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Re-evaluating the Future of Genealogy Software - Wed, 12 Mar 2014

I have been busy the past couple of years. Busy trying to assemble my thoughts about the genealogy software of today and the software for tomorrow. I’ve had my eyes open and I’ve been listening intently. The winds are changing somewhat and course corrections for all developers are required if they want to satisfy genealogists’ future needs.

Since 2012, my ideas have been further advanced.

I listened intently to the goings on from RootsTech 2013, and then again went to Salt Lake City for RootsTech 2014 (giving a talk) which included a valuable day for developers coined the Innovator’s Summit. I gave seven talks on the 2013 Unlock The Past Cruise from Sydney Australia. I wrote an 8 page article comparing genealogy software for the October 2013 Family Tree Tracker magazine.

I helped form and helped grow the Genealogy and Family History question and answer site on StackExchange. I got significantly involved socially in genealogy through Twitter and Google Plus. I’ve kept in tune with all the new software that’s come out and how people feel about their software through my GenSoftReviews site. I experimented with smartphones and going paperless. And I’ve blogged.

I’ve talked or otherwise communicated directly with many notable people in the genealogy field one on one and shared ideas wit them, including technologists like: Tamura Jones, Tim Forsythe, Ryan Heaton, Dovy Paukstys, John Ralls, Tony Proctor and Bill Harten; with genealogy developers including Tom Wetmore (LifeLines), Richard Thomas (Clooz), Luc Comeau (GenViewer, Legacy), Darrin Lythgoe (The Next Generation) and Bob Velke (The Master Genealogist); and with notable bloggers including Dear Myrtle, Dick Eastman, Randy Seaver, James Tanner, Jill Ball and Alona Tester.

Over the past two years, I’ve taken my ideas about genealogy software to task. These are some of the new important conclusions I have come up about future genealogy software that few developers today are considering:

1. Genealogists want to keep their own data separate. Many online shared trees  are trying to come up with one “conclusion”. That is okay as long as they allow everyone to keep their data separate and retrievable again. They do not want others destroying their years of work.

2. Genealogists want to share. They want to put their data online and they want to send their data to their relatives and allow their relatives to read it. But they don’t want others just taking their data blindly and adding it to other databases.

3. They want connectivity. They want to sync to their online database. They want to sync data between multiple programs. They want all synching to be fast  and failsafe.

4. Data input must be simple. Input is the number one time taker. It’s got to be streamlined and fast. If it takes 5 minutes to set up a single source citation, do you think the average person will look forward to entering all their sources?

5. The program must know what is wanted. Few people want to set up their own options any more. They expect the program to give reasonable defaults that work without fiddling. They don’t want the program to ask them a half dozen questions whenever they open or save a file.

6. Portability. Is there a phone app for that?

7. Social, social, social. Tweet this. Like that.

8. No thinking required. When did you last see someone under 40 read the documentation, or use the help file? If three tries don’t do it, then it doesn’t work.

9. Useful. Nah. Forget it. Just make them spend thousands of hours entering all their genealogy data. Why bother trying to make it useful?

10. Fun. Give them a goal. Make the numbers go up. Make it a game.

Watch how the young people are using computers. They are the 99%. We old fogeys are the 1%.

3 Comments           comments Leave a Comment

1. goulooze (goulooze)
Netherlands flag
Joined: Thu, 9 Feb 2012
6 blog comments, 0 forum posts
Posted: Fri, 14 Mar 2014  Permalink

I started to write one little comment, and it grew into this :) I’ve numbered my thoughts to correspond with yours. Here goes!

1. I think something like Wikitree or FamilySearch tree will never truly work, mainly because the subject of family history holds a lot more emotion and personal involvement for any individual researcher. Millions of people can easily agree that the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago, but two people can wholly disagree on whether Great Uncle Silas died on the first or second of March 1897, or whether he had three or four children. Even when they both have access to the same evidence, they may come to a different conclusion. Moreover, if a hundred family historians came to one conclusion, and only one came to another conclusion, that still doesn’t make the conclusion of the one hundred the correct one.

2. I’d say genealogists want to publish, family historians want to share. I’ve started to make the distinction between genealogist and family historian, calling myself the latter.

3. This is considered (by me) to be the Holy Grail of genealogical software, namely some type of genealogy service bus. No more need for exporting and importing GEDCOMs! Ever considered steering Behold in that direction? For a while I thought Ancestorsync would fill that gap, but their main focus seems to be syncing your locally stored database with an online database.

