Confessions of a messy genealogist

… why I need a genealogy do-over

My frustration over not being able to find a good (IMHO) family tree program to run on my new iMac led to my decision to do a genealogy do-over. But, it was my many years of sloppy record keeping that necessitated the do-over in the first place.

In the late 90s, I was ecstatic to find a wealth of information on I connected with other researchers and we added branches by the bunches to our family trees. I was so eager to see it all in my The Master Genealogist database, that I entered many individuals without proper source data.

Sure, I jotted my sources down somewhere, in an abbreviated form. I mean, why not just come back and add those pesky sources later?

I was surrounded by scribbled notes.
I was surrounded by scribbled notes.

About a year in, I realized how important the source information was, and I began the painstaking process of going back to add the source data. Then life got in the way. I packed up all of my work and moved across the country. A couple of years later when I picked it back up, I had a data crash and hadn’t backed up my system.

Since I had all of my hard copy information and hastily scrawled notes, I began the process of re-creating my family history file, this time in RootsMagic. I armed myself with “Evidence” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and started over, sort of.

"Evidence," by Elizabeth Shown Mills
“Evidence,” by Elizabeth Shown Mills

I managed to trace one line to a Daughters of the American Revolution patriot ancestor and was accepted into DAR membership.

But, I’m the sort of person who learns best by doing. Doing it wrong the first few times, actually. I didn’t back up my data — AGAIN. I had uploaded my GEDCOM to GenCircles and thought that was good enough. I hadn’t gotten all of my old information re-entered when my computer crashed without warning.

Life came calling again and I packed my genealogy work away. By the time I decided to try again, GenCircles had been taken over by My Heritage, who wanted to charge me for access to my own family history. Family history that I soon realized had been edited to contain errors by others.

Since then, I’ve pecked away at adding data to my Legacy 7.5 database on a small laptop. My eyesight isn’t good enough to do too much data entry on that small screen, and I have a lovely iMac for work purposes. My hope was to be able to run Legacy on my laptop and use the iMac as an external screen. Not happening. And, probably this is for the best.

Now, I can focus on building a system, and recording and BACKING UP my family history research from the get-go, as I embark on my “genealogy do-over.”


Switch from Windows to Mac leads to genealogy do-over

Who knew that switching from a Windows laptop to an iMac desktop would precipitate a genealogy do-over? Heck, when I made the switch, I hadn’t even learned that “genealogy do-over” was a thing.

I did some research to be sure I could use my huge iMac screen as a display for my laptop that I run Legacy 7.5 on, but not quite enough research, as it turns out. My iMac can only function as an external display to computers that have Thunderbolt technology, which my laptop doesn’t.

When I learned this, I began my search for a robust family tree software program that I could run on my iMac — this led to more frustration. Neither Legacy, nor RootsMagic have options for Macs that work for me.

Legacy doesn’t have a native Mac product. Legacy’s site documentation says it is working to make Legacy 8.0 functional under CrossOver for Macs. However, the demo version was so glitchy it wouldn’t stay running for more than a few minutes at a time. When it crashed, it took the data entered five minutes ago with it. Legacy support staff suggested I contact CrossOver to try to resolve the issues.

RootsMagic developer, Bruce Buzbee says they are working on a native Mac version of RM. To bridge the gap, they have released MacBridge, which is essentially a customized version of Wine that allows RM to run in the Mac environment. However, this solution proves unworkable for my needs.

My eyesight is less than perfect, but correctable to nearly 20/20. I’m just not able to read the text in most of the dialog boxes in RM — in the Windows version, or under MacBridge on the iMac. RM doesn’t have scalable fonts and only allows users to adjust font sizes for certain areas. It appears that most of the critical dialog boxes use the system font. The only way I’ve been able to adjust the system font is by reducing the resolution of my display, to increase the size. Under MacBridge, the fonts are also sketchy and look as if they were printed on a dot matrix printer. (See screen shot image.) This is particularly noticeable in the source dialog box. I believe this may be a result of viewing the program through the “wineskin.” It’s not impossible to read the text, but for me, it created so much eyestrain that it’s just not feasible.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 8.24.09 AM
Source dialog boxes in RootsMagic under MacBridge are difficult to read.

Other demo programs that I tried for Mac also fell short of my expectations.

Before purchasing my iMac, I had been working in Legacy to recreate data I had lost after a computer died on me several years ago. I had not done a recent backup, and lost all of my digital work, but not my hard copy backups.

The data I lost was my second attempt at starting from “scratch” with my family history data. In the late 90s, I was so excited to find new connections that I had entered them into my The Master Genealogist database without source information. I was naive enough to think I could just add those pesky source citations later, which of course, didn’t happen.

My frustration over not finding a suitable family tree program to run on my iMac got me looking online for solutions. Hence, I stumbled onto the Genealogy Do-Over blog, as well as several genealogy groups on Facebook.

After reading several posts on the Genealogy Do-Over blog, I realized my genealogy research was in desperate need of a full-blown makeover. (More on this later.)

So, as much as my crazy schedule will allow, I plan to participate in Cycle Three of Thomas MacEntee’s “Genealogy Do-Over.”