should know that it’s not perfect, but basic information moves quite easily.
To choose a genealogical software package, you should check with members of your local genealogical society (it’s nice to have some local support) or check some of the online genealogical forums. On my Links page I have a list of some of the more common software packages. Reunion (Macintosh), RootsMagic (PC), Legacy (PC) and The Master Genealogist (PC) all have either a free version, a demo or trial program that allows you to download the program and try it. I’ve also listed some articles below on software reviews and selections.
If you decide to go the online route, check out Ancestry. With the “Who Do You Think You Are” series running (sponsored by Ancestry) a trip to their website will bring up a “Start My Tree” icon on their home page. This service is free although you must register providing an email and password to access the information (no credit card information required). On the right side you’ll also see a 14-Day Free Trial icon. Whichever you decide to use, make sure to read the license agreements. If you elect the “Free Trial” you will be asked for credit card information and you will be billed automatically until you specifically tell them to cancel your subscription.