Hundreds of research tools, billions of names, oodles of data and finding aids … All those features boasted by your genealogy software can add up to a serious boost for your family history research — if you know how to make the most of them.
But the top programs offer so many features, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Like most genealogists, you probably purchased your software to organize and enhance the family history you’ve already unearthed, with hopes of using that plethora of high-tech tools to make new discoveries. You plugged in all your data, figured out how to print your tree in various forms, then scratched your head over what to do next. How do you take advantage of all the tools that came packed in that colorful box?
Start upgrading your software skills with this introduction to five power-user features in the two top-selling genealogy programs, Family Tree Maker <www.familytreemaker.com> and Generations <www.sierrahome.com>. Our step-by-step instructions for each program show you how to use these features to grow your family tree — not just type in ancestors you’ve already found — and tap the gee-whiz capabilities that, after all, you’ve already paid for.
1. Use a log to keep track of your research.
Your first step in finding new family history facts is to figure out what you already know. You can sort through all your research and correspondence — and determine what to do next — with the help of your program’s built-in logs.
Family Tree Maker’s research log, for example, keeps track of records you’ve already checked plus those you plan to view when you have the chance. To open the research log, go to the View menu, select FamilyFinder and then Research Journal. The to-do list helps you organize your research tasks; press Ctrl-T from anywhere in the program to add a new item to your list. You can assign tasks a priority ranking from one to five and arrange them in categories, perhaps by surname or county. FTM also lets you check off items as you complete them and choose which tasks to display based on their completion status or category.
Generations’ logs use free-form notes. To open a log, select Edit and then Logs (or press Ctrl-L). Click on the Today button to enter the current date. Then type in a brief description of records as you check them and sources you would like to view. You might want to keep separate logs for each surname in your family or each county or state where your family lived. You can create a new log by clicking on the Add Log button; click on the Report button to print.
2. Create a chronology for each individual.
One of the most useful tools for staying on top of your research is a concise chronology showing the major events in the lifetimes of each person you’re researching. A chronology lets you see at a glance the places and time periods where you’ve tracked the subject and the gaps where you have no record. Most important, it shows the individual’s earliest known place of residence — that’s usually the locality where you should concentrate your search for clues to his or her origins. Likewise, if someone suddenly disappears from your timeline, the last place of residence may be the best place to look for leads to that person’s fate.
To create a chronology, you need events, of course. Both Family Tree Maker and Generations let you record pre-defined events such as birth, marriage, death, burial, immigration and residence. You can also create your own event types. In FTM, add an event (called a “fact”) by clicking on the file-box icon by More on the family page. To enter events in Generations’ core EasyTree program, click on an individual’s name, the Events tab and then on Add Event and Other.
Once you’ve added all your events, you’re ready to put them into timeline form. From FTM’s File menu, select Preferences, then Facts Page and choose to sort facts on the screen by date rather than by name. Unfortunately, when you print a family group sheet or genealogy report, the facts are still listed alphabetically, rather than by date. So, to create a chronology that will print, you need to click on the file-box symbol and manually enter a list of years and corresponding events and places ordered by date within the individual’s notes field.
Generations makes it easier: Click on the Sort Events button to order the events by date. If you want to reorder an event, such as one that has no date, just click on the event name, drag it to the proper place in the events list and click on the Save button. To make sure all these events appear on a family group sheet, select Reports and then Family Group Sheet. Under Layout, select Define Layouts to pick the events you want to appear and save this setting. When you print a family group sheet, each person’s events will be listed in order by date, giving you a nice chronology with little effort on your part.
3. Enhance your family history with pictures, sound and video.
Now that you’re organized, use your software’s multimedia capabilities to put a face on those names and events — literally. Family Tree Maker and Generations can help you organize and edit photos and include them in everything from simple family group sheets and books to elaborate wall charts and Web sites. You can even create a multimedia presentation with pictures, sound and video. Remember, though, that you must convert pictures, sound and video to digital files before you can use them with genealogy software.
