Tuesday 2 April 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 3: Going Paperless

Like many people, I have gone increasingly paperless in my day-to-day life and in my genealogical studies. When we first moved to a condo several years ago, I no longer had the room for walls of bookcases or filing cabinets. We are now back in a large house, but over the past few years I developed the habit of not keeping a lot of paper files, other than a few I need that contain important personal or financial papers.

And, of course, those special family memorabilia and historical documents that are preserved in binders.

I admit I still have and purchase printed books, mainly because I find them useful in much of my research. It is often handier to be able to, firstly, read and mark up pages with yellow high-lighter or turn down the corners where there is information I will want to find later. My old schoolteachers would roll over in their graves to know I desecrate books that way, but these are mostly used books I acquired on the Internet for little cost and will undoubtedly be thrown away at some point when I am finished with them or finished period.

My current bookshelves do not take up as much space as my photo albums did. These are now consigned to plastic bins in our storage space. I have not got the heart to throw them out yet even though they have all been scanned and put online where family members can pursue the pictures (blog post Digitizing Memories 7 March 2017). One of our children might toss them in the future but that will be their burden.

A future project will be to describe the provenance of all my important keepsakes. Hopefully that will help our family to decide to keep them for posterity and future family historians. I believe it is important to collect items used by family members and to preserve them. But they need to have explanations about who owned them and what significance they might have to our family’s history.

Of great importance in keeping digital files is making sure you don’t inadvertently delete them or lose them in a hard drive crash. I have had that unfortunate experience in the past and it took some effort to reconstruct my genealogy records. Luckily, I had most of my files and folders on a separate storage device and was able to secure a family tree from another relative, although it was a few years out-of-date.

The use of CDs, DVDs, USB memory sticks or another hard drive has been important in preserving data in the past. Having the information on other devices, whether stored in your own home or with a friend or relative, offers protection against fire or other loss. Keeping duplicate files in more than one place, at least one of them outside your home, may be important to insure they are safe and accessible. The older technologies offered easy solutions to preserving the data, but their life span is a problem. Storage devices should be checked regularly, or just routinely replaced.

In my post of 4 March 2024 (Leaving the Past to the Future 1: Organizing Your Information) it should have been obvious that all the files I keep on my computer are digital. But what I did not mention is that I keep a copy of them in the Cloud. 

Since my last computer crash a few years ago, I have kept my files in remote computer data storage. That includes all manner of files from typewritten to scanned documents and audio/visual files. Once there it can be retrieved and shared.

The commercial service program I use (Carbonite) copies files constantly.  As of March 11th, I have 363,840 files backed up (43,080 new ones just this month). It does cost a bit (Cdn$134 per year) but worth it to insure against losing some valuable information in the future.

I can retrieve parts or all or the library at any time, no matter where I am or what device I am using. Storage is secure, password protected, although I can also invite others to access the data, like my daughter who assists me with my IT activities.

For more about being a paperless genealogist or looking for advice and help on how to do it, just do a Google search for “paperless genealogy” and be amazed at the information you find: blogs, books, presentations, newsletters, magazine articles, technology, etc.

I will talk about paperless research sources and techniques in another post.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Upcoming Presentations

 I am presenting two talks to the Society of Genealogists later this year:

On 11 July 2024 I will talk about Genealogy and the Little Ice Age. See here for more details.

On 8 August 2024 I will present Stormy Weather: events that changed our ancestors' fortunes. See here for more details.

Monday 18 March 2024

Leaving the Past to the Future 2: Genealogy Software

In my last post I talked about my own family history files and how I organize information.

Part of being organized is having a software program that you can use to assemble your family tree and record at least the basic data about your ancestors. That may entail having the tree on your desktop computer (as mine is), using a laptop (which I only use occasionally, mainly when travelling), or using a handheld electronic device (such as a tablet or smart phone).

I find it difficult to work with small, single screens. Part of it is the price you pay for getting older when your eyesight is not as sharp as it once was. And I always keep more than one screen open on my two monitors, especially when working on family history stuff. Using just one, small window does not work for me as I like to switch back and forth often between open websites.

