For many of us, computers have become an essential tool in searching for information about our ancestors. Joy Roy, FGSV (1998) who is a member of GUM (Genealogists using Microcomputers) group, author of several books, and principal researcher for Genealogical Jig-saw, outlined some family history programs, internet sites and uses of modern digital accessories which may help our research.
It takes a lot of time and concentration to type a family tree into a computer. The advantage of using a family tree program is that it can very quickly produce charts and reports from a massive amount of data. Birth dates and 'sort' dates automatically place children in the correct order. Several family tree programs are on the market and some offer free downloads as a trial. One essential element to look for is the ability to save information in what is called a GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunications) file. This is a world-wide form of storing data which can be transferred from one genealogy program to another.
GUM can offer advice on the different family tree programs available, and have provided a computer at the Genealogical Society of Victoria so a comparison can be made. Amongst the best known programs are Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic, The Master Genealogist, and Family Historian. Family Tree Maker is American and is produced by the Ancestry group. One unfortunate aspect of this package is that it is only too easy to upload your information to the website, ancestry.com. Joy personally finds The Master Genealogist too complicated whilst Family Historian might appeal to some because it is British rather than American. It has a free version to download.
Google is probably the most popular search engine used on the internet, but it good to try others like Ask, Vivisimo and Dogpile. Information on the internet is constantly changing so if you find relevant information, make a note of the URL or 'address' so you can search for it again. Better still, save the information or 'copy' it and 'paste' it into a word program with the web address as the source of the information. You might not find it again.
There are too many websites to mention but one Australian site with lots of information is Cora Num'sWeb Sites for Genealogists.
Some websites which have indexes require registration and charge a fee to look at results. The Land Titles Office charges a fee whilst the Australian War Memorial site offers free information. The use of credit cards for the purchase of genealogy records on line appears to be quite safe. However for those with doubts vouchers for some websites can be bought at the Genealogical Society of Victoria and GUM has vouchers for Ancestry.com.
While searching indexes it pays to have a bit of imagination as there are many errors in the transcriptions. Many indexes are now transcribed by people who do not have English as their first language and are trained to recognise letters by their shape. Joy searched for an ancestor who lived at Staley-Bridge. The original census record is easy to read but it was transcribed in an index as Scaby Cridge!
All your information can be saved on CDs, DVDs and memory sticks. You can scan photos, scan a typed page of notes and convert it into moving text which can be edited. With a digital camera, family heirlooms and photos owned by others can be photographed and downloaded onto a computer where editing can be done. Power Point provides a way of showing your information to others via your laptop computer. Having said all that and bearing in mind that we are encouraged to be a paperless society it is probably still a good idea to keep all information on paper as well.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)
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