My vision of the perfect genealogy software program

All of the recent discussion of genealogy software has caused me to think about the weaknesses of modern genealogy software, my genealogy workflow, and what features a software program would have to meet my needs.

The funny thing is that many of the features are available in one software program or another–some genealogy, some not. However, putting them all together in one package, even if it were a monster package, would meet my needs.

So here is my vision of the perfect genealogy program:

The software would have two separate, but interconnected, modes: Evidence and Conclusion. Switching between the modes for data entry would have to be seamless, and there would have to be the ability to view both modes simultaneously.

The Evidence mode would have the following features:

  • This mode would focus on individual records. A full citation would be entered, free-form, prior to any other information. Citation templates are not used, but example citations for various record types can be referenced. (In an ideal world, there would be a “citation help” menu linking directly to an embedded or online version of Evidence Explained.)
  • Digital images of records can be imported. Names in the records can be directly linked to individuals in the Conclusion mode. (This technology can already be used in The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding.)
  • Use of split-screen for transcription of record, similar to Transcribe. The transcription would be linked directly to the image or the citation of the record.
  • Extraction templates, such as those used by Clooz, could be utilized, and linked directly to images or citations of records. Free-form word processor could also be used for extraction. Each extract also has fields for recording the Informant (which would be linked to the individual in Conclusion mode) and their knowledge of the event (primary or secondary).
  • “Creation” field for each record would allow for the recording of citations to and/or transcriptions of relevant laws.
  • Related records could be directly linked to each other. For example, a military pension record could be linked to the compiled service record and the draft registration record.
  • A land record tools would provide ability to plat land based on federal or “metes and bounds” land descriptions. (Such as what is done in Deedmapper and other surveying software.) Neighboring lands can be linked together through their shared borders. Lands would have independent timelines through which ownership history could be entered, with independent citations. Both Google maps and historic/USGS topographic maps can be imported. Federal land descriptions may have built-in geocodes, allowing plats to appear in correct location on Google maps. All lands can be manually placed on any imported maps. Geographic features could be linked to USGS Geographic Names Information System for assistance in locating land.
  • All records or analysis entries can be “tagged” with relevant events and individuals, but would not be exclusive to single events or individuals.

What other features would be useful in the Evidence mode?

The Conclusion mode would have the following features:

  • This mode would focus on individual people, using a “life timeline.”
  • Individuals would have a “profile,” in addition to the timeline, allowing the recording of status tags: gender, race, occupation, free/slave status, etc. Changes in status would also appear in the timeline.
  • Events or facts would be entered into an individual’s timeline. The events/facts entry would allow creation and use of common verbs in addition to the “genealogical” actions commonly contained in software.
  • Only a single instance of each vital event can be entered. Rather than cluttering the timeline with multiple entries based on conflicting evidence (which would be able to be recorded in the Evidence mode), the individual timeline would contain only the conclusions.
  • Events would be able to be recorded as specific (or approximate) dates, or ranges of dates.
  • Events or facts would cite either individual records or proof arguments. Citations link directly to records contained in the Evidence mode. Proof arguments would be composed with a full-featured word processor (not some plain-text “Notes” field) that would allow formatting, table-creation, and internal reference notes (which could also be linked directly to records in Evidence mode).
  • One would have the ability to view timelines for separate individuals side-by-side.
  • Timeline events could be linked between multiple individuals. For example, a land transaction would appear as a linked event in both the grantor’s and grantee’s timelines.
  • In addition to Individual Timeline, Family Group Sheet, and Pedigree Chart Views, one could also access information through Kinship Network and Associate Network Views. These two “network” views would have a graphic interface similar to that used by GenoPro. They would allow connections to be made directly between people regardless of biological relationship.
  • Associate Network View would automatically import connections based on shared events. Manual connections could also be made. Descriptions would be entered for different kinds of connections. Connections would be cited and linked to records in Evidence mode. Association connections can be tied to timelines, to represent the development or destruction of specific connections. Connections could also be weighted by strength (for differentiation between “strong ties” and “weak ties”).

