Over fifteen years of genealogy research, I have added to, adjusted and tweaked my setup until I have achieved what I believe to be the ideal setup for genealogy research.
In the Beginning
When I started, I had only an early personal computer operating Windows 94 and Microsoft Office, a basic scanner, small black and white printer, and for media I used floppies and a zip drive.
There were a lot of negatives about operating in those early years. Although the internet was beginning to open doors for researchers, there was not much data transcribed for online access, even if it was free. This meant a good portion of my research had to be done the old fashioned way using ‘snail mail’, the telephone and the fax machine. The internet helped me locate the resources and organizations to whom I should correspond and what specifically was available to be accessed.
I used the original free Ancestry Family Tree software that was available prior to Ancestry.com taking over Family Tree Maker. Although I had tried Family Tree Maker, I hadn’t like it at all because it was primitive and the interface was rather unattractive and ‘clunky’. Had Ancestry.com decided to work with and improve the original Ancestry Family Tree software, I’d probably still be using it.
Learning and Adapting
During the years following until about seven years ago, I operated with the same equipment, becoming much more proficient and knowledgeable. The software, however, was another matter. I was never happy with Family Tree Maker and after doing some research, I switched to RootsMagic. I loved the smooth interface, reports, charts, source cataloging, and data entry features including the flexibility handling unorthodox formats for dates, etc.
By this time, I had become very dissatisfied with the image editing quality in Windows software. I had long been considering switching to a Mac, and soon after moving to British Columbia, my Windows computer crashed and I took the opportunity to switch. I immediately realized how much better the Mac was for working with documents and images, but there was one huge drawback – there was no Mac version of RootsMagic.
I diligently researched all Mac software available and wasted a lot of money trying several. The first one I tried was the Mac version of Family Tree Maker. I didn’t like it any better than the Windows version. In order to continue with my genealogy research and input, I tried two virtual environments, Parallels, VMWare and VirtualBox, so I could operate RootsMagic on the Mac. Parallels caused a lot of performance issues on the computer, ranging in severity from system slowdowns to outright crashes. VMWare was only slightly better. I finally tried and liked VirtualBox and although it wasn’t as smooth and seamless as I like, I continued using it.
During the next couple of years, I tried Mac Family Tree, Reunion, MyBlood and Legacy. While using all of these, I missed RootsMagic horribly and ended up purchasing a NetBook so I could operate RootsMagic on the required Windows operating system.
Then I heard about Heredis, a new software that operated on a Mac. I purchased it because the free trial would only allow working with a small, limited quantity of individuals, leaving lots of areas in my database of 115,000+ individuals where I was unable to assess its suitability. I loved this software, but there was one huge drawback I couldn’t live with. It did not provide the flexibility and variety of date formats I needed. I’m a stickler for observing the ‘record dates exactly as they appear in the original source and only use the calculated date for the sort’ camp. My husband’s ancestry is deeply rooted in the Welsh Quaker culture and therefore I frequently find, use and interpret the Quaker date formats like ‘3d mo. 17 1682′. In Heredis, this had to be translated to a more standard date format and left a great deal of room for error.
I installed RootsMagic once again, and I still use it today. I use the Mac for the more intricate and detailed image editing and everything outside my genealogy pursuits. I would still love for RootsMagic to release a Mac version, but after years of requesting they do so, I’ve given up.
Another issue I’ve experienced through the years is ensuring the security, storage and portability of data. I tried everything up to and including CDs, DVDs, and flash/thumb drives. All of these options have notoriously short shelf lives and are vulnerable to malfunction, corruption and damage. Instead, I invested in an external hard drive a couple of years ago and it has worked out very well. I still keep my files on my computers and back up frequently to the external hard drive. This drive is easily ejected and inserted for portability and is not nearly as vulnerable as the other storage media choices.
The result is, unless RootsMagic is ever offered in a Mac version, I feel I have the best system possible for my genealogy research, data input, graphic and image editing, file storage and backup, and portability of data.
My Ideal Setup
- Its resident image editing software is much more intuitive and gives higher quality results, especially when trying to improve poor images.
Windows notebook computer
- RootsMagic software requires Windows.
- For portability when traveling or away from home.
- Photoscape free software for backup image editing. Although not as good quality, it’s a great backup when away from the Mac or travelling.
- Sticky Notes is great for quick saving of notes and ‘cut and paste’ of data.
- Wordpad for working with and quick editing of longer strings of text before inputting into software.
- 1T external hard drive for backup and secure storage of genealogy data and files.
- CDs for portable storage and mailing of data and files.
- Flash/thumb drives for immediate, short term, portable storage of files and data.
High Resolution Digital Camera
- To take high resolution digital images of publications pages and documents in libraries and archives, especially where there are restrictions on photocopying and scanning.
- RootsMagic (paid)
- Photoscape (free)
- Sticky Notes (free with Windows)
- Wordpad (free with Windows)
- Snipping Tool
Mac/Windows Option: For me, this setup is ideal because I love to use the higher quality Mac graphics capability and much prefer RootsMagic genealogy software, that is only offered for Windows.
Windows Only Option: For those who are happy with using Windows only, the list above less the Mac computer would be ideal.
Mac Only Option: For those who only want to use the Mac, the list above without the Windows computer items would be great, except a Mac genealogy software would have to be used in place of Rootsmagic.
photo credit: archie4oz via photopin cc