Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Going to NERGC?

Well, I've decided it's time for me to attend my first genealogy conference. After dithering about it for a couple of weeks, I finally registered for the 13th New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC 2015), a bare hour before the Early Bird discount expired. So in mid-April I'll be headed to Providence, Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is the only New England state I've never visited, but I do have some ancestral connections there. Although my Woodward line originally came from England to Taunton, Massachusetts, my 7th-great-grandfather Thomas Woodward moved to Smithfield, Rhode Island, where all his children were born, so I'm rather hoping I might find some forebears in the local cemeteries while I'm there.

I haven't decided yet which sessions I want to attend, but I've got my eye on "Creating Maine Towns: How the Wilderness was Tamed", "Newest Sources for Vermont Research: Online, In Print, and Original Records", and a couple of sessions on French-Canadian research. I hope to meet some fellow genea-bloggers there!

Now to plan my route from Virginia ... going up the Eastern Shore and then following I-95 would certainly be the most direct, but do I really want to go straight through the middle of New York City? (No, I really don't. And I've driven up the Eastern Shore twice and swore I'd never do it again...)

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Horns of a Software Dilemma

As I mentioned in my last post, Why I'm Going to Switch My Genealogy Software, none of the candidates for replacing Reunion has all the features I'd like to have, and all of them have their own drawbacks. I've been trying for months to decide which one to go with.

If I had my druthers, it would be a Mac-native software package. Unfortunately, neither MacFamilyTree nor Heredis have any source templating capability. Additionally, MacFamilyTree's very nice-looking charts are offset by rather primitive reports; and Heredis for some reason costs $55 for the Mac version, compared to $40 for Windows, and doesn't even offer a discounted upgrade for the previous version I bought two years ago, while a Windows version upgrade is only $20. The third major Mac-native player, Family Tree Maker Mac, doesn't have a trial or demo version, or a downloadable user manual, and I'm not willing to spend $40 to evaluate it.

A couple of Windows genealogy programs are available encapsulated in a self-contained app that lets it run on a Mac without a separate virtual machine. These are still Windows apps, though, and suffer from some serious flaws, including poor font control (the  fonts are generally too small and "spidery"), poor support for Mac shortcut keys, and inability to recognize a Ctrl-click as a substitute for a right-click. Of the two that I know of, Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage has no source templating; and RootsMagic With MacBridge, in addition to the flaws noted above, is buggy: it generates frequent error messages, some program preferences do not work correctly, and scrolling lists work erratically.

So my only option seems to be a pure Windows application, running in a virtual machine on my Mac (I have Parallels Desktop). The two big players – RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree – are both excellent and powerful programs, with many similar or identical features; and, most important, both have sophisticated source template features. But they do have some important differences, and therein lies my dilemma: each has its own advantages and drawbacks, and I'm having a tough time deciding which has the overall edge and what I'm willing to give up. I have compared program features that important to me in a spreadsheet, shown in three screenshots below. For each feature, I have highlighted in green the program that has the edge (relative to my own preferences, of course; your mileage may vary).

I think you can see why I find it difficult to choose an overall winner here.
  • Legacy has many individually small features that add up to a very desirable whole (e.g., more flexible flags and statuses, better handling of alternate and married names, information available on-screen without generating reports); RootsMagic has a more comprehensive event/fact list, more flexible event formatting, and much superior location details. 
  • Legacy has better charts, but RootsMagic generates better web pages, and I may well want to publish my tree online directly from my database.
  • I really like Legacy's comprehensive assigned sources listing for each individual and the overrides for automatic footnote output. On the other hand, source entry in Legacy is not as convenient in some ways, and there is no question that RootsMagic has the best source templating feature, as you can create your own templates exactly as you want them (which perhaps obviates the need for Legacy's overrides).
Redoing all my sources in a new program is going to be a major effort (they transfer poorly from Reunion), so it's important to me that I make a good choice; I really don't want to have to do it all again. At the same time, I need to make a change very soon, because the longer I wait the more I'll have to transfer.

What would you do?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why I'm Going to Switch My Genealogy Software

Contemplating the re-evaluation needed on my existing family tree, I have (very) reluctantly come to the conclusion that I need to switch to different genealogy software. I dread making such a change, while at the same time I know that it will help me prune out some of the distant – quite possibly unrelated – branches that I have introduced based on questionable sources, and make it much easier to document my sources.