4. A lot of software comes with auto-fill capabilities nowadays. Most genealogical data entry software offers you given names, surnames and locations as you type them. The names are matched with your own database, locations with a geographical database. I’m surprised there isn’t some type of master sources database from which it should be possible to narrow down the number of available sources based on, let’s say, event type, event date, event location and repository. If you standardize sources (and I don’t mean formatting), it should be easier to exchange them between applications.

5. I’m not quite sure about this. If the program doesn’t do what you want, or doesn’t work the way you want, you bought the wrong software. Period. You should shop around and compare (Gensoftreview)!

6. Smartphones (or tablets) just aren’t for data entry, but they can be a great tool to help with your genealogical research. I use mine as a portable scanner, and sometimes for tethering.

7. I’m not sure if this means that social connectivity should be a function of genealogy software. I see it more as a function of the device you use to be online. It’s my device that connects me to my own data and other resources, and also to my peers (who may, incedintally, serve as a type of resource).

8. You can eliminate a lot of the thinking when point 4 and 5 are properly implemented :)

9. I’ll refer back to point 5. If the software isn’t useful to you, you bought the wrong software.

10. Researching family history is fun. Software is just a tool that may help maximize the amount of fun you can have researching. If you want software that gives you counters and goals, than that should be one of your criteria for selecting genealogy software (point 5 again!).

2. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
Canada flag
Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
237 blog comments, 226 forum posts
Posted: Sun, 16 Mar 2014  Permalink


Thank you for your detailed reply. Let me try in return.

1. If a hundred family historians came to one incorrect conclusion, it’s probably because 99 of them copied it from the first.

2. I’d say less than 1% of genealogists want to “publish” as in journal type of publishing. I think the difference between a genealogist and a family historian is that the former is primarily interested in the names, dates and places, whereas the latter is interested moreso in the families and their stories.

3. Yes, I sort of have been thinking of connectivity. Wouldn’t it be great, once editing is included, to be able to load in from RootsMagic, or FamilyTreeMaker, or PAF or Legacy directly, and then maybe even be able to output again. But AncestorSync has been having problems because that is not easy to do. Data concepts between the programs and online trees are very different and its like translating languages … which is why they haven’t got there yet. The other difficulty may be whether its even ethical to load in data from a RootsMagic database. I’m not sure if reverse engineering the file structure is legal. I’ll have to check it out. None-the-less, it is a lot of work to map the data, so it will have to be something worthwhile, e.g. to give FamilyTreeMaker users an escape path.

And what about other types of connectivity? Like your photos in your genealogy software to your photos in your photo management software. Or your locations with a small map connecting to Google or Bing maps.

4. But all those are still implemented in inefficient forms. You have to enter one field at a time, over and over. Free form is the proper way to go. Drag and drop. Ribbon commands that are context sensitive. Spreadsheet type entry for repetitive data.

7. Just found a new ancestor - Why not tweet that from your genealogy software? It can include the info for you. You don’t have to copy it over again.What about an RSS feed of every modification to your tree. Automatic posts (or retrievals) to and from Facebook? Lots of possibilities for Apps connecting to a genealogy program.

9. I believe 98% of genealogy software isn’t useful. I quit using Quicken long ago because I found I spent 99% of my time entering the data and 1% of my time generating useless reports from it.

10. Yes, researching family history is fun. But most programs make the data entry tedious, not fun.


3. klemens (klemens)
Germany flag
Joined: Thu, 5 Sep 2013
9 blog comments, 4 forum posts
Posted: Sat, 22 Mar 2014  Permalink

Interesting list. I agree with many points, but I think the twitter/facebook/etc connections are not top priorities. If you ever add anything like that, please make it optional.
“Gamification” is kind of a trend, but I’m not too sure about it. I mean, genealogy is already a puzzle game for geeks, so all I can think of are smart stats and helpful hints for possible angles where to focus your research attention next.
Also, your life events as you described them sound like a big help already. Can’t wait to see them in use (ahem ;-) )

Simplicity of data entry is probably the most important point on your list. The big winner will be source-based data entry. There should be no other way to enter data than that, always describe what you’ve got as a source first and then describe the relevant info in it.


The Following 3 Sites Have Linked Here

  1. Best of the Genea-Blogs - 9 to 15 March 2014 - GeneaMusings - Randy Seaver : Sun, 16 Mar 2014
    ... Louis talked to many genealogy and technology folks, and reveals his conclusions about genealogy software. Right on, I think....

  2. GeneaBlog Awards - Modern Software Experience - Tamura Jones : Mon, 20 Oct 2014
    Bonus Reads ... Behold Blog 2014-03-12: Re-evaluating the Future of Genealogy Software

  3. The Future of Genealogy Software - Larimer County Genealogical Society - Bob Larson : Sun, 17 Jan 2016
    "See these articles by the pros on the future of genealogy software and what it means to you!..."

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