Here’s how both programs handle multimedia elements:
FTM stores multimedia files related to a person in his or her scrapbook, accessible by clicking on the scrapbook icon. Follow these steps to soup up your files:
• First, add a picture, video or sound to a scrapbook: From the Picture/Object menu, select either Insert Photo CD Picture, Insert Picture from File or Insert Picture from Scanner/Camera. Choose Insert Object to insert a video clip or sound file.
• Next, edit the picture: When you insert a picture in a scrapbook, the Edit Picture screen appears. You can rotate, crop or flip the image. Once a picture is in a scrapbook, go to the Picture/Object menu and select Edit to edit the image or Contrast to adjust its contrast.
• Create reports: Go to Picture/Object and select Play Scrapbook to view each item in sequence. You can select scrapbook pictures to include in trees, reports and family books. Display a tree on the screen, select Items to Include in Each Box from the Contents menu and then under Available Items, highlight Picture/Object and click on the right arrow to add the item to the chart.
Generations’ multimedia features are accessible in its SnapShot Express companion program. (If you didn’t install this handy picture program when you installed Generations’ basic genealogy tools, insert the Generations installation disk and follow the prompts to add SnapShot Express.)
• First, get a picture: Start SnapShot Express and select Get Pictures to insert pictures from a digital camera, scanner, CD-ROM or a file on your computer. The Organize option lets you create separate photo albums for different branches of your family.
• Edit the image: Select Edit to improve, touch up, repair and add special effects to a picture. You can sharpen a picture, correct its color, remove red eye and use a variety of other tools.
• Create scrapbooks and slide shows: Select Projects to create family scrapbooks and collages and to add frames. Select Output to create multimedia slide shows for publishing on the Web. You can also e-mail photo postcards and multimedia slide shows that anyone can view.
• Finally, link pictures, video and sound to your family file: Back in EasyTree, the Generations charting program, click the Images, Videos and Sounds buttons on the toolbar to link multimedia elements to the family card displayed. Then you can include pictures in charts, family books and Internet Family Trees. Video and sound clips can be played from family cards within EasyTree.
4. Share your data via GEDCOM files.
Printed charts and reports are an easy way to share family information with relatives and other researchers, especially those who don’t use a computer. But when you’re giving and getting large amounts of data, sharing your files electronically is usually quicker, cheaper and more efficient. (Remember the tedium of typing all your facts into your program the first time?)
Most brands of genealogy software store data in their own unique file format, so one genealogy program may not be able to open files created with another program. But almost all Windows and Mac genealogy software can import and export data in a standard file format called GEDCOM, an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunications. A GEDCOM file is a simple text file that you can send or receive as an attachment to an e-mail message, upload to a Web site or share via floppy disk.
Basic information such as names and dates and places of birth, marriage and death usually transfers perfectly between different programs using the GEDCOM format. Sometimes sources, notes and other facts don’t convert quite right, so the recipient of the data may have to do a little editing. But with a GEDCOM file you can usually avoid retyping everything. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to include sound and picture files, since GEDCOMs are text only; you’ll have to transfer those separately.
If another researcher sends you a GEDCOM file attached to an e-mail message, save the file to your hard drive and make a note of the file’s name and location. (Since viruses are often spread through e-mail attachments, you should scan any file you receive with anti-virus software before opening it.) To help yourself stay organized, you might save all the GEDCOM files you receive in a special folder such as C:GEDCOM Files or C:My DownloadsGEDCOM Files. It’s a good idea to open a GEDCOM file as a separate family file and to verify that it looks reliable before adding the information to your main family file.
Follow these basic steps for using FTM and Generations to open GEDCOM files you have received and to create GEDCOM files to share with other researchers:
• To open a CEDCOM file with FTM, select Open Family File from the File menu and locate and select the GEDCOM file. Then select a folder and name for the new file. For easy backup, you might choose a folder within My Documents such as C:My DocumentsJones Family. Finally, select the facts you’d like to import and the corresponding fact names in FTM. Open and examine the newly created FTM file. If it looks OK, go ahead and combine it with your main file by selecting Append/Merge Family File from the File menu (see tip number 5 for hints on merging).
