It is almost exactly a year since Boot Camp looked at how to use your home computer to compile a family tree. We received a tremendous response from readers and there have been some significant developments since then, so we thought it was a good time for an update. Most of us have thought about doing it at some stage and when better than right now? Family ties are at their strongest, you have time to spare over the long holiday break and it will give that shiny new PC you've asked Santa for something useful to do…

Genealogical research can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby that can lead to all kinds of unexpected discoveries. Who knows what you might uncover, royal lineage, a forgotten title or maybe a coat of arms? Nevertheless many people are put off by the prospect of searching through dusty archives and the time and effort involved in processing large amounts of data and documents.

A computer can dramatically reduce the workload and make it a more enjoyable experience moreover it can open up many new and fruitful avenues of research. A PC will also help you to create a more informative and visually attractive family tree, compared with the traditional pen and paper method.

A family tree is merely a database containing lists of places names and dates but it's a job PCs are eminently well suited to and computers can be a powerful genealogical research tool in their own right, as we shall see. PCs can also add extra dimensions to your tree, incorporating photographs and images, even sound files and movies, creating an eye-catching multimedia presentation. 

All you need to get started is a PC with an Internet connection and some simple software. A scanner will come in useful, any of the current crop of budget flatbed models will do. You can use just about any word processor spreadsheet program to collate the information but it's far better to use one of the many specialist packages that are available, including some excellent freeware and shareware titles that can be downloaded from the Internet. There are dozens to choose from most commercial programs sell for between £20 and £40.

The best known are Family Tree Maker, Family Origins, Generations Family Tree, Family Tree and Legacy, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, However, rather that make any specific recommendations we suggest you look at the Real World feature on family tree software that appeared in Connected (April 8th 1999). The full text is in the Connected archive on the Electronic Telegraph web site: You should also pay a visit to the excellent S&N Genealogy web site, (, which has reviews of all the latest programs, lots of useful advice and can supply a wide range of programs, utilities and data CD-ROMs containing historical records for many parts of the country.   

The range of facilities these programs provide varies widely but they are all designed to simplify the process of inputting, organising and presenting the information. Once on the PC it is easy to make additions and changes and there is almost no limit to the amount of data that can be stored. Most programs use a common file format called Gedcom, which allows researchers to exchange data from different applications.

Before you start it's a good idea to collect as much raw data as possible -- covering the last two or three generations -- from members of your immediate family. You may even find that a lot of the groundwork has already been done with earlier or incomplete attempts at compiling a family tree. Elderly relatives should be able to furnish you with detailed first-hand information covering the past 50 to 100 years and it's worth asking if they'll allow you to look at or copy birth death and marriage certificates. Always respect others privacy though, most families have a skeleton or two in the cupboard that may have to be dealt with tactfully. Armed with this information you can start keying in the data to build up the basic outline of the tree.

Photograph albums, postcards and correspondence can be an invaluable resource, not for just names and dates but important places and even buildings in your family's history. Many family tree programs will allow you to add scanned photographs and documents, which will bring the tree to life.

At some point you will exhaust all of the locally available data or need to broaden your research and that's where the Internet comes in. The major development mentioned earlier was the launch of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on the web last summer. The IGI is a massive database containing over 35 million family names and histories compiled by the Church of Latter Day Saints from public records, church and parish registers etc. The IGI currently covers Great Britain North America and Finland and it is free to use. The Family Search web site also features a download for a family tree program called Personal Ancestral File (Version 4 for Windows) plus a great deal of useful information and advice at:

The IGI is the largest resource on the web but there are many other places to look, including a specialist genealogical search index called Cyndi's List with links to more than 57,000 sites! You can find it at: Another good jumping off point is a site hosted by Canadian-based Family Chronicle magazine ( and it's worth trying any of the main search engines (Altavista, Fast, Lycos, Yahoo etc.). This works best with unusual surnames, just enter the name into the search field or people finder sections and see what turns up. A lot of people have taken to publishing their home pages and family trees on the web and you may strike lucky or discover a long lost branch of the family that you may be able to contact by email.

Various UK government departments and agencies have useful web sites that are well worth visiting, they include the Public Records Office (, the Office for National Statistics and Family Records Centre ( and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (

Next week – Top ten traumas




Device attached to a computer that converts a photograph or image into digital data, stored on the PC as an image file  


Internet sites that seek out information, by topic, keyword or name


Software programs that you can try, before you buy. If you decide to use it you are obliged to register or send a payment to the author or publisher



Here's a simple little tweak that might help to improve your Windows 98 computer's Internet browsing performance by changing your PCs Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) setting. By default Windows 98 opts for a 'safe' MTU value of 576 but you can easily increase it by clicking on the Network icon in Control Panel, on the Configuration tab highlight Dial Up Adapter and click on the Properties button. Select the Advanced tab, highlight IP Packet size and change the setting from Automatic to Medium, for an MTU value of 1000. Click OK and restart you machine and try it for a while. The Large setting (1500 MTU) is unlikely to make much difference unless you are using a high speed ISDN or cable connection.

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