BOOT CAMP 174 (10/05//01)




In last week's Boot Camp we looked at some of the ways email and the Internet can help you to research your family history. In some respects that is the easy bit, organising and making the best use of the potentially huge amount of information you'll accumulate is the difficult part, and the focus of this week's episode.


Needless to say the key component in this task is the PC but rather than simply concentrate on the many purpose-designed family history software packages,  we'll look at the bigger picture, such as what sort of PC is best suited to this application and the sort of peripherals and software that will make the job easier and more enjoyable.


First the PC and you will be pleased to know that almost any desktop or laptop machine made within the past two or three years will do, so if you are just starting out there's no need to splash out on the latest super-fast model. In other words any recent Windows 98/ME/2000 PC with a Pentium/Pentium class model with a 500MHz or faster processor, 64Mb RAM, 4Gb hard disc drive, Internet connection, CD-ROM drive and sound system will do. Before you ask, Apple Mac machines are equally suitable, though you will find there are fewer specialist programs available and a smaller choice of peripherals.


You will definitely need a printer, preferably a decent quality colour inkjet model, but at the top of your hardware shopping list should be a flatbed scanner. Genealogy is much more than a list of names and dates; during your research you will amass a large number of photographs and documents, which you can incorporate into some specialist family history programs and use to illustrate family trees. Many of the photos and documents will belong to you or your family but it is likely that some of them will be on loan to you. They may be fragile, or valuable or both and you might only have access to them for a short period so it is important that you can make an accurate and detailed copy, at the same time preserving the information they contain from further deterioration. Again you don't have to spend a great deal of money, many budget and most mid-range models costing less than £100 are more than adequate and you should shortlist models with an optical resolution of at least 600 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch).


Scanners are not especially portable and if your research takes you out and about -- as it almost certainly will -- to churches, graveyards or important locations in your family history, then you should go armed with a camera. Almost any good quality film camera will do, since with your scanner you can get images from photographic prints into your PC. However, a digital still camera makes things quicker and easier since you can connect it to the PC and transfer image files directly to the hard disc and from there, import them into programs and documents, send them to others via email or publish them on the Internet. You should aim for one with at least a 2-megapixel image sensor, as this will give you the sort of resolution needed to reproduce fine detail. It's also worth budgeting for a tripod and possibly a separate flashgun as well as this will allow you make good quality copies of photographs and documents (assuming the camera lens has the necessary 'macro' or close-up facility).


A camcorder can also come in useful and some family history programs have provision to insert video 'movies'. The latest digital models are well suited as in addition to very high picture and sound quality, (ideal for archiving) they can be connected to suitably equipped multimedia PCs for editing. Prices start at around £600, less if you shop around or don't mind end of line or last year's models (and there's no reason you should). Camcorders and PCs is another topic we'll be taking a look at later in the year in more detail. 


The last item of hardware you should consider is a CD-RW drive, which will allow you to preserve your database and all of the images and documents it contains. This will also provide you with a convenient means of exchanging large volumes of information with others. Blank CD-R discs hold up to 650Mb of data, they cost just a few pence and can be read on any PC with a CD-ROM drive.


Finally, a few words on the sort of software you will need, over and above a specialist family history program. You will probably be handling a lot of images, some of them in poor condition. A photo viewer or library package will come in very handy to keep track of your image files; these are often 'bundled' with digital cameras and scanners. You will also need a photo editor program. These contain tools for restoring and enhancing faded and damaged pictures by altering brightness, contrast and colour balance levels, 'filters' for reducing the effects of dust and scratches, retouch blemishes and even 'replace' missing portions of the image. Many of these programs can also 'age' modern photographs by removing colour, adding a sepia tint and grain.


Creating a family tree for your own personal satisfaction is often just the beginning and a lot of researchers find that they generate a lot of interest amongst family members, and families with links to their own and soon the requests for a copy of your work start coming in. If you have sufficient material and you feel there is a demand you may want to publish your research in the form of a book. This is perfectly possible on a home PC, either as a small-scale operation (a dozen or so copies, say) where you print and publish it yourself, of pay to have it done professionally. In either case you will need a word processor and DTP (desktop publishing) program to handle the text, pictures and graphics and page layouts. The alternative is to publish your research on the Internet. There are plenty of specialist web page authoring programs on the market that will help you to build a professional looking web site with a minimum of fuss and this facility is incorporated in to a number of the specialist family tree programs, so look out for the Getting Started feature on that very topic, in a few weeks time.


Next week – Shareware and freeware





Recordable CD-ROM; CD-R uses discs that can be written just once whilst CD-RW (read-write) discs can be recorded on and erased many times



Camcorder that uses the 'DVC' (Digital Video Cassette) recording system. Pocket sized models are capable of very high picture and sound quality



Program that allows you to view the contents of folders containing image files, usually as small 'thumbnails', which can then be displayed full size



Here's yet another of those useful but undocumented Windows utilities, this one can be found on the Windows 98 CD-ROM. It's called Check Link and it's job is to weed out shortcuts and Start menu items that no longer do anything. It's probably not going to save you much disc space but 'broken' links can sometimes cause problems and may point to programs that you no longer need or use. The Link Check Wizard can be found by going to the Tools folder then Reskit and Desktop, click on the chklnks.exe icon and follow the instructions. Why not copy and paste chklnk.exe to your hard drive, and include it with your regular hard disc maintenance routine?

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