I've been passed some scans of a hand written, hard to read, family tree
going back generations and with possibly some gaps between the 11th
century and now.
I'm not interested in Genealogy, but there seems to be a family push to
get things together. I've already been persuaded, and have started, to
scan in old photo albums full of pictures of so far totally unidentified
ancestors, so I suppose a readable tree would be useful to someone.
Does anyone have views about suitable free Windows programs for this?
Is it possible just to type it into, say, a basic spreadsheet, or do any
of the specialist programs use standard database formats so that data
typed in will be reasonably future proof and recoverable? What is Gedcom
compatibility and is that any use?
Basically, I'm asking what to type the data into so it might be usable
by someone in the reasonably foreseeable future.
Ideally find someone in the family who is interested in it and get them
a copy of the latest version of Family Tree Maker with a free 30 day
Ancestry subscription. If the paper version is any good you can strip
mine the Ancestry database to confirm what is written down. Be sure to
follow the instructions to cancel your free trial carefully.
I'd be very suspicious of anything claiming to go back past the 1600's
unless the name was very very unusual. It gets incredibly difficult when
the records are handwritten in Latin and origin is "out of county".
You will find plenty of duff data in both Ancestry where uploaded
trees are frequently copied by other interested parties without any
checking so just propagate errors. Beware the "granny hunters" whose
primary purpose seems to be filling a pedigree chart with names and
dates with little care for accuracy or connected social history.
Even transcribed official documents contain errors and step back one -
census enumerators were past masters at that when transcribing from
the Schedules to the enumerator's books. Also, transcriptions of early
BMD indexes which could be excruciatingly difficult to read are to be
treated with suspicion. In both of these document types that initial
transcription cannot be directly checked as the sources no longer
Of course the IGI is fraught with problems especially where the
information is submitted rather than transcribed; this can be checked
against the Batch Number. If an event it identified by just a year
rather than a full date and place it will usually be a guess rather
than from primary source documents. One of the problems is that trees
that are uploaded may contain the word "about" in front of a year; the
IGI strips the "about" off.
Regardless of where information comes from you must always check it
against primary source information. If it has been transcribed by
anyone the risk of errors is there.
All that said, it can be a most rewarding hobby!
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My Mother, who is a keen genealogist (and teaches a class on the
subject) says to trust nothing unless you've corroborating evidence
and preferably sight of the source material. And family oral history
is worse than useless. (There was a story that my great-grandfather
& his wife caught the flu, she died, but they didn't tell him for fear
of upsetting him, he felt better and went into her room and there she
wasn't and dropped dead on the spot. In actual fact, they died eight
Today is Sweetmorn, the 41st day of Chaos in the YOLD 3184
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
On Saturday, February 10, 2018 at 3:07:18 PM UTC, Martin Brown wrote:
If you're using Ancestry, be prepared to think out of the box when searchin
g. Some of the transcription is ludicrously inaccurate - I believe optical
character recognition software was used for a lot of it, with manual input
to cover the bits where the OCR gave up. You can alert Ancestry to any erro
rs, but all they do is add a note to the transcribed data - they don't upda
te the search indexes. Considering the price they charge, it's taking the p
iss a bit.
Ancestry do add submitted corrections to searches but they appear in
search results as the original so it appears initially as if they have
done nothing until you click to view the item then the change becomes
They do not replace the original which is quite correct as submitted
changes might be for reasons other than Transcription Error. They
might be because of prior knowledge such as an Emumerator's error or
even because a householder made a mistake on a census schedule. So
Ancestry are doing it right. It might be better if they also showed
correction in initial search results but that would greatly complicate
query reports. This would become worse if there were multiple
notifications on one record. So even if something that you think looks
wrong appears in search results do look at them; you might get a nice
If you think about the Ancestry annual charge in terms of the
alternative cost of travelling to archives then it is cheap.
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Basically why not just tidy up the stuff you've got, and anything
additional you can find in Word or your DTP program of choice and
print out a few copies on archival quality i.e acid free paper,
along with copies of the scans date of transfer etc put the copies
in archival quality envelopes with Family Tree written on the
outside and distribute copies to however many relatives might
be interested, either for themselves or to save for their
If you're serious about the 11th century - or have not simply been told
like a lot of other people that you're descended from William
the Bastard/Conquerer/1st then its likely that one of your more
illustrious rellies, given that clearly you're not all peasants
may have already done some of the work.
Stuff written on paper is far more future proof and is more
likely to be looked at in the future than is stuff on
somebodies computer which will doubltless be buried amongst
loads of other stuff - files etc.
On paper, if it goes back far, it can become very unweildy and needing
large pieces of paper to get it all in. Then when it needs
modification, as more people are discovered, you need to start again.
It is much easier on a PC.
A free site, where you can build up such a tree is
The site seems very reliable, well supported, with plenty of
facilities. It is the one I have used and my tree is traced back to the
16th century. The more relis you find, the more appear.
Your own research, is often supplemented by the efforts of others, in
the form of hints you are sent. Its well worth reviewing the hints to
confirm their validity, before accepting them.
It is a really fascinating subject - I found several interesting
mentions of my ancestors in local papers from the 1500's.
Doing it on PC indeed makes it easier for the compiler right now,
but my suggestion was mnainly directed at the question "who is this
for" or in the end who is going to benefit from Bill's work
in the future, say in 50 years time or whenever ? While they
may all crowd around the computer screen right now if
sufficiently encouraged to see the results of Bills efforts,
(even assuming they actualy undestand what they're looking at
- not that Bill's rellies are thick or anything. just "normal")
will they still be doing that in 60 years time ?
