Getting a Lift

By Allison Dolan Premium

While watching the TV coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics, I saw an amusing car-insurance commercial: A champion weightlifter — presumably going for a gold medal — struggles to hoist a seemingly impossible mass. With one gargantuan push, he triumphantly heaves the weights above his head. The crowd cheers. When he lowers his load, however, the dumbbell crashes through the floor. It continues plummeting through several more levels of the building, until it finally flattens a car in the underground parking garage.

The scenario in this commercial reminds me of genealogists’ challenges with technology. We soup up our computers with fancy software and snatch up cool electronic gadgets in hopes of giving our research a lift. Then we try to actually use the technology — and our good intentions come crashing down like a two-ton anvil on a Ford Focus. In the time you might spend figuring out how to scan your grandparents’ wedding portrait, for example, you could get your entire collection copied at the nearest photo lab.

The problem: Genealogists often don’t get adequate instruction or training for using high-tech tools, so they’re forced to dive into the heavy lifting without proper warm-ups. As a result, you might feel as though computers (and their digital accessories) are stalling your search instead of stimulating it.

That’s where the ad’s underlying message comes in. Whether you’re dealing with car insurance or computer gizmos, it’s important to be prepared. And we’ve created this special issue of Family Tree Magazine to help you do just that. Think of our 2005 Guidebook as your genealogy-focused manual for joining the ranks of the technologically savvy. We explain how to use electronic innovations to fuel your family history search, and show you shortcuts for making the most of the technology.

For example, did you know you could use a personal digital assistant (PDA) to track your family tree on the go? We give you the scoop on the hardware and software that will get your research moving. We’re confident our PDA primer will prove more helpful than the bewildered look the electronics-store employee gives you when you ask him which models have enough memory for your GEDCOM file.

This issue has loads of advice for picking the right tool for your genealogy jobs. You’ll learn how to select — and use — a scanner to preserve your old pictures, documents and other ancestral artifacts. We’ll help you navigate the geography of Global Positioning System gizmos, which can help you locate your forebears’ cemeteries and grave sites. Still wondering what RAM is and how much you should have on your computer? We unscramble the alphabet soup of PCs.

Perhaps no computer tool is more important to family historians than genealogy software — after all, it’s the foundation for digitally collecting and organizing most of your research. But choosing the right program poses a challenge for many software shoppers. So we put 10 of the top Windows family tree programs to the test, and graded each one’s performance in key areas. Let our exclusive ratings assist you in selecting the best software for your genealogy needs. Then read the Q&A on page 46 to learn how to take advantage of your application’s multimedia bells and whistles.

Plus, you’ll find a whole section devoted to maximizing your online research efforts — including a Web guru’s search secrets and 20 pages packed with great (free!) genealogy sites.

With this issue’s pointers (and proper practice, of course), you’ll become a genealogy-technology pro — and you’ll be well-prepared to win a medal if family history computing ever becomes an Olympic sport.
From the 2005 Genealogy Guidebook