From GEDcoms to Online Family Trees

How Todays Technology Affects Genealogical Research

by Michelle Unger

To most people, technology is a magnificent thing. With it, scientists are able to find cures for diseases; doctors use it to diagnose and treat; police officers use it to link to national and international databases to catch criminals. The question is, how does it affect the field of genealogy?

Technology has given genealogists the means to conduct, compile and store information from the comfort of their own homes. Computers have enabled genealogists to do away with the piles of boxes and multiple filing cabinets of paper information. Genealogists are now able to use scanners to scan old photographs, forever preserving them for future generations. Genealogical software allows researchers to compile information, ridding themselves of the many boxes and filing cabinets once necessary to organize this type of information. These software programs allow the generation of many different charts, graphs and other documents after putting the data into the program only one time. The internet has given researchers the ability to access information, formally available only at libraries and government offices. Researchers are now able to share information within seconds instead of waiting days or weeks for documents to travel through the postal system.

There are many different types of software and even more ways to conduct research and compile the information for family trees. There are programs for those with basic experience, intermediate and advanced. There are programs to be used off-line, on-line and those to be used both on and off-line. Before you can begin using one of these programs, the researcher must determine the purpose for compiling the information. The researcher must also look at his own technology abilities to determine which is best for him. This article and those following will be focusing on the components involving the internet.

The first type of software works mainly off-line. The majority of these programs come with their own research CD's. Many offer the ability to change the data entered into GEDCOM form. They may create a web page for the user or give them the ability to upload the information to the users website. The trouble this author has found with these programs is how quickly the information is out-dated. Many times, the up-dated version of software is published and within just a few months, the information has already become out-dated and a new version needs to come out. Many times, these companies do not offer an up-grade that can be downloaded from the website for a slightly lower cost and/or a new version, you simply have to purchase the new version. On the positive side of this, a new user can simply buy the new version without having to purchase all the previous versions.

The second type of program works solely on-line. These programs are available thr ough websites such as, Rootsweb and While access to these programs generally require a subscription, the companies sponsoring them offer free trial subscriptions. These trial subscriptions allow you to try out the software and the information database to determine if this is the right program for you. Many of these companies (Rootsweb and ) work with . This allows for less repetition and hopefully cuts down on the amount of inaccurate information. By simply typing in a name, the researcher has instant access to many different things: birth/death records, newspaper articles, etc.

The drawback to these programs deals mainly with the type of internet connection the researcher has access to. If the researcher has DSL, he can quickly access the information he needs. However, for many people this is an expensive way to access the internet, as well as it may not be available to everyone. Those in rural areas may not yet have the connections available to them. These people would need to access the internet through some type of dial-up service. This type of service can tie up the phone line for hours. If the researcher finds something they need to download, it could take a great deal of time due to having a slow connection speed. Typing the information into the database could take hours.

The last type of program can work be used both on-line and off. provides a free program called Ancestry Family Tree, which allows you to type information into the database, attach pictures, etc. off-line. While on-line, this program computed how many records there may be for that name. All you had to do was click on the link and it would bring up the information through This program also allowed you to create a web page, although you had to create a link within your already created website. recently shifted its focus towards their OneWorldTree offerring and has reduced support for Ancestry Family Tree.

As you can see, there are many ways technology has enhanced our abilities to conduct research on family trees. The major decision of the researcher is what type of research is to be conducted and the technological abilities the researcher has. The upcoming articles in this series will look at specific programs and give a more in-depth view of their features.


Data - factual information used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.

Database: a usually large collection of data organized especially for rapid search and retrieval (as by a computer)

Download - downloading is electronically extracting files from a network or bulletin board system for use on your own computer. Many bulletin board systems with genealogy sections have files that you can download.

Family Pedigrees - in general, family pedigrees refer to family group sheets that are linked in a computer system. When you access an individual's family group sheet in a linked pedigree, you also access all of the records that are linked to that individual.

GEDCOM database - Genealogy Data COMmunications, a standardized format for genealogy databases that allows the exchange of data among different software programs and operating systems.

Internet - an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world

Modem - a device that converts signals produced by one type of device (as a computer) to a form compatible with another (as a telephone)

Upgrade - a: the state of being improved; especially: enhanced value or excellence, b: an instance of such improvement : something that enhances value or excellence

Upload - to transfer information from one computer to a remote computer usually with a modem.



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