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(+) What is the Purpose of a Genealogy Program?

14 Jun 2024 3:50 PM | Anonymous

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

If you record your genealogy research efforts on paper, you might want to skip this article. However, if you use a computer program as an aid to your genealogy research, read on.

Is the genealogy program you chose a database of results, or is it a tool to help your research while that research is still a work-in-progress? Perhaps a bigger question is, "Will my genealogy program help me evaluate evidence? Or is it simply a place to record the results after I have done all the research?"

I suspect that many genealogists do not use their favorite genealogy programs to full potential. In fact, some genealogy programs make it difficult to accomplish what a computer does best: organize, filter, and retrieve information whenever it is needed. 

Many genealogy programs appear to be nothing more than a place to record your research CONCLUSIONS. Keep that word in mind for a few minutes: "conclusions." I would suggest that your genealogy program should do much, much more. Sadly, most of today's genealogy programs do not.

With many of today's genealogy programs, you must first look at all the available evidence, weigh the possibilities of inaccuracies, and then decide which facts you wish to believe. Only then, after you have done all the hard work, are you able to enter the information into many genealogy programs. However, that doesn't fulfill my needs, and I bet it does a poor job of meeting your needs as well. Sadly, many genealogists accept such limitations as normal and never stop to think about what their real needs are.

What I need is a research TOOL. I need a database that helps DURING the process of gathering and evaluating genealogy information. During this process, I often don't yet know what is accurate versus what is not. In fact, if I find contradictory information, I need a user-friendly database to collect all the possibilities, help me compare and evaluate all that evidence, and thereby help me determine what is most likely to be the truth. Computers should be great at such tasks. Sadly, most of today's genealogy programs are lacking in such capabilities. That includes the online programs (The Next Generation of Genealogical Sitebuilding, MyHeritage, FamilySearch,, and others) as well as today’s Windows, Macintosh, Linux, iPad, and Android genealogy programs. 

For example, I have a great-great-grandfather who remains a mystery to me. The problem is that I have found TOO MANY records of his birth date and birth place, and the various "facts" all contradict each other. Which one is correct?

For instance, I have found two different dates of birth recorded for him and four different locations of birth in three different U.S. states. One book with no source citations claims he was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts, while my deceased aunt's handwritten notes claim he was born in Nashua, New Hampshire. The man's son applied for a marriage license in 1892 and reported his father's place of birth was Portland, Maine, while an unsourced entry in FamilySearch claims that he was born more than 100 miles further north in Corinth, Maine. 

Great-great-granddad himself confused the records still further when he talked to census enumerators. The first year he appeared in the census records, he claimed he was born in New Hampshire. In later census records, he claimed to have been born in Maine.

NOTE: Perhaps Great-great-granddad didn't talk with the enumerators himself; the enumerators may have talked with a neighbor or with family members instead. Perhaps the enumerator only talked with the bartender at the local tavern, a bartender who claimed he knew my great-great-grandfather well. Who knows? Such is the “fun” of census records.

Which claim is correct? 

In fact, I am not sure if any of them are correct; so, which one do I place in my genealogy database? Do I have to wait until I am able to determine which record is correct – if any – before I enter the information? If so, what good is that if I have to do all the evaluation first, working from memory or from hand-written notes? Shouldn't a computer program assist me in this evaluation process? Shouldn’t any good genealogy program help me keep ALL my notes and ALL my assessments as to possible accuracy? 

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