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Smart Genealogy Software vs Dumb Genealogy Software - Tue, 24 Apr 2012

Almost all genealogy software is dumb. That’s D-U-M-B, dumb! They accept all your data and then regurgitate it back to you unthinkingly. Junk in, junk out. Good stuff in, good stuff … well out, yes – but presented dumb-ly.

There is nothing wrong with dumb genealogy software, as long as you expect nothing out of it. Don’t expect it to help you do your genealogy, or present your data in a way that will help you come to new conclusions. It will just be a big notepad where everything is written down. At least you won’t forget it … that is, if you can find it again in the usually dumb presentation style of the reports the program produces.

There are some genealogy programs that attempt to do some smart things. GenSmarts works with your existing genealogy file and produces research recommendations. Lineascope attempts to capture, analyze and present chains of genealogical information and evidence. Programs like these are attempting to make your data useful. These are what I’d call “smart” programs, because they interpret your data and try to help you make use of it.

Both GenSmarts and Lineascope are single purpose utility programs. They are designed to work with your data, but are not general purpose data managers where you can store and retrieve all your genealogy data.

The one function that many genealogy programs have that might be close to being thought of as “smart” is that of data merging. Developers have put a lot of thought into finding ways to identify if one person might be the same as another. Are the names similar? Do the dates and places match? Do their spouses, children, parents and siblings have similar names, dates and places? I’m impressed by the amount of sophistication that is in this functionality, and some programs do it almost as smartly as can be done. What blows this “smartness” to bits is the fact that the function of merging other peoples junk data with your own database of thoroughly researched data is one of the DUMBest things anyone would want to do.

I still think all the time about the Genealogical Workflow process that I listened to Ron Tanner present at RootsTech 2012. Their Report Card for the Genealogy Software Industry graded us with a D+, and I concur. It’s because of the dumbnitude of the software available. Just regurgitating data doesn’t do anything to help you (1) Decide what to do, (2) Gather, (3) Analyze, (4) Incorporate or (5) Collaborate. Smartness needs to be added. Programs like GenSmarts and Lineascope help in their own tiny portions of the goal – but we need the bigger picture addressed.

So why am I talking about smart and dumb programs? Because it’s been 3 months since the last version 1.0.4 of Behold, and version 1.0.5 is banging at the boundary between dumbness and some bit of smarts. It’s telling me that Behold is trying to become sentient and do more than just regurgitate data. This has great potential and is stretching the limits of what I thought I was dealing with.

It’s like this: I started with the dumb data – the events and facts of each individual. Through my concept of life events, I’ve taken the data you’ve gathered and incorporated it into a context that is meaningful and allows you to analyze a persons life and help you decide what you next need to do.

But it cries out for more. Listing four people as two sets of parents, birth and adoptive, is no longer good enough. The report must present birth parents intelligently as birth parents, and adoptive parents intelligently as adoptive. Behold is presenting ages at events, and you don’t care how old the adopted parents were when a person was born. What you do care about is how old they were when they adopted the child and how old the child was at the time. Dumb programs don’t give you that sort of information … but smart ones can.

It gets complicated. If the mother remarried and the new husband adopted her child to join her as a legal parent, then you want that presented appropriately. You don’t really want to see 2 families with the mother listed twice and her as adopting her own child. The mother is only one person. I don’t know of any program that can present this properly. But I think doing this is smart and correct and it bothers me when I run various test data sets through the new life events of Behold and information such as this is presented illogically.

I’ve run into dozens of similar examples. I’ve been attempting to “fix” each one and present them “smartly”, and each requires its own customized handling. This isn’t easy, but it is coming along and the parts that I have customized work and work well.

I want to release this new version soon. I know I won’t be able to make it perfect right away – there are just too many cases to handle. So we’ll just have to start it off as best as is possible for now, and then further educate Behold over time.

Is your genealogy software smart or dumb?

1 Comment           comments Leave a Comment

1. Brett (brett)
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Joined: Mon, 12 Jan 2009
36 blog comments, 59 forum posts
Posted: Tue, 24 Apr 2012  Permalink

If the mother remarried and the new husband adopted her child to join her as a legal parent, then you want that presented appropriately. You don’t really want to see 2 families with the mother listed twice and her as adopting her own child. The mother is only one person.

This something I asked about some years ago. It is a great relief to have it displayed correctly in the future.Of course, if the DUMB software does not export it any where near correctly, Behold may still not be able to display it correctly.

Keep up the good work.



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  1. Best of the Genea-Blogs - 22 to 28 April 2012 | Genea-Musings, Randy Seaver : Sun, 29 Apr 2012
    Louis is trying to advance the genealogy software ball - these are good thoughts.

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