Genealogical computing is best broken down into three main functions:
1) gathering data, 2) organizing data, and 3) publishing data
1.Gathering data. Computer ready data exists in many forms but the most commonly used are CD ROMS, the Internet and email.
1.1 CD ROMs: There are many commercially available CDs that provide genealogical data. Their advantage over hard copy research is the ease of searching, small size and ease of printing relevant information. Examples are
FamilyTreeMaker: CDs of user submitted data (Pastfinders owns most of them)
Pedigree Resource Files (LDS): CDs of user submitted data. (The Family History
Center has most of them)
New England Historical and Genealogical Register: Register articles from 1847 to 1994. (Pastfinders has it)
Census Indexes and Data: Various sources have published indexes; LDS has published the entire 1880 census. (Pastfinders has some indexes; The Family History Center has the full 1880 census)
1.2 Internet: The Internet offers many sites that provide genealogical data. Cyndi Howell has links to 132,700 of them on her site: http://www.cyndislist.com/ and that’s a good place to start. What you’ll find in general are sites that provide data that other users have submitted (Ancestry, FamilySearch, Rootsweb), Census Data (Ancestry, NARA), Social Security Death Index ( Ancestry), Vital Records (Ancestry, Rootsweb), Surname Message Boards (Genforum, Rootsweb) Ship Passenger Lists (See Cyndi)
1.3 Email: There are several ways to use email to gather genealogical data. Corresponding with relatives is one way. Finding relatives through postings on message boards increases the effectiveness of this approach. Subscriptions to mailing lists brings in email on the selected subject be it a surname or locality. Your questions are emailed to all subscribers who are interested in the same subject and you can answer queries posted by others. (ROOTS-L at Rootsweb).
2. Organizing Data. Various programs exist to aid you in filling out the pedigree chart shown earlier. Most Pastfinders members use FamilyTreeMaker but others are Family Origins, Personal Ancestral File (free download), The Master Genealogist, and for the MAC, Family Reunion. See this web site for a complete scorecard: http://www.mumford.ca/reportcard/rcardfrm.htm.
If you find something on the Internet that adds generations to your family, you can download it and (carefully) add it to what you’ve already done. It’s best to save what you download and check it all out before you commit to adding it to your carefully researched work.
In addition to inputting your family data, you can use these most of these programs to keep research notes on what you’ve done and what you have to do. You can also use notepad or your wordprocessor to keep track of where you’ve been and what you’ve done. This is especially useful for cutting out items you’ve found on the Internet and pasting them instead of having to hand copy them. It’s also useful for copying links you want to visit again.
3. Publishing Data: The programs above allow you to take the data that you’ve inputted into your computer and publish it in a variety of ways. FamilyTreeMaker outputs Ancestor Trees in three formats, Descendant Trees in two formats, Hour Glass Trees in two formats, an All-in-one Tree, an Outline Descendant Tree, a Genealogy Report, a Family Group Sheet, and a User Defined Report. You can also input photographs and other artwork that can be included on most of these charts. Any of these items may be included in a book that FamilyTreeMaker will format and print for you.
You can also publish your data on the Internet to give others the benefit of what you’ve done. There is a standard conversion program to transfer data between programs and to send data to the Internet. It’s called GEDCOM and it’s standard is set by the Mormon (LDS) Church. All programs can input and output GEDCOM data. Publishing in this manner is another way to “meet” relatives that you didn’t know existed as they will email you to share information.
You can upload your data to Ancestry, Rootsweb, LDS or FamilyTreeMaker. Rootsweb and Ancestry use the same database so only choose one. FamilyTreeMaker will only sell the data and not make it available on the Internet. The LDS Pedigree Resource File disks are sold (at cost) but the data is also available on the Internet in limited form.
Addendum: Many of these topics are covered in the Pastfinders Computer Users’ Group meetings and the meeting handout and meeting summary are published on our web site after each meeting.
This library has computers on the Internet and they include a genealogy listing on the main index page. Try it out. You’ll find out how easy it is to get information on your ancestors on the web. But be wary; check the data out against primary sources.