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  • Computer Interests - Thanks For the Response

    Donald Macdonald

    The first two articles in this column produced an overwhelming response from our readers. Many wrote simply to express their appreciation. I thank you very much for doing so. Since it wasn’t possible to reply to all letters individually, I had to hope that the second article would sufficiently answer all questions on software. Many other questions were general of likely interest to all readers. So this article is devoted mainly to those questions.

    Many people asked to be enrolled in the Computer Interest Group. Your names have been noted. We, unfortunately, haven’t yet formally established such a group. The notice in the April-May NEXUS should have read “is planning to form” instead of “is forming”. The concept is approved, but the actuality is a little in the future. For the moment this column will be the CIG “forum.” Your comments regarding the focus for this CIG are most welcome.

    A number of people, especially in remote areas, requested information on whether a modem could connect them directly to a library, such as the LDS library in Salt Lake City or one of the Family History Centers. Unfortunately, we aren’t yet connected that well. I don’t know of any library genealogy database that is directly accessible. Bulletin boards and networks like Compuserve and GENie are the closest we have at the moment. Commsoft (the developer of ROOTS 3) has a bulletin board with a large number of “tiny tafels” that can be directly accessed via a modem. These “tiny tafels” match seekers of data on an individual with those who have the data. It is more thorough than a surname query system. ROOTS 3 is the major software supporter of tiny tafels. BK supports them also.

    The magazine Genealogical Computing was mentioned a few times in previous articles. it is published four times a year by Ancestry, Inc., 350 South 400 East, Suite 110, Salt Lake City, UT 84111, and typically is 40-48 pages long. Other magazines, like Heritage Quest and Genealogical Helper, run an article on genealogical computing in each issue.

    Stuart Trask of Yarmouth, N. S., adds a corollary to the caution “always verify!” He notes, “Always include a primary source.” Not checking input data against documented sources is a frequent failing of computer genealogists and some programs discourage the user from following Mr. Trask’s valuable rule.

    There is some dissatisfaction and confusion about numbering systems. Most programs assign a “record number” to each record (person or marriage) in the database. This number is ONLY FOR TRACKING PURPOSES by the computer. It has nothing to do with the numbering that you would find in a report, such as the Register, Record, or Henry numbering systems. Those numbers will be generated automatically when your computer prints those reports. In fact, it is one of the major benefits of using a computer. You don’t have to determine laboriously what number each person should have every time you print a report. It’s done correctly and effortlessly by the computer. Many programs include a separate field in each record so that you can insert a number of your choosing. Some people have unique numbering systems that they find useful for their purposes. Usually, these numbers are not used when a report is printed.

    Some people asked about support for the “Henry” system of numbering. This system is probably the third most popular numbering system, following the Register and Modified Register (also known as NGSQ or Record) systems. The Henry system, sometimes called “abracadabra,” uses a string of letters or numbers to indicate lineage and birth order. A progenitor is “a”. The first child is “aa”, second child "ab," third child “ac,” etc. The second child’s first child is “aba” and so on. Everyone’s Family Tree by The Dollarhide Systems is the only software I know of that supports the Henry system.

    Faced with an ever-growing database, some people are not certain how to handle it. Generally you have two options: purchase more memory for your computer, or split the database. The first solution is mostly a financial consideration. Splitting the database might be the better solution if you don’t mind having all your father’s ancestors in one database and your mother’s in another (or some other split). Your particular software might offer clues as to which decision to make. If you choose to add RAM, remember that additional RAM is handled differently. There is “expanded” and “extended” memory. When the ROOTS 3 database, for instance, outgrows the normal RAM (typically 640K, or 512K on older machines) it works in expanded memory. Checking your manual or calling your software’s customer support will set you on the right path. A third option - removing resident programs from your normal RAM - is only temporarily useful as you will soon find that your database has again filled the available RAM.

    Data files are normally stored in a directory separate from program files. You can specify what this directory is called, and you can have more than one directory of data files Thus, you might keep your own ancestry in a directory called “OWN” and a client’s ancestry in a directory called “CLIENT”.

    We received some offers of members’ databases on floppy disks. We have to decline the offer. At this time NEHGS doesn’t have storage, indexing and accessing capability for such donations. You might look into the possibility of uploading into the Ancestral File database maintained by the LDS Church.

    One reader took exception to my suggestion that any of the programs mentioned in my last article would work fine on a 286 computer with 640K of RAM and 20 megabytes of hard disk space. My suggestion was meant for people considering the purchase of a used computer primarily for genealogy. If you are buying a new computer, then you definitely want at least a 386 and probably [156] should consider 4 MB of RAM. You'll get faster speed and be able to input more records. The basic 640K holds (typically) about 3,000 records and notes. Recently I've noticed that 486 models outnumber 386 models nearly 3:1 in the catalogues. Although 386 computers are still the largest selling models, they are moving toward obsolescence. Recent dramatic price cuts on computers have put the 486/33 where the 386/20 was last year and the 286/10 the year before. The current genealogical software was written (for the most part) when the 286 with 10 MHz speed and 640K RAM was the norm and works well on it. Macintosh users, on the other hand, don’t have so large a choice of genealogical software, but their record on hardware obsolescence is enviable.

    My comments on shortcuts in data entry omitted two shortcuts in PAF. The F8 key will copy the same field from the previous record (good when two children are born in the same place) and the F9 key will copy data from fields in the current record. Since I mentioned these shortcuts in Brother’s Keeper, I felt it only fair to correct the omission. It would have saved me a lot of time if I had known these two keys when inputting data into PAY.

    I was called to task for using the term “surety code” instead of “date sure flag” when describing the code (0 thru 3) that is used by ROOTS 3 to describe how certain you are of the correctness of event data. Entering a “0’ in this field means that you have doubts about the accuracy of the date; a “3” means that you are absolutely certain it is correct. It’s a very useful code even if it is correctly called a flag.

    Quite a number of people wanted advice on using genealogical software with their word processor to write a book This subject could occupy a book in itself, but I will try to address it in a future article.

    There was a bit of confusion regarding the comment about a friend who used his software to help make a census search. The software (in this case PAY, but others will do it) searched HIS database to find everyone who was alive in a particular census year. He then printed out this focused list and took it with him to the National Archives where he viewed the microfilms for more data on these people. No computerized database has been established that would permit access for such searches via modem.

    Can You Help?

    One person has been using Genealogy ON DISPLAY for eight years, needs some help, and has lost track of the program’s author, Melvin O. Duke, formerly of Morgan Hill, Calif. Is there anyone using this program who can help or supply the present whereabouts of its author?

    Donald MacDonald, a native of West Bridgewater, Mass., has been a Library Assistant at NEHGS since 1989. A member of the Society’s Computer Committee, he is compiling a genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Chubbuck of Hingham, Mass.

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