Monday, July 13, 2009

When you start losing whole counties, it's time to buy some software

Earlier this week, I noticed someone had linked on their GeneologyWise to Adams County, Illinois. And I thought, "Hey! I've got someone in Adams County, Illinois! Wait. Who do I have in Adams County, Illinois?" Which sent me on a fifteen minute quest to figure out what was up with Adams County.

(For the record, my great-grandmother, Mabel Bennett, lived there for about seven years of her childhood, and the family still had connections there once they moved across the border to Missouri. It was one of those small towns with newspaper articles like, "Miss Helen Wooten is spending the week in Monticello, Mo. with Misses Elsie and Mabel Bennett. The latter gave a party Wednesday for Miss Wooten.")

My point is, I shouldn't be losing track of entire counties. So it's time to buy some software.

Fortunately, the topic for Geneabloggers this week is software, so I can spend the week reading the reviews of people who like (or don't like) their software. Here's what I'm going to be watching for.

Help me sort it all
I really don't care one way or the other about producing pretty family trees. But I want to be able to quickly figure out who is from Adams County. I want to quickly find all the newspaper articles referring to the Bennett family. I'd like to be able to pull up all the women who were over the age of 30 in 1902. (I'm not sure why I'd want that last one, exactly, but you have to admit would be a really cool software if it can do that.)

Help me cite
I bought a copy of Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence, because if I'm going to do this genealogy thing, I'm going to do it right. And for now, I don't mind terribly flipping through the book trying to figure out the correct format and all the necessary information for every source I use. It's probably good practice. But I'd like it if I had a software that gave me prompts for my citation.

What I really want is something powerful enough to cite everything. I've noticed that sometimes I get a person birth day from one place and their birth year from somewhere else, and I'm really sure of, say, the date, but not so sure of the year. I want software that will let me keep track of that.

Let me organize facts and let me tell stories
It's a given that my software will help me track marriage dates and birth dates and where the family was for the 1920 census. But I also want plenty of space to write out narrative stories, and I want to be able to cite what I say in the stories too.

Help me keep track of what I don't know
I've got this really inelegant thing happening on Google Docs right now, where every person I research has a file for what I think I know but am not sure about, and what I don't know but would like to. I want software that's at least a step up from my Google Docs method. I'd like some way to enter information about my thought processes and theories and places to check next, and not just the confirmed facts.

Eek! Subdue my research log!
What I really want is something that will help me out with a research log. I dutifully keep a research log, but it's cumbersome and confusing and does not, I think, live up to its intended purpose. My research log is so unwieldy that I rarely use it to go back and look at what I did. I need a better method.

What else? To those you use their software and love it, and to those who use their software and hate it, what should I watch for (and watch out for) when I'm making my choice?
What else?


  1. Hey Jessica. Good luck with your hunt for software. I used Family Tree Maker for going on 10 years. I started with version 8.0. I have recently run out of patience with FTM, but my search for something of comparable power isn't panning out. If source documentation is your sticker, Mark Tucker at discusses this at length.
    I guess this isn't really an answer, but a nod to let you know there are others on the quest!

  2. Hi Jessica,
    Welcome from a fellow fledgling genealogist! I'm excited to watch you traverse the world of genealogy, I think we'll have a lot in common:-) I use Legacy, but I'm very interested in a program that keeps track of negative searches and helps with a better research log. Good luck on your search,

  3. Jeanne - After some further investigation, I'm trying to decide between Legacy, Family Tree Maker, and Master Genealogist. I'm leaning toward Master Genealogist because the reviews say that, although it's not at all user-friendly, it's the most powerful and flexible software on the market. Do you have any experience with Master Genealogist?

    Amanda - Thanks for the welcome! I think we will have a lot in common. I'm a Library and Information Science student too, or at least I was until recently. I just finished my Master's degree in May. Good luck on starting your classes!

  4. The Master Genealogist is your best answer. There is a bit of a learning curve but everything is there that you asked for and much more...great for beginners as well as professional genealogists. I tried everything and TMG has been the best. AND ...they have great Customer Service and the support groups are amazing. P.S. I am not affliated with TMG in any way...just a user, a fan and a 30+ year genealogy enthusiast.


  5. So far, The Master Genealogist is the most robust and the most flexible as to citing sources. You can "grade" a source as to reliability. However, TMG depends heavily on user programming in its own "language" and it can get difficult to use.

    You can set it to emulate Elizabeth Shown Mills's citation formats, or to other styles, if you prefer.

    If you decide on TMG, you want to get a book called Getting the Most Out of the Master Genealogist (known in the community as GTMOOTMG, and pronounced "gut-MOOT-meg") by Lee Hoffman. Also, there are forums and a e-newsletter produced by the community. It does constitute better customer support overall than with other programs. It's peer-to-peer support.

    Before you start making entries, decide what source-citation format you are going to use, and also how you're going to format the "short title" of your sources. I use the format (as an example) BIRT Karen Packard or CENSUS 1790 Richards Packard for short titles. That puts the type of source first and then the name, with the year as necessary (to distinguish censuses, for example).

    TMG also includes self-diagnostics to find where you may have discrepant data or duplicate entries for a particular name. You can examine the data and decide if that constitutes a duplicate entry or if you have two people with the same name.

    I haven't looked at FTM in several years. I switched from FTM to TMG something like 10 years ago because at the time I was not happy with the way FTM dealt with sources. My understanding is that it has changed in the past few years. Find someone who uses the latest version and see what they have to say about it. A new version -- what appears to be a complete revamp -- is coming out next year or so. I would wait until that release comes out to buy FTM if you decide to do so, because it won't be an upgrade. One who buys the current version now and wants the later version will have to pay full price for it; that's my understanding from what I've read, anyway.

  6. Hi there,
    I love the trial and try it out. I've used it for years, way better than FTM. I havent used TMG but hear its steep learning curve. Rootsmagic has robust citations, LOTS of reports (and ability to customize), ability to make Groups ( I can seperate them by Surname), and the ability to share source citiations so for examply, you can enter a census once & share it between everyone that's listed. Bottom line, whichever one you feel comfortabel with--downlaod the free trials--but give Rootsmagic a look. Good luck with your research!

  7. Coming in a little late, but I'll add my 2 cents worth. I am a TMG user and love the ability to customize things, but that's just me. The great thing is that most of the major genealogy software companies offer trial versions - I know that both RootsMagic and TMG do. That's how I decided on TMG...I had the trial version and had imported my data into it. I found that when I needed to look something up I started going to into TMG - without thinking about it. It just seemed to be my natural choice. So, I would say do some shopping around and see what feels like the natural fit for you.

  8. Hey Jessica! I just discovered your blog today and just wanted to say that this is a great post!

    I like Roots Magic - which is recently started using just last month. However, I find it to be really intuitive to use, great for sources (must admit, it is better than Legacy with sources).

    I can't wait to hear about what you pick!

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  10. Great Blog Jessica. I am passing along to you the Kreativ Blogger Award, you can pick it up at my blog