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Have you Analyzed the Time vs Benefit of the New Genea-Tech

Family History Editorial
My husband and I were talking about a recent webinar which discussed a variety of technology choices someone uses to get their genealogy job done. The presenter shared numerous new genealogy tech tools that blow them away. While listening to all the 'options,' I kept thinking how many recommendations overcomplicate simple tasks.  For instance, why use a subscription note service to accomplish the tasks that RootsMagic and Google Drive can achieve? At the conclusion of the webinar, I felt more overwhelmed than empowered.

Soon I realized these feelings stems from the need to analyze the time vs. benefit of the new genea-tech (or any tech for that matter). Just how much time will I spend learning the new 'tech'? Will the time spent with the new tech benefit me enough to offset the learning curve?  If a benefit does not justify the time spent, it's not worth incorporating into my current workflow. Here are two recent situations that I have faced with new technology.


Positive Time / Benefit

Preserving the memories of the living is an essential part of family history and genealogy. To accomplish this objective, I create scrapbooks, more specifically digital albums. Digital scrapbooking has dramatically decreased the time I spend creating scrapbooks versus my previous paper methods. The time savings allows me to create a variety of additional projects beside an annual family scrapbook.

When I initially switched to digital scrapbooking, I used PaintShop Pro because my computer didn't have the capability, at that time, to use Photoshop Elements. The time I spent learning the PaintShop Pro resulted in a net benefit of my creating more scrapbook pages in less time. Could a newer technology speed up the process further? At the time, I did not care as my computer limited the investigation of this issue.

When that computer died, I replaced with a more powerful processor. I could then explore the possibility of new software that could increase my efficiency. Photoshop Elements (PSe) received high marks from many digital scrapbookers, more so than PaintShop Pro. Anxious to discover the treasures of this program, I installed it on my computer and soon faced another learning curve. Would the time spent learning the program pay off in the actual benefits in my scrapbooking process?

Yes, and then some. 

PSE paid for itself when I was able to create even more photo albums in the same amount of time as I had spent with PaintShop Pro. I have embraced this new-to-me technology.

For reference, when I create paper scrapbooks, I made about 150 pages each year.  With PaintShop Pro, I made about 225 pages a year. With Photoshop Elements, I make approximately 500 pages a year in the same amount of time! Can you see how this time-benefit analysis is beneficial to me?

Negative Time/Benefit

There are so many websites where you can place your family tree online. There are also many offline programs for planting your tree. Do I really need to use all of them?

When FamilySearch first announced partnerships with FindMyPast and MyHeritage, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to utilize these services. The hype sounded so favorable; however, I would soon realize that some things are too good to be true.

Let me share my background so you can understand how I evaluated these new websites. Prior to this point, my research involved combing through Ancestry.com and FamilySearch extensively. I'll admit to being FamilySearch Family Tree 'fan-girl,' although the initial of setting up my tree on FS was time-consuming. I like many things FamilySearch does better than Ancestry, and vice versa. They are my dynamic duo when I'm working online.

FamilySearch's "One Tree" revolution is SIGNIFICANTLY reducing the time I spend dealing with duplicate versions of the same ancestor on Ancestry (many of whom have no sources and are full errors). However, I love how Ancestry makes it so easy to update facts such as dates and places as I'm attaching records or combing trees. Family Search needs a way to replace the facts when combining data.

 Now that I have access to FindMyPast and MyHeritage, will this new technology benefit me more than the time spent learning the program? That is the question.

FindMyPast is not necessarily of use to me as most of my ancestors are from Germany once I take them out of the US. For their United States collections, I haven't found anything that I haven't accessed on FamilySearch or Ancestry. However, I did discover my Great Grandfather Zumstein's Canadian World War I registration documentation. That was pretty cool. Thankfully FindMyPast isn't extremely complicated to learn. If it expands its Canadian collection, then I might have to revisit the site.

With MyHeritage's focus on international trees and resources, I had hoped to find breakthroughs with this technology. Instead, I was bombarded with hints fo the same resources I had already processed on both Ancestry and FamilySearch. The one hint that was a little strange was all of the suggestions for my tree on FamilySearch. Since I've conducted most of the research on my lines (I know... I'm a lone wolf that way), I was essentially receiving hints to myself. (Sigh)

Additionally, I encountered the same problem that Ancestry has, and that's a multiplicity of trees with the same individuals on them. In fact, one woman had ten trees with the exact same ancestors. Processing all of her tree hints drove me insane!!! That's not MyHeritage's problem per se, but it's why I love the "One Tree" revolution.  What's more, I couldn't see the sources other users did or did not use on their tree. That's an advantage where Ancestry excels.

So far, My Heritage (the tree portion) hasn't reduced the time I spent on research or discovered unique records. Additionally, I'm not finding trees for my German ancestors that would take me across the pond. (sigh again) In short, this is an example of a negative time/benefit analysis.
(UPDATE: I'm hopeful that MyHeritage will become an asset as it's DNA service and tree building increase. My brother, two aunts, and I are on MyHeritage, and we're hoping to make more connections through the system. Right now, many people need to build their family trees so we can see where the links might be. With such close relatives, if anyone makes two of us, then we can narrow down some close relationships!!)
My negative results DOESN'T mean FindMyPast or MyHeritage are terrible programs. In fact, many others have found new-to-them sources and tree connections. Thus, it's essential to analyze and assess what genea-tech will give you the most benefit for your time and resources. 



