Genealogy in the 21st Century
This web page contains three topics:
Improving Technology: Does it Improve Research?
A futuristic genealogy concept appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation several years ago.
In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise rescued some frozen space travellers from the 20th century. One
of the rescued people wanted to return to Earth and find her descendants, if any. The computer then was asked to present
her genealogy for the elapsed 400-year period, which it did, locating a many-times great grandson in California!
Although there is nothing like this available now, many technological advances have been made over the past few
years. The impact of these advances on genealogical research is huge, and has both positive and negative effects.
The Internet has opened up a vast amount of information to the researcher. This information is so overwhelming
Be sure to note the date you accessed an online source, and be sure to download or print important references.
In general, genealogical information on the Web comes in the following forms:
- Information of a how-to nature: how to use land records, how to write a research report.
- Information about a particular resource: the WWI statement of service cards, for example.
- Information about a particular repository: the holdings or hours of a library or archive or courthouse.
- Commercial sources for genealogical reference materials.
- Indexes to particular records: the Social Security Death Index or Kentucky Vital Records.
- An enormous number of genealogies and surname indexes of variable quality.
- A growing number of digital images of original documents.
When used properly, this information is very valuable and will greatly facilitate your genealogical research.
When used indiscriminately, it will destroy the validity of your work.
We took for granted the ability to microcopy (on film, fiche, or card) old records and books. The availability of microcopy increased
the researcher's access to records as well as improving our ability to preserve these records, but only a small fraction of the records
needed for genealogical research have been microcopied. Now, these microcopies, as well as original documents, are being digitized. Entire
record groups have been digitized, indexed, and placed online. New record images appear daily on the major subscription sites, such as
and Fold3.com. There's even good news for those of us who prefer a no-cost option. FamilySearch
provides an incredible collection of records on its website, all free of charge. They hope to have their
their complete microfilm holdings online by 2020.
Increased access to these digitized copies of original records cannot help but improve family history research.
What possible negative effects could this have?
- Even professional researchers constantly remind themselves to study each record in context. The ease of a one-click
link from index entry to image makes it very easy to forget that failure to study context may lead to misinterpretation of a record's meaning.
- The vast and growing online resources make it difficult to judge each individual record's quality. Although many sites do include information that
can help a researcher determine a collection's organization, locate related records, and understand record omissions, researchers don't always take the
time to study these background resources.
- The vast online resources make it difficult to remember that many more important records are still available only in their original form - the unindexed
bounty land applications, the Civil War regimental books, settled accounts of pension payments, records of the First Church of Waltham - just to
name a few I want.
The Personal Computer
The personal computer, and the ever-growing group of more portable devices, especially when paired with the digital camera, has greatly
increased storage and dissemination of information. Software programs to handle your own personal genealogical research
have proliferated, making it much easier to keep track of your family history and research notes. More sophisticated
programs allow you to fully document all research and print out reasonable narratives, family group sheets, and descendant
charts. Some of them allow you to export the material in HTML (hypertext mark-up language) format for publication on the Web. All of them
allow you to export your data to other computers or import your data from other researchers. Ancillary programs, such as spreadsheets, have
the potential to improve your ability to analyze data and monitor research progress. Surely there can be no negative aspects to the personal computer!
- We all begin our genealogy research as "name gatherers." It's so easy now to acquire and store names and information that many researchers
forget that all information must be verified with the best possible sources - and if we don't get into the habit of doing that, we'll never
progress beyond the "name gatherer" stage.
- As technology continues to advance, today's technologies may disappear entirely. Already, many records stored in old computer programs are
no longer accessible. If your research is dependent upon digital and magnetic data, you must be ready to upgrade your technology as necessary.
- You must have backups and hard copies of all your data, or be subject to losing all your hard work. As Dick Eastman says, "Many copies keep stuff safe."
Does this improved technology improve the quality of research? In a word, no. Ultimately, the quality of your research depends upon
your adherence to the Genealogical Proof Standard.
A point may be considered 'proved' if:
- The research is exhaustive;
- The argument rests on reliable records, correctly interpreted;
- Contradictory evidence is examined and soundly rebutted;
- All statements of fact are scrupulously documented;
- All deductions are carefully reasoned and explained.
Keep an open mind. New evidence could invalidate your conclusions at any time.
This class has discussed many of these online holdings, but students need to be aware that the growth in online digital images is phenomenal.
Keeping up with changes is a fulltime occupation. Here are my recommendations for continued education.
Return to top of page
- Join a local genealogy society. Whether you're a recent transplant or a multi-generation native of your hometown, the collective
knowledge of a local society is not limited to a single region or time period. In addition, it's a joy to meet friends who share your enthusiasm.
