Genealogists spend many hours researching and gathering their genealogical information … doesn’t it make sense to spend just a few minutes to protect that research from an unexpected disaster? In the previous issue of the Quarterly we examined strategies for Disaster Planning and realized the importance of backing up our records; this Quarterly we examine some of the tremendous advances in hardware and storage media that make backing up your genealogical information a snap.
1a: Overview of Storage media
Regardless of the backup strategy used, your data has to be stored on some data storage medium somewhere – and the concept of backup implies "somewhere else" or at least "on something else." In the old days, when computers filled rooms and "personal" meant you kept your own boxes of punched cards, magnetic tape was the commonly used medium for bulk data storage, backup, archiving, and interchange. Our personal computers today have a wonderful assortment of choices for data storage – and the cost of these choices seem to drop every time one opens the Sunday paper and looks at an advertisement.
A hard disk is already in your computer, so you are already familiar with this device. The capacity/price ratio of hard disk has been rapidly improving for many years. The main advantages of hard disk storage are the high capacity and speedy access times.
A CD-R can be used as a backup device (the "R" really means
"WORM." Many optical disk formats are WORM [Write Once, Read Many],
which makes them useful for archival purposes since the data can't be
changed.) One advantage of CDs is that they can hold 650 MB of data on
a 12 cm (4.75") reflective optical disc. (This is equivalent to 12,000
images or 200,000 pages of text.) They can also be restored on any
machine with a CD-ROM drive. CDs may all look the same, but there are
different file formats for different applications.
Another common format is DVD-R. DVDs are the latest format – if you buy a new computer, most likely it will come with an optical drive that writes in both CD format and in DVD format.
During the period 1975–95, most personal/home computer users associated backup mostly with copying floppy disks. The low data capacity of floppy disks makes it an unpopular choice in 2007. (Flash Drives were first marketed as "floppy killers.")
Solid state storage
A wide variety of devices are included here, as solid state storage is also known as flash memory, thumb drives, USB keys, compact flash, smart media, memory stick, Secure Digital cards, etc. These devices were initially relatively costly for their low capacity, but offer excellent portability and ease-of-use and the price dropped dramatically last year.
As broadband internet access becomes more widespread, network and remote backup/online backups are gaining in popularity. Backing up online via the internet to a remote location can eliminate some worse case scenarios, such as a fire. Several companies are now offering service on encrypted and secure synchronized backup solutions – some of these were listed in Part I of this article. A drawback to this type of backup is the perceived risk of losing control over personal or sensitive data.
1b: USB - Universal Serial Bus
Before discussing Flash Drives, let’s consider USB ports – probably each of your computers have several such ports. Universal Serial Bus (USB) is a serial bus standard to interface devices. It was designed for computers such as PCs and the Apple Macintosh, but its popularity has prompted it to also become commonplace on video game consoles, PDAs, cell phones; and even devices such as televisions and home stereo equipment (e.g., mp3 players), and portable memory devices.
The Universal Serial Bus was devised as a key component in moving towards a legacy-free PC. The idea was to eventually replace all older serial and parallel ports on personal computers since these were not properly standardized and required a multitude of device drivers to be developed and maintained. Modern computers often have several host controllers, allowing a very large number of USB devices to be connected. USB cables do not need to be terminated.
Because of the capability of daisy-chaining USB devices, early USB announcements predicted that each USB device would include a USB port to allow for long chains of devices. In this model, computers would not need many USB ports, and computers shipped at this time typically had only two. However, for economical and technical reasons, daisy chaining never became widespread. To reduce the necessity of USB hubs, computers typically now come with six USB ports. Most modern desktop computers have up to half of their total complement of USB ports on the front panel, to facilitate temporary connection of portable devices.
USB was designed to allow peripherals to be connected without the need to plug expansion cards into the computer, and to improve plug-and-play capabilities by allowing devices to be hot-swapped (connected or disconnected without powering down or rebooting the computer). When a device is first connected, the host enumerates and recognizes it, and loads the device driver it needs.
USB can connect peripherals such as mouse devices, keyboards, gamepads and joysticks, scanners, digital cameras, printers, external storage, networking components, etc. For many devices such as scanners and digital cameras, USB has become the standard connection method. USB is also used extensively to connect non-networked printers, replacing the parallel ports which were widely used. USB simplifies connecting several printers to one computer. As of 2004 there were about 1 billion USB devices in the world. As of 2005, the only large classes of peripherals that cannot use USB, because they need a higher data rate than USB can provide, are displays and monitors, and high-quality digital video components.
1c: USB mass storage device class
The USB mass storage standard provides an interface to a variety of storage devices that run on the Universal Serial Bus, to include:
1d Media: USB Flash Drives
Flash Drives: When AGS member MaeEllen recently signed up for a TVI course, she was told: "Bring a flash drive." What’s a Flash Drive? Answer: it is perhaps the most innovative storage device of the past decade.
USB flash drives are flash memory data storage devices integrated with a USB interface. They are typically small, lightweight, removable and rewritable. Memory capacity typically ranges from 8 megabytes up to 64 gigabytes , limited only by current flash memory densities. As capacity increases, so does price, to a point. As of 2006, more recent examples in the 1 to 4 GB range are little more expensive than the 128 MB versions available in 2002.
USB flash drives have several advantages over other portable storage devices, particularly the floppy disk. They are generally faster, hold more data, and are considered more reliable (due to their lack of moving parts) than floppy disks. These types of drives use the USB mass storage standard, supported natively by modern operating systems such as Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows XP.
A flash drive consists of a small printed circuit board encased in a robust plastic or metal casing, making the drive sturdy enough to be carried about in a pocket, as a keyfob, or on a lanyard. Only the USB connector protrudes from this protection, and is usually covered by a removable cap. Most flash drives use a standard type-A USB connection allowing them to be connected directly to a port on a personal computer.