My current software is Reunion. I've been using this Mac-only package for some 20-odd years, since maybe version 3 or 4, and it's now at version 10. There's a great deal I love about Reunion, not least the fact that I'm so familiar with it, data entry is fast and easy. It's Mac-native and thus works flawlessly on my MacBook Pro; although I also have a Windows 7 laptop and use Windows at my job, I'm a Mac user at heart and have been for 25 years. Reunion's family view is highly customizable, allowing the creation of multiple saved layout definitions and letting you display whatever facts, events, and notes you want for an individual, along with source numbers, so you can see what you have sources for without even opening up the detailed person screens. In the person view you can see all source citations for a fact just by clicking on the fact; you don't have to open a separate window. You can specify any "default facts" you want to be created whenever you add a new person, i.e., you're not limited to just birth, death, and burial. You can display as many columns as you wish in the People List, sort by any of them, and filter the names. And I think it just plain looks good, both the database application itself, which is clean and simple, and the (again, highly customizable) charts.

Reunion 10 Family View (customized)

That said, Reunion does have deficiencies. For example:
  • It separates data somewhat arbitrarily into "events" (with a date, place, and note field, but no description field) and "facts" (with a description field but no date, place or note fields), which appear on two separate tabs. Events have an extremely limited set of options for creating rudimentary narrative sentences for reports, but facts have no narrative options at all. Thus, an Occupation fact has no date range attached to it and cannot be sorted with events. You could create an Occupation event, with the occupation itself in the note field, but the note field is not included in the narrative options and so will not appear in a narrative report.
  • You can assign a "child status" such as adopted, twin, died as infant, stepchild, or anything else you want to add to the list – but only one status per person, and the status doesn't appear anywhere except in the child list in the family view. Sources cannot be attached to child statuses.
  • There's no logical place to document proof of parent-child relationships, other than in a generic Notes field.
  • The only method of handling alternate names is via an "AKA" fact, with no provision for separate first and surname fields (so they don't export correctly in a GEDCOM), and alternate names do not appear in the People List. 
  • There are no "place details", so cemeteries, for example, must be entered as distinct place names, and there's no option for long and short versions of a place name. If you enter a place, for example, as "Lewiston, Androscoggin County, Maine, United States", that's how it's going to appear everywhere it's displayed or printed.
  • Reunion can recognize and sort dates qualified by "before", "after", and "circa" or "about", but not "between" or "from...to" (it considers these "custom dates" and you must supply a "sort date").
  • Reunion's GEDCOM implementation is not very "standard". It uses some standard tags in non-standard contexts, and many custom tags that don't use the underscore prefix to identify them as such. Custom events and facts are given their own custom tags, rather than using the EVEN CustomName format.
But perhaps the most crucial deficiency is that sources and citations are rudimentary at best. You can create a so-called "source template" with fields labeled anything you want, and designate whether a field should appear in quotation marks or italics/bold/underlined, but you have no control over how the fields are put together for a citation; they are simply strung together, separated by commas, in the order the fields appear in the "template". Each actual citation has a single "Detail" field, which is appended to the source.

Each source, regardless of "template", includes a single free-form text field, which can be used for research notes, source text, comments, etc., but if you use it for more than one of these purposes and want only, say, the comments to appear in endnotes, you can exclude the rest only by enclosing it within "privacy" delimiters (the default is {curly brackets}). If you want to create a free-form source, it uses that same free-form text field as well. There is no provision for attaching record-specific source text or notes to an individual citation.

Also, the GEDCOM export of source fields is completely non-standard; the only way you're going to get transferable sources is by using either exclusively free-form sources, or a very basic template populating only the ABBR, TITL, AUTH, and PUBL tags, with the PAGE tag coming from the citation detail field.

Because of Reunion's source/citation limitations, I have ended up putting what should be "detail" fields into the source templates, and creating separate sources for what should be just records within a source. For example, instead of having one source for the 1880 census in Knox County, Maine, with a citation for each family, I have created a separate source for each family of interest in that county's census (and mind you, I have a lot of ancestors in Knox County!), that being the only way to get details such as the town, dwelling and family numbers, and so on, in the right place in my citations. Likewise, I have a separate source for each record I have cited in Ancestry's databases of Maine birth, death, and marriage records. About the only kind of source that I don't treat this way is published books, which generally need only a page number or range for citation detail.

