Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What Software Programs Should I be Using?

I just wrote some of my comments about the recently released Users Choice Awards from Louis Kessler's website on Genealogy's Star. My comments were directed to the general genealogical community. But I did have a few more observations to make that are directed at those involved in family history in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One of the great advantages to going to a large genealogy conference, such as the upcoming RootsTech 2016 Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah is the ability to view, learn about and talk to the various venders of software programs. One inexplicable reality of RootsTech 2016 and all of the preceding annual conferences is the fact that some well-reviewed software programs have never been mentioned nor have the developers made any appearance at the RootsTech conferences.

Another interesting observation is that some of the most prominent participants in the conference have programs that receive bad reviews or at least do not have many positive reviews. The availability and advertising of a product does not determine its utility or suitability for anyone's individual needs. Generally, the price of genealogical software is very low in comparison to other purchases we make on a regular basis. I have discussed the contrast between the cost of purchasing genealogical products and the cost of say, attending sporting events, in the past. I did have an interesting encounter this past week or so when I was asked to come over to a friend's house and "look at why his printer wasn't working." He had purchased a used printer at a surplus property disposal auction several years ago. As a result of an operating system update, his printer was no longer recognized by the upgraded operating system and the manufacturer of the printer had stopped supporting the printer driver for his particular model. I spent quite some time with him trying to convince him that although his printer still worked fine (it made a good test print) it was useless for his needs to connect to his computer. The irony of the situation was that his printer was one of the least expensive models and the sticking point, that he repeated many times was that he had just bought a "new" toner cartridge for the printer.

Now, I have seen this same situation repeated over and over again and I will probably see it happen even more times in the future. Technology changes. Hardware and software becomes obsolete even when it continues to operate. The danger is that, like my friend, it can stop working at very inopportune times, like when you just bought a new toner cartridge. By the way, a brand new comparable printer to the one owned by my friend could be purchased for under $150 so it is also notable that he bought the printer used as it was being replaced by the institution that sold it to him.

From this standpoint, the most telling fact about this year's User Choice Awards from is the inclusion of "unsupported" programs such as the venerable and practically indestructible Personal Ancestral File. Many members of the Church view the programs and procedures implemented by FamilySearch and hence the Church in general as canonical when, in fact, they are just examples of the most recent technology at the time. As I have pointed out many times in the past, Personal Ancestral File (PAF) was discontinued by FamilySearch (to many users "the Church") in 2002, now more than thirteen years ago and yet, it is still listed as receiving ranking in the top User Choice Awards for 2015.

The arguments in favor of PAF are by and large nonsensical. The reality is that this one program has probably been the cause of losing more genealogical data than any other program. We are still getting people bringing in old PAF data files on floppy disks for retrieval. It is becoming harder and harder, not yet quite impossible, to resurrect this old data.

What genealogical software programs should you be using? One of my basic criteria for using a program is the ability to transfer data from that program to an online family tree and particularly to the Family Tree. That's it folks. That is where I start. I would love to use some of the really great genealogy programs out there but with the amount of data I have to deal with, I choose to use programs that facilitate making corrections to and entering data into the Family Tree. So, look at the reviews and see who does a good job of transferring your data to the Family Tree.

There is never going to be a last word on the subject of software and hardware. Technology will continue to change and I will continue to change which programs I use and how I use them. Read the reviews. Think about doing your family history and look for the software and hardware tools that will do the best job for what you need.

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