Monday Madness – Response to Louis Kessler’s 6 Bad Things

A response to Louis Kessler’s 6 Bad Things About Today’s Genealogy Software:

Mr. Kessler posted six statements (marked below as “LK:”) on Sunday evening and one reader asked for suggestions, so I am responding with my opinions.

I must warn you, however, that the software I’m going to discuss, The Master Genealogist version 7.04, may be too technical for some users. It has one of the steepest learning curves of any software on the market but it’s power is unmatched. It also has a large number of flaws. I’ll use the acronym TMG and not spell out the full name all the time.

Oh, and please forgive my not specifically mentioning other applications; Mr. Kessler didn’t, so I won’t, either.

LK: 1. They make you enter your data into forms and require you run reports to see (some of) your data.

NPM: Genealogy is about collecting data that is precisely suited for form-based entry. Any text we create to go with that data is also generally handled well by the forms presented in genealogy software.

TMG has tags for almost any name part you can imagine and you can create your own at need. The tags are available all source, person, place, or event entries. You can also create tags for just about any other item you can think of beyond the provided tags.

The reporting features in TMG allow you to create your own reports for text-based output or comma-separated data files. You can use a variety of tools to view them. You pick the fields you need to see, all or some. The only fields you really don’t need to see in a report are internal to TMG. TMG does have one major flaw in it’s data extraction but that is due to the antiquated database engine it uses, not the application itself.

LK: 2. They are person-centric, rather than source-centric.

NPM: This one takes a bit of thought. People are our sources and the sources we use to document them are also sources, no? I understand the distinction as illustrated in the Genealogical Data Model (GDM) between persons and sources, but is there really any difference? Is a person’s oral history interview transcript that much different from a person as a source?

The major flaw in most genealogy software is that it is based on a flawed data transport model (DTM) which was not designed to handle genealogically relevant sources. TMG is based roughly on the GDM, The only constraint on TMG is that it has to acknowledge the flawed DTM, rendering some of it’s functionality less than ideal.

LK: 3. They emphasize formatting your citations correctly, rather than documenting your sources correctly

NPM: Sources are citations to people and vice versa. Citations of those sources are only part of the documentation process. The problem with most genealogy applications is that you are forced to use hard-coded formats. TMG allows you to create any tag you need for sources and citations. You can also format them as you wish for text or spreadsheet use. In the report outputs you can choose whether to include the citation part of the source entry.

LK: 4. They promote merging other people’s data with yours, rather than keeping them separate and virtually merging

NPM: Smart genealogists know when it is proper to use merging features. That decision is theirs, not the application’s. TMG allows it’s users to create links between data sets, or separate databases, and either maintain them separately or merge them selectively.

LK: 5. They don’t adhere to GEDCOM standards, thereby not allowing you to correctly transfer your data between programs.

NPM: True, it’s an unfortunate result of having a flawed DTM being kludged into a genealogy application. That flawed DTM was never meant to handle the data a genealogist uses so no genealogy application can hope to adhere to it. TMG is one of the worst offenders in this area because it is based on a realistic model of genealogically significant data. The problem with TMG is that since you can enter so much genealogically relevant data into it, there is no hope of force-fitting that data into an unrealistic DTM.

LK: 6. They try to do everything, except the one thing you want them to do: Help you quickly and easily record your data, evidence and conclusions and let you make use of them.

NPM: Some genealogy applications do try to do everything; that’s because their creators add useless do-dads to get market share. TMG has, partly because of it’s ummm, “snailtacular” (thanks, Tamura!) development history, not fallen prey to this mutation in genealogy applications.

TMG does not “try to do everything.” It lets the user try everything. TMG is a platform for users to grow into. TMG users learn to adapt it to their data, and it limits them only when necessary. I’ve mentioned the tags a couple of times already. These tags, and the data entry forms that use them, allow you “easily record your data ….” They also allow you to use your data as you see fit (mostly). Once the data entry forms are set up, away you go, quickly.

