Genealogy to the Cloud

I’ve been interested in genealogy for a long time – since I was a kid I guess. Back then I tried to figure out how those great-aunts and uncles and innumerable cousins fit into the family tree. i had it pretty much figured out by age 10. Then it was just a matter of filling in the charts.

It helped that a couple of generations before me were also family history nuts. The best ones were my mother’s aunts from Cleveland – who researched a rather comprehensive history of their family back in the 1930s. There was no way to have an electronic version of the family tree back then, nor print out any sort of chart. The work they left me is neatly typed into a small ringed binder, with a page for each person and grouped by family and generation. It goes back as far as they could – into the 1700s. It’s a priceless collection of 19th and early 20th century family data. I’m sure it was dug out by hand in the library, through personal contact and the contents of old family bibles.

This foundation was built upon in the next generation by my cousin Donald Fawcett –  son of one of the original ladies. Don carried on with the research and even computerized some of it. He was an electronics expert with Bell AT&T and bought one of the earliest personal computers. Unfortunately he backed the wrong horse – CP/M – when it came to operating systems. Don had a text based genealogy program with its own classification system all electronic, but in many ways similar to the Victorian aunts. When he passed away in the mid 1990s his computer system died with him – fortunately I was able to get a paper copy of his files.

I didn’t get into serious genealogy myself until around 2007 – after I retired. So I sidestepped all the paper based and early MS-DOS and Windows desktop programs. By the time I got started Genealogy had begun a serious migration online with companies like Ancestry. Although Ancestry maintained a desktop program for many years it increasingly focused on online databases and searchable family trees posted by its members. It’s a fairly costly exercise to be a member, but it’s worth it for the wealth of information. Anther excellent online resource is FamilySearch. And FamilySearch is free.

Since I had all this paper information, I thought the best thing to do was to put it online for others to use if they wanted to. So I spent a few weeks keypunching it into an Ancestry tree. I realize that Ancestry gets a lot of free information to use as it wishes – and content is king for them – but I know what I have done so far has been of benefit to others.

Ancestry has even decided to get rid of its desktop program (Family Tree Maker) at the end of 2016 and just concentrate on its Web based interface. This has caused a lot of waves in the genealogy community, especially among those who want their personal privacy and control of their own data. I do think a desktop based system is good for keeping an offline backup. You can also print a lot better charts with your own program. Right now I am looking into Legacy 8.0 as an alternative. However I’ll still continue to do most of my research online. It just makes the most sense. It’s easy enough to export your online tree to a GEDCOM file and then import it into a desktop program.

I haven’t been idle myself. In addition to updating and fleshing out the older information – some of which is now 80 years old – I have been able to research a lot of my great-grandfather MacDonald’s family. I was lucky that most of the early data about the McDonald/MacDonald clan (not sure how it was spelled originally) is found right here in Canada – in fact in a tiny town called Newburgh, Ontario. That same area is where my mother’s family lived – although I don’t think a bunch of staunch Methodists would have had much in common with a crazy bunch of Irish and French Catholics. My great grandfather Richard MacDonald had about 10 kids – and I’ve got most of their genealogy in my family tree now.

Maria’s family also comes from a tiny town in Italy which happened to be governed under the Code Napoleon back in the early 1800s. Napoleon left the legacy of civil registration for births deaths and marriages, and this tiny town in Abruzzi put it all on the Web. So – wonder of wonders – I was able to trace most of Maria’s family history back to 1780 or so. This was an incredible stroke of luck, even if I had to do the research in Italian. Maria’s mother got me back to the 1880s with her personal history and I got back another 100 years with online data. So I’m sold on doing as much as you can with the Internet.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve convinced you to set yourself up online for genealogical research. It’s probably the killer cloud application – nothing comes close to being able to look at millions of family trees and census data back to the early 1800s – all searchable five ways for Sunday. My great aunts would have approved. I doubt  that they’d like Twitter though.




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