In the very early stages of your research you will find that you need not only an efficient filing system for your paper records, but also a medium for recording data. The most efficient way to do this is via a family history program installed on your own computer. There are many programs available, some of which are free to download from the internet.
Some of the most popular packages, listed in alphabetical order, are:
For Windows operating system
For Apple Mac
Some companies offer demonstration discs so that you can test the software before purchasing the complete package. You may be lucky to find a program on cover discs on genealogy or computer magazines, and although these are not normally full program discs, it gives you the opportunity to try before you buy.
Most of these programs have dedicated help forums or online help desks but if you have a problem try posting a query in our Family Tree Software
forum to see if any of our members can help and advise.
Further information is also available in the FTF Reference Library for some of the more popular packages (click on program name)
What will the program do?
- It will enable you to record and store all your data in one place, easily accessible to you at all times.
- Most programs have a “Notes” section – an ideal place to record your family stories and make notes relevant to your research. You will also find that there are preset sections to record a variety of different types of information, such as births/baptisms, marriages, deaths/burials, occupations, religion, census details, nationality, education etc.
- At the click of a button (or mouse!) you can instantly produce different types of charts and reports, such as family group sheets, ancestor and descendant charts, relationship charts, genealogy and custom reports. These are invaluable, not only for your own purposes, but also for sharing your information with family and contacts.
Important things to remember:
- Check your program's help section to ensure you are entering information in the correct format, particularly when entering dates.
- Record your sources. You will soon find yourself with numerous pieces of paper containing data and notes. When you have entered these into your program it is very import to record the source, whether it be from a relative/contact, a website, or a certificate. Although you may know at the time where it has come from, be assured that in six month's or a year's time you will have forgotten!
- Make sure you verify all your data. There is no point spending time, money and effort tracing the wrong ancestor.
- The most important thing of all is to back up your data on a regular basis. To be on the safe side make at least two copies of your data, preferably on a different medium, e.g. CD / DVD / Pen drive / External hard drive. Some programs also offer an Internet backup facility for a small annual fee. Whatever happens, make sure that all your hard work and research is not lost in the event of hard disc failure.
Publishing your data to the Internet
There are various ways of publishing your tree on the internet so that other researchers or friends and family can view it.
- Using a software package such as The Next Generation, HuMo-gen or webtrees and webspace to host your site, you can create and display your own Family History pages on the internet.
- Tree building sites, such as Ancestry, Tribal Pages, Findmypast, Genes Reunited and My Great Big Family have become popular over recent years. Some people use these sites to store the master copy of their tree rather than using a software package on their own PC. The danger with this is that the data is not kept under your control and relies on the security of a third party. However, should you wish to publish your information on the internet, or share you research with family and friends, then uploading your data to one of these sites is an ideal way of doing it. It is generally possible to password protect your data should you wish, so that your information is not freely available for all to see.
- Mapping the lives of your ancestors, using a site such as Ancestral Atlas, is another way to publish the details to the internet,
- Family Tree Maker 2006 allows you to produce your own web page, which is created automatically through the program. Your tree is uploaded from your computer, with any information on living people being automatically hidden. You can add photos, charts and reports and the page can be password protected. This facility is not available on the more recent versions of the program.
- Although Family Tree Forum does not offer a tree building facility, we do give members the option of uploading a GEDCOM file to our Names Database, accessed by clicking on the word GEDCOM on the blue navigation bar. The database is searchable by name or place, thus allowing you to find others researching the same names and localities.
- Members of FTF have the opportunity to create their own blog, accessed via the BLOG link on the navigation bar at the top of the screen. Blogs are picked up by google searches which may lead to contact from fellow researchers.
Writing up your research
When you feel you have sufficient information collected you may consider producing a general family history book, possibly using some of the following ideas.
- Chapters can be added to cover different surnames, occupations, areas/districts and favourite ancestors. A book developed this way will have a wider appeal than one devoted to just one or two people.
- Even a humble agricultural labourer can make an interesting subject if there are photographs, old maps or extracts of a census image included with the text. A story about the working life of an ag lab can make interesting reading.
- An unusual surname can be researched and the origins of the name explained, perhaps the name is associated with a specific area?
- Military ancestors can make interesting subjects, stories relating to the regiment, military career and medals awarded make military ancestors worthy of a page or two.
- The local area can also be used as a basis for a chapter. Photographs, both old and new, can show where ancestors lived and worked and how an area may have changed over time. Images can be included, for example of churches to show where baptisms, marriages or burials occurred, or to show a tour around a particular town or village.
- Click here for an example of a published book.