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Thursday, 07 May 2009 12:52

I was introduced to genealogy way back in elementary school, taking hand-drawn trees to class. In the pre-computer days all of our family history was kept on paper, either written down or typed on a typewriter. Changes and additions didn't come often because you actually had to drive somewhere to look up records, or even write a letter send it through the mail. The Latrobe family is fortunate in that dozens of books have been written about some of our ancestors and some of those books contain genealogies, although not always accurate. My father is an excellent draftsman so he drew some trees for us on large rolls of paper. While they look nice they are impossible to update.

Fast-forward to the late 1980's. I had just graduated with an AA Degree from Daytona Beach Community College in Florida. Not quite sure of my major, I enrolled in computer science and mechanical engineering classes at the University of Central Florida. This was the first time I actually felt the need to buy a PC. I couldn't afford the latest 386 so I settled for an Intel 286 turbo with a 10 MB hard drive. I think I splurged and upgraded the RAM to 2MB. This set me back about $1700. After a year at UCF, my wife was offered a new job at Martin Marietta in Baltimore, MD, so I transferred to the University of Maryland hoping to study architecture. I could only afford to attend part-time for the first year because of out-of-state status, and soon found out that architecture was a five-year program (not counting my three years). So I declared a duel major in computer science and mechanical engineering. I was really struggling with the engineering classes so I concentrated on CS and graduated with a BS in 1993.

During my time at UMD I was introduced to the internet. Access was only available through school, but I could dial-in from home using a 2400bps modem and Kermit for a terminal emulator. From there I had access to ftp sites at other universities that were loaded with all kinds of freeware and shareware programs. One day I found a program called Brother's Keeper that forever changed my genealogical research process. BK was a DOS-based genealogy program. Now, instead of relying on pencil and paper, I could store all of my family tree in a database on my computer. Printed reports weren't very pretty since I only had a dot-matrix printer, but additions and changes were now easy and permanent.

Brother's Keeper worked fine for a while and I eventually found a replacement in Family Tree Maker for DOS. FTM had a better interface, better customization, better reports, etc... Did I mention it was better? For many years things were grand in the land of FTM. Not only was the software pretty decent and easy to use but they kept coming out with newer versions every year or two. Eventually FTM migrated to Windows and they even offered free space on their servers to create you own web page and upload reports, for free! Not only that, I could search through all the data the other FTM users had uploaded, for free!

For a while this seemed too good to last, and it didn't. Somewhere along the line FTM was bought out by Ancestry.com. So I've purchased 8 or 9 versions over the years (sometimes 2 copies so I can share), uploaded my data for them to share, but now I'm expected to pay $30 a month to see what other users have shared. Granted, there is a lot more available then just data uploaded by FTM users, but I just can't justify the price. So I'm missing out, and everyone else is missing out on what I have to offer (on Ancestry.com).

Skipping to the present... I currently use Family Tree Maker 16. There are tons of complaints about the newer FTM 2009 so I'll stick with the older version for a while longer. Why do I use FTM and not some other package? Mainly, because I've been using it for so many years, I'm very comfortable and proficient with it. I've tried some others and a few offer features that I wish FTM had, but they usually were lacking some other essential feature. Legacy couldn't even import my existing gedcom without crashing. There's no way I'm re-keying 20,000 individuals!

FTM won't generate it's own html pages. That's probably because they want you to upload your data to their web site so they can sell it back to others. So in order to create my own web site I played with various methods, but nothing was perfect. All the methods I tried let me create html pages based on the ancestors or descendants of one individual. That's great if you want to publish all the descendants of a particular Latrobe or Claiborne but there was now way show all 20,000 people and how they are related.

Obviously, if I was ever going to be satisfied with my web site I needed a different approach. Instead of trying to generate and publish multiple trees so that everyone is represented and linked together, I found something that will run on my host's web server and generate pages dynamically when they are requested. The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding stores my family information in a database and retrieves it on demand. And while trying to configure tng the way I wanted I stumbled onto CMS and Joomla.

You can see how TNG delivers my data by clicking on Genealogy at the top of the page. TNG runs in an iframe within Joomla; you can think of it as a separate page. There's an additional set of navigation buttons that only work in TNG and don't affect Joomla. So what in the world is Joomla anyway? Unless you're a web site designer you've probably never heard of it but you've seen it or a similar package all the time. Joomla is a content management system, which is just what it sounds like: a system to manage the content of your web site. Instead of editing html pages on your PC and uploading them to your hosting provider, you simply login to your home page and submit articles. Think of your web site as being a newsletter. It can have multiple sections on each page, and have multiple pages as well. Once everything is set up the way you want it, all you have to do is submit an article, specify what section to appear in, and how long it should stay published. CMS makes it easy, "once everything is set up the way you want it."  That's what I'm learning to do right now.

...more to come... 

Last Updated on Friday, 08 May 2009 17:03
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