As a result, I now have over 2000 sources (not citations) in my database for only 6000 people. And that's true even though I started out treating some of my earlier database sources, such as FamilySearch's Maine Vital Records, as a single source with individual records cited just in the citation detail field. Although I eventually decided this didn't give me enough detail, a great number of these early sources have never been updated. If I did update them to the scheme I've been using more recently, I might have closer to 3000 or 4000 sources. While this kind of "extreme splitting" has its adherents, I find it cumbersome, and really feel a need for a program with more state-of-the-art source documentation features.

Having reluctantly accepted the need to move on, I've found my biggest problem with making a change is deciding which application to use going forward. None of the candidates has all the features I'd like to have, and all of them have at least some drawbacks. I'll look at the main contenders in another post.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's Up in 2015

My failure to post anything for the past month and a half doesn't mean I have abandoned this blog, or worse, gone to join the ancestors I've been writing about! After completing 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks in 2014, I was ready for a little break. While I enjoyed participating in the 52 Ancestors challenge, and it did prompt me to post (more or less) regularly, I've decided not to continue my participation in 2015. As yet, I haven't decided on what kind of format or theme will take its place, or if I'll just adopt a more diverse and eclectic approach to this blog.

Some genealogy bloggers are participating in Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over. While I know my genealogy research could use a good deal of scrutiny, reorganization, and re-evaluation – not to mention a citation overhaul! – a complete do-over such as he suggests feels a little too drastic to me. Setting everything I have aside would mean not only my own research, but that of my late brother as well, and I'm not prepared to do that. So I intend to focus my energies on organizing and re-evaluating the information I have; making sure I have reliable sources for the people and facts in my tree; and making a plan for tracking down any missing documentation.

Along the way, I hope to make at least one (hopefully two) genealogical excursion this year to some of my ancestors' old stomping grounds, to see what ancestors I might be able to dig up (figuratively speaking, of course) in cemeteries and town records. I have a lot of places to choose from: although I have visited most of the cemeteries that enshrine my Maine and New Hampshire forbears, I have yet to visit Newburyport and Bridgewater, Mass.; Bristol, Conn.; Smithfield, Rhode Island; Caledonia County, Vermont; or the many locations in southeastern Quebec associated with my Washburn and Rabideau ancestors. In truth, I have enough places I'd like to go that I'll probably never make it to all of them in my lifetime. I'd better get started!

I may even dip my toes in the waters of genealogical conferences. I've never attended one, and would like to see what it's like, learn a thing or two, and maybe even, if I'm lucky, get to meet a few of my fellow genea-bloggers.

With any luck, these activities should provide me with plenty of blogging fodder for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – My Ancestor Score for 2015

Last year, for the premiere of this blog, I took Randy Seaver's Genea-Musings Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge, What's Your Ancestor Score?, resulting in the post My Ancestor Score. This year he has repeated the challenge in Your Ancestor Score for 2015, so I dusted off last year's spreadsheet and checked my pedigree chart to see how my score has improved.

The "score" is found by counting up the number of direct ancestors you have identified, as a percentage of the total possible number of direct ancestors through at least 10 generations (more for "extra credit"), starting with yourself as generation 1. 

Here are my updated results:

I came up with the numbers by generating a 10-generation pedigree chart in Reunion, and counting up the number of boxes in each generation that had at least a first name in them. The chart shows the number of possible people and the number identified, in each generation and as running totals for all generations, and I calculated the percentage identified by generation and overall.

The research I did throughout the year for the "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge paid off. No change in my great-great-great-grandparents – three of them still stubbornly refuse to show themselves – but each of the next six generations improved! The 4x great-grands are up 7 (from last year's 31); 5x up 8 (from 37); 6x almost doubled, up 20 (from 21); 7x up 16 (from 20); 8x up 13 (from 21); and 9x up 10 (from 16).

For the 10-generation benchmark I end up at 220 identified out of 1,023 total, or 21.5%, compared to last year's 169 (16.5%).  That's 51 newly identified ancestors! Going back two more generations for extra credit, I identified an additional 23 new ancestors, yielding a score of 280 out of 4,095, or 6.8% (last year it was 206 or 5.0%).

Let's hope I can do at least as well in the coming year!