Most family historians swear by their genealogy software. Which is the best? Some argue FamilyTreeMaker; others love RootsMagic, Legacy or The Master Genealogist.
Like most historians, I wouldn’t want to live without my genealogy software. It’s invaluable for organizing individuals into the appropriate groups and showing lineal and collateral relationships. It’s nice to be able to get a quick snapshot of the “born-married-died” information and how many children came in there somewhere.
But I’m one of those folks who likes to stick to the basics. I’m as likely to be happy with version 1 of a given software as I am with version 10. Sure, the later versions have bells and whistles and will turn flips and march to Dixie, But they are not substitutes for solid genealogical research and report writing.
OK, how many folks have I already upset? Please, you software developers and bloggers, don’t send me hate mail.
Some of you probably see my real point coming: I’m more concerned about having a source for each piece of data I enter into the software database.
And therein lies the problem. Let’s examine a situation: I believe that one of the many Henry Applewhaites (my eighth great-grandfather) of Isle of Wight, Va., married Mary Council and they had five children before he died about in 1740.
I have been unable to find a marriage license for Henry and Mary or birth records for any of their children. Those would be pieces of direct evidence — that is, information that answers the question (marriage or birth) by itself without support from other sources.
Indirect evidence, on the other hand, consists of pieces of information that good researchers have to dig to find in varied nooks and crannies. No document says Henry married Mary, but bits and pieces from different documents, analyzed and studied, can prove he did.
But I can’t present that with ease in a software database. So I turn to good old-fashioned software such as Word. There I can present my reasons for believing Henry married Mary. Primarily, I can present probate court information for five estate files — none of which ever directly state that Henry married Mary — to prove my point. I write about each of those files and what each tells me. In footnotes — so easy to create in Word — I cite a source for each piece of evidence as I present it. In the end, I draw my conclusion — it’s all called a proof argument. I save the file with a name such as “Applewhaite-Council Marriage PA.”
So when a newfound cousin asks me for a copy of the marriage certificate I found for Henry and Mary, I can tell her I don’t have one, but I have other proof. All I have to do is attach that Word document to an email and zip it off to the doubting relative. I don’t have to hem and haw and get my brain out of some other project to concentrate and recall the Applewhaite details.
If you’re looking for ways to enhance your family history with stories that your heirs will read and enjoy, consider taking a course called “Write Your Life Story.”
Joan Shalleck will teach this popular eight-session course at Hillsborough Community College, SouthShore Ruskin campus, beginning Jan. 17. Students will meet from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for each session. Call the Lifelong Learning division of the school at (813) 259-6010 to learn more and to register.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogical methodology questions and event announcements to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She regrets she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching individuals. Past Heritage Hunting columns are available online at tbo .com, search words “Sharon Tate Moody.