What other features could be useful in the Conclusion mode?

Another word on “Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” genealogy software use

Recently I was researching a client’s ancestor and I found myself thinking about the recent discussions on “evidence-based” and “conclusion-based” genealogy software use. This case perfectly illustrates my difficulties in using genealogy database software. The case has not yet been concluded, so I am unable to publish the specifics here.

In this particular case my client’s ancestor (“S. B.”) was born ca. 1764-1765, based on analysis of several sources, including pre-1850 federal census records, the 1850 federal census, a Revolutionary War pension deposition, and an obituary.

A man with the same name was identified as a son in the 1762 will of the presumed father (“M. B.”). Obviously this immediately presents a problem, but the census records are vague enough, and the other sources late enough in life, that the possibility of the date of birth being pushed forward a few years remained, so it was possible that S. B. could have been an infant when his father wrote his will.

The most important evidence came when examining the other probate records related to M. B.’s estate. S. B. served as the administrator of the estate, in 1762-1763. By checking a 1759 compilation of laws in effect in the state, I confirmed that a person appointed executor or administrator of an estate had to be at least 17 years of age to serve as such. This would mean that S. B., son of M. B., had to have been born no later than 1745. In other words, there was simply no possibility that my client’s S. B. was the son of M. B.

Writing the report in MS Word, it is very easy to quote the relevant portion of the probate law, and cite the law book. This law provides the crucial evidence to prove that M. B.’s son S. B. was born before 1745. No other record provides this information, either directly or indirectly.

In a genealogy software program, how would one:

(1) enter a “fact” or “event” for S. B. or M. B. to reflect the existence of the probate law?

(2) cite the probate law?

I am sure that there is a way, and if I relied on genealogical software in my research, I would have to figure it out. But I have a feeling that it would be a bit convoluted, whereas it is much easier to accomplish simply using a word processor with footnotes.

The next question is then–how would this be handled differently by an “evidence-based” software user and a “conclusion-based” software user?

I am open to all comments.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Another word on ‘Evidence-based’ and ‘Conclusion-based’ genealogy software use,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 March 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

“Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” software use

My discussions of genealogy research conclusions have taken an interesting turn. (See “What is a conclusion?” and “Simple and complex genealogical conclusions.”)

While my posts deal with the use of proof in forming conclusions, Randy Seaver, prolific author of the Genea-Musings blog; Tim Forsythe, author of Ancestors Now; Russ Worthington, author of A Worthington Weblog; and others have taken it a step further in discussing how they use their genealogy database software. This new turn is particularly interesting, considering that I rarely use any genealogy software in my research, especially my research for clients.

Read the following posts to witness the development of the terms “Evidence-based Genealogists” and “Conclusion-based Genealogists”:

I would like to applaud all of the bloggers mentioned above for giving so much thought to how to apply research standards to how they use their tools. Every day more genealogists start using one of the genealogy database programs. I hope that they all come across these posts, so that they will also give this discussion some thought.

I would quibble about one word being used, though. Rather than calling oneself an Evidence-based  or Conclusion-based Genealogist, it would be more accurate to call oneself an Evidence-based or Conclusion-based Software User. Using the word “genealogist” as opposed to “software user” implies that there are two separate approaches to genealogy, rather than simply two separate ways to use the software.

I also want to address a related topic, that of “evidence-based” and “conclusion-based” genealogy research. So as not to confuse the issues, this will be discussed in a separate post.

Again, to all of the bloggers who have taken part in the discussion, thank you!

