Thursday, January 05, 2006

Don't use WordPerfect or Word exclusively

From: Polly
I am wanting to get my family genealogy, which is typewritten, into the computer so that all family members can easily add their own info. The problem is formatting this. I don't want to go through that [genealogy] software program because then all will have to purchase the software. I do want to add photos where possible, and do like to use WordPerfect which is easily compatible with Word. Do you have any suggestions?


OK, so you are to the point where you want to ask your family members for information, that you can easily copy/paste into your book? You can bet, dear Polly, that even if you do provide a form, each response will come with exceptions, which will make you want to pull out your hair. Let's break down my response into 2 categories:

-- gathering the information
-- getting it digitized

Ask any genealogist, and they tell you one of the hardest thing about compiling a genealogy book is to get the names, dates and other information from your immediate family members. First, they think you are nuts for wanting to talk about dead people. Secondly, they are overwhelmed by your letter/email request. Some may consider it an invasion of privacy to give you more details on their living children and grandchildren.

Ol' Myrt here recommends sending out an email to get them excited about your family history project, promising them a copy. Maybe share an ancestor's photo, and explain a little about how you are all related to this colorful character.

Snail mail each family a partially-completed family group sheet, so new info can be added. Believe me, about 80% of the forms will not be returned in time. Be prepared to do follow-up telephone interviews where YOU type the information about each of your siblings, their spouses and children. YES, they can hear you typing, but then they already know you are working on this project. Save THEIR efforts for gathering those photos and making copies of vital records to forward to you ASAP.

You are right to want to get those old printed family history sheets into a computer, so that it can be edited and expanded as more information comes to light. But, please don't use Word or WordPerfect, use a genealogy program.

-- ANY genealogy program can create a word-processing file that you can share with the non-genealogists in the family in printed or digital format.
-- ANY genealogy program will allow you to copy information from email and then paste it to the appropriate fields or notes.

AT THE VERY LEAST, use PAF Personal Ancestral File -- its free. Even though PAF doesn't have all the bells and whistles as other genealogy management programs like Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, Reunions or The Master Genealogist; PAF will keep your data accessible for the foreseeable future.

YOU WANT A GENEALOGY PROGRAM so that it will work with GenSmarts. Remember, eventually you are going to want to do more research on those oldest known ancestors. GenSmarts is that wonderful artificial intelligence program that does the analysis of your database, compares it with online and offline genealogical resources, and provides a list of research goals when it finds likely matches. Those quite simply are things that a word processing program cannot do for you.

Remember, ol' Myrt here has taught WordPerfect since the version 5.1 days at her local Vo-Tech until Word became more the norm, and I've been into computerized genealogy even longer.

-- Print out blank family group sheets to distribute to your family members for their input.

-- Type ONCE each person's name along with dates and localities of birth, marriage and death.

-- Print out a variety of reports, including a book. If you specify "print to file" the book can be edited in Word or WordPerfect, and then final copies can be easily distributed to members of your family in paper or digital format.

-- Use the "note" option for each individual to paste any pertinent email from family members.

-- House the biographical sketches and anecdotes about each individual in paragraph format in "notes" as well.

-- Specify whether or not to include those notes in your book.

-- Attach photos, videos and sound clips to each ancestor.

-- Import a GEDCOM file sent to you by a new-found cousin who just happens to have already typed-in 4 generations on your paternal grandmother's side, complete with children and their spouses as well. This saves tons of typing.

-- Export the data to whatever new genealogy software strikes your fancy.

-- Create a read-only CD of data and multi-media files with at least one of the better genealogy programs.

IF YOU DON'T USE A GENEALOGY PROGRAM, YOU ARE JUST COMPOUNDING THE PROBLEM. Sticking with a word-processing program means you are simply making a printed book that someone else will have to digitize using a genealogy program. Also, with a word processing program, as you pointed out, the problem is formatting. Are you that good at indenting, numbering generations, and making sure the style is the same for each individual's vital statistic paragraphs? How about generating an index? I certainly can't claim those skills. Genealogy software does it effortlessly with just a mouse-click or two.

IF SOMEONE HAS TO GET IT DIGITIZED, YOU SHOULD DO IT, KIDDO. Once its in the computer in a genealogy program you'll never have to type that data in again. You can share it with anyone; upload it to your personal or public website; and use GenSmarts for real sleuthing once you get the known family history info organized.


-- Set up family space at where you can upload the genealogy database you are working on, so people can update and correct it. Access is limited to those you invite. There is space to upload photos, and it can act as a central storage for your family with a calendar, message board and chat room. There is a small annual cost for this service.

-- If you want to pay for your own web space, you can use something called "PhpGedView." Dick Eastman installed it and explains it is an innovative approach to maintaining a genealogy database. "You open a web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc.), connect to the web server, and edit your genealogy data as you wish. You can import data from GEDCOM files, manually add or edit data, or even add multimedia files, such as photos and document images. You can also run reports." See: He explains that its possible to limit access to those you specify, and that its ideal if you've got a family of genealogists who need to maintain a central database. While the program itself is free, the web server isn't.

Ol' Myrt here agrees with Dick Eastman that eventually we'll all be maintaining our genealogy databases on the web, so that we can access them anytime, anywhere. But to get you, dear Polly, through your immediate project, please use a genealogy program of your choice and have it create a book "printed to file" instead of paper. This can be "final edited" in your WordPerfect or Word.

ONE LAST BIT OF ADVICE: Send out a preview copy of the appropriate pages to each family for final review. Its possible that you've made a typo on your sister-in-law's birth date. She'd appreciate the correction before the final book goes to press.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)

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