Since my last column focused on organizing your paper genealogy, well focus this time on using your computer to organize all those genealogy material.
While many family historians still limit their records to paper, almost every serious genealogist uses genealogy software.
Why? First, once information is entered, you can locate anyone (and his or her family) in literally two seconds.
Software is a great way to enter many pieces of information about a person in one place, and record what sources you used, such as date and place of birth, of immigration and naturalization, various names, addresses, occupations, medical information, marriage info the list is almost endless.
Documenting the sources of that information a critical part of genealogy is easily accomplished.
In addition, you can often import photos, videos, audio, scanned documents or just about any other multimedia source you can think of.
Most software can organize that material almost instantly to produce reports, charts, trees, pedigrees and other manifestations of your family history, along with the details you choose to show.
The fruits of your research can easily be shared with others and looks very impressive, with very little work on your part.
There are several dozen programs available, ranging in price from free to $100. The usability ranges from easy and intuitive to challenging and steep-learning-curve.
If you are new to genealogy software, you can start at a basic level and work your way up, as you are ready. Many programs allow you to customize how you use it.
The most popular free program is PAF Personal Ancestry File, created by Latter Day Saints (the Mormon church), for PCs. The Mac free version is Personal Ancestry Writer II.
The most popular commercial program for PCs (although not necessarily the best) is Family Tree Maker, while Reunion is Macs most popular software.
Many of the commercial programs offer a free demo version that can be downloaded for you to try out.
Given the large choice in programs, one good place to compare them is Cyndis List for descriptions and reviews at www.cyndislist.com/software.htm.
Even though there are many different programs, they all can share data in a specific format with each other. This is especially helpful if you have a relative who is also working on your family history.
The common format is called GEDCOM. It can be easily emailed to others for them to download into their program.
Some software is able to convert Jewish dates to the secular calendar. The one program specifically created for Jewish genealogy is Doro Tree, which can be found at www.dorotree.com.
A very recent development is the creation of online genealogy programs, which means you dont need your own software just go online and enter your data there. These programs do not rely on one platform or another (such as PC or Mac). Like a number of genealogy websites, you get to choose who to share it with.
Ancestry.com is probably the best known commercial service to offer that choice (its free to put your tree on its site).
Of course, genealogists have been doing research for centuries without computers, but software can make your work for more efficient, visually pleasing, and more easily shared.
This post was updated in 2020 to remove sites that are no longer active.