Why citation software should be avoided

Carol Fisher Saller is a senior editor at the University of Chicago Press and an editor of the Chicago Manual of Style. Ms. Saller also contributes to a new collaborative blog with several writers and university professors of English and linguistics entitled Lingua Franca, hosted by the website The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a recent blog post, “Citation Software, or How to Make a Perfect Mess,” Ms. Saller describes the problems inherent to the use of citation software like EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero:

Browsing the tutorials at YouTube, you can quickly perceive the power and usefulness of citation software applications like EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero, which promise to format footnotes and bibliographies with the click of a mouse. But all three of the videos I viewed at random showed even practiced tutors hitting potholes—for instance, here (“Oh, no—I don’t like to have this title—I want to have the short form”) and here (“It looks like this reference isn’t correct … but let’s just pretend it’s right”) and here (“Go back to your Word file, and OK, let’s go look for it … OK, it didn’t come over … what you’re gonna need to do is … ”).

Ms. Saller confirms what I have asserted in other blog posts, like “Source Citations: Why Form Matters,” parts one, two, three, and four. “[A]ll I ask is that a style be reasonable and consistent,” she writes. She continues to note the problems with the citation software:

But instead, thanks to the use of citation software, I frequently encounter the use of notes style in the bibliography and vice versa, all perfectly and disastrously consistent. The result for the reader is confusion and inconvenience.

No one can deny that we are living in a digital world ruled by the slogan, “There’s an app for that!” But when creating source citations, we don’t need a software that can do it for us. Ms. Saller begins her post by stating,

Preparing notes and bibliographies in a consistent style has long been one of the less glamorous tasks of academic writing. And now, with the increasing use—or rather misuse—of citation software, it is surely one of the most rapidly degenerating.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), wrote,

Citation is an art, not a science. As budding artists, we learn the principles —from color and form to shape and texture. Once we have mastered the basics, we are free to improvise. Through that improvisation, we capture the uniqueness of each subject or setting. As historians, we use words to paint our interpretations of past societies and their surviving records. In order to portray those records, we learn certain principles of citation—principles that broadly apply to various types of historical materials. Yet records and artifacts are like all else in the universe: each can be unique in its own way. Therefore, once we have learned the principles of citation, we have both an artistic license and a researcher’s responsibility to adapt those principles to fit materials that do not match any standard model. [p. 41]

It is precisely this nature of citations as art rather than science that we must cling to as researchers. So many researchers that I know use Evidence Explained solely for its templates, but have not taken the time to learn the principles behind these templates. Once you understand basic citation principles, you no longer find yourself running to the index of the 800-plus-page tome to figure out how to cite this record or that.

Source citation software cannot learn the art. It can use a template, and create a standard citation from a standard work. There is not a single app in existence that could create the Mona Lisa. There are many that can reproduce the painting from a template, but none that can capture the essence of the subject.


Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007.

Saller, Carol Fisher. “Citation Software, or How to Make a Perfect Mess.” Lingua Franca blog. Posted 12 September 2011. : 2011.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Why citation software should be avoided,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 Sep 2011 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

The Master Genealogist v8 Public Beta now available

I spent quite a bit of time over the past few years trying to select the perfect genealogy program. I used the free FamilySearch PAF software, Legacy Family Tree Maker, Family Tree Maker (2005 version, and later 2009 version), GenBox, GenoPro, RootsMagic (4), TNG: The Next Generation, and The Master Genealogist. For the past few years, I have exclusively used The Master Genealogist. In my opinion, it is the only software with the flexibility that I need.

I am excited to learn that — after waiting at least two or three years since The Master Genealogist version 7 was released — the public beta for version 8 has now been announced. According to the Wholly Genes website,

TMG v8 is now available in the form of a free public beta that will expire in 30 days.

TMG v8 is in the final stages of testing and we believe it to be stable and functional in all of its major features.

Some minor issues remain, however, and by releasing this public beta we hope to accomplish two things:

  1. Make reporting functions available to all those for whom v7 reports have become non-functional because of an upgrade to a 64-bit operating system.
  2. Enlist your help in identifying and fixing any remaining issues before the full public release.

For full information on the updated features, and to participate in this 30-day public beta, visit the TMGv8 page on Wholly Genes’ website.