Saturday, December 8, 2007

Genealogical Software (mostly griping)

I was going to post a Frappr map here tonight, but couldn't get Frappr to cooperate. It started out by not recognizing me, so I had to set my account up again, then it kept freezing on me.

Okay, it's in beta, and some genius I shall not name at the place where I work decided to take our e-mail off Outlook and switch to Zimbra, and I hope you are never so cursed as to have to deal with Zimbra as an e-mail client--among other things, unless you have a gigantic server, it slows down EVERYTHING, even if you're not on dial-up, which I am, and we do not have a gigantic server and word is that our server provider won't provide us with anything bigger. (I really really REALLY hate Zimbra.) So it's probably not all Frappr's fault.

But this leads me to the subject of genealogical software. I'm sort of a software freak--I love software programs and have all kinds of stuff that I don't often use on my computer just because I was overcome by the gee-whiz factor (I also don't often use some of them because I tend to download the free trial/demo versions, which are generally pretty limited).

For genealogy, I started out using AFT, which was free. Free is good. And if you poke around, you can still actually find it as a free download (try browsing here: I liked it a lot--it was very easy to use and had some good features which my current software doesn't have, like the ability to print out a list of places.

My current software is Family Tree Maker, which is an Ancestry product. I'm using v.16, and it's okay--very much like AFT, minus a few things (which is weird--I never understand the purpose of messing around with perfectly good software and coming up with a new version that doesn't have the good features of the previous version and is usually *more* complicated to use instead of less--Office 2007 being a real good example). Its best feature, as far as I'm concerned, is that if you have an Ancestry subscription, it will search Ancestry for you (sort of--I have some problems with that, too, but still, it's a good starting place) without your having to leave the program.

Let me say right now: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GET FTM 2008!! It is a gigantic software lemon and a waste of your money. I've seen nothing but complaints about it on the board. So far, I've been unable to get my version to recognize that I'm connected to the internet, so I haven't even been able to register it, let alone download any of the patches, but from what I've been reading, this is a good thing. FTM v. 16 is still available, so if you're looking for genealogy software and are thinking about FTM, v. 16 is the one to get.

Okay. So since you can't print a list of place names using FTM, I got Map My Family Tree, which seemed like a good idea at the time. It's not quite what I'd hoped. In the first place, every time you start the thing, it goes through your entire tree all over again and if you just wanted to get started working, sorry--it's going to take 10 or 15 minutes for it to re-sort everything. In the 2nd place, it doesn't show county lines on theUS maps, which is dumb. In the third place--well, this is partly my fault and partly FTM--there's only one slot to put things. By this I mean, if you enter a Fact in FTM like Occupation, there's a box for the date, and then there's a box to enter the occupation. Map My Family Tree insists on reading this stuff as place names and goes through all sorts of contortions trying to find Housejoiner or Banker, and flags pop up in Africa and China and other extremely unlikely places. You're supposed to be able to permanently block it from considering stuff like that, but I haven't been able to get it to work. The part that's my fault is that when I'm doing Residence, I'll often enter the place, and add a note like "living next door to parents," and since computers are so literal, it considers those all different places. Obviously, FTM should have three boxes for entering a Fact: date, place, and notes. There's a Notes tab, but when I've got the Facts tab up, it's much easier to have those little 5- or 6-word notes attached to the Fact itself, where I can see it.

I confess I've gotten so aggravated with the basic sorting process in Map My Family Tree that I haven't done much playing around with the other features of the program. It might actually be helpful. There's some kind of timeline feature; that might be something useful.

Another thing I got was a download of the demo version of Timeline Maker, by Progeny. I've made several timelines for individuals, and though it's a bit cumbersome because I don't have hard copies of my families, so have to switch from the FTM window to the Timeline Maker window when I'm entering events, the results are kind of neat--for instance, you can color code things. For John Hales Brown, I did the events of his life in green, added in his wife in lavender, and his children in yellow. That makes it really easy to see at a glance when various things happened in his life. And the demo download is free. Free is good. It looks like they've created another version since I was there last, the professional version, so I may download the trial version of that, too. I can envision doing timelines comparing the Civil War movements of various soldiers, or comparing family migrations. I'm not a huge visual learner, but sometimes it helps to have a bunch of information condensed into a visual, like a graph or map.

Yet another piece of genealogical software I have is a trial version of GenSmarts. I haven't entirely made up my mind about GenSmarts yet. It's a good idea--it's supposed to sort through your data, make notes of gaps in information, and make suggestions about where or how to research the information. It's set up so you can look through the suggestions by a list of individuals, by location, or by research collection, or you can query a specific person for suggestions. I suspect it might actually be worth buying the official version of this, and it's actually pretty affordable. Check http:/ (where I see they have an updated version, which I'm downloading as I type this).

I know there are a number of other genealogy programs out there, like PAF, Legacy, and Brother's Keeper. I know nothing about them, and would be interested in hearing from others what software they use and what they feel the pros and cons are.