The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I often receive e-mails asking questions about converting genealogy databases. The questions usually are more or less like this example:
My organization has been entering data for a long time in a general-purpose database program, not a genealogy program. We use Microsoft Access (or FileMaker Pro or SQL or some other general-purpose database program or Excel spreadsheets). We have thousands of entries in our database. We now want to put this information on the Web (or on CD-ROM or in a book), and we want to use the report generation capabilities of the Brand X genealogy program. Can we convert our Access (or other) database to GEDCOM and import it into the genealogy program?
The quick answer is, “Yes, if you have enough time and money. However, you will undoubtedly find that it is possible but not practical.”
Genealogy programs are generally written by very talented software developers who spend thousands of hours developing their programs. Tying relationships together, generating pedigree charts, generating Web pages, producing GEDCOM files, and other such tasks has consumed hundreds of hours of these talented programmers’ time. After they have written the software one time, they can sell copies of their programs again and again to customers for a rather low price. If they sell enough copies, they can generate a profit. By selling multiple copies of their work, they are able to keep prices low enough for the masses to afford it.
If a given software developer creates the various required software routines and then finds very few customers, the prices will be prohibitive. If we multiply the thousands of man-hours required by a reasonable hourly rate, the resulting charges would be thousands of dollars when few copies are sold.
Now let’s examine Microsoft Access, FileMaker Pro, Excel, and other generic, general-purpose database and spreadsheet programs. These programs generally are great for storing large amounts of data. You can store any data fields that you wish; you are not constrained by some software developer’s idea of a perfect database structure. You can “roll your own” as you please. You can sort the data in any of a myriad of ways. However, you cannot easily generate reports, create pedigree charts, or create GEDCOM files. When it comes to genealogy-specific needs, your Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro or other general-purpose database program is less useful than even a free genealogy program.
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