What's My Point?

Advances in technology, partnerships, and more may sound great initially. Upon closer inspection, not everything benefits you or me the same. Take time to investigate whether the new app, tool or system will provide enough benefit for the time required for learning and using the system.

Ignore technology that 'everyone else is using' and stick with what works for you. If all you need is a word processing program, a good internet connection, and an email account, then you shouldn't feel like you're 'old school.' Perhaps you're smarter than everyone else who is trying to 'keep up' with the latest tech but don't discover any new ancestors. 

What technology has had a positive time/benefit for you? Which ones have you ignored or stopped using because they have a negative /time benefit?

As the ultimate conference involving genea-tech approaches (RootsTech for those who haven't heard of it, click this link for more details), we should not become to distracted by all the innovations that we forget to focus on our research and preservation. 

11 comments:

  1. A thought provoking post. As far as the 4 major genealogy sites you mentioned, I use Ancestry basically daily. I use FamilySearch often, but I've only glanced at their one family tree - I don't understand how that works as what if 2 (or even 100) people disagree? You might have the proof that Y is X's father, but everyone else thinks it's someone else. So, how would that work?

    As far as Find My Past - most of my ancestors are German, as, but I have one family from England and have used this site some with success. And, I agree with your evaluation of My Heritage. I don't do anything with the matches and will likely drop it. The only success I've really had is a few newspaper articles, but I now use newspaper archives which is where their papers come from.

    I know that wasn't the main aim of your article. I agree that sometimes learning new technology is not worth the time put into it.

    By the way, I'm amazed that you create 500 scrapbook pages in a year. Wow!

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    1. Dana... I love your comments and don't think they were off topic. They're exactly what my point is... you have to analyze each piece of technology to determine if the time spent with each will make you more efficient or provided enough added benefit over that cost. It's not always a monetary consideration.

      As for the 500 scrapbook pages... the secret is in Power Scrapbooking! I also do all scrapbooking digitally. Check out my ebook Power Scrapbooking: Get Caught Up No Matter Your Scrapbook Style. It's been a top selling ebook for scrapbooking!

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  2. I would recommend starting a blog Devon. They are limited to narrative style approaches to your family tree (unless you're a whizz with HTML) but that has benefits -- it means that your research, stories, reports, pictures, etc., can easily be freely shared with friends and relatives, even those with virtually no computer skills. It also means you're free to put in all the finer details without the risk of someone else coming along and deleting them, and the content is dated as a contribution created by you.

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    1. Tony! Thanks for stopping by.

      Staring a blog is a wonderful tool for the points you mentioned such as 'the content is dated as a contribution created by you." I also love the narrative style of writing better than the formal 'report' found in many family history compilations. It really can be so fun, and relatively easy.

      For those who find the idea of blogging overwhelming, you can do my other 'blogging' method. Maintain a blog offline using a text editor. Then, print the stories annually (or more regularly) in a bound album using Lulu.com (my current favorite on-demand publishing company).

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    2. Sorry, I meant to say "family history" rather than "family tree", above, since you're not constrained by some tree-based tool; you can write it as you want it. I actually write all my posts in Microsoft Word, Devon, since you then have much greater control over formatting, including footnotes. Before I started doing that, the consensus was not to paste from Word into Blogger because "blah... blah...", so I wrote instructions on how to make it work properly: http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/2014/01/using-microsoft-word-with-blogger.html. For anyone who's interested, there is a series of these Blogger tips on my blog: https://plus.google.com/+TonyProctor/posts/1zPgeiSrwBQ.

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  3. I agree that all of these online trees are overwhelming to try to keep track of, especially if you don't do genealogy full-time. I have a tree at ancestry, simply because I've used Family Tree Maker for ages. I've tried MyHeritage, Geni, and the FamilySearch family trees, and have entered a few names to get started and link to an ancestor that's on one of these trees, but how anyone can keep track of their trees and data on all of these sites is beyond me. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

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    1. Elizabeth, thanks for your comments. They really add to the conversation. If there was a program for a genealogy geek (eh, hem... me) that was a portal to the various genealogy programs that would allow me to see hints, updates, and such but then allow me to update my various trees when I make a discovery on the different sites, that would be awesome. However, given the different focuses of the companies, I can't see that working well. It sure would be lovely though. Then I can spend less time managing multiple versions of my tree and more time researching.

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    2. Devon, I think you've got the beginnings of a great idea of having a portal to the various genealogy online trees, but I agree, it wouldn't necessarily benefit the companies as they're set up right now.

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    3. That "portal" may be able to embed the relevant sites as opposed to simply providing clickable links. That is, having a small frame for each one showing a miniature version of its contents. They could be clickable too but you would be able to see a visual cue for which is which. The downside is that some sites may disable this feature if their host/owner is paranoid. I've seen this with map-based ones, although Google actively encourage it for their maps and street-views.

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    4. Thanks Tony for liking my idea and I can see your tech perspective of the downside of it. One can only dream.

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  4. Thank you for all the comments so far. I really appreciate all the input. I also think it's important to evaluate the other technology that is available for use as a family historian / genealogist. When I evaluate a any new technology, it needs to help improve a process that I'm already doing.

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