Genealogy Essentials

Kory Meyerink over at wrote a great article called “10 Things I Could Not Live Without in Genealogy”, about, well, exactly what the title says.

One of the things he mentions is computer programs/databases using GEDCOMs. This would be my most important thing, right behind a supportive spouse (in case my wife is reading this). Having spent several hours over the past few days trying out the demos for the new versions of RootsMagic and now Legacy, have really reinforced this.

The younger folks getting into genealogy probably will never have a clue of what it was like before computer genealogy software, or even the first 10 years or so when most of the applications cost in the $100-$300 range (yes, computer genealogy software used to cost that much), and weren’t much more than really crude databases that stored a little census information, a few dates (birth, marriage), and were incapable of charting more than two or three generations. If they knew, they’d be as thankful as I am for today’s software. I can do something in a few minutes that would literally take hours in the past. If I had to pick only one use for a computer, it would be genealogy. I could go back to writing letters and paying bills by hand, as well as checking the local newspaper for the weather and sports, but genealogy without a computer….would be very uncomfortable.

Now if I want to print a chart, it’s not “I need to print these three generations, and then these three generations, and then these two generations, and then I need to tape them all together”, it’s more like “how many trees do I want to kill today”.

Think about somebody who has always used a “modern” (GEDCOM-capable) computer program and if they had to go without it – you would see them struggle with how to figure out where to go, what to copy, how to file it (in a filing cabinet), how to easily keep track of it once they’ve filed it away, and how to calculate relationships across several pages worth of family trees.

It would be interesting to see them struggle with manually creating a large pedigree chart, for instance, using only a ruler, a pencil, a nice pen, a few stencils, copypaper, a lot of whiteout, and a typewriter. I got to where I could almost do it in my sleep, I had to do it for so long. I’m sure somebody these days could still do it (such as a teacher or a graphics design type of person), but seeing a young genealogist struggle with spacing, determining where to start, etc., would be interesting (maybe cruel would be a better word). Think about it – printing out a large 6 generation chart can be done in a few minutes with a modern printer, whereas 20 years ago, it could take hours, more like days, to do it by hand. Usually what you ended up with was not very even or uniform in any way.

That’s why I never complain if a genealogy program I like has an “upgrade” price for the next major version. If it has just a few features that will somehow make my life easier or could save me some time, it’s money well spent.

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