Software programs that cater to the genealogist are primarily designed to record family relationships.
Well, yes, obviously...... so what's wrong with that?
Genealogy software programs are designed to focus on the end result of research, not the process itself, so most of the work that we do takes place outside of the software. In most programs, you input data by attaching it to an event in the life of a person in your tree, and only then (if you are thorough) you enter a source for your information. One of the reasons genealogy is such a fascinating pursuit is the thrill of the hunt. We are all detectives: we gather clues, apply logic, and only after careful sifting of the evidence can we come to a conclusion. The trouble with current software is that there is no place to record the steps you take to reach that conclusion. I want a program that can manage my research!
When I do family history research, I make an effort to work according to the Genealogical Proof Standard. My first emphasis is on the source I'm looking at -- I want to record information about its reliability and provenance before I even begin to record any information it may have on my ancestor, and then I want to extract all the potentially relevant evidence it may contain before I assign it to a particular individual. In other words, there is a lot of information that has to be processed before I can attach any piece of evidence to my family tree, and existing software puts the cart before the horse.
Now, I know that this is not news to people who think about genealogy and technology. What surprises me, though, is how long it is taking for the people who program commercial software to catch on. I am somewhat of a database geek, but unfortunately without the technical expertise to program my own software.... so I've done the next best thing. I've created some templates for an existing database software that I think might be useful to other researchers as well. I am a Mac user, so I created templates for Filemaker's Bento software, a basic program that, while fairly powerful, it is not complicated to use.
I've just uploaded my Genealogical Research System templates to the Bento template exchange.
The great thing about Bento is that it is very reasonable, about $50, and can be used for any number of data tracking tasks. I think it is a great tool, and I'm very excited about its application to my genealogy research. My next blog post will be a detailed explanation of how the system works, so stay tuned!