Sunday, 21 June 2015

Starting out with a computer package – tips I wish I’d been given

I started using a package in 2013 and it was really exciting, just putting in a few facts and having a tree grow on the screen in front of my eyes, five generations ranging from my son to my great-grandmother in a matter of minutes, just like that.  Get me, amateur genealogist!

But later when I went back to that initial information I wished I’d done a few things differently, so thought I would share those things with you. Some of these apply in principle to any record keeping, others are more specific.

Starting out with your tree [Image from FamilyTreeMaker2012]
Get your timings right
In the excitement of entering data and building a tree don’t race ahead – when I first started using a genealogy programme I would put the year of a specific event and the fact, just so the tree would be as big as possible.  Bad plan.  While census entry dates are easy to check on, eg using Genuki, dates things like baptisms can be a faff to find again and without the precise dates you may be wasting your time, perhaps looking for a census entry in April when that person actually died in February.

Note all you know
So your ancestor lived with her six brothers and sisters? When using census returns don’t just enter the data on your ancestor, put in all the information relating to every family member into their own individual Person profile: estimated DOB, birth town, occupation. I've found that later on this has been useful, eg discovering someone I’d feared had died in childhood was actually living with a married aunt.

Note what you need
I've found it really useful customising my tasks within Family Tree Maker. Recently I've added my own categories specific to counties, specific to resources and specific to actions.

For example I could select my Cornwall, Visit & Photograph and Check with Council categories. This will filter tasks to respectively let me search for a clump of Cornish records on one online resource, plan a trip to see what my great-grandmother would have seen as she ran along her street, and to pop all enquiries relating to a particular cemetery into one email and not have to trouble a helpful but very busy Council employee several times.

Avoid horror and nausea
Always, always, make sure your information is backed up. The feeling of losing data is nauseating, like realising you've accidentally overspent by using the wrong debit card.  And indeed it would be an expensive mistake, all those years of subscriptions wasted, money down the drain. In addition to uploading my Family Tree Maker tree to Ancestry I use Outlook Cloud to upload a copy of my entire FTM tree file as back-up.  I use Outlook because my main email account is my Hotmail one but, as they say, other products are available.  I also upload my e-copies of original census returns downloaded from various sites.

I hope some of these will be helpful. And now I'm off to back up my family tree; after recommending it to you I'm feeling guilty for not doing it myself for a couple of months...

Text copyright Lynne Black 21 June 2015
First published on World Genealogy Collaboration blog site:


  1. Lots of good tips here, Lynne! And not just for people who use packages.

  2. Thank you! I've not written a post like that before - normally I tell the stories of my individual ancestors - so I'm glad you like it :)

  3. I enjoyed reading your post, as I also found I was too eager to get basic information onto the database of my direct line and regretted later on not being more through. Thank you for sharing your experience and your tips.

    Family History Fun

    1. Thanks very much Sue - it's still really tempting sometimes, needs a lot of will-power to resist! Lynne

  4. All good hints, and reviewing them over and over again is a very good thing. Nice post.

  5. You've done such great work on this project Frances and it's interesting to see the steps you took, literally and was as via maps.


Hello, thanks for leaving a comment on the World Wide Genealogy Blog. All comments are moderated because of pesky spammers!

Best wishes
World Wide Genealogy Team