Before the advent of computers, family tree software, and on-line sources of genealogy data, genealogy was a much slower-paced, somewhat grueling exercise of searching through indexes and then through reels of microfilm or microfiche for our ancestors, with much longer time periods between "finds" and the associated feeling of satisfaction!
Documentation included the use of forms for recording family history, including family groupings and family tree templates.
It also was necessary to obtain physical copies of everything, and to store those copies. Keeping everything organized was difficult at the best of times.
With the advent of computers and online databases, that has all changed.
Perhaps the ease of access to online records is partly responsible for the surge of interest in researching family history. That is, the relevant documents are much more accessible (or at least the indices are), and much of the research can be done from your home, from the comfort of an armchair!
Further, photographs and other relevant documentation can be scanned and stored on your computer, so that you do not have to have hard copies made of the originals, or find a place to store them.
If you are just starting out, and are not sure how deeply involved you want to become in researching your family history, you may not want to commit to obtaining family tree software as yet. The other option is to begin with printed templates.
If you prefer to use templates, an internet search of “family tree templates” will yield a number of free samples to download.
One webpage which offers such templates is Family History Products' Blank Pedigree Charts. Instructions on how to fill in the form are provided.
There are also a number of free templates on the Ancestry.com website. Click the links below for the appropriate printable form:
To see the full list of available forms, or to download any of the above to your computer, go to Ancestry's Charts and Forms.
A printed template likely would be sufficient if you are going back only a couple of generations, and you are looking only at your direct ancestors, and only at their dates of birth, marriage, and death.
If you should decide to expand on that research, adding in uncles,
aunts, cousins, and great-uncles and aunts and their descendants, and/or
going farther back in the line, or other events in their lives, you
likely would find that the data is much easier to organize, locate, and
control in a computer program.
If you choose to use family tree software to record the results of your family history research, there are many good programs available. Wikipedia has a listing of various family tree software programs , and a comparison of the features of each. This chart also tells you which of these family tree software programs are available free of charge, and which ones must be purchased.
Most of the programs have the basic features needed to do family tree research. However, you may find that some of them are easier to use than others. My advice would be to start with the free family tree software programs, and try them out to get a feel for what is available, and which one you like best.
For the past several years, I have used Legacy Family Tree. This family tree software program is fully functional, and can be downloaded and used free of charge.
It does have an upgrade, which can be purchased. The upgrade contains some additional features, such as additional options for charting and for reports which are “nice to have” but not absolutely essential.
I used the basic program, without the upgrade, for many years, until Christmas of 2010. I must say, however, that I find life is much easier, genealogy-wise, with some of the features in the upgrade. The relationship calculator is a particularly nice feature, as is the built-in 'locator', which shows you exactly where your ancestor lived.
To compare the two programs, click on the banner, below:
Another option is to use on-line programs. For example, it is possible to input your tree, and save it, in Ancestry’s database, without a subscription. The UK version of Ancestry has information regarding starting your tree in its database on its front page.
Ancestry automatically compares the contents of your tree with the contents of its databases, and offers "hints" containing those names for your to review.
If you choose to use a computer program, be sure to back up your data on a regular basis. I have heard many horror stories of individuals who had done several years of research without backing up their data, only to lose it to a hard-drive crash or other difficulty. That is a most disheartening occurrence, which can easily be avoided.
Backing up your data can be done in a number of ways. You can back it up to an external hard drive, or to CDs or DVDs. You could also use a thumb drive, if its storage capacity is large enough.
If you use one of these methods, store the back-up copy a good distance away from your computer. That way, if the computer overheats and causes a fire, you won't lose both your hard drive and your back-up.
Other alternatives include online backup programs. Some of these programs also include the ability to share your data with others to whom you provide the password.
Most of them also provide a small amount of storage free.
Reviews of a number of these online back-up programs can be found at www.consumersearch.com.
Another method of backing up your data is to store it 'in the cloud'.
The advantage of storing your data in one of these 'virtual storage' locations is that, armed with your username and password, you can access this data from any location in the world, and from any device allowing internet access!
Further, you can link all of your devices to this system, and any time you update your ancestry files, it updates on each of the devices. Thus, you always have the most recent copy of your documents, no matter whether your are using your cell phone, your computer, or your tablet.
You can also invite people to share particular folders, resulting in their ability to add new files, or edit existing files.
Examples of companies offering this type of service: DropBox; AmazonEC2; and JustCloud.
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