Downloads for Family History.
"As I double clicked the attached file, I knew, straight away, I had a problem!"
A virus, my computer screen blanked and then (thank goodness) just crashed as it opened the offending file. At least it did not propagate out to all my contacts from my e-mail address book. I am always extremely cautious about what attachments I get and normally check them, except in this case as it was from someone who I trusted. Of course, he had no idea it had even happened or the damage it had done so, get a virus checker and follow my co-writer, Carole Denholms advice in CA 87, Summer 2000. You may also like to invest in a Firewall that stops rogue Internet based system interrogators getting to your system whilst you are on line. A good free one can be found at http://www.zonelabs.com/ . There is plenty of information on the web site about why this should be used and so I would recommend that you have a look at what information is on there, review how you use your computer on the Internet and if you want to add a bit more privacy, download and install it. You will be surprised what strange things can happen without it.
Your new found Internet access opens you up to these sorts of threats and whilst they are rare and Ive only seen about ten or twenty in the 10 years or so I have been using the Internet and e-mail, they can be devastating. Please always back up your data regularly in case of attack. In my case I was out of action for about a day whilst I cleaned up the damage the virus had done.
Armed with a virus checker, and possibly a firewall, you can now start to think about searching out downloads to assist you in your family research. There are hundreds of freeware and shareware programmes you can download from family tree packages of all levels of complexity to specialist GEDCOM viewers (GEDCOM is the compact method of transferring family data between different Family tree software packages). You can download GEDCOM files from the Latter Day Saints site at www.familysearch.org and these can then be (cautiously) loaded into your family tree software. A GEDCOM viewer will allow you to view the information in those files.
Quality: Is variable, and thats an understatement. Software can be downright dangerous if written incorrectly or developed on a different operating system or just not tested properly. Always check the reviews of a piece of software. Many download sites have these. Check the ratings from other users and look for pointers like full versions (Not Alphas or Betas which signify that these are newly out of development and possibly not yet stable). I guess we have all had our PCs just freeze on us and this is often down to a piece of software not written properly.
Size of file: A 1 MB download may take 10 or 15 minutes, it could take longer. The faster your modem and the better your connection, the quicker the download will be. The distance the file needs to travel will also determine download time. A local EU server will deliver faster than a US one in most cases (but not always). Another problem can be that your connection "drops out". Extremely annoying after an hours download and just before it is completed. You have to then go through the whole process again of re-dialling, finding the page and starting the download again. Does it pick up from where it finished? No. However, help is at hand and something like Download demon is one such useful tool that can continue a download from where it dropped out. Most of these shareware programmes are available from sites like www.jumbo.com and http://www.cnet.com/ . Always check that the software is suitable for your PC checking the Operating System (Win 95, 98 etc) and the size of RAM required to run it.
Status: We have seen that Alpha and Beta releases are best avoided unless you really know what you are doing and can happily work out exactly what your computer is doing when a new piece of software goes wrong. For the rest of us, mere mortals, we need user-friendly software that has an easy install and (more importantly) an uninstall feature. This means that you can remove the software off of your system if you dont want it. Software comes in a number of guises: Freeware, Shareware, Trial Version, Limited Trial Version and Full are various terms you may come across when looking for software to download. Freeware, as its name implies is provided free of charge by the author. Shareware is a term that applies to software that you can use for a short while to evaluate whether it fits your needs. You should then register and pay for your use of it. Trial Version and Limited Trial Version are very similar although in these cases specific pieces of functionality may be missing, maybe the save function or print function will be inactive until you register and pay.
I have found some of these programmes to be very good indeed, in fact many of my most used Internet programmes and two of my Family Tree ones are Freeware. However, some have messed up my system and need to be treated with caution. If a programme starts to behave erratically I will just take it off my system and put the whole thing down to "experience". I always virus check every file I download from the Internet, saving them to an area of hard disk that I can check on its own.
So, what is out there? Everything, the choice is incredible. For the genealogist start at Cyndis list and work away from there for what you want, use your search engine and the download sites given above (other sites are available)
The very best piece of software I have ever downloaded must be Personal Ancestral File from the Latter Day Saints Web Site http://www.familysearch.org. After registration you can download the latest version. It is an incredibly powerful database tool and has some stunning data handling capabilities (not for the feint hearted). It handles GEDCOM files and can build a web page from that data; it performs all sorts of reporting functions too. It does not, however, have a traditional family tree view available, preferring to provide the Pedigree view but this can be added by buying add on software. The file is about 4.5Mb in size, quite a lot, may be an hours worth of download. However if you need to manipulate data this is for you. Other useful downloads include at http://www.linktop.demon.co.uk/dftcom2/ a Java programme to convert your tree making it web site ready and another good one is available at http://www.lesandchris.com/ged2www/ . In fact I have used the features of all three software packages to provide web style family trees and Personal Ancestral File allows you to hide living individuals easier that these two but the information isnt presented in the same way. It is very much a case of experimenting and finding what is right for you.
Your Rights: A difficult one this read any software terms and conditions and you will see that these are very limited. This is due to the nature of software. Its a bit like a dangerous sport caveat in your life insurance. Always read the terms and conditions and help and read me files. It is all at your own risk and so caution is the name of the game. The LDS software is as good as I have seen for free software it is robust and full of features that you would pay a lot of money for. Many household company names have a reputation to uphold and so their software will be well tested etc. With many free software downloads you just dont know so, if in doubt, dont install it. It is very much a case of learning by experience and you do quickly get a feel for how good these products actually are, its a combination of how it is presented, what information you can glean from other users, whether the software has an install and uninstall feature, how well documented they are and so on. I know it is not particularly scientific but that is just the way it is unfortunately. There are plenty of gems out there it just a matter of finding them and weeding out those that just dont do what you want them to.
If you have found a particularly useful shareware or freeware application then please share it with us on Cockney Ancestor.