Computers and Genealogy

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Expert Question: I've been told I need to use a computer to help with my research.  I'm a novice to computers - will it help?

Expert Answer: Many genealogists feel they need a computer for genealogical research, but they’re not really sure how they would use it or why.  There are three reasons for using a computer as a genealogical tool: 1) to store and printout family tree information 2) to access and search databases and 3) as a method of communication between researchers.

However, a common problem with “computer genealogists” is that they end up spending more time trying to enter data and explore the computer realm then they are doing research.  In order for the computer to be useful, it must be used properly and efficiently. 

The software that is used to maintain the information must agree with the goals of the researcher.  In other words, if your intent is to document the family history, a simple program like Family Tree Maker or Personal Ancestral File (PAF) may be sufficient.  However, if this goal includes maintaining detailed information about sources and statistical reliability of the information and using the software as research tool, then a program like RootsMagic may better suit your needs.

While there is no substitute for good, old-fashion research and logical reasoning in solving your genealogical problems, using a computer does allow for efficiency in searching and sorting huge amounts of information.  Also, in trying to solve a problem, a local genealogical society gives you access to a small group of individuals from whom to ask for assistance while access to a computer bulletin board enables you to ask hundreds of people throughout the world.

So before using a computer for the sake of using it, define your genealogical goals and needs and uses for a computer.  A fellow genealogist once made the analogy of genealogists using computers to carpenters using nail guns instead of the old-fashion hammer.  The nail gun means that a carpenter can place more nails in the same period of time than they could the manual way.  However, if the nails are not properly placed, the building will still collapse no matter how the nails are hammered.  If you have a good carpenter, the building will go up solidly and efficiently with the new tools.  If you have a bad carpenter, it doesn’t matter which tool is used.  Use a computer, but don’t forget the reason you are using it.

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