Many in my family have Apple iPads while my computer and laptop are Windows based. I find it difficult to switch between different operating systems. While I used to use Apple products many years ago, I found that genealogy website and programs were mostly not compatible with Apple systems, so I switched everything over.

But what’s the best genealogy software program to use?

Using an online site to keep your tree is an option but you may need a subscription to access this service. If you lose or delete your membership you could lose your tree as well. I’ll talk about online trees in a later post.

What software programs most of us use comes down to what we like and how we work with our data. Often people get started with one program and stay with it because it’s easier than moving everything.

I use Legacy 9.0. I moved to it when I started using a Windows based computer system. Prior to that I had my data on Reunion on my old Macintosh computer which I quite liked. I tried a few others at the time but preferred Legacy as it had the features that fit the way I like to do things.

Most of the most popular programs have a free version of a free trial period. That only goes so far, though, as once you are into using it, you really want some of the advanced features.

If you want to know more about the various options, first read the reviews of people or groups who have tested them. Most will compare in terms of ease of use, best features and cost and show some user reviews.

·         TopTenReviews compares the most popular programs for 2024 here (August 2023). https://www.toptenreviews.com/best-family-tree-maker

·         Some good charts that show the features of 23 programs can be found on Wikimedia here (June 2023). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_genealogy_software

·         Techradar lists their best here (February 2024). https://www.techradar.com/best/genealogy-tools

·         Family Tree Magazine (US) have their top picks for software, along with their assessment of Online Trees, here. https://familytreemagazine.com/resources/software/online-tree-vs-genealogy-software/

·         No1Reviews came up with a top 10 selection here. https://genealogy-software.no1reviews.com/

·         Buyers Guide rate their choices here (March 2024). https://buyersguide.org/genealogy-software-ca/t/best?Country=CA&m=b&d=c&c=677404342479&p=&oid=kwd-10994456&lp=9001605&li=&nw=g&nts=1&gclid=Cj0KCQiArrCvBhCNARIsAOkAGcWHiExVL0KQusOV4DQMhBCqVb-hqqYff_UwG5H_-pHwloDya4FpwtwaAivqEALw_wcB&tdid=12017720&gad_source=1

If you want to know what is available, you can read about dozens of makers of Software &Apps for Genealogy Software Programs on Cyndi’s List. https://www.cyndislist.com/software/genealogy/

If you are looking for your first, or new software, check out the reviews first. Also talk to other genealogists to learn what they use and why.

Beware, though. Learning about all the programs may exhaust you.

Some programs work with both Mac and Windows systems. A few also have a mobile app so you can carry the information with you on your phone. Here is a list of some of the more popular programs as summarized by Family Tree Magazine.





Mobile App

Syncs with

Hints from

Ancestral Quest 16

FamilySearch Family Tree

FamilySearch, Findmypast

Family Historian 7

Findmypast, MyHeritage

Family Tree Builder




MyHeritage for iOS and Android (free)





FamilySearch, Geni, MyHeritage, WikiTree & others

Family Tree Maker 2019


Family Tree Maker Connect for iOS and Android (free; no editing capabilities)




Ancestry, FamilySearch



Legacy Family Tree 9





Families for iOS and Android ($14.99)



FamilySearch Family Tree



FamilySearch, Findmypast, GenealogyBank, MyHeritage

Reunion 13



ReunionTouch for iOS ($9.99)

RootsMagic 9










RootsMagic for iOS and Android (free; no editing capabilities)


Ancestry, FamilySearch Family Tree


Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, MyHeritage

It’s important to have genealogy software, no matter what device you use:

·         First you need to have a system that allows you to store information about your ancestral families, for your own purposes as you progress with your research but also for sharing with others now and in the future.

·         Second you need to have a copy of your family tree and genealogical information that you control and not subject to the whims or decisions of others, whether they be individuals or companies that offer and store data.

·         Third, you need ready access to your data – anywhere, any time – on your own device(s) that does not rely on an internet connection.