Genealogy Tips

Computer vs paper forms

I recently came across the post Starting your research on the right foot by The In-Depth Genealogist.

While using paper forms may suit some people, I can’t imagine, having used computers for the better part of 20 years for my family history, using paper forms.

For one thing, I can type a lot faster than I can write, so one factor is time.  Another factor is that it is a lot easier to read a typed record than a handwritten one.

Using a computer also saves on paper and printing costs, and finding storage space for paper records.  The only paper records I now keep are those that are sent to me by snail mail – all my other research is kept electronically.

Also, by using a family tree program, such as Legacy, RootsMagic etc., you are still setting up your family groups, but with the added benefit of the program sorting all your individuals alphabetically, making it much easier to find information for any particular person, or family.  Family tree programs also allow you to enter complete citation details, in a lot more detail than you would be able to fit onto a family group sheet.  Some family tree programs allow you to view timelines, so that you can check for any events that may be missing from an individual’s timeline.

By using a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel, you can not only set up a spreadsheet for the Census Comparison Worksheet, but for a range of other functions.  I find it helpful when working on the Parish Registers, to arrange the baptisms chronologically, and I can then add additional columns to show the marriages. This makes it easier to work out which children belong to which couple.

Computers make it easier to store, organize and analyse your family history data.

5 thoughts on “Computer vs paper forms”

  1. Lois,

    While spreadsheets and databases are fine from an organizational and time-saving standpoint, I find that I process the information better when I write it by hand. It is much easier for me to see where I’m missing information or when some data doesn’t jive with other data.

    I haven’t found an electronic medium that can analyze my data like my own brain can.

    In any case, the forms are intended to work in conjunction with your database software, not take the place of it.

    Hope this helps justify the paper forms a little better.



    1. My post was a little more slanted to my own viewpoint. I find that I can analyze information no matter what format it is in, whether a paper form, or an electronic one, and I find entering the information on the computer quicker and easier, for me.

      The main thing is that there are now much more options in the tools we can use to analyse the information we have gathered in researching our family history, and that we can choose which tools we personally find the most useful.


  2. I’m totally for the use of spread sheets and have even thought of upgrading my Excel spreadsheet to MS Access so I can build a relationship database – not family relationships. However I often write down a note for each new piece of data as it helps me remember more. Just like taking notes at school or studying for exams I find writing something down helps me remember it. There is even interesting research done on this supporting the idea. It works for me, messy handwriting and all. But then I put it in Evernote, FTM and my spread sheets.


  3. Yes, electronic files are the only way to work. In one of the often-recommended books on organizing genealogy research, the author starts out by saying that they don’t use a computer, and the book is about organizing paper – at that point I put the book down.

    However, paper does have the distinguishing characteristic of longeveity – it STILL has a longer expected lifetime than any digital or electronic format, including CDs/DVDs.


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