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Genealogy in the 21st Century

This web page contains three topics:

Improving Technology: Does it Improve Research?

A futuristic genealogy concept appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation several years ago. In the episode, the crew of the Enterprise rescued some frozen space travellers from the 20th century. One of the rescued people wanted to return to Earth and find her descendants, if any. The computer then was asked to present her genealogy for the elapsed 400-year period, which it did, locating a many-times great grandson in California! Although there is nothing like this available now, many technological advances have been made over the past few years. The impact of these advances on genealogical research is huge, and has both positive and negative effects.

The Internet

The Internet has opened up a vast amount of information to the researcher. This information is so overwhelming that it is difficult to evaluate for reliability. In addition, it is ephemeral in nature. All references to URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) should include the date accessed. They are all subject to change and even disappear regularly, so be sure to download or print important references.

In general, genealogical information on the Web comes in the following forms:

When used properly, this information is very valuable and will greatly facilitate your genealogical research. When used indiscriminately, it will destroy the validity of your work.

Online Records

We have come to take for granted the ability to microcopy (on film, fiche, or card) old records and books. The availability of microcopy has increased the researcher's access to records as well as improving our ability to preserve these records, but only a small fraction of the records needed for genealogical research have been microcopied. The newest trend in record copying is digitization. Whole record groups are being digitized, indexed, and placed online. New record images appear daily on the major subscription sites, such as,, and There's even good news for those of us who prefer a no-cost option. FamilySearch provides an incredible collection of records on its website, all free of charge. At some point in the future, it may be possible to access their complete microfilm holdings online.

Increased access to these digitized copies of original records cannot help but improve family history research. What possible negative effects could this have?

The Personal Computer

The personal computer, especially when paired with other items of modern technology, such as the digital camera, has greatly increased storage and dissemination of information. Software programs to handle your own personal genealogical research have proliferated, making it much easier to keep track of your family history and research notes. More sophisticated programs allow you to fully document all research and print out reasonable narratives, family group sheets, and descendant charts. Some of them allow you to export the material in HTML (hypertext mark-up language) format for presentation on the Internet. All of them allow you to export your data to other computers or import your data from other researchers. Ancillary programs, such as spreadsheets, have the potential to improve your ability to analyze data and monitor research progress. Surely there can be no negative aspects to the personal computer!


Does this improved technology improve the quality of research? In a word, no. Ultimately, the quality of your research depends upon your adherence to the Genealogical Proof Standard.

A point may be considered 'proved' if:

Continuing Education

This class has discussed many of these online holdings, but students need to be aware that the growth in online digital images is phenomenal. Keeping up with changes is a fulltime occupation. Here are my recommendations for continued education.

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Ancillary Tools

Digital photography, graphics editing, scanning, and miscellaneous photography topics
Creative presentations of your family history
The spreadsheet: powerful tool for data analysis and monitoring your research progress
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Evaluating the Ideal Genealogy Program

In an ideal world, one genealogy program would meet the needs of every user; but, there are as many different needs in genealogy as there are genealogists, and one computer program may not be able to satisfy all of us. After many years of evaluating genealogy programs, I chose The Master Genealogist, from Wholly Genes, Inc. as my personal genealogy program. Some of my own requirements you may find unnecessary; some requirements you need, I may not need at all. Given the power of the present-day personal computer, you should be able to find a program to fit your needs. The following are program aspects to consider in your selection.

  1. The program you choose must be unlimited!
    • No limit to the number of individuals the program can handle
    • No limit in field or memo length
    • No limit to number of marriages or children
  2. The program should be easy to use
    • The manual should be logically organized, indexed, with all functions well-defined and easily located. Examples should be clear and frequent.
    • The program should have a tutorial based on a sample data base. It should take the user through all aspects of the program: data entry, data manipulation, and report generation.
    • There should be context-sensitive on-screen help as well as an on-screen help index. Icons should have bubble identifiers. All enabled keys should be visible.
  3. Data entry should be as effortless as possible
    • All programs should have the following features:
      • a repeat key or other method of allowing single keystroke entry of previously entered data;
      • user-defined macros
      • some type of global updating of the data base
    • Look for flexible date formatting.
    • Do you want a valid entry check?
    • Data base backup is imperative and should be as convenient as possible.
    • Data should be automatically written to permanent storage frequently. It is helpful if the user can define this frequency in the program configuration.
  4. Output to your word processor file is necessary for all reports.
  5. Company back-up
    • Technical help should be readily available to any registered user.
      You should not have to pay an extra fee for this help.
    • With readily-available internet access, the company should have a home-page and tech-support on-line.
    • The company should be actively working on the program and should have program update options.
  6. Talk to other users
    • Is there a list-serve or chat group of program users?
    • Is there a program user-group in your area?
For further program evaluation, you should consider your own genealogical computing needs. Are you...

The original researcher must consider all of the following:

If you are the designated "family historian," you may not need as many research-oriented options, but you should consider these aspects of the program.

If you coordinate a one-name study or similar project consider the following:

For more information on The Master Genealogist, visit the website at Wholly Genes, Inc.

If you would like to check out some other programs, visit Richard Wilson's web site Comparing Genealogy Software Programs or Bill Mumford's Genealogical Software Report Card. The Genealogy Software Review is also helpful.

A Few More Genealogy Software Programs
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Please mail comments and suggestions to Susan Johnston at Email me

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