Decisions, Decisions

Legacy genealogical software

The Big Blue Bin project is coming along nicely. I like to keep children’s information with the parents until the children marry, then the married couple becomes a new family unit. So from the Big Blue Bin I’ve pulled all the photos, documents, and memorabilia relating to my husband’s parents as a married couple. I’ve digitized and organized these on my computer. All the precious originals have been preserved in a scrapbook or wrapped in tissue and tucked away in archival-safe boxes.

The next step is to organized the basic information I’ve discovered into a genealogical database. As I add individuals and facts, each piece of information is tied to the source where I found it. Genealogical software is a great tool that can organize and document as many of your ancestors as you can find!

RootsMagic genealogical software

Software options have blossomed in the past few years, and many excellent choices are available. Modern genealogical software goes beyond simple database capabilities to include features that can make citing sources, printing charts and reports, and even searching the web easier than ever. Many manufacturers offer free or trial versions that let you take a “test drive” and determine which software is best for you.

Key features to consider

At a minimum, any genealogical software should include the following features:

  • Source documentation. You must, must, must keep track of where you find information! Documenting your sources creates a “breadcrumb trail” for yourself and others to retrace your steps.
  • Ability to generate GEDCOM files. What’s that? GEDCOM stands for Genealogical Data Communications. It’s a plain text format of your family files that you can share with others regardless of which software they use.
  • Genealogical formats. Your software should be able to generate basic charts and reports that incorporate standardized formats and numbering systems.
  • Automatic backup preserves your work at regular intervals to prevent losing essential data

Nice but not essential

  • Tools for online research and tree building, including direct links to popular research websites such as Ancestry and FamilySearch
  • Online storage. Storing your project “in the Cloud” means it’s accessible everywhere you go.
  • Sophisticated charting tools. Incorporate color and social media features to create visually appealing, “sharable” family projects
  • Multimedia Photographs, document images, and audio/video files can be incorporated, edited, linked, sorted, tagged and shared

What Genealogical Software Won’t Do

  • Despite the hype, your software will not complete your research project for you. Yes, it may search the web for clues and connect you to online sources, but what if the key source you need is not online? Believe it or not, there is a world of invaluable source material “out there” that is not and may never be online. So think for yourself! Get off the web when necessary and out in the real world to find those missing pieces of your family puzzle.
  • Genealogical software cannot write your family story for you. It can generate reports and narratives, but there is no substitute for your careful construction of words, sentences, and paragraphs. If you want a polished family history that’s readable and memorable, write it yourself; or let the software generate a starting-point narrative, then transfer it to a word processor to create the final version.

Learning curve

How much time to you want to spend learning to use your software properly? If you don’t enjoy the challenges of new technology, consider a program that does less, but does it simply and efficiently. If you worry you’ll be overwhelmed, consider a software that offers on-line tutorials and assistance.


Here is a list of popular genealogical software. See Top Ten Reviews ( for comparisons and links to manufacturer websites.

  • Legacy Family Tree
  • Family Historian
  • Family Tree Maker
  • Ancestral Quest
  • Heredis
  • RootsMagic
  • Family Tree Heritage
  • Brother’s Keeper
  • MyHeritage

Decisions, decisions…

Which software do I prefer? It’s difficult to choose–and what works best for me might not be best for you. I’ve tried various softwares through the years. None are perfect, but they all help control the research chaos.  Genealogical databases effectively document and connect individuals, families, and generations. And that’s essential to every successful genealogy project!

Dandelion Fluff

I like to visualize genealogy sources as dandelions. Just as a single dandelion contains as many as 172 seeds, one source can contain many pieces of information. Each fluffy information parachute represents the seed of a new source to be investigated and new discoveries to be made. Continue reading

A Gem from the Big Blue Bin

Pictorial Atlas Sioux County, Iowa

It’s a new year, and I’ve been delving into the depths of the big blue bin, pulling out a new batch of Veen family mementos. The best find this time around has been the Pictorial Atlas Sioux County, Iowa, published in 1985 by the Title Atlas Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. This company is apparently out of business, making the Sioux County Atlas a real gem to be preserved. Continue reading

All Good Wishes

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home! — Charles Dickens

We wish our clients, colleagues and friends the blessings of peace, goodwill, faith and family this Christmas season and in the year ahead.

