“Teach Me Something”: September Genealogy Blog Party

Elizabeth O’Neal’s September Genealogy Blog Party theme is, fittingly, Teach Me Something, as September is the traditional back-to-school time for American students. Yes, being a retired teacher, I know that many school districts now begin the school year in August, but September will always signal back-to-school for me!

I have to admit I kept going back and forth about what to write for the “Teach Me Something” blog party. My first thought was to get on my soapbox, so to speak, about an issue that troubles me each time I come across it. The second was to share some lesser known fun websites for genealogy.

In the end, I compromised with myself and decided to do both in one post. I’ll begin with my soapbox speech. I do realize that for many readers I am preaching to the choir, but if just one person’s eyes are opened, I have done a good job.

I’ve been in a fair number of libraries and even genealogical society meetings, involving not only newbies but experienced genealogists, too, where the topic of conversation is to keep his/her ONE AND ONLY family tree on a public website, e.g. Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch Family Tree and WikiTree.

I’ve had those more experienced researchers ask me what was wrong with having their only tree on some website and I’ve cringed when in libraries I hear staff encourage newbies to post their information on a universal public tree and never say a word about also using a genealogy software program.

Why is keeping one solitary family tree online a terrible practice?

  1. Companies and websites, come and go, changing hands or marching into cyberspace oblivion every day. What will you do if your beloved family tree, which encompasses a lot of work, is on one of those disappearing websites?
  2. If your family tree is on a subscription site, are you planning to subscribe to it forever (assuming it is around that long) because when your subscription ends, you lose some access to your own tree. For example, images attached from the paid site to your tree will not be accessible if you aren’t a current subscriber. If you click on an attached image, you will get a message to pay for a plan. Even if you are a subscriber, what if you want a new relative (who isn’t a subscriber) to view your tree? They won’t be able to.
  3. A side issue, but directly related to your own access, is the fact that databases on websites come and go. Images attached directly to online trees from a website will have broken links if the company doesn’t renew its contract with the repository holding ownership of the records. ALWAYS take the few extra steps needed to save the (renamed) image to your own computer and then attach it to your family tree.
  4. When using a “one universal tree” like FamilySearch Family Tree and WikiTree, others can add to, change or delete information about YOUR relatives. I know of cases where a careful researcher has had an entire branch of the family tree removed and replacement with that of a person with the same name, but which is incorrect. That is one of the most common errors I find with the universal family tree concept. Two or more people of the same name are merged into one, non-existent being. Universal trees are terrific for collaboration, but should never, ever be the sole family tree from which you work.

If you are now wondering what to do about your one and only online family tree, there are several options with genealogy software. Each of these six programs have free trial versions available:

  1. RootsMagic 7,  Tutorials, $29.95
  2. Family Historian 6, Tutorials, $49.95
  3. Legacy 9, Tutorials, $34.95
  4. Ancestral Quest 15, Tutorials, $29.95 with key for version 16, soon to be released
  5. Heredis 2019 – PC and native Mac, Tutorials, $10.99 on sale right now for PC and $21.98 for Mac, also on sale
  6. Reunion 12– Mac only, Tutorials, cost is $99.00 US

I actually own all of these programs because I wanted to try them out and bought them all at sale prices. Sale season – aka the holiday season – is not far off, so you might want to watch for upcoming sales.

Download the free versions, try them out and see which program you prefer as they all have some neat bells and whistles. It may come down to the visual format and navigation preferences that you find most pleasing.

There is one more well-known program that isn’t on the list above for two reasons. Family Tree Maker 2017  has no free trial version and it is, by far, the most expensive PC program at $79.95. There is a Mac version available, too, but I don’t think it is a native Mac program.

If you want to keep control of your work, want to be sure that you can always access it and share with others at your convenience, then I strongly urge you to choose a genealogy software program. Most online trees can be synced or downloaded to your software program.

OK, I’m off the soapbox.

Next, I want to share links to a few lesser-known websites that are great assets to genealogy research.

  1. First Settlers – Tracing Your American Immigrant Ancestor on Genealogy Village – I stumbled across this website not long ago and wrote about it. It is basically a small library of links to digitized genealogical and historical books found online.
  2. Zotero – This is a free utility program that describes itself as your personal research assistant, used in many colleges as a sophisticated research log and source citation generator. I also blogged about this program. I plan to spend more time learning how to use Zotero.
  3. Transcript by Jacob Boerema – If you transcribe documents, then this freeware program is a must have! I use it all the time to transcribe wills and other documents. All you need to do is upload your image into Transcript and get going. I love it because I can enlarge words that are difficult to read. Files can be saved, but I just copy and paste my completed transcription into Word and save it that way.
  4. Adobe Spark – This is another free, easy to use tool to create short visual family stories.
  5. Google Tour Builder – I can’t take credit for this one. Jamie Gates, who writes Applegate Genealogy discovered this neat product and wrote a great post on how to use it back in April 2019. This is my favorite new tech toy to play with!

I hope my list has given you at least one new resource to try out! Thanks, Elizabeth, for this month’s theme. 🙂

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