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Making A Computerized Genealogy Product For Family Distribution

Up until a few years ago, it was somewhat difficult to take the family data that you had and put it in a format that you could distribute easily and inexpensively to your family and interested people.


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Up until a few years ago, it was somewhat difficult to take the family data that you had and put it in a format that you could distribute easily and inexpensively to your family and interested people. Computers and programs have gotten much easier to use • take it from someone who started by using WordStar 20 years ago, and who lived back in the days of VAX machines!

Nowadays, both Macintosh (my computer of choice) and Windows machines have a good deal of power and easy to use software which can help you in your quest to make your family get together a memorable one. There are many books and local genealogical computing support groups to assist you with specific technical questions.

You should be focused on what you want your end product to contain, and you should ask yourself • and answer • some questions. Consider a number of items: whom do you want to include, and also who is the intended audience? Is it your close family? Distant relatives with whom you want to connect? Overseas relatives who may not be proficient in English? They will understand more from pictures and charts. What will you include • pictures, movies, HTML pages, GEDCOM's, word processing files, sounds and interviews? Where will it be distributed? - At a reunion, via mail, or otherwise? When do you want to have this done by? You should pick a project whose size and complexity is something that you can manage. Don't start 3 days before an out of town reunion. What do you want to have for a cut off date for information included, such as no one born after 1900? And why use this format instead of a book? • Because you can include media, hyperlinks and forms of data that people can reprocess for themselves.

Arrange your information so that it tells a story • like printing a book, only on a CD or DVD • and give items sensible names. Call a picture Jones Family Penna 1910 Census, not pcft880.jpg or whatever the camera gave it for a name. Consider leaving out data on living people, or having the genealogy program you use to strip out such data and only put LIVING in places of actual names and dates. Many people cut off data at 1900. Put a commentary on why you made choices of what to include. It may not be read, but at least you tried. Put printable charts, made by your genealogy program or a paint program. Include a slideshow that will present your pictures in the order you wish. iPhoto does this for Macs, and there are similar programs for Windows machines.

How does one go about this? You obviously collect information about the family, and have it in a family tree program on your computer. You should know how to use the program in order to export Web pages (viewable by any browser); export a GEDCOM (a file containing your data, which can be accessed and imported into any other genealogical program and almost any kind of computer); and consider using standard formats (not proprietary) for your pictures, sounds, and movies. These would include GIF, JPEG, or TIFF files for photos; mp3 formats for sounds; and QuickTime/MPEG for movies.

How can you do this without joining your ancestors from overwork and frustration? • I would suggest that you take a look at what has already been done by others working in this arena. I had a family member send me scans of old family pictures going back to the 1860's, and also included mp3 format sound recordings of 100 year old people reminiscing about their childhood and family as they remembered. One man was given access to a treasured scrapbook of photos, and made his own CD to share with the rest of his family. Another found old movies from his childhood, digitized them, and made a stunning impact on his family.

Should you use a CD or a DVD? Depends upon the amount of data, and what kind • movies take up a lot of space, whereas you can put 10 hours or so of talk onto a CD with 650 megabytes of space. Make sure that you burn it in a standard format (ISO 9660 is an international standard) so that all types of computers and browsers can read it. Put a free reader - Adobe reader can generally be included free of charge on a disk • so that people can read a PDF file. Learn how to use your software, as not everyone uses Word, or Internet Explorer, or a proprietary genealogy format. How to save in standard formats should be explained in the help area of your software. Please consider the privacy and feelings of living individuals. You don't want to facilitate identity theft or get sued by a relative. Also, deal with copyright issues if you didn't make or create all the content (plus you want to get your own copyright for the end product). And be sure to copyright your product • facts can't be copyrighted, but a particular arrangement might be.

And what is the end result? A disk that can be duplicated (oftentimes in minutes on today's machines) that contains photos, family trees, and other kinds of memorabilia, and which you can hand out free at reunions. If someone wants to do a written book and produce it, they can use your work as a basis, but you can share what you have now with your family and loved ones.

Web sites referenced •

CD of family photos -
DVD of family movies -
Copyright issues -

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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