July 23, 2008


The first thing you’ll need to start recording your family tree is a medium. If you’re a luddite, there are family tree templates and forms available in many books that you can easily find at your local book store or library. Of course, if you’re a luddite, you’re probably not reading this. For the rest of us, there are computers.

I can’t recommend any particular type of family tree software because I've only tried one. I bought Broderbund’s Family Tree Maker when I started in 2004 simply because its name said what it was. Mostly what you’re buying is the database format. All the rest is just bells and whistles. Mine came with books of CDs that were searchable databases such as the Social Security Death Index. I’ve found several of my ancestors’ social security numbers but that doesn’t give me anything interesting. There are also CDs with other family trees or government databases. My ancestors seemed to be farmers who pulled out the shotgun whenever someone was comin’ down the dirt road so they don’t show up on a lot of databases. What I did find very helpful was that my software came with a short-term (usually 30 days) subscription to ancestry.com. It was there that I found other’s family trees that made my tree grow by quantum leaps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an easy way to link or copy their trees so I ended up saving them and meticulously transferring the information into my tree.

One tip I will give you is to find the latest version of a software package that is out or about to come out and buy the version before that. Software is expensive and chances are stores will be trying to get rid of their excess stock of the previous version by marking it down.

Once you pick and pick up some software, start your tree by putting in information you know. Start with yourself. Then, go with what your parents know. I’d wait until this point to activate your online subscription so you don’t waist time gathering information available from other sources. You can retain your subscription for a monthly fee if you find it helpful. I’ll talk about other online resources later.

My software also came with a publishing feature which makes it easy to prepare your research for presentation in book form or even on the web on your very own web site! I was living in California when I started, 2,000 miles from my family, so I started publishing my tree on line so my family could see and explore my findings. You can check out my tree via the link to the left. I updated it periodically but as my tree grew, my dial-up internet connection started to take hours to upload all the pictures and information. What was really cool was I began to hear from cousins that I’d never met and didn’t know I had who found my page and contacted me to share information. How cool is that?! I’ve gotten a lot of great pictures, old hand-written letters and information from people across the country that are related to me but never met.
Since I’ve moved back to Tennessee, I’ve been able to attend family reunions where I also published and printed family trees to display and share. Folks really enjoyed finding themselves on the tree and seeing how they’re all related.

Overall, I’m please with Family Tree Maker. The only thing I wish it could do was to write a CD rom so I could publish my research on a CD to give to family and they could read and explore even if they didn’t have Family Tree Maker on their computer. I’d be interested to hear of other software packages out there and your experiences with them.

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