Casefile Clues

10 October 2013

Genealogical Software-Some Thoughts

In the early days of my research I used genealogical database software regularly, entering in names, dates, and locations (and sources). My research was about how many names I could accurately accumulate. I was always concerned about accuracy of information and entering in reliable information, which was fortunate. But I wanted to get as much information into my database as I could. There was no mistake about that.

Then I genealogically grew up.I'll be honest, I haven't used a genealogical software package regularly in fifteen years. Seriously. It is fine with me if people have a software program that they swear by. I don't and that's just fine with me.

My research has progressed and hopefully has become more sophisticated than it was in 1986 when I first used a computer for information storage. The more I research, the less need I find for using a genealogical database to actually "help" me with that research. In fact, I generally find a database limiting and constraining for my analysis. Most software requires me to make information fit forms or patterns into which the information or the analysis of that information does not fit. For me the migration away from software really started when I began researching families before the American Revolution in the South--where there are not really vital records and most dates are "estimations" obtained from analyzing a variety of sources. I also became frustrated with deciding what name to use for ancestors that had multiple last names at different parts of their lives.

I was spending too much time trying to "trick" software to do what I wanted and not enough time on research.

I have another approach that helps me to organize what I find and assist me in drawing conclusions and deciding where to progress.

I write.

I write a lot.

I create my own charts and tables as a part of that writing process to organize data relevant to a specific problem or family. I use software regularly, just not genealogical software. I find that writing is the best way to strengthen my research, to analyze information I have located, and to make conclusions from the evidence I've discovered. Writing in many ways is free form (even citations can have slight variations from one author to another). When writing, I'm not spending my time trying to pigeonhole information into fields in a database and make it" fit" someone else's ideal. To me all that time "making it fit" is time wasted.

There are times where sources do not allow me to reach solid conclusions--or at least ones that I think are reliable enough to enter into any database. And the analysis, logic, and methodology simply does not often  fit into someone's preconceived ideas of database entries. There are gray areas in the interpretation of records and documents--how to I assign reliability of a piece of information on a scale from 1 to 5? And if I'm going to assign that level of perceived reliability, I need to give some justification. I shouldn't simply "click" a checkbox and call it classified.

I do understand using software to manage large projects and relationships involving large numbers of individuals. And I understand how software relieves the individual from the need to constantly re-enter in repetitive information. And creating a database or spreadsheet of sources used is an excellent idea. I use a computer for my genealogical research on a regular basis.

But the only thing I use a genealogical software program for on a regular basis is to print a pretty chart.