On-line vs. Off-line Family Trees
It is not unusual for people to speak in jargon when talking about their family history work and you might hear people say “I have my family in FamilyTreeMaker” or “I use PAF” or “Can I send my GEDCOM?” or “I have my tree on Ancestry - I can send you a link to that.” These are referring to the different forms of software used to enter and adjust one’s “tree” or “pedigree” or where the information can be found on-line. There are two types of family trees: Internet, or on-line, and off-line pedigrees that use genealogy software.
On-line trees are a way to share one’s family with the world (or just select people, as determined by the privacy settings). These on-line trees allow everyone, only specifically designated people, or no one to edit (like a wiki). Privacy settings vary and exposure to the general public also varies. Some of the most common places to find these are on Ancestry.com, RootsWeb (“World Connect”) and FamilySearch, but many other on-line genealogy services also allow people to post their trees at those locations. Of course, people often also post their trees to their own personal websites or on lineage sites maintained for the descendants of the family (e.g., most of the more well known families in American history have on-line trees). Frequently, the source citations for these on-line trees are weak or non-existent. Genealogists have a saying: “Genealogy without sources is fiction.” And if those sources are on-line trees that have no source citations, they have no firm basis in fact and we are hesitant to use them for anything more than clues to actual sources. And people frequently “copy and paste” trees found on line to their own web pages, perpetuating errors and the lack of citations. On-line trees are never to include names or information about living individuals (though the tree owner - the one who posted it - may include his/her name and information; that’s a personal choice).
Off-line trees, using genealogy software, are not accessible to the general public (unless they are posted to the web using that option within the software). These often include names and other information about living individuals because they are accessible only to the author and the people with whom that author shares them (cousins, siblings, etc.). Another advantage to using genealogy software is that it is accessible on the computer but doesn’t require an Internet connection. Software can also be adapted to smart phones, allowing the historian to check on an ancestor while visiting a cemetery, library, or any other location without carrying a computer with him/her.
Some of the most popular forms of software are FamilyTreeMaker (an Ancestry product revised every year), RootsMagic (an independent company that interfaces directly with information on FamilySearch, allowing the user to download from that website and upload to the on-line tree there), Legacy (also independent company), The Master Genealogist (a rather elaborate software form that takes a long time to master), and Personal Ancestral File (PAF - developed by FamilySearch and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). This last one is being phased out because FS is not a software company and no longer has technicians available to assist people if they have problems. There are many other ones, but I’m sure you don’t care about all the ones flooding the market. These are all specifically for PCs. Some have applications for the MAC, but the primary one used for that option is called Reunions. Major differences among these include cost and user-friendliness. PAF is free; Legacy and RootsMagic both have free options that are limited in their options. FTM, because it is annually updated, gets quite costly, as does TMG. Complete software packages start around $30 and go up from there with downloadable updates as needed (sometimes free, sometimes for a small additional charge).
The term GEDCOM means Genealogy Data Communication and was developed by the LDS Church technicians so someone’s tree that was created on, say, FamilyTreeMaker (FTM) can be transferred to someone else who prefers, perhaps, RootsMagic. Sometimes the transfer can cause some data to be lost, but the primary information gets through so that is why we keep asking for GEDCOMs. Source citations are inserted into the program as we go along with our research and are printed out (or not) by selecting our preference of format when printing reports and/or charts. These sources are also transferred when using a GEDCOM and they are things we look at very closely as these are used to determine the competency of the research exhibited.
Using the software, we can view a family tree as Family Group Sheets (allowing us to see all the children of a specific family, then switch to a different spouse to see other children, etc.), a direct lineage of a person (the pedigree format), a narrative report (putting all the data of the family, or the individuals we select, into a readable format, connecting generation to generation with a recognized numbering system), and many other charts and forms. This allows the genealogist to view the family in the format that is most comfortable for him/her.