Lost in the family tree...
February 16, 2009 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I've been sucked in by the hobby of genealogy. now what?

Can you recommend some ways to stay organized and record my findings electronically that a - doesn't cost $13 a month a la ancestry and doesn't look completely cheesy/ Just looking for simple basic chart that might help me stay on track....
posted by chickaboo to Human Relations (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If you're using a PC, then I highly recommend the Legacy software. The standard version is free, and is good enough to keep you organized and produce some really helpful charts. The deluxe version is only $30 (one time fee), and comes with features that will help you identify holes in your research and how you might want to go about filling them.
posted by donajo at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2009

My mum does this a LOT. Family Tree Maker is not free but is very powerful.
posted by katrielalex at 7:40 AM on February 16, 2009

Yay, we've caught another one! *cackles maniacally*

First off, you're going to need some sort of family tree database program to organize your data. Most of them will also spit out pretty charts for you (printed or in PDF form), and easily create indented books of descendants or ancestors of a certain person.

For the past several years, I've been using a free program called "Brother's Keeper", which is unfortunately only available for Windows (and is one of the only reasons I use Parallels on my Mac these days). The majority of other genealogists I know use one of the many versions of Family Tree Maker, whose newer versions have a lot of automatic tie-in to the ancestry.com online records (census images, etc.).

And speaking of websites, ancestry.com is super-expensive every year, but absolutely worth the cost, in my opinion. If you don't want to subscribe, make sure you find out about the nearest library where you can use it, because you'll be all over that site.

And get to know your local Mormon (LDS) family history center. They're totally free (if you're not an LDS member), they offer free ancestry.com and proquest.com access to their users, they have tons of nice people willing to help you out and get started, etc. I lurrrve them.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:22 AM on February 16, 2009

If you don't have LDS nearby (or just feel uncomfortable going there) your public library should have databases for you to access as well for free.
posted by saucysault at 8:38 AM on February 16, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah for an amateur I'm doing ok on the research - I live in DC and there's the DAR library which has subscriptions to ancestry and some good vital records book that have been helpful... I will check out some of the links you all mentioned thank you.

Any thoughts on the best ways to share what you find with other family members? Do you put it in a blurb book or what are some ways you all have sent this stuff around?
posted by chickaboo at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2009

Have you looked at Geni? It's pretty cool, but might be a bit limited depending on how serious you are about detailed records.
posted by jferg at 11:23 AM on February 16, 2009

The National Archives will be another good resource for you, as is the LOC (old family geneology books, town history books). DAR and LDS groups across the country are generally good resources. I assume you already use things like genweb.

Seconding Family Tree Maker - We've been using it for more than a decade. Freeform notes, pictures, lots of detail. It makes splitting them up into subfamilies easily, supports multiple family databases, and prints out pretty nicely. One Christmas, everyone got books (spiral bound) of geneological info. Several relatives have the software, so my mom burns disks and distributes them every once in a while with the new info/updates
posted by julen at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2009

Oh, Geni - I left this out of my post because of rantiness, but since I spent the morning dealing with Geni... I don't think it's ready for prime-time yet.

My future sister-in-law just got us set up on geni.com which is a geneology-meets-social-networking site set up by social networking types and ecommerce types - none of the founders came from the geneology world, and it shows. For instance, GEDCOM wants you to enter FirstName MaidenName. Geni expects it to be FirstName Married/LastName. It's It is clear that they spent far more time on allowing people to connect and find than in defining and managing geneology.

It has a primitive gedcom import, a merge process that we had to do 3 times to get right, no way to delete the throwaway accounts they make you create (with unique email addess) to do a merge (so if in the future, you need to fix any small data issues you can use that account to fix them - like the last name mismatches. That's right, 2 accounts to manage 1 set of data!). We were silly enough to try it out before uploading our GEDCOM, so merging was even more difficult because it was 2 sets of data. They'd prefer it if you signed up and uploaded your data all at once.

It's also set up to make merging very difficult if you want to merge items with yourself - my mom accidentally made herself my brother, because she couldn't select herself to merge her gedcom into the simple tree my sister-in-law set up. The error messages were not helpful, and she got really frustrated. It wasn't clear how she failed or what other people saw, but she knew something was wrong. She's a fairly savvy computer user and geneologist, too.

It was also difficult and non-intuitive to delete items and people, and my new motherbrother's second profile still lists her as married to my future sister-in-law, even though I deleted every single one of the people from the failed merge (1 by 1 by 1 by 1 by 1 - after 30, I realized if I clicked fast, I could delete 3 or 4 before the page refreshed with each delete). That information is hard wired into the data structure so it shows up in motherbrother's profile even though I deleted her from the tree. I guess if I'd set her to being his ex-wife, she might not have shown up in his profile, but it was too weird to "divorce" them before they married just to clean up the data. I didn't want that information to show up in search results.

Geni needs a lot of work on improving the geneological features, but it has potential - if they hire the right product managers, information architects, and usability folks. We're going to keep using it because it's a good way to share information with her family and my family both sides of which are researching her background, but we are going to keep the master info in the Family Tree Maker program.
posted by julen at 11:50 AM on February 16, 2009

I'm a geni.com user, and I've heard similar horror stories that julen describes, but I think it should be said that Geni is aware of a lot of these problems and is very responsive when emailed for help and can fix most of the duplicate profile issues described above with just a few emails. And they are actively working on cleaning up the import process.

It is kind of odd that they would have created their whole data structure without first seeing what was already in use by others in the field (GEDCOM)

I've not run into these problems myself and I'm very happy with the service. I don't have any records previously created, so I haven't had to deal with any GEDCOM import problems.
posted by jrishel at 7:41 AM on February 17, 2009

FamilySearch.org is a large, free resource for doing genealogy research. I believe there's even a free software download, and the ability to print charts from online.
posted by ckohrman at 6:58 PM on February 18, 2009

If you're using a Mac: I'm happy with Reunion. It's not cheap, but it works well.

I have two uncles who are really into genealogy (and were happy to have lured another generation in). One sent me a binder full of research, family trees, etc. The other sent me a GEDCOM tracing his side of the family back to when people were named things like Ug and Ogg. It's hard to say which is more useful.

The uncle who does serious research sends out e-mails every now and then to anyone who's expressed interest, telling us about famous cousins in the news and what new research he's done. I like that, and if there's anything I want to add to my files he's always happy to send more references.

(By the way: I've since discovered that I'm related to at least two Mefites... and my husband. Whoops. It's a dangerous hobby.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:28 PM on February 20, 2009

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