By Dale E. Lee
One of the first questions people ask in Family History is which desktop utility should I use? The answer is, it depends. It depends on the functionality you would like to have for inputting, searching and reporting on data.
But a more important question to answer is what data is being stored and how is it stored. If you understand how data is stored internally it makes it easier to understand how the desktop utility interacts with that data.
All data is stored in computers as either objects or as relations. Data can be stored in many different physical formats such as: network. relational, indexed, etc. However, what they are storing conceptually always comes back to objects and the relations between them. Physically both objects and relations are stored in records, but functionally they are treated differently.
For Family History, this concept is fairly intuitive. You can think of objects as individuals and relations as relationships between individuals. When you save an individual in your desktop utility you are storing an object that contains the data you entered for the individual and a unique identifier. When multiple individuals are entered, the utility normally generates indexes on specific fields, such as name, birth city, etc., in order to make searching far faster than looking through the whole list to find the person in question.
When you enter information on the relationship between two individuals, the computer takes information, such as the IDs, from both of the individuals that are being related and stores it in a record. It then indexes that record to make for quick access.
Because a relationship stores the IDs of the two individuals that are related, it allows the utility to go from one individual to another, by following the links (the IDs). The traversal from individual to individual can be shown diagrammatically as follows:
The top diagram shows the computer relating one object to another. Or in other words one Individual is being connected to a relationship with another.
The bottom diagram shows that an Individual can be given multiple relationships, one for each person being related.
So why are we talking about data? If you understand the underlying data, it is far simpler to understand the logic the utility needs to use to access that data. As you select a PC utility, be thinking of how well the utility utilizes the data you are storing in it. Is it difficult to enter or retrieve the data? Are the reports you get confusing or helpful? What value added does the utility give beyond basic functionality? Etc. Regardless of how it does it, now you know what what is being stored.
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