As evidenced by MaeEllen’s TVI class, flash drives have quickly become ubiquitous in our society. The Family History Center in Salt Lake City now allows, nay, encourages you to bring your flash drive and download the genealogical information from their computer network. On her most recent visit to SLC, Betty Lou Albright was able to download considerable amount of index information which she then brought home and re-loaded onto our Special Collections Library (SCL) computers, all using her flash drive. Joe Sabatini, Branch Manager for our SCL, is in the process of investigating funding to replace the old microfiche readers with digital microform reader-printers which will allow the user to download the images onto – that’s right – your own flash drive.
Most flash drives are active only when powered by a USB computer connection, and require no other external power source or battery power source. They are powered using the limited supply afforded by the USB connection. To access the data stored in a flash drive, the flash drive must be connected to a computer, either by direct connection to the computer's USB port or via a USB hub. If you have struggled with finding that USB port on the back of your computer or the side of your laptop and plugging in your flash drive, I suggest you add a simple USB hub.
A USB hub is a device that allows many USB devices to be connected to a single USB port on the host computer. USB hubs are often built into equipment, normally keyboards or, more rarely, monitors. Separate USB hubs come in a wide variety of forms, from boxes that look similar to a network hub to small designs intended to be plugged directly into the USB port on a computer (that is, without a connecting cable).
A bus-powered hub is a hub that draws all its power from the host computer's USB interface. It does not need a separate power connection. However, many devices require more power than this method can provide, and will not work in this type of hub.
In contrast a self powered hub is one that takes its power from an external power supply unit and can therefore provide full power to every port. Many hubs can operate as either bus powered or self powered hubs.
USB hubs, like flash drives, have Plug-and Play installation. You can add four USB peripherals to your PC and save desktop space without adding clutter – and the cost can as little as $10. They can come with Plug-and-Play and Hot-Swap capabilities so you can easily connect/disconnect USB equipped camera, network adapter, modem, and joystick to your computer. Plug and Play (PnP) is a computer feature that allows the addition of a new device, normally a peripheral, without requiring reconfiguration or manual installation of device drivers. PnP is a process the computer runs through when it is first turned on, involving the boot process and power-on self-test. Therefore, the computer must be turned off before installing a PnP device into an expansion slot. Hot swapping is a similar feature that allows adding and removing devices while the computer is on. Flash Drives allow Hot swapping, although there is an icon on your screen to click to allow "safe" removal of a USB device. Connect each port to another USB hub for limited expansion. Compact, light-weighted, and requiring no external power, you can purchase a 4-port USB hub for under $20. To locate, visit a local shop or Froogle for USB hub.
The flash drive or thumb drive was invented in Israel in 1998 by Dov Moran. His most significant contribution was that the product be self-reliant and free of the need to install drivers. IBM first marketed a USB flash drive product in the US in 2001 that had been manufactured by the three companies that developed similar products and have similar and disputed patents. Lexar can also lay claim to a USB flash drive product and offered a companion card reader and USB cable that eliminated the need for a USB hub.
Modern flash drives have USB 2.0 connectivity. Thumb drives have become iconic as a sort of "fashion statement" much like the iPod's white ear bud headphones. For more detail on Flash Drives and how they work, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumb_drive - the Wikipedia site also provides much of the information provided in this article.
Cost: The real question of cost is what is your time worth? What is it worth to you not to have to re-enter all your genealogical research? The cost of the hardware as described in these two Disaster Planning articles is low. One only needs to check the ads in the Sunday paper to get an idea of what bargains are available. In the recent past CDs and the jewel cases to package them were essentially free; the refunds or rebates covered all of the cost except sales tax and your postage to mail in the rebate application. Flash drives can go for about $30 per gigabyte; an external 100 GB hard drive with USB connection is available today for under $80. From Sunday paper insert ads just a month ago, you will find that Office Max, Comp USA, and Office Depot offer many bargains in storage media. One could obtain a 5 pack of CD-R for $2; a 20 pack of colored (which may help organizing back-ups) CD-R for $6; a 50 pack of CD-R for $6; 100 pack of CD-R for $14; a 25 pack of DVD (-R or +R format) for $7; a 100 pack of DVD (-R or +R format) for $20; 1 GB USB Flash Drive for $20; 2 GB USB Flash Drive for $40; a 100 GB internal hard drive for $20; a 160 GB USB Seagate external hard drive for $90. These "specials" change weekly, so check your Sunday paper.
Warning: My knowledgeable colleague George Mayes tells me, "Over time I’ve become nearly paranoid about trusting any SINGLE backup type of device. They’ve all got their own set of problems." George suggests not treating flash drives like hard drives; that is, don’t have them plugged into your computer all the time, only when you want to download or upload some data. Remember that flash drives are basically just small hard drives, so like a hard drive, they can fail. If you think about it, the only obvious mechanical part in your computer is the drives. Similarly, George also reminds us that CDs can be damaged as well. He offers the cautionary tale of a gentleman who "ripped" (copied) his entire collection of classical music from LPs onto CDs, then got rid of the vinyl. He packed his CDs into a box and moved to the Gulf Coast. Some months later he retrieved his CDs from the box and much to his dismay discovered that the salt air had totally destroyed that thin aluminum layer where the music was stored. This tale may be in the category of urban legends (obviously there are lots of folks on the Gulf Coast cheerfully playing their CDs right now), however it is true that currently the Library of Congress credits storage life on a CD to be no more than eleven years.
As the song says, you work hard for your money … well, genealogists work hard for their research. The point is not to put yourself in a difficult situation if it’s so easy to save yourself headaches – and allow you to sleep at night. How easy is it in today’s world? As we have learned in these two articles:
So don’t delay – decide on your strategy, purchase some storage media, backup Aunt Martha’s genealogical information today, and sleep soundly tonight.
