Basics of Family History and Technology

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Basics of Family History Research

This article is part of a series.
Overview of Family History Research
Home Sources
Family History Collaboration
Basics of Family History and Technology
Basics of DNA
Basic Record-keeping
Evaluation and Goal Setting
Family History in Time and Place
Family History Etiquette, Ethics, Legalities
List of Useful Resources for Beginners

This article originally appeared in "The Foundations of Family History Research" by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, FUGA, and Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

New technology has changed the way we conduct research and organize the results of our research and the way we publish information and share it on a global scale. Whether using personal computers or the online networks at libraries, family historians are locating and accessing research materials with a few keystrokes. Thousands of reference works and other items that were previously hidden or inaccessible are now identified and put within reach. Technology and a great surge of interest in the field have expedited the publication of enormous databases of census records, vital records, military records, cemetery records, and the like. In addition, the Internet and DNA testing are allowing some researchers to prove lineage in a way never imagined just twenty years ago. Understanding these advancements will simplify the way you conduct and organize your family history.


The Internet is changing the landscape of family history research, with more genealogical content being added daily. Still, many of the important records needed to complete family history research are not yet online and may not be digitized for years to come'if ever. A number of free online newsletters including the Monthly Update, Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, and RootsWeb Review offer regular updates on the availability of records, new products and services, and articles written by experts to help family historians of every level of experience.

Family History Software

Computers have saved researchers countless hours that would have been wasted in transcribing original records and organizing materials. A wide variety of computer software that facilitates and enhances genealogical research is available. Genealogical programs, such as Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, and Legacy, make it possible for you to enter names, dates, places, and relationships for an individual into the computer only once, whereupon the program will automatically recognize the individual and link him or her to the appropriate family and generation.

Because new genealogical software programs regularly come on the market, and those already in use are constantly being upgraded, it would be difficult to detail specific products here. A good way to stay informed of what is happening in this quickly changing arena is to participate in one of the many computer interest groups associated with genealogical societies.

Tools and Electronic Files

Much computer hardware, software, and tools, though not made specifically for family history use, are beneficial for family history projects. Pamela Boyer Porter, in her FORUM column 'Digitools' identifies aids such as high-speed Internet access and a wireless network as being timesavers for online searching and retrieval.<ref>Pamela Boyd Porter, 'Fourteen Things I Didn't Know I Couldn't Live Without Until I Had Them,' FORUM 17, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 22'23.</ref> A thumb (or jump) drive takes up little room in a briefcase yet allows for collecting images from the microfilm-to-digital-image copier at the Family History Library. Other devices include a digital camera to photograph everything from tombstones to documents to living relatives; a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) to keep a genealogy database; and a scanner to reproduce photographs and other documents. Other items to consider are desktop publishing software which has opened new avenues for disseminating family information through personal letters, newsletters, and books, and sound and video editing software that makes it possible to turn sound clips and video into movies and other family history projects.

Computers offer many ways to store and preserve your family history research and projects. Electronic files can be stored on a computer's hard drive, on CDs and DVDs, or on other storage devices. Photo-editing software enables you to restore old photographs and share them with others. A favorite picture of one family historian's grandparents' wedding day was scanned into a computer. Duplicates of the scanned file were stored on the hard drive and on a CD. Photo-editing software was used to clean the scanned image of defects that appeared on the original picture. The restored image was then sent to family members via e-mail and the prized original picture was stored in a safe container. In this way, the original image is preserved for future generations while many family members enjoy the picture today. For more information, see George C. Morgan's How to Do Everything with Your Genealogy and Rhonda McClure's Digitizing Your Family History.



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