Precious Memories

After a busy autumn, I finally returned to my Veen family project. Scanning and digital organization of my husband’s photographs and papers is well in hand, so it’s time to organize and preserve his irreplaceable documents, photographs, and mementos. Because I want him to enjoy these precious memories, I’ve opted for archival-safe photo albums/scrapbooks for the bulk of his collection.

Removing newspaper clippings and photographs from old, self-adhesive pages is a challenge, and not all his newspaper clippings survived. But most were safely removed, and the few casualties have been scanned, so I’m ready to create a nice keepsake album. Items too bulky for an album are wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and stored in a cabinet drawer in his home office. My hope is that having the album and mementos close at hand will jog his memory and we can begin recording the stories of his life to share with our children. Continue reading

Just Around the Corner…

October, Family History Month, is just around the corner – bringing boundless opportunities for family history education and fun at upcoming regional conferences!

The Minnesota Genealogical Society’s Tenth Annual North Star Conference, “Family History Crossroads,” will be held 6 – 7 October 2017 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota; featured speakers: Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA and Cyndi Ingle, creator of Cyndi’s List.

The two-day conference includes twenty breakout presentations by leading speakers from five states, plus a pre-conference DNA workshop on 5 October. Continue reading

Categories & Labels

With 300 images on my computer, it might seem a difficult task to provide each with a unique identifying label. Organizing images into logical categories is a good first step. Within my “VEEN” file, I create a file for my husband’s generation. My husband’s personal file is labeled 2_Norman J Veen, because he is the second child of the family. I’ve stored my 300 images in his personal file. Continue reading

Cropping & Corrections

Here’s an easy bit of project work. I need to go through all images and crop, straighten, rotate, correct color and contrast, etc. This is a good “multi-tasking item—it doesn’t require brain power, so I can work my way through 300 images with my feet up and the TV on!

Photo editing

Most corrections are accomplished with basic software—I like Microsoft Picture Manager, but there are plenty of choices. For more sophisticated photo work, Photoshop Elements works well. Between the two programs, just about any image can be properly adjusted and formatted.

Now those 300 images are ready to be tagged and documented.

Scanning and Saving

Boyden-Hull mementos

The next phase of my adventure with the Big Blue Bin doesn’t involve the Bin at all—for now I’m focused on dealing with the smaller bin that holds items from my husband’s life before our marriage. Again, I deconstruct this aspect of the project into smaller bites.

I like to deconstruct to the point that I can begin and finish a baby-step goal in a single session. Think of time in terms of blocks you can devote to your project. If you only have an hour to spare, what can you achieve with an hour’s work? Try to deconstruct to that point. Do you have an afternoon free? Or an entire day? What can you reasonably accomplish with that amount of time? Construct your baby-step plan accordingly. Continue reading

Setting Goals, Baby Steps

Unpacking the Big Blue Bin

Anytime we begin a new project, it’s necessary to articulate goals. Success is difficult to achieve if it’s undefined! The overarching goal of my new project is to reconstruct the family history of my husband’s Veen ancestors. This includes identifying and establishing relationships between the four surnames of his grandparents: Veen, Rensink, Rosenboom and Verrips. These are Dutch and German surnames. Although I have some Dutch ancestry, this type of research will be new to me.

Have you heard the word “deconstruction” before? I had not, until I began reading books on project management. “Deconstruction” in project management terms simply means to take a large, seemingly overwhelming task and break it down into manageable bites. Think of it as taking “baby steps” as you begin your family history project. Continue reading