However, there is another advantage of using a personal computer: one’s research records are "automatically" organized via the marvelous relational database capabilities provided today at very low cost in commercially available software genealogy programs. Part 1 of this two-part series provides background, examines some of the options available, and provides some insights about considerations when selecting a basic genealogy software application.
Features of a Genealogy Software Program
There are several features that any user expects in the underlying structure of any commercial genealogy software program. Let’s start with the three underlying, basic-assumption principles that any software program had better have — or it would not even be on the market.
Here are three expectations for genealogy software. If a program is lacking in any one of these, it is not a viable candidate for your research use.
Reliability is a basic feature that any user expects in any commercial software program, and certainly any genealogy software. The technical definition of software reliability is the probability that the software will not cause the failure of a system for a specified period of time under specified conditions. For genealogists, that means we want a program that will not "crash" or lose our data. You need a mature system that incorporates integrated database backup-and-restore features to help safeguard your data and thus allow you to sleep at night.
Reliability also includes compatibility. We note that the Windows-based programs are not jumping over themselves to talk about their Microsoft Vista compatibility, but we would expect all to operate smoothly under Vista. Most advertise that they run under Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, and XP. With the Macintosh line of computers, running under multiple operating systems has never been a problem.
2. Underlying relational database structure
Relational databases are at the heart of storing genealogical data. Data and relationships among them are organized into tables — collections of records with each entry containing the same fields (think of genealogical "events" as fields – e.g., a marriage event or a death event that links dates and places to an individual). Some fields are designated as keys, indexed by specific values, so that searches for key fields can retrieve data rapidly (e.g., "all the births between 1840 and 1856"). An underlying query language is used to search for data — in genealogy programs, the user should never have to think about this. Records in different tables may be linked and searches can be "random" — in other words, you don’t have to march through your database sequentially or alphabetically. "Short lines" or "danglers" (separate trees of surnames not linked to other surnames) can be found as easily as someone in your direct line.
The term "relational database" conjures up the concept of family relationships, in contrast to an hierarchical database, which links records together in a tree data structure. A "tree structure" may sound genealogical, but due to their restrictions, hierarchical databases often cannot be used to relate structures that exist in the real world. In an hierarchical database, each record type has only one owner, e.g. a retail order is owned by only one customer. In a family each spouse would have more than one "owner" or tree, and each have his or her own lineage. Thus the relational database (which links tables) works ideally for genealogy purposes.
3. GEDCOM compatibility
GEDCOM is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunications, and is a standard file format for exchanging genealogical information from one computer system or program to another. When the LDS Church developed the Personal Ancestral File (PAF)program, they also developed GEDCOM, and we are fortunate that this standard has survived to be the common format underlying every genealogical program. A GEDCOM file is a text file with the file extension .GED, which preserves the relationships (in every sense of the word) in a genealogy data file. All genealogy programs should have the ability to import and export data as GEDCOM files in the latest version (5.5) of the GEDCOM standard.
Reliability, a relational database, and GEDCOM compatibility are the big three expectations. Every genealogy software program has all three or it would not be a commercially viable product.
Another compatibility is related to the collection of genealogy records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Members of the LDS Church are encouraged to accomplish genealogy research as the basis of the Church's efforts to perform temple ordinances for as many deceased persons as possible. Such LDS support features are provided in most genealogy software applications. In this article we are considering genealogy for research purposes and note only that most genealogy software programs have the option to activate or deactivate their LDS features.
Another basic expectation is reasonable cost. Today, the historic availability of the Personal Ancestral File (PAF)program developed by the Church of Latter Day Saints, along with the competitive market for genealogy software, has made cost a non-factor. PAF is now available as a free download and most commercial programs are available for less than $50. It would be difficult to spend much more than $100 regardless of how "deluxe" a package one chooses.
These programs, like many software applications, provide periodic updates, sometimes quite frequently. One never has to go with an update; the old version will continue to work. Furthermore, most of us continue to use the same program. If you haven’t looked at the upgrades to genealogy software that programs other than yours may provide these days, you owe it to yourself to try out a free sample. You may be surprised to find that there are so many exciting features now available for so little cost.
Beyond the Basics
This section lists standard features of current versions of most genealogy applications, grouped into six areas:
Ease of use:
Report "writing" capability:
Bells and Whistles
In addition to the program features already described, there are some "nice to have" features; some programs offer more of these, some less. This list can go on and on, and it is up to you to determine whether these "extra" features are important to you or are needed in your research. Just consider which of these you would enjoy having:
More ease of use:
Most of the latest versions of the top genealogy programs have most of the above features. The above choices in particular are available from RootsMagic, for example. More features are listed on http://rootsmagic.com/features.htm
Summary: In Part 1, we have examined basic features of every genealogy software application and what special features can be obtained today. AGS’ own Victoria Sullivan reminds us that such specialized features vary from product to product. In the next Quarterly, we will examine the six primary software programs used by AGS members and interview some of our members to find out why they prefer their specific program.
Genealogy Software Choices by AGS Members
By preference of its members, our Albuquerque Genealogical Society recognizes six genealogy programs through Genealogical Software Support groups. Only one of these groups has regularly scheduled meetings of a Users Group. All six provide a point of contact and e-mail support or help framework for users within the Society. Please refer to your latest AGS Membership Roster for the contact’s information. Here are the six primary programs used by AGS members:
Legacy:[Users meet on the first Thursday of each month at 1 pm in the New Mexicana Room of Albuquerque’s Special Collections Library. AGS contact: Luanne Chowning]. Relatively inexpensive and easy to learn. Updates are free. Much instructional material is available. Along with RootsMagic can be purchased locally at Deseret Books (Paseo and Wyoming).
