Using Paper or Computer Files
9/27/2009
You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.
Q How do other genealogists handle computer and hard-copy data? I use software and keep paper copies of family charts and group sheets because I'm visual and prefer to see full data. As I find information, I enter it into my software and then on family sheets, thus inputting it in two or more places. Printing copies at each update wastes paper, but my hard copies get messy and sometimes I forget to enter data in all places.

A. You're actually on the right track, because archivists recommend keeping paper copies of computer files. Despite all the glory of modern technology, paper still is the longest-lasting way to preserve family data. For one thing, constantly evolving technology quickly renders digital storage methods obsolete (remember the floppy disk?). Second, computers have been around only since the mid-1900s, and they've been in our homes for much less time. Digital media storage is relatively untested, and no one really knows how long your information will actually remain usable on a CD. So yes, keep entering data in your genealogy software, and keep backing up that data to the latest digital format you can afford—but keep making hard copies of your work.

Now, to ease that job a bit. If you're writing by hand family information you've just typed into your computer, you're not taking full advantage of your software and you're doing unnecessary work. Family Tree Maker (which is not affiliated with Family Tree Magazine, in case you're wondering) is known for its ability to create family charts—why not print updated charts after you've added to your tree? If you think that's a waste of paper, reduce the printing to every other time. See Family Tree Maker's help page for information on making custom reports with the people and information (birth date and place, death date and place, and so on) you want. Other computer programs, including the free Personal Ancestral File (use the link on FamilySearch to download it), will print charts for you, too.

Family Tree Magazine E-mail Update readers, let's hear from you: Do you keep paper pedigree charts and family group sheets along with computerized ones? How often do you print (or write) them? What advice do you have for this question-asker? Thanks for your input.