I am not promoting, advocating, or otherwise affiliating myself with sales of TMG based on these comments. I use TMG because it works. It is broken in some ways, but it is far better than the other genealogy applications out there. Oh, and by the way: let’s not forget that I’m referring to TMG version 7.04 only.


Portions of this article © 2011 N. P. Maling – Sea Genes Family History & Genealogy Research

5 thoughts on “Monday Madness – Response to Louis Kessler’s 6 Bad Things

  1. N.P.:

    Thank you for your ideas about my 6 Bad Things About Today’s Genealogy Software post. I think you’ve made very good points because, after all, the choice of a genealogy program is as individualistic as choosing a car. What’s right for one person is not necessarily right for another.

    But I’d just like to make a few counterpoints at the generalities level.

    I don’t agree that genealogy is precisely suited for forms-based entry. Genealogy is not just a name, birth date, birth place, spouse, child, comment. It is not just a set of tags and values. That’s just how the early genealogy programs had to implement it, because all they had to work with was 32 KB address spaces, simple databases, and forms-based data entry. Compared to what-you-see-is-what-you-get word-processer-like data input, it is slow and inefficient.

    Today’s genealogy programs are Person-centric because they require you enter data by person. Then maybe, if you feel like it, you’ll add the source for that person. This also is a historical thing. Originally, programs only handled people information and didn’t have source information, which was added later. But the correct redesign is to start with the source. It has the data, which then becomes the evidence that you use to substantiate the events and facts about the people.

    You can format your citations when you publish your genealogy. Doing so earlier just gets in your way.

    Average genealogists don’t know when it is proper to use merging features. But the programs are promoting it, so they do. Notice all the junk up on Geni and some of the other online sites? And notice the junk in many GEDCOMs because people merged other people’s data into theirs.

    There is a lot of potential for innovation and change on the genealogy software front. I’m hoping the other developers are listening.


    • Louis,

      On the forms-based entry. I agree, it’s not just name, date, place, etc. collecting. Hardly. I started out using 16-bit machines for genealogy, so I know how it went way back when. Which is why I specifically mentioned “Any text we create ….” Word-processor type input is equally inefficient, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m a professional writer, editor, et cetera …. So the way I see it is that if you have a form, it can make you pause for thought about what exactly should go in that spot, instead of just anything. For dates, especially, most genealogy applications will give clues and/or suggest improvements on how to handle them. Do word processors do that? Spreadsheets can, to some degree, but I’m not aware of any that can handle the 1752 thing ….

      The person-centricity of genealogy programs goes back to the early days, too, like you mentioned, when there were name collectors in abundance (witness your examples). But … in TMG I have sources which are not attached to persons. Those sources are there for when I need them, so that is why I wrote like I did about the matter. TMG allows you to break the …-centricity and focus on what you need when you need it. I haven’t played with other recent genealogy applications enough to find out whether they allow unattached sources in their databases or trash them when they aren’t attached to some person’s record. If I recall, one major genealogy application would trash the unattached sources (years ago).

      The templates in TMG allow you to set up entire classes of sources so they print out right when you need them. Having it done right, once, at the beginning, say when you enter the source for the first time, saves a whole heckofalotof time when you do publish. Maybe I’m a nitpicker about it, but I’d rather get it right first than have to go back, fix something, and then run a 30+ page report again. Or, even, sit at a word processor and do global search/replaces. Wouldn’t you?

      The merging features. Guess why I mentioned that in TMG you don’t have to bother with the junk getting into your primary database? Just keep it separate. It’s a bit like having two word processor documents you want to compare but not merge entirely, only they are available at the same time, on the same screen, in the same application. The average genealogist might be more willing to mess up their primary database with “encouragement” by another application, but when they’ve done that once and have to fix a few dozen records one by one …. I don’t know of another genealogy application which handles the issue like TMG does.

      I appreciate your innovative work on Behold!, Louis, and look forward to trying it someday, but in the meantime, this is the reality. The developers who might be listening, and I’m sure they are, could well take a cue from both of our perspectives.

      Thanks for the counterpoints.

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