Deluxe Edition Cost: $29.95. Standard Edition is free to download. Web site: http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/
RootsMagic (RM):[AGS contact: Nancy Greenberg] RootsMagic claims to be the easiest to use genealogy software available, as well as one of the most powerful. Switch between the three main views (Pedigree, Family, and Descendants) by simply clicking on a tab (see Part 1 Figure). Double clicking on a person's name brings up the data entry screen for that person. You can even open multiple databases side by side. Directly import from Family Tree Maker, PAF, and Family Origins. Very easy and intuitive to learn—as powerful as Legacy but cleaner in appearance and less confusing to beginners. Hard copy manual available.
Cost: $29.95. Trial version (some limits on features) is free to download and try. Web site: http://www.rootsmagic.com/
The Master Genealogist (TMG):[AGS contact: BettyLou Albright, who is moving to Texas but will still be available via e-mail] TMG has an extensive "guided tour" self-running demo for download from the web site. TMG has a reputation as the most powerful family history project manager on the market, designed by experienced genealogists who understand and prepare you for common research problems, including adoptions, name changes, conflicting evidence, and multiple lines of descent. Data-entry templates make it easy to record your sources and produce professional output. Extremely powerful and versatile but the learning curve is steep. Cost (Silver Edition): $39.95. You can download a 30-day trial version for free. Web site: http://www.whollygenes.com/
Ancestral Quest (AQ):[Users meet on ad hoc basis. AGS contact: Warren Siemens] Ancestral Quest claims to be the easiest to use and most versatile genealogy program for Windows on the market. AQ considers its format as perfect for the beginner and yet powerful enough for the most advanced genealogist. Includes specialized features for Jewish genealogy research (e.g., a special report on Holocaust victims).
Cost: $29.95. Trial version (unregistered) free to download and try. Web site: http://www.ancquest.com/
Family Tree Maker:[AGS contact: Joleen Streit] Family Tree Maker claims it is the #1 selling software product for building, customizing, searching and sharing your family history. A Getting Started Tutorial will walk you through this process step-by-step.
Cost: $29.95. No trial version, but an animated tutorial with screen shots of FTM is available on the Web site: http://www.familytreemaker.com/
Reunion (for the Macintosh): [AGS contact: Pat Heggem] If you have a Macintosh computer, Reunion is recognized as the most popular genealogy program for your platform. Reunion received the highest rating for genealogy software in MacWorld, MacAddict, and Mac Home Journal magazines. We have few Mac users in the Society; check with Pat for the list.
Cost: $99. When you download, you will be running the demo version (limited to 50 people in the database), and when you pay your $99, you unlock the full version. Web site: http://www.leisterpro.com
There are some comparison charts on-line to compare features on most of these programs at: http://rwilson.us/comparison.htm. This comparison is useful but dated. Lynda Katonak notes that the version of AQ compared is 2002 (vers. 10), and that today AQ (vers. 12) has a Research Log and To Do List. Similarly, the version of RootsMagic being compared is 1 and RM is now at version 3.
Genealogy programs other than the six above do not have specific support groups within AGS. However, at least these two should be mentioned:
Personal Ancestral File (PAF): [AGS contact: Don Pierce, Don@dons.com ] PAF was the original software genealogy program developed by the Church of Latter Day Saints back in the early days of personal computers. PAF also developed the GEDCOM standardized format so that in a very real sense, PAF is the ancestor of all genealogy software. The version for years was a somewhat clunky DOS-based product but the program has long since been upgraded to a slick Windows-based version. For example, PAF users can now download their genealogies to a Palm OS handheld computer. The rumor has been circulating among AGS members that the LDS church is dropping PAF – however this is not quite accurate. There is no mention of any such closeout on the web site and Family History Support tells me (April 2007): "The Church has not given any indication that PAF will be discontinued. However, it appears that there may not be any future updates to PAF. Support for PAF will still be available." The latest (and final?) version (5.2) is completely free and can be downloaded from the PAF website at: http://www.familysearch.org
Brother’s Keeper: This Windows program is distributed as shareware and thus is free, although one can order a registered version with manual for $45. BK6 (the latest version) is used by several AGS members. The operation is run via the website by the developer and founder, John Steed. More can be found at Brother’s Keeper website: http://www.bkwin.net/
Comments by AGS Members:
The program descriptions above include comments by AGS’ Victoria Sullivan who owns and operates many of the software programs discussed and also provides an annual class on this subject. Our thanks to Victoria for her insights. Victoria also reminds us that "free" means you usually must supply your contact information — at least your e-mail address.
After interviewing several AGS members, it appears that genealogy software is like word processing software or your hometown: whatever you "grew up with" is where your comfort level and your loyalty lies. You don’t want to change to another package unless you are forced to. Here are comments from a few experienced AGS members:
Melba Williams: Try Legacy. What I like about Legacy is when you bring up an individual’s page, it shows you that individual and their spouse; above each are their parents and below each are their children, all on one page. Easy to move around in. I find I have problems putting in sources with any software package.
Hugh Bivens: I now use The Master Genealogist [TMG]. I stopped using Brother’s Keeper after I lost two databases with it — I figured it was time to get to another package as the owner was the main developer of the software, and I didn’t know how long he would be around.
Rosemarie M. Winkler: I use Brother’s Keeper and I love it — when you write to the owner, he answers you. I have been using BK for about 20 years, and always recommend it to everyone. It is great software, and I published two beautiful family histories with it. I have written to John Steed to see what the succession plan will be for the owner and the company. He responds in part, "I am 52 years old and do not plan to retire for a long time. If I ever do (or if I drop dead) then I suggest you try out a couple other current programs and use GEDCOM to move your data to the program you like best. I will try to stay alive for a long time so you will not have to face that decision."
BettyLou Albright: The Master Genealogist (or "TMG") v6 is the gold standard in family history software. This organization is not going to be sold or merged into another program. It is developed by genealogists for genealogists. The support is fabulous. Also, I will help anyone by e-mail.
