I love libraries. Sadly, I rarely go in one these days because of the ubiquity and ease of the internet, but some of my best memories of books, research and a love for language are rooted in the ineffable experience of the sights, sounds (shhh!) and smells of large university libraries, tiny local libraries and everything in between.
Though it’s been two decades now, I have a faint memory of being in Central Library in Fort Worth for college research and being mesmerized by an aging woman who was doing genealogical laps around the place. She flitted to and fro, had stacks of this and that and seemed transfixed with her task. Somehow, she found it important to offer me some sage advice: “If you’re going to study genealogy, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort.”
I’m not sure why she thought I was interested in genealogy. It might have been because I’m a sucker for looking up family history. And maybe I had swum out of the kiddie pool a little too close to the deep end of her research, and she had seen just how unhelpful my genealogical floaties were going to be when the big waves moved in.
She was quite right. I’m still in the shallow waters today. I’ll Google my surname and meander around various low hanging fruit of family trees here and there. If I allow my imagination to run wild, I find myself the distant relative of King Eadwulf of Northumbria (c. 700AD), the great, great something-or-another of Huck de Singleton of Lancanshire, head of a well ensconced family tree that was planted long before the arrival of William the Conqueror to Britannia’s soil in 1066.
You see how dangerous Google can be for a fertile mind. My stooped-over friend from Fort Worth had it right: genealogical study is hard work.
Genealogical enthusiasts are on the rise, however, and the hard work of the past is certainly being made easier by the use of a growing array of cloud-based and software solutions.
In March of this year, Molly K. McLaughlin posted an article on pcmag.com that provides an in depth review of The Best Genealogy Software and Services for 2015. I’ll summarize some of her research and perhaps set you off on the scent of what may be just what you were looking for…and if not, you can stick with me in the hazy, lazy, fictional, but fun, world of hunt and peck genealogy. It’s the fastest way to royalty that I’ve found.
At the basic level, there are two issues that you come to with genealogical research—the ease of cloud-based, online applications or the dated, but somewhat more sophisticated software-based solutions. For most of us, the ease, modern feel and ongoing updates of an online approach would serve us best.
The heavy hitter here of course is Ancestry.com. You’ll have known by now that they have nice commercials, a far-reaching web advertising presence and a great track record for many users. There are other online options, however. McLaughlin reviews Archives, Mocavo and OneGreatFamily.com, each with their own intricacies, nooks and crannies.
Then, there are the heftier, if sometimes more clunky and dated, software-based options: programs with names that, for the uninitiated, sound almost as robotic as their interfaces can sometimes feel: Brother’s Keeper, Family Tree Heritage Platinum 9, Heredis, Legacy Family Tree 8, Ancestral Quest and Family Historian 6. With names like these, I feel like they need a bit of their own family tree to see who’s who and what’s what. But, I digress.
Importantly, Mac users have more limited options with software, as most are PC based. So, if you want to go with a software solution, it might be a good time to dust off your aging PC, dive in with Windows 10 or decide that you and your Mac will move steady on with a software sidestep.
One last thing, for the super nerdy out there (I can say that, because I’m one of you): there’s the intriguing and growing use of relatively inexpensive DNA tests that can help place you in the grand scheme of the human experience—one of the front-page concepts that Ancestry.com advertises.
A bit much for most of us, but hey, most of us don’t roam the libraries chasing away bright-eyed college students who’ve wandered a little too close to the genealogical danger zone. I swear she didn’t waggle her cane at me, but it was a close call, nonetheless.
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.