Software Frustrations

One of the big topics in genealogy across the web this year has been the Genealogy do-over. While I am not participating, I have – like many others – decided that it is a good idea to do some general housekeeping and making sure that my research is up to snuff. I am generally pretty good at recording sources and such due to all those years in an academic environment so I am adding detail.

Well attempting to.

I keep running into a persistent problem. Genealogy Software.  It just doesn’t do what I want and need it to. Whether this is a function of the adherence to the dinosaur that is GEDCOM or the direct familial relationship model of genealogy I don’t know. But it frustrates the crap out of me. I know I am not the only one, Tony Procter over at Parallax View and Louis Kessler of Behold Genealogy have written some marvelous posts on the subject.

So want is it exactly I want my genealogy software to do?
I want it to look beyond familial relationships. I’m a big proponent of cluster genealogy. I didn’t know that there was an actual name for it, I just figured it was genealogy, but yes cluster genealogy. I want to be able to record information about entire communities. Windellama is a prime example for me.  As are the German Immigrants on the Commodore Perry. In both cases, the interactions and interrelations between a small number of families over about a 50-100 year period is fascinating.

I don’t just want people, I want entities. Ships in particular. The Commodore Perry, the Neptune, the Earl Grey… Passengers on immigrant ships often were connected and remained connected in ways that genealogy software cannot account for. I want to be able to group people via an entity.

Events. Like entities, I want to be able to focus on people linked by events.

User-defined colour coding of ALL THE THINGS. Because I tend to record ‘unrelated’ people in my genelogy software I like to be able to colour code direct ancestors for quick reference. My maternal grandfather’s line is red, maternal grandmother’s green (it is her favourite colour), paternal grandfather’s is blue, paternal grandmother’s is yellow. My partner’s maternal line is orange and his paternal purple (I was running out of coloured highlighters…) I also like information groups to be colour coded so I know at a glance whether I have birth info, death info etc.

There are other incidental things I’d like such as the ability to define things beyond Births, Deaths, Marriages and the occasional census; all the minute details of life that I collect, but those are the biggies.

I have customised The Master Geneologist through the use of tags and the somewhat awkward creation of a surname group ‘!Ship’ for linkage via witness/associates but this is far from ideal. TMG is great at the colour-coding thing too which is possibly why I shed a tear or too when it ceased development.

Over the past year I have also tried Family Historian, Gramps, OneNote, Word, and Excel. I have just downloaded a trial of Behold. At the moment what is working for me is a combination of TMG, Timelines and Narratives manually written in Word with Endnote as my citation software simply because it and I are old friends with an extended comfort level, a OneNote research journal and general scratch pad, Excel research logs and comparative timelines, and a set of stubbornly adhered to file and folder naming conventions. It works, but it could work better ya know.

  1. RootsMagic might be helpful with this.
    You can create user-defined groups, unrelated or related, and do functions and reports on just that group. You can create any event type you want, and share events between people, related or not, using 'role types' for the event. Role types are user defined as well. Neighbor, minister, witness, whatever. You can tag citations and media items to anyone and to any event.
    Haven't tried to color code a user-defined group. but that might be possible.

  2. One of my biggest takeaways from last week's extravaganza in SLC is that the domination of genealogy by a few (very, very few!) corporate players is accelating at a break neck pace. Their focus will continue to be on developing 'product' (everything is product in that world) for mass market consumption. So, I worry that there won't be adequate support to develop the kind of really robust software that supports the kinds of research that many of us yearn to be able to do — fully tapping in to the wealth of new sources that are coming available to us. Maybe I am just a chronic pessimist, but that's my fear.

  3. Sharon writes: "I didn't know that there was an actual name for it, I just figured it was genealogy, but yes cluster genealogy. I want to be able to record information about entire communities." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Where are the tools designed to aid people who are studying communites? Where are the tools for place-based history research? They don't exist, because the corporate players are focused on selling 'genealogy' as the telling of stories about one individual at a time. This was most evident at the RootsTech2015 Innovator showdown, where a promising research tool — a search engine for *handwritten documents* — placed second, behind a tool designed to facilitate collecting oral and written histories.

  4. Amen!! I always feel like I'm in a straight jacket using genie software. The Australian program Relatively Yours was once more flexible but seems to have become unsupported. I really wish there was more flexibility.

  5. Of Course! although my Commodore Perry families hail from W├╝rttemberg and Hessen; the Winter's and Boss's respectively although you may have come across them ­čÖé

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