Louise Rosett: I like TMG. You can call TMG on the phone — I e-mailed my database file to them when it became corrupted, and they had it repaired and back to me within a day. I’ll admit TMG has a steep learning curve. I took all three TMG classes at the National Genealogical Society conference. My biggest problem was importing — I had to use a GEDCOM file to import the database from Brother’s Keeper, and I had to re-enter the sources. TMG (and Legacy) provide access to GenSmarts — this is a utility that tells you what sources you should check to obtain additional information for the individuals in your database.
Martha Buddecke: I tried to use The Master Genealogist [TMG] but it defeated me. It was overwhelming with all the source stuff. I found when I brought in a GEDCOM, the program included lots of "end’s" and "unknown’s." I had to correct all the sources I imported. It didn’t put the sources, notes, and narratives where I expected. Meanwhile, I found that the publishers have improved Family Tree Maker [FTM] in the past two years. I originally left FTM because it didn’t do enough, but I don’t have that complaint with the latest version. I read a review in a genealogy magazine where the reviewer said TMG was "too time consuming." I agree. I am now thinking of going to RootsMagic. It allows images, adding in pictures, and access to diary, so you don’t get hung up entering data. I’m not a computer person, so I want it very straightforward. I prefer the hardcopy manual, not on-line help. One of the things that bugs me in TMG is the "Research Journal" (like a To-Do List in other packages). None of the software packages has a real "to-do" list — they want you to enter the ISBN of the books you want to research! I suggest it is easier to just do a To-Do list in Microsoft Word.
Joleen Streit: I have only used Family Tree Maker. I like it because 1) it is not expensive and 2) it is easy to use. I also like that once you have typed in a location, source, etc., it remembers it so that the next time you use the same information all you have to do is type the first letter or two and it pops up. This saves a lot of typing.
I do wish that when you are combining families from 2 different database files, it would post the sources for the information you are bringing in. As it stands now, after FTM has brought the new file information in, you have to go back and manually add the sources of that new information.
Nancy Greenberg: RootsMagic replaced the older Family Origins program. The Albuquerquean who developed Origins, Bruce Buzbee, went out on his own, redesigned the program to do more things, and called his new program RootsMagic. It uses the same logic, and most procedures for using the program are the same as the older Origins program, so it is incredibly easy to use. It does many wonderful things that the older programs did not do. Three of the new features that I like the best:
I actually cannot think of a thing that I wish it did that RootsMagic doesn't do. I am extremely pleased with my program.
Lynda Katonak: Historically I used PAF when it was just a DOS program and was frustrated at the lack of support and updates when everything else was moving to Windows-based programs. Several of the Utah PAF programmers shared my frustration and wrote a Windows program that was based on their PAF databases...and Ancestral Quest was born. It was easy to switch and use and was very compatible to other software on the market at that time, so I became an AQ user. AQ is a utilitarian program that does almost everything I want it to do, so I've just stuck with it.
There are frequent updates (available free online) and occasional full revisions, and anyone with a PAF database can use either PAF or AQ software interchangeably with no loss of information or sources. One of the features I like is the ability to give a child multiple parents (bio and adopted) and move between the two different families. It does all the normal printouts such as in book form and attaching photos, and now includes a Research Log and Research To Do list.
I wish my software could print out a descendancy tree—an ancestor with all his descendants in a tree form (the opposite of the pedigree chart we all use). AQ will print a descendancy chart or list, but not a tree.
Warren Siemens: My experience is with AQ and earlier its precursor PAF. AQ has most of the features I am looking for, particularly the reports, and is relatively easy to use. The AQ web site provides a list of the main features of AQ 11. Some of these I have not used yet but plan to. I am beginning to use the scrapbook features, particularly the addition of photos.
Ilene Jones: I started with PAF, then went to Ancestral Quest, then tried TMG, and finally have moved to Legacy. I like Legacy and have used it for some time now. One of the nice features is that it will highlight your family line all the way back (and forward) as you are working, so you can always see which of the entries are directly related to you. Legacy has an excellent CD tutorial. Luanne Chowning runs a Legacy users group meeting, and we have been working our way through these CD tutorials. First the tutorial makes some changes or entries, then it backs up and gives you the opportunity to work the same area. Very helpful.
Hearing genealogists talk about their software program is not unlike hearing a person talk about their politics or their religion — they love it, they grew up with it, and by gummies, they are going to stick with it. However, with the underlying GEDCOM database structure and the inexpensive options available today, switching programs is only slightly traumatic and can be quite worthwhile if you acquire additional features that will make your research easier.
To summarize this two-part series, here is an approach to choosing your Genealogy Software:
Let's talk about what the Internet can do for you and your research. There are several web sites that are particularly helpful to the genealogist. I will briefly examine each. The reader needs to go out to each site and spend a little time getting acquainted with the features of each. Even if you have used some of these as recently as last year, you will find much has changed, and new databases have been added almost every day.
Cyndi's List (http://www.cyndislist.com)
Cyndi's List is easily the best known categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet. For over a decade, it has provided a list of links that point to genealogical research sites online. The main index page of Cyndi's List has more than 15,000 visitors each day and the entire Cyndi's List web site has more than 70,000 page hits each day. This vast, extraordinary website is run by the amazing Cyndi Howells, genealogy obsessive and family-loving, all-American mom. Cyndi maintains her site from her home in Edgewood, Washington. As Cyndi says, "It is not run by a large company, or by a large staff of people. In the beginning there was only one person keeping track of all these links and keeping the site current - just me. From 1996 through 1999 I was the only person who worked on the list, although I did receive a lot of helpful feedback and support from others." Why does she do it? Cyndi explains, "because I have fun," and also neatly explains what Cyndi's List is: "…the internet is like a library with its books strewn all over the floor. I guess I'd like my list to be the card catalog for the genealogy section of that library."
