Relativity theory

Sandra Vogel discovers that tracing your family tree has never been easier, thanks to the Internet and new software packages
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Tracing family history is a popular pastime, and for serious exponents it is a much more complex affair than the quizzing of parents and grandparents that most of us have engaged in at some time. Computers are an excellent resource for genealogists. Their capacity to store and organise the mountains of information that genealogy can generate is a great boon to researchers, and there is a huge amount of software available for that purpose, much of it freeware or shareware. The Internet is also becoming an important research tool as documents, pointers to resources and primary research materials are put online.

In the area of stand-alone commercial software, much of the quality material hails from the US. Two products that have experienced considerable success in the US have recently been launched over here. Family Tree Maker from Broderbund and Family Gathering from Palladium both offer much more than the basic ability to create diagrams of family trees, though both can produce these in an impressive variety of styles and formats.

Both packages record information to the most minute level of detail and operate on the principle of detailed databases which are used to create different forms of family tree, as required. You can attach long texts to individuals' records, and, in an attempt to make genealogy a more popular pastime, both packages also allow you enhance the traditional diagrammatic family tree with multimedia elements. You can include photos, videos, audio, even digitised images such as scanned birth certificates.

Both these products also include Internet connectivity, and the publishers maintain content-laden sites. Most impressive of the two sites is that of Family Tree Maker, whose Family Finder Index contains references to nearly 115 million names from the US census, marriage records, social security records and other sources. It claims that about 20 per cent of people who have ever lived in the US are listed. The site also carries an online magazine, classified advertisements and contact information and research resources galore. The information is all US-oriented at the moment, though there may be UK-specific resources in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, we do have some excellent Internet resources in the UK, most notably the UK and Ireland Genealogy Pages. This Web site provides links to the all-important Public Records Office, including the text of their 102 leaflets on genealogical research, local history information for every local authority area in Britain, and copious other resources including gazetteers, surname lists - even details such as ships' passenger lists. Trawl through this site and you will also find hundreds of individuals listed by area and surname, most of whom will accept inquiring e-mail. One of these people could be just the lead you are looking for.

The UK and Ireland Genealogy Pages (

Family Gathering, pounds 34.99, Omnimedia, 0181 974-6766. Web site (http://www2. Gathering/)

Family Tree Maker, pounds 39.99, Broderbund, 01784 486916. (amily Finder Index: ( index.html)