- Join a national society, subscribe to a nationally respected genealogy publication, or both. Reading high quality peer-reviewed
articles is one of the best ways to continue your education. In addition, many large societies maintain excellent websites containing online data
and valuable articles on research and education.
- Join a local genealogy society in your region of interest. This is a good way to contact
researchers with in-depth expertise in local records not available online or in any publication.
- Search the appropriate USGenWeb county website for possibilities.
- Follow a blog (or four)
- Read, read, read!
Digital photography, graphics editing, scanning, and miscellaneous photography topics
Creative online presentations of your family history
- Second Site's "Example Sites" provide ideas for online family history presentations
- GedSite: Second Site for researchers who don't use TMG
- TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding
The spreadsheet: powerful tool for data analysis and monitoring your research progress
- If you don't have a spreadsheet program, try one of these free alternatives to Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets are a must!
- If you're unfamiliar with spreadsheets, there are many online tutorials.
Return to top of page
Evaluating the Ideal Genealogy Program
In an ideal world, one genealogy program would meet the needs of every user; but, there are as many different needs in genealogy as
there are genealogists, and one computer program will not be able to satisfy all of us. After many years of evaluating genealogy programs,
I chose The Master Genealogist, from Wholly Genes, Inc. as my personal genealogy program. Sadly, that program is no longer available,
and like many TMG users, I'm pinning my hopes on the History Research Environment efforts.
If you have not already selected your genealogy software, here are some program aspects to consider.
- The program you choose must be unlimited!
- No limit to the number of individuals the program can handle
- No limit in field or memo length
- No limit to number of marriages or children
- The program should be easy to use
- The manual should be logically organized, indexed, with all functions
well-defined and easily located. Examples should be clear and frequent.
- The program should have a tutorial based on a sample data base. It
should take the user through all aspects of the program: data entry, data
manipulation, and report generation.
- There should be context-sensitive on-screen help as well as an on-screen
help index. Icons should have bubble identifiers. All enabled keys
should be visible.
- Data entry should be as effortless as possible
- All programs should have the following features:
- a repeat key or other method of allowing single keystroke entry of previously entered data;
- user-defined macros
- Look for flexible date formatting.
- Do you want a valid entry check?
- Data base backup is imperative and should be as convenient as possible.
- Data should be automatically written to permanent storage frequently.
It is helpful if the user can define this frequency in the program configuration.
- Output to your word processor file is necessary for all reports.
- Company back-up
- Technical help should be readily available to any registered user, and you should not have to pay an extra fee for this help.
- With readily-available internet access, the company should have a home-page and tech-support on-line.
- The company should be actively working on the program and should have program update options.
- Talk to other users
- Is there a list-serve or chat group of program users?
- Is there a program user-group in your area?
For further program evaluation, you should consider your own genealogical computing needs. Are you...
The original researcher must consider all of the following:
- The program must not force the researcher to choose "correct" event dates or relationships prematurely. Multiple parent-candidates and event dates and places must be allowed. All data must be admissible without prejudice in the program.
- The program must allow multiple citations per event.
- The program must provide the researcher with a way to analyze and prioritize data and documentation.
- The program must provide the researcher with a research log or calendar to preserve research ideas and plans in an organized and readily-available fashion.
- The program must allow the researcher to manipulate the data in any manner desired.
- Search functions must allow logical concepts of AND, OR, NOT, =, <, >, etc. Boolean searches should be allowed on any field or combination of fields.
- Search results should be able to be sorted on any field or combination of fields.
- All reporting functions should be flexible and user-defined.
- All types of data: photographs, maps, text files, historical context, etc. should be accessible from within the program.
If you are the designated "family historian," you may not need as many research-oriented options, but you should consider these aspects of the program.
- Can you make logical and visually pleasing charts for your family reunions?
- Can you easily print the family story with pictures attached?
If you coordinate a one-name study or similar project consider the following:
- The program must allow you to identify duplicates and merge information easily.
- The program must accept data from a wide variety of genealogy programs.
- The program must allow you to identify data from multiple researchers and coordinate research efforts.
For a reasonable overview of a lot of genealogy programs, check GenSoftReviews. With so many
programs offering free trial versions, your best bet is to take some of them for a test drive.
A Few Genealogy Software Programs (alphabetical)
Return to top of page
- Ancestris (Windows, Mac, Unix), free.
- Brother's Keeper (Windows), $45, free trial version; older program with many satisfied users.
- Family Historian (Windows), $55.34, free 30-day trial version.
- Family Tree Maker (Mac, Windows), $79.95 (download).
- Gramps (Linux, Mac, Windows), free.
- Legacy (Windows), free standard edition, deluxe edition as low as $34.95.
- Reunion (Mac), $99, very limited demo mode.
- RootsMagic (Windows, Mac), $29.95, free trial version available.
Please mail comments and suggestions to Susan Johnston at