I have Cyndi’s List on my bookmarks as I find many useful links there. You can find blank pedigree forms, family charts, correspondence records, research forms as well as How to Research, Beginner’s tips, and much, much more. Also, you can look up the county where you have ancestors. Then find genealogical societies in that county. An area genealogical society may have information that is not available any other place.
Another site similar to Cyndi's List is Linkpendium. It is newer and sometimes easier to navigate. Linkpendium calls itself "The Definitive Directory" and is being developed by Karen Isaacson and Brian Leverich, founders of the popular RootsWeb (www.rootsweb.com) genealogical community site. At the time of its merger with Ancestry (www.ancestry.com) in June 2000, RootsWeb had about 600,000 registered users, was serving about 100,000,000 Web page views monthly, and was delivering about 160,000,000 pieces of email monthly to the subscribers of its 18,000 mailing lists. The company had more than 40 employees and operated its own 7,000 square foot network operations center in Bakersfield, CA.
U.S. Gen Web Project (http://www.usgenweb.org)
The USGenWeb Project consists of a group of volunteers working together to provide Internet websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. The Project is non-commercial and committed to free access for everyone. Organization is by county and state, and the website provides links to all the state volunteer websites which, in turn, provide gateways to the counties. The USGenWeb Project also sponsors important Special Projects at the national level and this website provides an entry point to all of those pages, as well. Although the basic unit of organization for the USGenWebProject is at the county level, state websites include very important information as well, including such resources for postings of unknown county queries, family reunion bulletin boards, state histories, and maps showing the changing county boundaries, among others. Many states also have ongoing projects as diverse as the transcription of Civil War regiments or the reuniting of families with lost photos, bibles, etc.
Using the US Gen Web Project will take you to counties and new ideas of where to research. It also will help you set up an upcoming research trip. By contacting a volunteer in the area, you may learn all the "do’s" and "don’ts" of the court house, libraries, and other research facilities in the area. Please do remember that volunteers man the sites and give them all the information you have for the area, what you need, and be sure to thank them for any help.
GenForum is a service of Genalogy.com, which is a part of The Generations Network. The company provides tools, resources and community to assist their paying customers to uncover and share their family stories. The company designs, develops and markets genealogy software applications and online resources that enable family history enthusiasts to research, organize and document their heritage at home or away.
Genforum is free, but you do have to subscribe to send a query or post a reply. This site can be very helpful with surnames and counties and state research.
Family History Library (http://www.familysearch.org)
The Family History Library, located in Salt Lake City, is the main repository for most of the genealogical information the Church has collected. Family history centers (more than 3,500 around the world with four in Albuquerque) are branches of the Family History Library. These centers eliminate much of the need to travel to Salt Lake City to use the record collection. Most of the microfilm and electronic data collections are accessible at centers around the world. There is no charge for use of the Family History Library or family history centers. Volunteer staffs are on hand to lend assistance.
The Family History Library web site contains a variety of records that can help with family history and genealogical research. First there are vital records; these include birth, marriage, and death records from both government and church sources. The library collection also includes census returns; court, property, and probate records; cemetery records; emigration and immigration lists; printed genealogies; and family and county histories. The Family History Library’s computer system also contains several large databases, some with millions of names. They include the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File, the Vital Records Index, and the International Genealogical Index. You can access these databases on the Internet at www.familysearch.org. The Family History Library’s collection concentrates on records of deceased persons who lived before 1930. All records are obtained legally with the approval and cooperation of the government and local authorities who have jurisdiction over the records.
Family History Library website (http://www.familysearch.org/) is free, also. You will find the IGI, Social Security Death Index, the 1880 "soundex" census as well as Ancestral Files here. Again, the IGI and Ancestral Files are clues only so you will have to do the research based on those clues. They also have some "family" websites that might help you.
Genealogy Resources (http://www.genealogyresources.info/)
Genealogy Resources is an Information Blog developed and created by the Virtual Private Library™. It is designed to bring together the latest resources and sources on an ongoing basis from the Internet for genealogy resources which are listed on the site. This site has been developed and maintained by Marcus P. Zillman - his linked, annotated white paper titled "Searching the Internet" is a primer for those new to searching the Internet or those using only one search source. This site has many good free portals that could keep a genealogist happy for many hours.
Ancestry.com is the flagship site of Generations Network in Provo, Utah, which also owns Genealogy.com, a rival site, and Myfamily.com, which is essentially a family networking site. According to its chief executive, Tim Sullivan, Ancestry.com has 800,000 paying subscribers and 14 million registered users.
The site has free content, including a family tree maker, but also lets users search immigration, census and military records for fees that depend on the level of records sought. Family Tree Maker, a software program for use in personal computers, is part of the company as well.
Ancestry.com is a great site, but it is costly and if you are doing just your own research, it may not pay for itself. However, you can use Albuquerque's Special Collections Library two Internet computers and access all of Ancestry with only the cost of any printing out of your pocket. On Tuesday mornings at the Special Collections Library, a gentleman is available to help you use those computers and both Ancestry and Heritage Quest.
Evaluate any on-line information before incorporating it into your own database. Just because it is on the Internet does not make it true. Here are a few of "Nancy's No-Nos" on using the Internet:
Using the Internet is using common sense. There are some bad people, but many more great people willing to help out in cyberspace. If they want money before they do anything, "delete" them. Do not give out your "regular" e-mail address, but sign up for hotmail or yahoo or gmail e-mail address to use for the world wide Internet. It will save you spam and grief.
This article has presented just a few tips to enjoy the new age and to help "net your ancestors."
This Computer Corner article includes the information presented to the AGS Meeting of 14 November 2007. The article includes the text for that talk and adds additional details and references. Any specific mention of products, web sites, or vendors in Computer Corner does not necessary constitute endorsement by the AGS Board or the author.
