The Four Sorts: a Schematic View


1. Traditional genealogical databases

These allow individuals to be connected into lineages, so that anybody's ancestry and descent can be seen at a glance. The information fields are ready-made. Disadvantages: The packages do not offer a good way of loosely associating the stray individuals who make up the bulk of a one-name study. The layout does not allow 30 or more individuals to be shown on one screen as flatfiles do. The existing packages can import gedcoms, and cope badly with the lists of names (e.g. telephone directories, Internet HTML pages, census transcripts) that one-namers concentrate on: these have to be entered word by word. Rearranging information is often arduous.

2. Flatfile Databases

The low-tech approach using flatfile databases is often cheapest - MS Works for example often comes free with the computer. Importing lists is easy: you only need to tabulate your text files and reopen them as spreadsheets. New editions of the lists can later be imported just as easily to see if they contain new information. Combining lists is easy: any dataset or subitem can be dragged straight to a new location with the mouse. Up to 30 facts about 30 individuals can be compactly displayed on one screen meaning guesswork does not have to be conducted with pencil and paper. Disadvantages: spreadsheets cannot show lineages, so Henry number order (a decimal classification) has to be used as a makeshift. You have to devise your own field names and formats. Special utilities are needed to extract information from gedcoms, and the process is one-way: you can't turn the information back into a gedcom. Large numbers of fields make the file unwieldy.

3. Relational Databases

These databases have the same advantages as flatfile databases, but in addition dozens of lists can be coordinated with one another, so that persons in census lists can be correlated with those in birth-marriage-death indexes, etc. Disadvantages: The leading package, MS Access, is expensive to buy. The time spent learning to use them is longer than for other databases. No ready-made fields. No proper lineages. Special utilities are needed to extract information from gedcoms, and this process is one-way.

4. Multitemplate databases

These, such as Custodian and Clooz, come with their information fields ready-made. Data can be saved in its original layout and spelling without alteration. All names from the forms are included in the Master Index, which you can browse, search and then access any record. Disadvantages: Data entry is slow. Makeshift methods are needed to create lineages. These programmes are not good at displaying a large number of sources and individuals simultaneously.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009

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