• To create a GEDCOM file in FTM, open a family file and select Copy/Export Family File from the File menu. Under Save as type, select GEDCOM. If you want to save only part of your FTM file as a GEDCOM file, first display an ancestor, descendant or hourglass tree showing the individuals you want to include. Then pick Copy/Export Individuals in Tree from the File menu and select a file name and folder for the GEDCOM file.
• To open a CEDCOM file with Generations, select New from the File menu and choose a name and folder for the new file. Then click on Import GEDCOM, locate the file on your hard drive, click OK and then Import. To add a GEDCOM file to an existing family file, open the family file, select Import/Export from the File menu, then Import GEDCOM. Click Add, locate the file on your hard drive and click Open, then Import.
• To create a GEDCOM file with Generations, select Import/Export from the File menu and then Export GEDCOM. Click on Export, select a folder and name for the GEDCOM file and hit Save. If you want the GEDCOM to include only certain individuals in your family file, first mark the names by displaying the starting individual, selecting Mark Groups from the Find menu and then marking either the person’s ancestors or descendants. To mark the descendants’ spouses, too, select Anything from the Find menu and click on the Couples tab. Select # of Marked Spouses in the first field, More Than in the second field and type the number 0 in the last field. Then click on Find and select Mark Everybody in List from the Mark menu.
5. Merge duplicate individuals.
When you add a GEDCOM file from another researcher or from a pedigree database, you may end up with duplicate records for the same person. One record might show the person’s descendants and the other his or her ancestors, for instance. By merging those duplicate records, you’ll create a continuous family line from the person’s descendants to his or her ancestors. And as your family file grows, eliminating duplicate entries will help cut down on confusion.
From the People pulldown menu in FTM, you can choose from two merge options: Use Merge Specific Individuals if you already know which individuals should be merged. Or select Merge Duplicate Individuals and the program will search for possible duplicates. Bypass the somewhat confusing Display Merge Report and go ahead and Merge Matching Information. FTM automatically finds pairs of potentially identical individuals, displays their information side by side and lets you choose which pairs to merge.
Keep in mind that if you merge two individuals with conflicting information (different birth dates or places of death, for example), the information from both individual records will usually be retained as alternate facts. A few facts, such as name, sex, address and phone number, don’t store alternates, however. Buttons appear next to these facts when they conflict so you can choose which version you want to keep.
After comparing the information for both names, click on either the Merge or Don’t Merge button and continue through the list of possible matches. If you make a mistake, you can undo all the merges at any time before you exit the program by selecting Undo File Merge from FTM’s Edit menu. When you finish merging, you may want to edit the individual records that you just merged and delete any incorrect facts. From the View menu, select Reports, then Alternate Facts to get a list of people who have conflicting facts.
You can merge duplicate individuals manually in Generations, but the process goes much quicker with the program’s Match and Merge function. Select Match Merge from the Find pull-down menu in EasyTree. This option lets you find matches for the couple on the screen, marked people or everybody; you can then compare those matches with just marked people or every name in your file. You can also search on identical or similar names and specify the range of birth and death years for qualifying matches.
Click Match and the program will display a list of names at the top. When you click on a name, possible matches appear below. Three columns show each person’s date and place of birth and date of death, but you can click on the column headings to compare any piece of information, such as occupation, religion or burial place. Select the names you want to merge from the top and bottom portions of the screen, then click on Merge to combine the two records. No events, facts or notes are lost. For example, if one record has a birth date of Feb. 14, 1892, and the other one has a birth date of Feb. 14, 1894, the newly merged record will have separate birth fields for both dates. Once you’re done merging records, you may want to edit them to delete events or facts you know are wrong.