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05 September 2015

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 a number of new genealogy tech tools that may be great for them. While listening to all the 'options', I kept thinking how many recommendations over complicate simple tasks. For instance, I don't need to use a subscription note service to accomplish the tasks that RootsMagic and Microsoft Office can achieve. At the conclusion of the webinar, I felt more overwhelmed than empowered.

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

Positive Time / Benefit

Preserving the memories of the living is an important part of family history and genealogy. To accomplish this objective, I create scrapbooks, more specifically digital albums. Digital scrapbooking has greatly decreased the time I spend creating scrapbooks significantly 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 of using a highly recommended alternative. The time I spent learning the program resulted in a net benefit of 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 could explore the possibility of a new software that may have increased my efficiency. Photoshop Elements (PSe) receives 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 did paper scrapbooking, I made about 150 pages each year.  With PaintShop Pro, I made about 225 pages a year. With Photoshop Elements, I make about 500 pages a year.  All in the same amount of time. Can you see how this time-benefit analysis is beneficial to me?

Negative Time/Benefit

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 really are too good to be true. 

To set the stage, I have used and FamilySearch programs for sometime.  I'll admit to being FamilySearch Family Tree 'fan-girl.' Finally, FamilySearch is more than a research portal but allows attaching sources to a person on an online tree. The initial process was time consuming but has since become relatively painless.

Additionally, the FamilySearch "One Tree" revolution is reducing the time I spent dealing with duplicate versions (and often those without sources and full of errors) as I have encountered on for years. Yet, I find both and FamilySearch useful in my research methods. 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. Thus, I have only experienced

Imagine my surprise when I started using MyHertiage's and the service kept recommending the same sources I had already found on both Ancestry and FamilySearch. What's more, the FamilySearch Family Tree is one of MyHeritage's databases. So what Record and Smart Matches is the program offering... the very tree that I had diligently worked to support for the past two years on the other site. Why would I want to use this program when I can just use FamilySearch?

As the same sources are offered, I have to debate whether I should confirm, ignore or reject these matches. Rejecting would throw off MyHeritage logarithms. Ignoring probably doesn't benefit me. Confirming is a tedious process I've already been through. What benefit would I receive for all of the time I would spend? 

Additionally, MyHeritage has the many tree concept that Ancestry has. The process of connecting the 'Smart Matches' is just as tedious but more frustrating than Ancestry. I can not easily tell if the trees on MyHeritage have any valid sources supporting the individuals on the tree. Additionally, I keep bumping into folks who have 5-10 versions of the SAME FAMILIES (not just individuals, families) on MyHeritage. Confirming the matches is so painful! Rejecting them again does not help the company. Instead, I ignore the Smart Matches, but I wonder if I'm missing out on something.

So far, My Heritage (the tree portion) hasn't saved me any time or given me any clear benefit. Therefore, I'm inclined not to use it. They have introduced a new instant discoveries feature that allows me to add numerous names to my tree quickly without reviewing what I'm attaching. Can you say erroneous errors? I do not want to just build a massive tree. I want to spend my time working on an accurate tree. This 'time savings' offering is really an invitation to a bigger headache. No thank you.

The MyHeritage search engine has yet to turned up anything that I haven't found elsewhere for deceased relatives. Granted, this service has found records for living people that aren't elsewhere, but I'm not researching living people. I may periodically using the MyHeritage search features, but right now the sites has a negative time spent for benefit received equation.

Now, I do not wish to completely trash MyHeritage or similar companies and their efforts to move the genealogy movement. For someone who doesn't or hasn't used other programs, My Heritage may be a godsend. I get that. Their situation is different. Their cost benefit analysis is different. For me, this technology is not a benefit. 

What's My Point?

I only point out that 'advances' in technology, partnerships, and more may initially sound great. Upon closer inspection, not everything benefits your or me the same. Take time to truly investigate whether the new technology, app, system really provides enough benefit for the time required to learning and use the system.

Recognize that most of us are not professionals who need to be 'up' on technology so that we can make an income promoting every new thing that comes along. For the vast majority of us, we just need something that will help us corral all the pieces of our genealogy adventure. If a 'new thing' does save you time, then use it. If it becomes a time black hole, perhaps you need to pull out before you go past the point of no return. 

Feel free to ignore technology that 'everyone else is using'. 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 technology but isn't keeping up with their family history goals. 

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?


  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!

    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!

  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.

    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 (my current favorite on-demand publishing company).

    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: For anyone who's interested, there is a series of these Blogger tips on my blog:

  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!

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

  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.