Friday, October 11, 2013

Genealogy and Technology

We all know that a big part of genealogy research is managing the data. So it comes as no surprise that computers are an essential part of the research. Fortunately these days, the technology is quite affordable, both in terms of hardware and software. In this blog posting, I consider some of the hardware you need.

If you download lots of images from FamilySearch.org or some other similar web site, you'll need lots of hard disk space. Disk space is relatively inexpensive. And these days, computers with terabyte hard drives are common, even in budget priced computers. If you need more, you can easily add an external drive for about a hundred dollars per terabyte. How much can you store in one terabyte? Roughly half a million images from FamilySearch.org.

Next, consider your displays.If you've ever used multiple monitors, it's hard to imagine having to put up with just one. On my system, I have Gramps running on one monitor and a web browser open on the other. In addition, I also have multiple virtual desktops configured for one of the displays. I use the virtual desktops to further organize my work. On one, I do my image editing. On another, I have a number of folders open for various other sources of information. Note that your monitors can be different sizes and orientations. Some people even have one display positioned horizontally and the other vertical. The latter may be useful for word processing.

Another useful piece of hardware is a scanner, so you can easily digitize old document and photos. If you already have a multi-function printer, you already have a scanner. If you don't, then you should consider getting a new printer. The latest generation of multi-function color ink-jet printers are inexpensive, with a cost per page that's lower than ever. And some of these affordable printers even support duplex printing, allowing you to stuff twice the number of pages into your three-ring binders. (That is, if you still keep paper documentation!)

Finally, note that even if you read films the old-fashioned way using microfilms at your LDS Family History Center, you can usually scan the films there. So always remember to bring a memory stick with you. It may not be practical to scan everything you find. But you should at least scan records that are related to direct ancestors, or records that you're having trouble deciphering. The former is useful in establishing certainty about the family members that are the most relevant to you. The latter is important so you can ask others for help in reading the difficult records.

Hard drives, monitors, scanners, memory sticks. These are some of the more important hardware tools we now use in doing genealogy. I'll discuss the software tools another time.

Cheers! Hans