Apr 28, 2023

(+) Where is Genealogy Technology Headed?

This is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

NOTE: This article contains personal opinions.

The genealogy software world is changing around us. This week, I thought I would look at the history of such software and then look into the crystal ball to see if the future can be discerned.

I have been using genealogy programs in my home computers for 39 years. In 1984, I started with Family Ties, a program written by Neil Wagstaff. I ran it on a homemade CP/M computer with two 8-inch floppy disk drives and a huge memory capacity of 64 kilobytes. No, that is not a typo error: those were 8-inch floppy disks drives. Many of today’s computer users have never seen an 8-inch floppy disk although the later 5 1/2-inch and 3 1/2-inch disks became quite popular.

Over the years, I kept upgrading both the hardware and the software in use. I upgraded from the CP/M operating system to MS-DOS, then to Windows 2.0 and through a series of Windows releases: 3.0, 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista and nowadays it is Windows 11. In fact, after using Windows for a few years, I finally made my best upgrade: to Macintosh OS X. 

Along the way, I have used many different genealogy programs: Family Ties, Genealogy on Display, The Family Edge, Personal Ancestral File (versions 1, 2, 3, and 4), Roots II, Roots III, Roots IV, Visual Roots, Ultimate Family Tree, Family Origins, Legacy, RootsMagic, The Master Genealogist, Reunion, MacFamilyTree, Heredis, and, most recently, Family Tree Builder. I have also used GRAMPS (for Linux, Windows, and Macintosh), GedStar (originally for Palm handheld computers), and The Pocket Genealogist (for Windows Mobile handheld computers) as well as The Next Generation of Genealogy Site Building and PhpGedView, both of which store their databases on web servers. Because of articles I have written in this newsletter over the past 27 years and in other online publications prior to the newsletter, I have also briefly used many other genealogy programs and have written reviews of many of them.

I won’t claim to be an expert, but I do think I am experienced at a wide variety of genealogy programs. I also believe that I can see some trends. Today I thought I would write about those trends and even attempt to forecast the future. I won’t go too far into the future, perhaps five years or so. After that, my crystal ball gets a bit cloudy.

Why Do We Use Genealogy Software?

The answer to that question is simple: to organize our research findings! Indeed, most genealogy programs are simply repositories for our findings. They are digital replacements for the three-ring binders and the photo albums that genealogists used for years. We conduct genealogy searches in a wide variety of ways and record the results in a program that is essentially a database along with specialized data entry software and reporting capabilities of various sorts. Use of computers adds convenience and speed to storing of information, but the primary reasons for doing all this haven’t changed much in many decades. 

The Past Thirty-Nine Years

Over the years, genealogists have enjoyed a variety of programs that allow us to enter our data, store it, sort it, analyze it, and print it out in a variety or reports. In the early days of home computing, each genealogist maintained his or her own data on a personal floppy or hard drive, with data typically maintained by only one person. Each genealogist’s database was a separate “island” of data. There was no method of easily comparing the data stored on one computer’s database against data stored on other personal computers. To be sure, there was a plethora of manual methods, such as reading microfilms, comparing notes with others at genealogy society meetings, or comparing notes with others on various online message boards. However, all these efforts were manual thirty-four years ago.

Let’s compare our methodologies of 39 years ago with those of today. 

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