Most people think of family history as just finding out about their ancestors. Some go further and research their ancestors' entire families. As you go further back, the number of people whose stories you have collected increases dramatically.
In order to manage all these stories a computer is very useful; some would say vital. Once you have your computer you will need software to store and analyse your family data.
Then no doubt you will wish to share this information. You can do so either electronically, on a CD or over the internet, or by printed media. The former is relatively simple and cheap, but ephemeral; the latter is more expensive but archival. The former is useful for sharing with other researchers and interested parties; the latter for bequeathing to later generations.
These are the computer applications I have used for storing, analysing and publishing my family history stories.
Family History Research and Management
- Bob Velke's The Master Genealogist (TMG). Bob describes it as "The complete family history project manager" - software to record, analyse, manage and publish your family history. Probably the most versatile family history package available, it has been around for a long time now. I've been using it for over ten years and it is continually being improved as new techniques, such as DNA testing, are introduced.
It will produce a wide range of reports: to the screen, to a printer, to a wordprocessor, or as charts. A wide range of exhibits can be included in the reports, including illustrations and text files.
- GenSmarts. A useful aid to research. It analyses the data you already have and suggests lines of research to follow. It sounds rather futuristic but it's much more practical and useful than you might imagine and integrates seamlessly with TMG.
Even for the experienced researcher it offers a handy check that you've covered all the options. Best of all, it integrates directly with TMG.
- John Cardinal's Second Site. An amazing application which integrates directly with TMG. You select your choice of data from TMG and Second Site converts it into a collection of pages. These can then be published to the internet or saved onto a CD. This CD is an example of its output.
It offers a wide range of choices as to the information included and the way it is presented.
- Word Processors You have a wide choice here, from the old warhorse Microsoft Word to the free Open Office Writer. Most are compatible with TMG in one way or another.
When you have your family stories in your word processor, you can format their content and layout so that they look professionally written.
- Serif PagePlus. If you want to assemble your family history into a book, Desk Top Publishing (DTP) will give a much more professional result than a Word Processor. There are other much more expensive DTP packages but Serif's PagePlus does almost as much they do and certainly as much as the family historian needs, at a fraction of the price.
- Progeny's Genelines. Progeny's Genelines software not only makes family history charts, but it can include headings, make very large charts, and output them to PDF format. Once in PDF format you can print them yourself or send them to to a professional printer for output in large format.
It nicely complements the charts from TMG by adding timeline information, so you can place your family history into an historical context. Great for charts to give to the younger generation!
When you have collected all those scans of old photographs of ancestors and their homes, of wills and certificates, of tombstones and memorials, you will need to edit and manage them.
- IrfanView. A free graphic viewer. Ideal for simple jobs on graphic exhibits.
- Bryan Wetton's PathWiz! PathWiz! helps you manage the pictorial exhibits you have attached to TMG.
- Photools' IMatch. Imatch helps you keep track of all your pictorial exhibits. You can categorise all the images so that you can find all your portraits, all your pictures of churches, all your pictures of a particular family home, and so forth.
Very useful if you have a large number pictorial exhibits.
- John Cardinal's TMG Utility. As the name suggests, John's TMG Utility enables you to carry out bulk operations on the data in TMG. It's a vital piece of software if you have a large TMG database. It's donorware, so you are encouraged to make a donation to charity if you find it useful.
I run all these very successfully under Windows XP.
So far as I know, they are generally compatible with later versions of Windows.
I have one computer running under Windows 7 64-bit and have had only one problem in this environment. TMG does not output reports successfully to a word processor. It will output all reports to the screen, directly to the printer or to a PDF file, and all the Visual Chartform charts output successfully. Only if you wish to post-process in a word processor or a desktop publishing package does it fail.
I understand from TMG beta-testers that this has been put right in the next version of TMG (version 8) which is due for release imminently. Needless to say, all the rest of TMG - inputting and analysing data and most reports - work just fine.
I have had no problems running these under Windows 7 64-bit:
- Second Site
- TMG Utility
- Serif PagePlus
- Photools IMatch
I have not yet tried the following under Windows 7 64-bit, though I have heard no adverse reports:
- Progeny Genelines
- Lulu Publishing. If you want to publish your family history in book format, Lulu is one of the best-established international print-on-demand companies. With print-on-demand you can have from just one copy at a time printed from your PDF file. Lulu's web site offers lots of help for the first-timer - I found it easy to print my first book from them. They can even arrange an ISBN number for your book!
- Ronald ONeill's Genealogy Printers. They can print charts in wide format on a single sheet of paper up to 42 inches tall (1067mm) by 50 feet (14 meters) long or on A3 banner paper up to 150 foot (60 meters) long. Big! I have found them excellent and very helpful for printing large charts for Christmas and birthday presents.
- TMG's GotCharts service. If you are outside the UK, TMG's GotCharts service will also print out large charts from your TMG output.