Technology for Genealogists
As recently as twenty years ago, information access for genealogists was fairly restricted. One needed to physically travel to a library, a courthouse, or a cemetery. Today, the Internet has brought many of those resources into our homes and to our desktop computers. It is certainly possible to accomplish genealogy research without using a computer, however as was said in a previous Computer Corner article: "Computers and Genealogists are a match made in Salt Lake City."
All but one or two members of our Albuquerque Genealogical Society have a home computer (and are using a user-friendly software genealogy program as discussed in the August 2007 CC article) and a printer. Most also have scanners but may not have used them in the pursuit of their research.
Today the reason many people have scanners (and may not have exercised them) is that the technology has allowed printers with multiple functions (e.g., printing, copying, scanning, and faxing) to be developed and sold for not much more than the cost of a stand-alone printer - and less than the cost of a printer only 5 years ago. Ten years ago, the primary scanner was a flatbed scanner, i.e., a stand-alone scanner. That technology is now included in any of the "All-in-One" (multi-function) printers available today.
Believe it or not, the first fax machine was developed in the mid-1800s. (Note: "fax" is short for facsimile, from Latin fac simile, "make similar", i.e. "make a copy") Obviously, considerable innovation was required to advance to the ubiquitous fax machine one sees in every office today. It was in 1924 when a photograph of President Calvin Coolidge was sent from New York to London and became the first photo picture reproduced by transoceanic radio facsimile. Prior to today's fax machine, facsimile machines worked by optical scanning of a document (or drawing, photograph, etc.) spinning on a drum.
If you think about the technology already captured in the typical office fax machine, you can see why this multiple function technology has come about so quickly. To deliver a fax the machine must be able to copy and print (read-in at one end, print out at the other end). And the technique of "reading" an original is nothing more than scanning. The facsimile function thus requires all three "basics," plus a phone transmission system.
If you shop for a new printer, you will happily discover that the cost of printers has dropped, and to make up a little of that, manufacturers are now including multiple functions in their printers. As an example at the low-cost end, recently at Circuit City, one could purchase a Canon Pixma MP160 Photo All-In-One Printer for only $50. (Similar offers can be found at Office Max, Office Depot, or on the Internet; check your Sunday paper ads for what is available this week.) This "printer" is built around a color inkjet printer of 4800 x 1200 dpi resolution and which includes a flatbed scanner of 600 x 1200 dpi resolution with USB 2.0 connection. We discussed the USB 2.0 connection in the May 2007 Computer Corner; we'll talk a little about resolution later in this article, but the point is that now anyone can obtain, and indeed may have already obtained, a decent scanner built-in with their computer printer.
If all four functions are included (i.e., with the fax function), the typical low-end cost is a little over $100. For example, the Hewlett-Packard (HP) OfficeJet 6310 XI sells for $145, and the HP OfficeJet J5750 for $130. If you need only the three functions (scanner, printer, copier) as do most genealogists, then the cost is less. In addition to the Canon product mentioned above, the HP PhotoSmart C4250 sells for $85. (Of course, the manufacturers are counting on your continual purchasing of ink cartridges to provide to them an after-sale revenue flow.)
If you prefer to obtain just a scanner, one can still obtain stand-alone flatbed scanners (which can copy as well, and can use your compute printer to print); however, they are not so easy to find. For that same $85 mentioned above, you can obtain the Visioneer One Touch 1200 dpi flatbed scanner. Read reviews on the Internet (such as at site CNET.com) for these and other printer/scanner/copiers to see what you get (and don't get) for the price. You might also find bargains at used computer stores such as PC Place on Menaul Blvd.
Publication Scanners: Libraries are interested in commercial scanners to solve their archive problem. These scanners can provide a fast, cost-effective way to scan, digitize, and share the content of color publications. Books, magazines, scientific manuals, and historical materials can all be preserved and shared in full color, without damage to pages or fragile bindings. Face-up color scanning of books keeps handling to a minimum, saves time, and reduces wear on originals. The best of these scanners automatically compensate for center curvature of bound volumes and erase centerline shadows, outside borders, and any finger images from operators. (A volunteer would be needed to flip the pages on the book.) These scanners cost on the order of $12,000.
AGS's Hugh Bivens has been working on a long-term effort to obtain such a scanner for the Special Collections Library as a joint effort between the two local Genealogical Societies and the Albuquerque Library System. Hugh has suggested the Minolta PS5000C, a face up publication scanner with which publications can be scanned into an attached PC to be processed for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and subsequent output to a searchable PDF file. These PDF files would be loaded on the computer LAN (local area network) at the Special Collections Library. Hugh considers this process as a practical way to enhance the LAN data with shelf holdings from Special Collections. Wouldn't you love to be able to do a near-instantaneous full-text search for the surnames you are researching throughout all the holdings of the Library? The error rate of the output file is a function of the quality of the scanned text. Hugh tells us, "The price and capability of this second-generation scanner coupled with the price and size of digital storage now make its acquisition desirable as a step toward a 'digital' library." You can request a copy of Hugh's paper: "A Digital Library Vision for the Special Collections Branch Library" by e-mail at: email@example.com
You may have heard of Google's attempts (announced and begun in Dec 2004 and still challenged in court) to scan the contents of the libraries of Stanford, University of Michigan, Oxford, and Harvard, as well as the New York Public Library. For this gargantuan effort, Google uses hermetically sealed scanners that automatically turn the pages after each image is captured. Those scanners cost in the neighborhood of $200,000. For the purposes of this article, we only examine the low-end scanners obtained with today's multi-function printers.
Why Would a Genealogist Want a Scanner?
Scanners are useful for two quite different purposes. One purpose is to capture an image of a document, a photograph, or even a three-dimensional object such as an antique watch or jewelry. The other purpose is OCR: Optical Character Recognition. Let's look at each of these attributes.