From his original question, Bill's not familiar with genealogy,
but why should we assume any of his family are that interested
in PC's either ? Reference has been made on here to GEDCOM
compatability; which indeed will make sense to genealogy
enthusiasts or anyone curious enough to follow the topic
up on Wiki. But why should anyone assume that any one of
Bills relatives in the future will be sufficiently
intersted in the topic to immerse themselves in the
subject sufficient to make sense of what Bill has left
them ? That's even assumimg that they find these files
on a computer, a disk, USB stick, in the clousd or wherever
and can actually identify what they are. And have access to
a computer screen large enough to make sense of a family tree
before just giving up.
As to the large paper size, even going so far back as
MSPublisher 95 its been possible to print large sheets
as posters comprising loads of separate panels.
Maybe all I'm saying to Bill is, whatever software you
chose to use, you're probably better off in the long
term printing it all out if you "want to be sure" it's to
be of any long term benefit to anyone.
I stand to be corrected but AFAIAA there were no local papers
in the 1500's. The earliest newspapers started in the mid 17th
century - "Courants" which carried mainly foreign news
about the outcome of European battles as this would affect
market prices for imports etc and were circulated in cities.
Amsterdam, London etc. Printing domestic news of any kind was
subject potentially to strict censorship and penalties, prison
etc. The provincial press only got started in the 18th century
based on largish towns.
Agreed, a silly error - unable to find the actual stored documents on
my system, I had to make a wild guess as to the rough publication
One reference made mention of a reli who had gone out in the middle of
the night, to help sort out the mess of a mail coach which had crashed
with a hay cart being driven by a drunk. There were deaths involved and
reli was called to court to give evidence about the incident. They had
drunken drivers even then.
Another was a then young reli who had been having a drink with his
girlfriend. The girlfriend worked for a farmer and the farmer had
become rather attached to the girl. Said farmer stormed in the pub and
stabbed the girl to death, reli was in the court to give evidence.
Another I found, was something about the sale of a large property and
land, but I wasn't able to find out enough details to be able to make
proper sense of it.
As the OP, my problem is that I don't, at the moment anyway, find it at
all fascinating. I just felt, and have been gently encouraged, that it
might be sensible to get what we have typed up so that others don't have
to struggle so much with the handwriting on the old manuscripts we have.
There is a box with the family tree in two large sections inside. A
family member has scanned this in as a bunch of A4 sheets that would
have to be assembled to make any sense. The current keeper of the box is
mentally and physically unwell. His son, who worked for Oracle, was
killed - vanished - in the Twin Towers but had been working on
computerising the family tree. Unfortunately no-one knows what happened
to what he had done.
I am very grateful for everyone's suggestions. My problem with the ones
I have looked at so far is that they appear to be aimed at someone
interested in the research rather than just recording what we have.
The ones I have tried include Wikitree and Family Tree Builder but they
both seem associated with sites that require registration and want to
"Help with my research". This put me off as I already am up to my ears
scanning in old photos of unknown family members from decaying albums,
and attempting to label them. Readers of another forum may remember that
it took me a week getting my W98-only handheld scanner (with Japanese
software) running satisfactorily on a VM.
I'm beginning to think that the simplest thing would be to start typing
up names from the top down and assembling it all using ascii art, then
or simultaneously, putting this into whatever simplest GEDCOM supporting
program that I can find.
In which case forget the web sites, research and ASCII art, but
install a simple free programme (see my comparison list), and start
filling in the boxes with what you've got. But I'd start from the
bottom up, i.e. the most recent member of the tree (which may be you),
rather than the top down.
Agreed. And it needn't take that long, depending of course on how
good you are at typing. I'm no great shakes, but I found it quite
quick, and I enjoyed the sense of achievement when I saw my tree
(work-in-progress!) on screen.
I am especially wary of the privacy element because of other family
For example, a recent birth was not put in the Telegraph because a
member of the family is paranoid about full names and dates of birth
being accessible in the public domain.
In my own case, I logged in to Twitter, apparently successfully, after
several years of ignoring it, only to find that I had assumed the
identity of someone in California. It wasn't easy to reach a human in
the Twitter organisation to retrieve my identity. I have no idea whether
this was malicious or just that Twitter's database was broken. Worrying
The video interview full of woffle with the two fat ladies on Wikitree's
homepage put me off, but I have registered to give it a go.
While I'm sure you can build a family tree using a spreadsheet, a
dedicated family history programme will give you a whole lot more and
make researching a lot easier and better structured.
There is a standard format that allows the exchange of family trees
between different programmes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GEDCOM
Most family tree programmes will allow saving in that format, as well
as their own particular format.
I use RootsMagic, not for any particular reason; it was the first I
hit on, a few years ago. I find it OK; it does what I want. There may
be better ones, but it's the only one I've tried. At the time I got
it, it wasn't free. https://www.rootsmagic.co.uk/
But there are also quite a few free programmes out there.
http://bit.ly/2BjP0Yx and a comparison chart here
I see RootsMagic does a cut-down free version. Bearing in mind my
version is 3.2.4, and they're now up to version 7, the free version is
probably not very different from what I use.
Unless someone has a very unusual surname, I'm extremely sceptical of
any family tree claiming to go back much beyond 1750. Before then,
you're relying on Church registers, which give much less information
about the individual than say the official birth, marriage and death
registers and census returns, that came in later and were much more
detailed. Without that detail it's almost impossible not to go down
the wrong road at some point. I stopped researching my tree some years
ago, having got back to about 1780, for that reason. There were just
too many possibilities to choose from.
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