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Genealogy Software

Genealogy software creates a permanent record of your family history.

Genealogy Software

Genealogy software helps genealogy hobbyists organize information on living family members and deceased ancestors. According to FamilySearch.org, the starting point for assembling family tree information is family group records, including spouse and children; and a pedigree chart that includes direct-line ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.). Genealogy software is a database that organizes family member information and photos in a similar fashion. The intriguing process of researching and collecting information is still time-consuming, but genealogy software creates a permanent record of findings and the program's search capabilities make it easy to update and revise records. Furthermore, the data can be manipulated into customized family trees and other reports that are easy to share electronically with other family members.

Desktop Software Packages vs. Web-Based Programs

Desktop genealogy software programs have been around for a while and the concept has expanded into online programs. Some desktop software programs offer a free trial version with limited functionality. Web-based programs are either free or charge a fee for more advanced capabilities. Genealogy desktop software does not have the privacy issues that someone using a web-based program might face; however, web-based programs allow multiple family members to assist with entering missing information.

There are various Windows-based genealogy software programs for sale online for a relatively low price. Some of the popular packages include:

Entering Family Member Information

Family member information is entered into database fields either manually or by importing from another source. Most genealogy programs can import and export using the Genealogy Data Communications (GEDCOM) standard. According to Cindi's List, GEDCOM allows the information to be freely exchanged between various genealogy programs. The fields on the data entry screen vary from one program to the next, but the standard fields include name, gender, birth date and location, marriage date and location, and death date and location. Other fields may include current address, religion, engagement information, graduation information, occupation and retirement information. Some programs allow files, such as Microsoft Word documents and PDF files, to be attached. Sources of facts are also entered into the database.

Genealogy programs have different views of family member records to help identify what information is missing. The user can double-click on a name to bring up the more detailed data entry screen of a particular family member. RootsMagic has the following three views:

  • The pedigree view shows all the names of direct-line descendants of a chosen family member in a tree format.
  • The family view displays a chosen family member's parents, grandparents and children.
  • The descendants view is a more extensive list of all descendants with important dates.

Legacy Family Tree and Family Tree Maker has these three same views as well as a chronological view that lists events in order by date for a particular family member.

Family Member Photos

Photos can be linked to family members and events. Most programs include a photo editor that allows users to scan or download photos directly into the program, and then crop, resize or adjust the images for brightness and contrast as needed. Captions, dates and descriptions can be added to photos. Programs like Family Tree Maker allows users to view all the photos linked to a particular family member.

Reporting Functions

There are various reporting functions to get the most out of all this data entry. Users can customize descendant or ancestor family tree reports to show a certain number of generations and what details are displayed next to each family member's name (fewer details allow more generations to fit on a single printed page). Other useful printing options include a list of living family members by age, timelines, address labels, calendars of birthdays and anniversaries, and scrapbook pages of photos.

When computer printouts are not enough, some packages allow users to design and order a color wall chart depicting chosen generations, photos and family member details.

Genealogy software allows users to plot the location of living and deceased relatives on maps. Legacy Family Tree uses Microsoft Virtual Earth to plot the location of family members on satellite maps. Family Tree Maker also has mapping of events for an individual family member.

Information Sharing Options

Most programs have the ability to automatically create a website or a CD from the family data recorded in the software program. For example, Family Tree Maker allows users to publish their family tree on Ancestry.com and choose whether the information is private to invited members or available to the public. RootsMagic allows users to assemble a book with various reports and create a PDF file that can be transferred to a CD through e-mail. These features make it easy for people to share the ancestral information they have gathered with other family members.

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