Capturing an image: A genealogist that is planning to publish some research would want to augment their research records with photographs of individuals or historic buildings or other items, or images of documents. Suppose you have come into temporary possession of an antique document or perhaps an old Bible with birth and death records. Such documents may be fragile or valuable or both. You could copy the information by hand, or even on a copier, or take a photograph of it. However, think of a scanner as a digital camera with a built-in light table - it can uniformly light the document or open book and provide a high-quality image of it for you. Scanners are designed for this purpose, whereas other technology may not do the job as well. A (library or commercial) copier can only provide you with hard-copy paper as your product. The scan may be better than the copier can produce. From a scanner you obtain an electronic image such as a JPEG file that you can later work with, crop, photo edit, and publish. For these reasons, scanning a document is always better for the genealogist than copying a document. In the talk to AGS, it was demonstrated that one could scan a document such as a photograph without even removing the photo from its frame. If this is a photograph that is loaned to you, the owner may much prefer this process to dismantling the frame to get to the photo.
Optical Character Recognition: The idea of OCR (optical character recognition) is to have the scanner capture an image of words from a document or a book and send it to a software program for processing. The program interprets the image and transforms it into machine-editable text that you can work with as with any text document. The software program to do this transforming of images into text is provided with the scanner itself, usually on a CD to load into your computer. Early systems required training (providing known samples of each character) to read a specific font. "Intelligent" systems with a high degree of recognition accuracy for most fonts are now common. Some systems are capable of even reproducing formatted output that closely approximates the original scanned page including images, columns and other non-textual components.
Although this technology can today produce better than 99% accurate translations, my experience is not to expect much better than 85% accuracy with such OCR software on a personal computer. However this can still save you considerable typing effort if you are trying to capture the text from a book, magazine, or copied article. Hugh Bivens' experience with OmniPage OCR software is more current and positive: "...the accuracy is correlated directly with the quality of the scanned text. My experience is that the scanned text quality would have to be very poor to achieve only 85% accuracy. The scanning parameters that Omnipage recommend for best OCR is a resolution of 300 dpi and an output of uncompressed TIF. These parameters give very good results with average to good quality text."
Resolution: By "resolution" we refer to image resolution that describes the detail an image holds. Higher resolution means more image detail. The resolution of a scanner is similar to the resolution of a digital camera. One can talk about the size of the image in pixels (picture elements) or in dpi (dots per inch).
The term resolution is often used as a pixel count in digital imaging. When the pixel counts are referred to as resolution, the convention is to describe the pixel resolution with the set of two positive integer numbers where the first number is the number of pixel columns (width) and the second is the number of pixel rows (height), for example 640 by 480. Another popular convention is to cite resolution as the total number of pixels in the image, typically given as number of megapixels, which can be calculated by multiplying pixel columns by pixel rows and dividing by one million. Other conventions include describing pixels per length unit or pixels per area unit, such as pixels per inch or per square inch. None of these pixel resolutions is a true resolution, but they are widely referred to as such; they serve as upper bounds on image resolution.
Dots per inch (DPI) is a measure of printing resolution, in particular the number of individual dots of ink a printer or toner can produce within a linear one-inch (2.54 cm) space. When we described a scanner earlier in this article, we said it had of 600 x 1200 dpi resolution. For genealogists simply attempting to obtain a decent image of a photograph to use in a research report, my experience again shows that any scanner on the market is sufficient. What may be more important is the ease of use; thus features like the One-touch (one touch for scanning; another button for copying) may be more important to you than increased resolution.
Photo Editing Software
Most of us have heard talk of "PhotoShopping" a picture to make it better, or to add someone or something into the image, or to delete something from the image. Probably your home computer came with a modest photo editing software program that performs such operations as rotating or cropping the image; you can discover this by clicking on a JPEG file on your computer and seeing what software, if any, is launched when the image is thus invoked. Also, scanners and digital cameras typically come with some photo editing software.
If not, it is not difficult to acquire some software for this purpose, and you definitely want this capability. The purpose is to have the ability to alter images, whether they are digital photographs, traditional analog photographs, or illustrations. Before digital scanners and cameras became common, traditional analog image editing was known as photo retouching, using tools such as an airbrush or to modify photographs. However, since the advent of digital images, analog image editing has become largely obsolete. Graphic software programs are the primary tools with which a user may manipulate, enhance, and transform images.
The more powerful programs perform a large variety of advanced image manipulations. Popular raster-based digital image editors include Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint, and Paint Shop Pro. The full Adobe PhotoShop program sells for about $400; I would recommend this only for a professional graphic artist, it is way too much for the typical user. Adobe also sells PhotoShop Elements for about $90. This smaller program is an excellent photo editing software. A competitor (in both price and features) for Elements is Corel (formerly JASC) Paint Shop Pro. It is interesting to note that Paint Shop originally developed as shareware; you can obtain other free software that will serve well as a photo editor, to include Picasa from Google. Picasa's primary purpose is to organize and locate your photos on your computer; however, it contains some basic editing tools as well, to include color enhancement, red-eye removal, and cropping. My Macintosh friends tell me there is a Mac shareware program called Graphic Converter that will handle most tasks as well as Photoshop. Visit site softpedia.com and search locally for "photo editor" to see the multitude of shareware programs available to you.
With today's scanners the user can specify what type of file is desired for the digital output, e.g., the scan can go directly into a PDF file, a JPEG file, or a Bit Map file. For simple genealogy purposes I recommend staying with the JPEG file for images.
You may already have a scanner built into your personal computer printer. If not, the next time you shop for a printer, you will find you can obtain one "for nothing." These scanners can be of considerable help to the genealogist, both for obtaining images of photographs and documents that could be published with your text, and for obtaining some of the text from books and other documents through OCR software. Joe Sabatini, our Special Collections Branch Manager, notes that researchers are already using their own personal technology such as notebook computers and flash drives in the library, and sees no barriers to their bringing in a scanner to copy or "OCR" some of the Collections' resources.
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