The top of my dining room table is covered under a vast weight of books, documents and photographs and has consequently not been seen for many months.
In a moment of weakness I embarked on the Herculean task of creating a family tree and I am only now starting to make a slight dent in the piles of material. Everything has been sorted into different boxes and I have started the process of scanning all the bits and pieces into the computer.
From the start, it was clear that I would need some software to keep track of all the facts I was uncovering. The first thing I learnt was that many genealogy programs store data in a standard GEnealogical Data COMmunication (GEDCOM) file format which was developed by the Mormon Church to make it easy for genealogy researchers to swap information.
I definitely wanted a GEDCOM-compatible program and, going on the advice of experts, and my own gut feel, I eventually decided on a package called Family Historian, which is developed by an outfit going by the charming name of Calico Pie.
I downloaded the trial version from their website and, after fiddling with it for a while, decided that I would lash out the £30.95 to buy it.
The first thing you have to do when you fire up the program is to begin your genealogy project by entering the details of a root person (presumably yourself) and, from there, everyone related to them including spouses, children, parents, siblings, and ancestors and descendants.
The main window in the program is called the Focus Window and you can make any person the focus, and see instantly who is related to them. Alongside that is the properties panel which contains all the known facts about the person being displayed in the window.
The way you go about building the family tree is to enter facts about each individual along with citations, or details about where you got that information. My birth certificate, for example, is entered in a number of places including as the citation for the date and location of my birth, the spelling of my names and those of my parents.
You can probably carry on indefinitely adding facts and events for each person and you can even add multimedia including sound, video and pictures. Pictures showing more than one person can be linked to each person shown and the person’s face is shown next to their information.
There are a number of predefined events that you can enter for each person, such as birth, marriage or death, but you can also add any other event that takes your fancy, such as when granddad caught the rinderpest, or whatever.
Family documents will obviously be a rich source of information for any genealogy project but there are also plenty of records available on the Internet, and Family Historian provides a tool for searching for them.
One other exciting possibility is ancestry.co.uk, where you can input your details, or upload your GEDCOM file, and see whether any matches are found amongst the 4 billion records which they hold. The ancestry.co.uk site is a pay site but I’ve heard very good reports of it and fully intend to join in the near future.
Once your genealogy project is complete, Family Historian provides a full set of tools for searching through the data, drawing diagrams, creating reports in the form of PDFs, wordprocessor files or webpages, and it can even be used to create family tree CDs or websites.
I am finding the whole genealogy thing to be quite fascinating and have uncovered all sorts of interesting things; just the job to keep me occupied during the chilly winter evenings, which we will be getting soon, I hope!