The annual conference of the U.S. National Genealogical Society continued to entertain attendees. The attendance was significantly smaller than previous years although everyone seemed to enjoy the conference. I heard many positive remarks from the attendees. The rain showers that were prevalent in mid-week cleared and many conference attendees were seen in the local restaurants, bars and various stores within a few blocks of the convention center.
I continued my quest for new and updated products in the Exhibitors' Hall. One thing that struck me is how little new genealogy software is available. The very popular Master Genealogist, RootsMagic and Legacy were being demonstrated. Indeed, each one has significant improvements from the versions of a year or two ago. However, I haven't seen a new general-purpose genealogy program at a conference in a couple of years.
However, one software growth area is mapping programs. I earlier described RootsMap, a company that exhibited at the NGS conference for the first time. RootsMap is a British company and I had earlier seen the program at the Society of Genealogists' Fair in London. However, this week marked the "American debut" of the program. Several other mapping products were also exhibited this week in Nashville.
Here are some of the things I noticed on the third and fourth days of the conference:
The National Genealogical Society is converting their home study courses to CD-ROM disks. The result will be lower printing costs, lower mailing costs and a product that is also easier to use. These products were not a simple copy-and-paste of text from a word processor to a CD-ROM. Instead, the courses are fully interactive and support help files, footnotes and much more that is only a click a way. Even the mid-course tests are built into the CD disks. I had a chance to briefly examine on disk and found it contains many images, showing examples of the topics being described. These look like excellent products and all of the home study disks will eventually be converted to this format.
Past Homes Limited is providing electronically generated maps of your ancestors' Irish ancestral home villages and towns. The company is based in Ireland and has digitized numerous maps and has even merged them in such a method as to make a logical single map, regardless of your ancestor's location. In traditional maps, it is possible to have a location of interest near the edge or in the corner of a map. However, Past Home Limited can merge the maps (or "stitch them together") in such a manner that your ancestor's location will always be in the center of the map you receive. The maps can be printed on 16-inch by 11-inch gallery quality prints, suitable for framing. The company can also produce full color 23-inch by 16-inch prints of all the major towns in Ireland, 33-inch by 23-inch black and white reproductions of Ordnance Survey maps as well as large county maps of Ireland. You can find more information, including nice-looking examples of the maps, at: http://www.pasthomes.com.
Arphax Publishing Company was showing off a number of new books of maps. The Family Maps™ series of books offers a quick-glance opportunity to view maps in counties that contain hundreds and usually thousands of federal land-patents. In many states, these maps are accompanied by road and waterway maps that include towns and cemeteries, and that allow true family historians to go and find ancestral land. These books will show variant surname spellings, maiden-name possibilities among neighboring patent-holders, multi-patentee buying groups, overlapping parcels, cancelled patents, and more. The first slate of books will introduce titles for counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. The books are being printed at the rate of two or three per month and sell for $25 to as high as $38 each. A list of currently available map books can be found on the company's web site at http://www.arphax.com.
U.S. Cities Galore continues to be updated. This Windows program searches your genealogy database looking for locations. It identifies spelling errors and data inconsistencies. For instance, my database used to contain references to both "Fort Fairfield" and to "Ft. Fairfield," a town in northern Maine. U.S. Cities Galore identified the fact that I was not consistent in use of the abbreviation of "Ft." and offered to correct all occurrences for me. The latest version shown at this year's NGS conference has numerous "tweaks," including a major update to its internal database of U.S. place names, growing from 192,000 to 303,000 named places within the U.S. It also will now look up a reference by city. Finally, the latest version of U.S. Cities Galore has a much-improved GEDCOM file import routine. You can read more at http://www.uscitiesgalore.com.
Another popular product offering at recent conferences has been wall charts of one's ancestry, suitable for framing. These are available in a variety of styles from the various vendors. One that caught my eye this week is the "custom family tree" charts available from My Ancestral Home. The charts are printed on 24-inch by 36-inch paper. These show a tree trunk with seven generations of your family displayed upon the branches. The sepia-toned tree features names and birth/death dates of your ancestors shown in Edwardian script in black ink. Two paper choices are available. You can read a bit more on My Ancestral Home's web site (which is still under construction) at http://myancestralhome.com.
GenSmarts is a program that I wrote about last December. It is a Windows program written by R. Aaron Underwood that uses artificial intelligence to analyze your existing genealogy and to offer suggestions of where to look next. Your file is analyzed for missing or conflicting information, missing dates are estimated, and then research tasks to locate records containing the missing information are suggested. GenSmarts can generate and track "to do" lists, print worksheets to record your search results, and help you plan research trips to libraries, courthouses, and other such resources. You can read my full review if you click here. Aaron has continued to improve the program since I last wrote about it. GenSmarts will now accept "rules" created by the user. You can now use all of Aaron's pre-programmed suggestions and even add your own. When a record is found that matches a rule you created, the rule can open a web page, send an e-mail or take any of several other actions. You can read more about GenSmarts at http://www.gensmarts.com.
GenLine is a company that offers photographic quality online images of 12.6 million original church records, accounting for about 80% of the available records. The remaining 20% will be added this year. (Most of the major emigration areas have already been completed and are now online.) These are records from the 16th-20th century and include birth/baptismal, confirmation, marriage, death/burial, church ledgers and household examination rolls. These are the main sources of genealogical information in Sweden. To view the images, you must use a "plug-in" for your Windows or Macintosh OS X computer. A new version of the viewer was recently released and adds a lot of new functionality. I have seen and used several other image viewers but the one from Genline is probably the smoothest operating one I have seen. It seemed effortless to zoom in and out to navigate around an enlarged image of a page. You can learn more at http://genline.com.
I first wrote about GenMerge last year. It is a stand-alone software utility that finds and merges duplicates in GEDCOM files. If you have received files from a distant cousin and have tried to merge that information into your own database, you know what a chore this can be! GenMerge is also an excellent tool for family societies that collect GEDCOM files from members. The use of GenMerge can reduce the labor required to merge files by 75% or perhaps even 90%. The latest version of GenMerge that was demonstrated this week now includes major changes in the reports. Reports are now displayed as HTML documents and the user can click on the many hyperlinks included. The handling of parentage problems has been improved and all the help files are now context-sensitive. You can read more about GenMerge at: http://www.genmerge.com.
All in all, it was an interesting few days looking at new products and services. There were as many as in previous years, but those that did appear to be of high quality and I suspect that most will survive and prosper in the marketplace.
I do hope to write full reviews of several of these products in coming weeks.