Genealogy Authors’ Software Guide

Writing and Editing Features in Genealogy Software


Are Computers Smart Enough to Write a Family History?

If you have ever tried to print a narrative report from your genealogy program, you may have been surprised by the result. It probably didn't look quite like you expected and you probably couldn't figure out how to straighten it up. The reasons for this are explained clearly in non-technical terms in an article on page 547 of the April/May/June 2005 edition of the NGS News Magazine.


Test Results

Several genealogy programs were examined to determine whether or not they correctly implement a list of features important to genealogy writers. The results are not weighted because different writers have different priorities. Instead, they are binary; the feature is either supported or not supported. Individuals who wish to score the test themselves may paste the chart into their spreadsheet, apply whatever weights they prefer to the various categories, and derive their own score.


Feature Definitions

General Features

File Types created by the software when it produces a narrative report determine whether editing will be possible.

Printer files (.prn and PDF) cannot be edited at all and are therefore not useful.

ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) denotes a plain text file that has no formatting at all.

RTF (Rich Text Format) is a supposedly universal file format that supports the sophisticated formatting needed for genealogy narratives. Unfortunately, some programs produce RTF that can not be read by other programs.

MS Word® is a popular word processor by Microsoft Corporation.

WordPerfect® is a powerful word processor by Coral. It has a Reveal Codes feature that makes it easy to see and control the formatting codes in your narrative file.

Document Control

Suppress Duplicate Descendant Lines. When cousins marry, their descendants will appear in multiple places in your book unless the software provides an option to prevent it.

Suppress Living Individuals. Privacy and identity theft issues mandate that we not publish information about living individuals. It can save a lot of time if the software takes care of that for us.

Master Document, One File Per Generation. A family history book can be a very large file, so it is very advantageous to have the book divided into multiple smaller files (e. g., chapters) while editing it. After all changes have been completed, your word processor can merge the final product.

Table of Contents Codes, if inserted by the software, permit a TOC to be generated automatically by the word processor at the same time it generates the index.

Index Codes Exported. They are necessary in order for your word processor to generate the index after all editing is completed.

People. Your index may be the most important part of your book, because that’s the first place most of your potential customers will look to see if their ancestors are in your book. A two-level index places surnames at the left margin and forenames indented (somewhat like this paragraph), which makes it quick and easy to find anyone in the book, especially if some identifying information, like birth and death years, is included to differentiate between all the Samuel Smiths.

Places. A good index also includes places like cemeteries, churches, farms, etc.

Maiden Names.

Married Names. Many of your potential readers may know a woman only by her married name(s). If she isn't indexed by both married and maiden names, someone scanning your index may miss her.

Sentence Templates make it a breeze to customize your report so that the phraseology is generated just the way you want it.

Developer Selected template come in two flavors; fixed format, and user modifiable. Even fixed format is better than no sentence construction at all.

Grammar Correct. Will the sentence pass muster with your fifth grade English teacher?

Punctuation Correct. Do the sentences start with a capital letter and end with a period?

User Designed Global. This allows you to construct a sentence template for each event type that says it just the way you prefer. Global means that template will be used throughout the report for that event type (unless it is overridden by an individual template).

User Designed Individual. Important for those special instances when you need to say it a little differently. It overrides the global template.

Source Citations. Genealogy without sources is mythology. There is no reason to write a book about genealogy if the basis for our conclusions is not stated and backed up by evidence referenced in our source citations. Software vendors are beginning to recognize this.

Footnote Codes Exported. The software must embed footnote codes in the output file so your word processor can add, remove, or shift footnotes around as you edit your text. Footnotes are preferred by scholarly journals and those who want to avoid flipping back and forth from text to source.

Endnote Codes Exported. Endnotes appear at the end of the book, a variant preferred by many family historians who feel they are less intrusive than footnotes.

Foot/End Note Style Sheet Fully Controllable in Word Processor. Style sheets are one of the great work savers in modern word processors. For example, it is easy to instantly change the font type or font size of every footnote in your entire book by a few mouse clicks in the footnote style box. However, if your genealogy software has appended a bunch of formatting baggage to each of your footnotes, it will override the style box and you will be forced to manually change every footnote individually (whew!) or write a macro to do it. Ideally, your genealogy software should include no formatting codes in its footnotes or endnotes.

Note Preview Window. Lets you see what the citation is going to look like before you print the whole report.

Master Source List saves time by allowing you to cite a source as many times as you wish after entering it once.

Master Place List makes it easy to find and correct spelling errors.

Master Repository List allows repeated reuse of repository information without reentering it.

Source Templates. Here is where we separate the wheat from the chaff. Many programs make it tedious or impossible to format source citations properly.

Lackey, Richard S., Cite Your Sources (Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 1980), the standard before Evidence! was published.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997), is now the de facto citation standard in genealogy. It contains templates for about one hundred different types of sources.

User Designed Long. If properly designed—meaning it permits you total freedom in designing a citation type with italics, bold, fixed (boiler-plate) information, variable fields, etc.—this feature is extremely powerful. For example, you can make your own Mills templates even if they are not provided by the software vendor, or invent new ones as they become necessary (e.g., electronic data bases).

User Designed Short. After a source has been cited once, a shortened form saves space in subsequent citations.

User Controlled Ibid. Ibid just means the same source as the one immediately preceding it. The software should provide you the option to use it or not.

