William A. Benbow reviews three
software packages for your 8-bit Atari that will help you trace your
combination of the study of one's genealogy with the power of the
computer makes for a fascinating hobby. I have traced my line back
to that great British hero, Admiral John Benbow (1653-1702), and
written and published his biography. All on my Atari 130XE.
If you are interested in learning more about your
roots, about your family history, then you should know about some
very practical ways your Atari can help you.
The task of searching for and finding your ancestors
is much like that of solving an Agatha Christie mystery. You start
with some known facts, find clues along the way, and piece together
a picture much like you would a jigsaw puzzle. With genealogy
however, you find very quickly that you are overwhelmed with data
and spend most of your time searching through your own notes. The
computer can bring order to this chaos. It is superbly suited to
store data, sort it, search for relationships, and print reports.
Over the years genealogists have developed two basic
forms to organize family history data. The first is a Family
Worksheet which is used to record essential identifying information
for each nuclear family, that is a husband, wife and children.
Included in such a record are the names of their parents and dates
and places for everyone's birth, marriages, and death. The form may
also include additional notes such as occupations, hobbies, and
military service. It does not take long to develop hundreds of these
family worksheets as your ancestral tree doubles with each
generation. Genealogists also use a second form, the Pedigree Chart,
to show these generations pictorially. Such a chart usually has room
for four or five generations starting with yourself and working
backwards through your parents, grandparents, etc.
USING YOUR ATARI
With a bit of imagination you can easily use a
standard database program like Synfile to store your data. All of
the information lends itself to being stored and sorted as fields.
The drawback is that a standard database program is not
designed to sort genealogical data in a pedigree format, so several
programs have been developed specifically for Atari 8-bit computers,
to do just that.
The simplest is FAMILY TREE by Harry Koons and
available through Antic Magazine for $19.95 US plus $6 for surface
or $10 for Air mail shipping. Write to The Catalog, 544 Second
Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, USA. This program is excellent for
beginners as it is quite user friendly. It is written in Basic,
requires 40K RAM, and produces four generation pedigree charts.
Detailed and clear documentation is provided on the back of the
disk. It states: "The FAMILY TREE program lets you enter and display
the names, births, marriages, deaths, and a short biographical note
for each person in your family pedigree. The screen displays a tree
with a unique cursor. You move the cursor about the tree using a
joystick or the keyboard to select a person from the chart. Their
historical data can than be displayed or edited on the screen."
Although a total of 24 generations may be stored on
one disk, they must be broken down into separate files of 6 each.
Pedigrees cannot be made which overlap files, so it is not possible
to make a chart of your great-grandparent unless you start a new
file with him. This involves a fair bit of duplication. Also,
although charts may be printed in 10 characters per inch, they are
best printed in compressed mode (17 characters per inch) for
readability. The greatest limitation is that this is not really a
database program. Data cannot be sorted by fields, and is quite
restricted. Family worksheets are not utilized so you cannot store
information on siblings, cousins, etc. With FAMILY TREE you are
limited to pedigree charts.
MORE POWERFUL PROGRAMS
To do more you need much more powerful programs.
BRANCHES and its companion program TWIGS is just that. It
is a genealogy database program specifically developed for Atari
computers by Sysco Software, 939 Bross Street, Longmont, CO 80501,
USA. Cost is BRANCHES $45, TWIGS $25. I am not sure of shipping
program is also written in Basic and requires 40K RAM plus an Epson
compatible printer. BRANCHES is the main database program and
utilizes both individual and family worksheets. From this
information it produces five generation pedigree charts, however no
more than five generations can be stored on a disk, so pedigrees
which overlap disks will involve a lot of disk swapping. On the
positive side disks can store a large number of children's records,
including up to 160 children for the 16 great-great-grandparent
families. Disk space is also committed to a unique time line feature
which gives brief accounts of selected events for dates between 1400
and 1969, to provide historical perspective.
The companion program TWIGS is designed to produce a
descendants chart which shows children, grandchildren and great
grandchildren of a given individual. It can also store data on
cousins, nieces, nephews etc. and allows you to find the
relationship between any two people on the same disk.
This is an easy to operate and view program, well
written with complete step by step manuals. The main limitation is
the restriction to five generations per disk and, being written in
Basic, you may find searches a bit slow.
third program available for Atari computers, has been produced by
William C. Walden of Direct Lines Software, 4755 Bamboo Way, Fair
Oaks, CA 95628, USA. Titled FAMILY HISTORY, it is available
for $39.95 US.
It requires 48K RAM and is the most powerful of these
programs. There is no limit to the number of family member records
you can keep. Multiple disks are possible, with each disk capable of
storing 350 individual records of 41 fields each, Each record can
contain up to four spouses and 15 children per marriage. It produces
a five generation pedigree chart for any individual in the database,
and a Family Group Chart on any individual, including all immediate
family member's names. As well it will print a report of all data
from all records in the file and an index sorted by individual
number or name.
A nice feature of this program is its easy to use
menu and its capacity to compress data by removing the empty spaces
between records when you make a back up copy. The main advantage,
however, is its open-ended storage capacity. It is not limited to
five or six generations so is much more flexible. Speed is another
asset, since the original Basic program has been 'compiled' and now
runs ten times faster. It also supports double density.
The pedigree chart is a bit disappointing in that it
does not include place names or marriages. The FAMILY TREE pedigree
chart is much superior, but is limited to four generations. Also I
had difficulty figuring out a good numbering system. The computer
will assign numbers to individuals automatically, but since it
allows a personally devised system, some greater instruction would
Of the three programs, I prefer FAMILY HISTORY because of its
open-endedness. However, BRANCHES AND TWIGS has the added features
of a time line to give context to one's ancestors and also offers
more in terms of tracking indirect relations such as cousins. FAMILY
TREE is the easiest to use program and produces the best pedigree
So there you have three programs which you can use on
your 8-bit Atari to help in researching your ancestors. Perhaps you
will find the search for your roots an exciting mystery to delve
into, and you too may find an ancestor, such as my Admiral Benbow,
worth writing about.
William A. Benbow is from British Columbia in Canada
and is indeed a descendent of the famous Admiral Benbow. He
has written several articles for genealogical journals and computer
magazines and recently published a biography of his famous ancestor
produced entirely on his 130XE.