[APG Public List] Best genealogy software for historical research?

Ray Beere Johnson II raybeere at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 26 20:51:44 MDT 2010

I've added my comments on your specific requirements, below.

--- On Tue, 10/26/10, Katherine Pickering Antonova <katherine.antonova at qc.cuny.edu> wrote:

> - I want to keep track of three interrelated families from the 17th
> century to the present. So, I need to be able to print something more
> complex than a “tree” structure with all the branches coming from one
> common ancestor or one common descendant. This has been a problem with
> some of the trials I’ve looked at.

     With _any_ software I am aware of, you'll have problems with this, depending on what you're trying to do. You could print trees of each of the three families, and you could print certain other charts - but you probably cannot print a single chart showing all individuals in these three families. (I say probably because the precise answer would depend on the exact nature of the inter-relationships.)

> - I have to be able to attach notes to each entry. At least one bit of
> block text, along with birth, marriage and death dates.

     Almost all genealogical software allows for notes, usually formatted as block text. Some allow you to print notes on charts - but since notes are very variable in size and thus different programs handle them differently, you may have trouble with this feature using just about any program.

> - I want to be able to print a report that includes birth and death
> dates, and distinguishes between males and females

     I cannot think of any software that will _not_ allow you to do this.

> - I want to input all the info I have, but be able to choose to print
> only simplified versions of the tree with only the branches I’m most
> interested in on it.

     The Master Genealogist for Windows is quite strong in this area. It allows you a _great_ deal of flexibility in choosing who will be included when you generate a report or chart.

> - I want to be able to use the software on different computers, and
> backup files very easily. It would be nice if the files were easily
> converted to other formats. These features are not essential, just
> desirable

     Since you mention using it on different computers, I suspect you mean you should be able to _sync_ files, not just back them up. I happen to have a very strong interest in emergency preparedness - and there is _no_ genealogy program with a built in function suitable to rely on for critical work. You'd be much better off setting up a separate, custom solution.
     The software I use myself to sync my most important files is an open source application called Toucan. Unlike nearly every backup / syncing solution I've tested, I am reasonably sure that I cannot make a mistake which will result in the loss of irreplaceable data. _But_, I am a fairly experienced computer user, comfortable writing batch files and macros - and after I set up the settings for my environment, I tested them thoroughly.
     The bottom line here: unless you are an experienced user, you would be _much_ better off paying a _reliable_ geek - _not_ the "Geek Squad" - to either set up Toucan or a similar tool for your needs, and show you how to use it, or to write and install a custom AutoHotKey script on your computers which will perform as you need it to. With something as critical as this - and the use of multiple computers - I think in your situation, I'd choose the AHK script, since it can be bulletproofed for your situation. And the expense would be more than justified, considering the amount of work you'll be putting into this.

> - I have a lot of information to enter and time is a very big factor,
> so I need the input to be easy, and the learning curve minimal (I
> already tried doing all this on a database of my own devising using
> Filemaker, and it became hopelessly complex)

     A minimal learning curve rules out the programs most likely to suit most of your other requirements - except the most basic ones. You need unusual flexibility. Flexible programs take a long time to learn, because they can't be flexible without providing a lot of complex options.
     A custom database might actually be a better solution - but unless you are a database designer, don't even think of trying to do it yourself. Since it would be designed to fit your needs, it need only include the options you want, which would make it simpler to learn. But you'd need to hire a good database designer - and a database capable of reflecting genealogical relationships is a major project. I doubt you could afford to do this, although I've never tried to price a project of that magnitude.
     Either you're going to have to spend thousands to get someone to set something special up for you, you're going to have to accept a very steep learning curve, or you're going to have to forget about all your most demanding requirements. You just can't get a program which will do the things you need, and which is also easy to learn.
                           Ray Beere Johnson II


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