Printed Manual. My car came with a 289 page owners manual. My genealogy program, which is infinitely more complex, infinitely less familiar, and infinitely less intuitive, seemingly should come with one also. Few do. So-called on-line Help is often remarkably unhelpful, explaining the obvious in excruciating detail while totally ignoring those subtle features that so badly need clarifying.



Style & Typography: NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly)

Biographical Summary of the parent paragraph.

Foot/End Note Numbers in Text are Superscript, Standard. Required by the NGSQ style. Each in-text footnote or endnote immediately follows the statement containing the piece of information attributed to the source(s) being cited.

NGSQ Personal Identification Number. An Arabic numeral assigned sequentially to each descendant of the progenitor in the descendancy, preceding his/her name and followed by a period.

Subject & Spouse Full Birth Names Bold 1st Appearance Only. Required by the NGSQ style.

Ancestors Names Standard. NGSQ style requires a parenthetical lineage list immediately following the person’s name at the opening of the parent paragraph, like this:

9. Benjamin R.3 Bloe (Philip2, Adam1) was born ....

Generation Indicator Superscript & Italics. Required by the NGSQ style to make them easily distinguishable from footnote indicators.

Vital Statistics. A succinct summary at the beginning of the parent paragraph intended to permit rapid identification of the individual by readers checking for relatives. It includes a brief statement about the birth place and date, death place and date, and marriage place and date, and spouse’s maiden name and previous married name(s), if applicable.

Spouse Vital Statistics. A summary of the spouse, including birth and death places and dates, and parents’ names, if known.

Multiple Marriages Chronological & Enumerated. Required by the NGSQ style to appear in the initial parent paragraph.

Life Story. Here the software should allow a free-form discussion, properly cited, of whatever nature the author desires.

Transition Sentence simply states something like, “The Children of Joe and Sally (Doe) Bloe were as follows:” and leads directly to the child-list.

Child-list provides information about the children of the preceding couple.

Reduced Point Size makes it easy for your reader to distinguish the child portion from the parents part. If present, can save you a lot of time manually adding formatting or writing a macro to do it for you.

Indented. Another reader aid required by the NGSQ style.

Carry-Forward Indicator. A “+” is used in NGSQ to denote that an individual will appear later in the book as a parent with his/her own children.

Personal Identification Number. An Arabic numeral identical to the one in the parent paragraph of the same individual, but not followed by a period.

Birth Order Numbers. Roman numerals, followed by a period.

Name Small Caps. Required by the NGSQ style.

If Carried-Forward: Vital Stats: BDM Places, Dates, Spouse Name & Source Citation. Required by the NGSQ style.

Else Full Biography. If the child is not carried forward, then the software must allow a free-form discussion, properly cited, of whatever nature the author desires.

Words Spelled Out. The NGSQ style does not permit abbreviations, which makes it more reader friendly.



Style & Typography: NEHGS (New England Historic Genealogical Society)

Biographical Summary of the parent paragraph.

Foot/End Note Numbers in Text Superscripted in Square Brackets. Required by the NEHGS style. Each in-text footnote or endnote immediately follows the statement containing the piece of information attributed to the source(s) being cited.

NEHGS Personal Identification Number. An Arabic numeral assigned sequentially to each descendant of the progenitor in the descendancy, preceding his/her name and followed by a period.

Subject & Spouse Full Birth Names Bold & Large and Small Caps 1st Appearance Only. Required by the NEHGS style.

Ancestors Names Italics. NEHGS style requires a parenthetical lineage list immediately following the person’s name at the opening of the parent paragraph, like this (compare with the NGSQ style example shown above):

9. BENJAMIN R.3 BLOE (Philip2, Adam1) was born in ....

Generation Indicator Superscript & Standard. Required by the NEHGS style.

Vital Statistics A succinct summary at the beginning of the parent paragraph intended to permit rapid identification of the individual by readers checking for relatives. It includes a brief statement about the birth place and date, death place and date, and marriage place and date, and spouse’s maiden name and previous married name(s), if applicable.

Spouse Vital Statistics. A summary of the spouse, including birth and death places and dates, and parents’ names, if known.

Multiple Marriages Chronological & Enumerated. Required to appear in the initial parent paragraph by the NEHGS style .

Life Story. Here the software must allow a free-form discussion, properly cited, of whatever nature the author desires.

Transition Sentence simply states something like, “Children of Joe and Sally (Doe) Bloe:” and introduces the child-list.

Child-list provides information about the children of the preceding couple.

Reduced Point Size makes it easy for your reader to distinguish the child portion from the parents part. If supported, it can save you a lot of time manually adding formatting or writing a macro to do it for you.

Not Indented. Required by the NEHGS style because it does not use carried-forward indicators.

Carry-Forward Indicator. Not used in NEHGS style.

Personal Identification Number if Carried Forward. An Arabic numeral is assigned to a child only if he/she is carried forward. Unlike the NGSQ style, the number is followed by a period.

Birth Order Numbers. Roman numerals, followed by a period.

Child & Spouse Names Large and Small Caps. Required by the NEHGS style.

If Carried-Forward: Birth Place & Date, Spouse Name. Required by the NEHGS style.

Else Full Biography. If the child is not carried forward, then the software must allow a free-form discussion, properly cited, of whatever nature the author prefers.

Words Abbreviated. NEHGS style currently uses a very terse form for children to be carried forward, with abbreviations for birth and marriage, like this:

+ 9. i. BENJAMIN R. BLOE, b. 19 March 1793, m. Sarah Roe.

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