It must be at least 15 years ago now when I was carrying out the boring task of typing up a round robin Christmas Letter for my mother that I started to question her on just who were these people who I was sending the letter to. At that time she was in her mid 80’s and her hand writing and eyesight were beginning to fail her, but not her brain, so this had become an annual task but I had never met many of the people on her list. It turned out that it was a complete mixture, some I knew like her nephews and nieces, the children of her old school friends and old neighbours, but it included her cousins and her cousins children and as she talked about relationships I got more and more confused partly because her family tended to repeat first names a lot. The answer was to sketch the immediate family tree down on a sheet of A4 starting with me and my brother and my parents drawn as simple named boxes connected by lines (Fig 1.1). In each box I added data that I knew, or could glean from my mother, like dates of birth, marriages and in the case of my
Next I started to expand the tree with boxes for my maternal and paternal grandparents (Fig 1.2). Mums memory was pretty good and she could offer dates for her parents, but not my fathers. Hint – You should always use the mother’s maiden name when creating a tree as it will make the tree flow logically.
Mum suddenly remembered that she had a box tucked away in the bottom of a wardrobe with some things I might find interesting. This box contained all sorts of birth, death and marriage certificates which as the last of her generation she had collected over the years for her parents and their siblings, her own siblings and it even included some of my fathers side of the family. The tree was now getting far too big and too complicated to go onto a sheet of A4 so I acquired a larger sheet from work and started drawing it all out again to include boxes for her and my fathers siblings, my Aunts and Uncles (Fig 1.3). This was when I ran into my first problem, a dead uncle had married a war widow who already had a young son whom he had legally adopted. How did I show this and how did I go about finding my cousins birth name and his biological father and would he thank me for poking my nose in where I might not be welcome. At this stage I decide discretion was the better part of valour, and simply drew a box linked to my aunt labelled “unknown” for the father. Hint – When laying out your tree always show the box containing the eldest sibling on the left, with the younger siblings arranged in descending age with the youngest on the right.
By now the tree was getting too big for even the enlarged sheet I had acquired so what to do next. The initial answer was actually fairly obvious but I had missed it earlier. In those days I had joined Friends Reunited and they had launched a companion program, Genes Reunited, for recording family trees on the internet. I joined up and started to add my tree. It was now that I started to realise the importance of documentation not just assuming. For example, because someone tells you that a person was married to another person, without proof it is worthless. A copy of the marriage certificate is ideal but you will probably have to buy it. There is a website called freeBDM (www.freebdm.org.uk) which has searchable digital versions the Birth, Death and Marriage indexes, not the actual certificates, but the indexes to them and they can be printed for reference and for later purchase. I invested in my first ring binder and clear plastic pockets that I could index and store my paper documents in.
Although trees on Genes Reunited are not visible to other users they do come up with “Tree Matches” to other people who have, what the Genes software considers to be a match for your relative. This can sometimes be useful and you can get in touch with people who are researching the same branches/people as you. When I first started out on Genes they offered very few extras, searching digital records was very limited and the software struggled to handle certain things, like the adoption I mentioned earlier, or where a person married someone already in your tree (i.e. a distant cousin). The thing that I found most inconvenient at that time was that you had to buy tokens to see some of the records they had and it could get a bit expensive if you did a lot of research. The final problem was that you were trusting your research to the internet and had no real way of backing it up other than producing a basic GEDCOM file that contained people, relationships and some data. Many of these early problems with Genes have been cured and today’s software is much improved but although I maintain a tree on it, it is no longer my primary research tool.
I decided to have a look at what software was available to better suit my requirements and found there was actually quite a lot to choose from running on everything from Windows to iOS and available as freeware, shareware and proprietary software. Whatever I selected had to have the ability to read in a GEDCOM file so that I could reuse the data I had already placed in Genes, fortunately the vast majority of programs have this feature. Below are just some that I have come across, they are all pretty different, many of the free programs have no links to the records you will need to research, some charge on a per record access basis, some give free access to basic records (Birth, Marriage and Deaths) and some include free access to all sorts of records when you subscribe. Be careful, there are many different levels of subscription to some programs that give access to British records, American Records and overseas records (Australia for example). I suggest sort out your requirements, for example do you have relatives who emigrated. Then a have a good look at what’s available and satisfies your needs. Some programs offer a free trial, before committing to anything so it may be sensible to try before you buy. This is what I did before settling for Ancestry as it ran both on my PC and had an iOS app for my iPad that ran off the same internet database. It had access to records included in my subscription that was second to none and I could upload photos and other documents to store online. But the clincher for me was that it could communicate with Family Tree Maker on a Windows PC. Therefore, not only could I download my online Ancestry tree and have it automatically convert it into FTM format, but I could use FTM to search Ancestry records and even Family Search records, download them to FTM and then upload them to my Ancestry tree. I could even back up the FTM tree to a data file that I could store off the PC on a disc of data stick. I now had a belt and brace system, with my digital data stored online, on my PC and on portable storage.
Here is a list of some of the available programs, in no particular order.
Legacy Family Tree – Freeware (F) and Propriety (P) for Windows and Mac.
Roots Magic – F, P for Win, Mac, Android and iOS.*
Reunion – P for Mac and iOS.
Gramps – F for Win, OSX and Linux.
Family Historian – P for Win.
Brothers Keeper – F for Win.
Genealogy J – F for Win.
Family Tree Maker – P for Win and Mac.
Mac Family Tree – P for Mac and iOS.
Tree Draw – Shareware (S) for Win.
The Master Genealogist – P for Win.
Gene Pro – F, P for Win.*
Kith and Kin – S for Win.
Find my Past – P for Win.
Ancestry – P for Win and iOS
Family Search – F for Win.#
Roots Web – F for Win.
Programs marked thus * have a basic free version but the Proprietary version unlocks extra features.
# This program is offered free by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but requires free registration. The Church tries to build individual trees into a single “worldwide” tree, that allows them to baptise the dead into the church as they believe it saves their souls!
In the next part I will discuss using my setup to build a tree.
© WorthingGooner 2018