Randy's Genealogy Program Wish List

by Randy Wilson (randy@axon.cs.byu.edu), September 1998.


As I've done genealogical research over the past several years, I have seen that technology has helped make the process much easier, but I am frequently impressed by how much better we can still do. Although computers have helped people organize and share data, it seems that deficiencies in current genealogical software is keeping us from saving people as much time as we could, and may in some cases cause data to be lost or confused by not making it easy enough to include all the information we have available. For example, we sometimes have to cram our data into fewer characters than we need, or we fail to specify the source of our data because doing so is too time-consuming and takes up too much hard drive space.

Current Software

After having used Personal Ancestral File (PAF) on the Mac for several years, I have been pleased with its stability and some of its features, but there are quite a few features it lacks, many of which would be simple to implement, and others of which are non-trivial. I have tried demo versions of other genealogy programs as well, and some, such as Reunion, have several features that I would like, including handling photos, printing editable charts, etc. But even Reunion is missing some features handled well by PAF, such as handling of LDS ordinances in a straightforward fashion. In addition, many of the features I would like are not currently available in any genealogy program.

Below is a wish list of features I would like to see in a genealogy program. Although I would like to write the program myself ("If you need something done right..."), I currently don't have nearly the time it would take to complete the project. I hope that by making this list publicly available I can encourage others to incorporate these features into existing or new genealogy programs.

I would be interested in hearing which of these features are already available in currently-existing programs. I would also like to hear from anyone who feels like they would like to incorporate these features into their software or start a new software project. That way if anyone else expresses a similar interest, I can link you together and make sure we aren't duplicating work. I would be happy to work on some of the trickier algorithms and on porting stuff to the Macintosh, as well as help with the initial design and other aspects of the project.

Your Ideas Wanted

If you have any other features that you have wished for, please send me an e-mail and I'll probably add it to the list with credit given to you, if you wish.

Cool Genealogy Program Features

Click on any item for a detailed explanation.

  • Import/Export
  • Output Formats
  • Able to edit information in any of the above formats.
  • Able to follow links to people displayed in any of the above formats.
  • Able to output hyperlinked WWW pages in any of the above formats.
  • Able to print reports in any of the above formats.
  • Able to copy text from such reports to paste into e-mail messages.
  • Able to e-mail a report on one or more individuals to someone.
  • Have a "main" person (e.g., the researcher) in the database and easy ways to follow links back to the main person.
  • Able to select trees, bushes, families, etc.
  • Able to cut, copy, paste, export, generate reports and otherwise operate on selections.
  • Have undo/redo list.
  • Multiple databases opened at once.
  • Multiple windows/views available at once.
  • Keep track of all GEDCOM-tagged events (not just in notes).
  • Long enough "place" fields for place names.
  • Smart line-completion, especially for place names.
  • Able to reorder children by birthdate.
  • Sanity-checking to make sure dates, names and places seem to make sense.
  • Built-in list of cities, counties, states, etc., preferably by year.
  • Built-in historical atlas with detailed maps.
  • Automatically enter surnames when guessable from father or child.
  • Easy to search for individuals by name, approximate date, etc.
  • Handle LDS ordinances.
  • Able to access internet directly.
  • Automatically NOT export living individuals and private notes, if desired.
  • Automated sources
  • Be able to store "best guess" information, such as the upper- and lower- bounds on birth, marriage, or death year, or a very rough guess as to a place. Display in brackets.
  • Able to automatically generate "best guess" information from relatives' information.
  • Intelligent merging.
  • Multimedia.
  • Able to keep different portions of a database in separate files, but able to follow links between them so you can work on one (smaller) subtree but access the others easily.
  • Mac/PC/Unix cross-platform compatibility.
  • Free "players" for Mac/PC/Unix so people without the program can look at your stuff easily.
  • Decent text editor with spell check (and/or allow use of an external editor).
  • Cost $99 or less, or done by internet community and have source code freely available.
  • Able to enter information by typing text, like "Ann SMITH, b. 7 aug 1859, Lee Co., VA; m. ...".
  • Able to copy & paste such text information into an interpreter.
  • Extract genealogical information from text
  • More data available on-line:
  • I realize not all of these things are easy, and the data acquisition part will take years or coordinated efforts of large numbers of people, which is probably why I call it my wish list. But many of the features are within reach and would make the accumulation and distribution of genealogical information much easier.

    I would love to hear any comments, suggestions, additions or corrections with regard to the above list.

    --Randy Wilson, (randy@axon.cs.byu.edu).

    Mail questions or suggestions to randy@axon.cs.byu.edu

    Last updated 17 October 1998.