By: John Kiener, General Sessions Judge, Washington County    

     How do you organize 5,000 family names, including numerous surnames, into an understandable family tree? If you have lots of time, use acid free family history sheets sold by a number of publishing firms. Or get out the family Bible, and carefully in legible handwriting, using your best penmanship, write your family tree in the Bible.

     With modern technology, there is a third method by which family history can be preserved. The technology you need is a personal computer.

     I have my family history in a PC, the letters indicating personal computer. The purpose of this article is not to sell personal computers, and if you do not own a PC, I do not think you should purchase a computer to store family history only.

     Part I – Hardware

     The PC is called “hardware.” Computers have been with us since the 1950s, but it is only in recent years that a computer has become a common household item. In my opinion, the computer is the greatest business machine since the invention of the typewriter.

     The computer has a variety of uses, including replacement of the conventional typewriter. In fact, if you can type, you can operate a computer. Therefore, do not make the decision to avoid obtaining a computer out of concern that it will be too complicated to operate.

     If you visit the Washington County Courthouse, you will discover that these government offices are full of computers. Cases are indexed in Don Squibb’s Circuit, Criminal, Juvenile and Session Court records with a computer. Records of automobile license tags are kept in the Office of County Clerk Roy Phillips by use of a computer. Modern business depends on computers for numerous functions.

     In the home, computers are used to keep track of personal finances, hobbies, and to assist in the preparation of the children’s school work. In fact, there are numerous uses for a home computer, as the advertisements on television and in magazines constantly remind us.

     Before you read further in this article, we are talking about an expenditure for a home computer of from $1,000 to $2,000. This is not an inexpensive addition to your home. After reading this much of the article, there are persons who will tell you that a computer can be purchased for as little as $500. This is true. However, let me explain why I used a higher figure for your initial investment.

     There are numerous models to choose from. However, they use either an IBM or Apple format for the most part. The system you use is a matter of personal choice. My suggestion is to shop for a computer like you shop for an automobile.

     A computer – again, the “hardware” – is composed of several parts. The first set of components are; the keyboard and monitor. The keyboard is similar to a typewriter keyboard, but is often extended with additional keys above the numbers of the “typewriter” and additional keys to the right of the conventional keyboard. These keys perform “computer” functions that you will learn as you operate the computer.

     The monitor is much like a television screen and will display the information either in monochrome (usually black and white) or in color. On some models, your monitor will also have a speaker, and your computer will talk to you. At this point, I hope you realize that the computer is more than just a fancy “typewriter.”

     The second component of the computer consists of a drive in which you can insert a “floppy disk.” The disk drivers come in several different sizes. In addition, a “hard disk” can also be purchased in which information is stored in the computer. Some units combine “disk” drives and “hard disk” in the same unit with the monitor.

     The third component in your computer “hardware” is the printer. A printer will vary in cost depending upon the type purchased. Most use a ribbon like a typewriter, but the more expensive units use “laser” technology and produce professional results. Your choice of a printer is important, especially if you decide to use your printer for “desktop publishing.” With a computer and a good quality printer, the production of a family history is not only possible – but can be accomplished without a great deal of difficulty from a production standpoint.

     In my experience, the family history book will need to be duplicated. Take your copy of the family history produced with the computer to one of the “printers” listed in the yellow pages of the phone book. Remember, depending on the amount of money per copy you are willing to spend, the book can be duplicated, with acid-free paper for longer life. In addition, there are printers who specialize in printing family histories. This type of printer usually requires a certain format and a minimum number of copies to be produced before accepting the copy for publications. If you take the time to write a family history, I suggest that you copyright the book. In order to obtain an application for copyright, write to: Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559.

     In filling out copyright forms, you will discover that there has been some debate concerning the question of whether or not the gathering together of family history information constitutes an original literary work within the meaning of the Copyright Laws of the United States of America. I encourage you to avoid getting into this question with a copyright examiner by indicating to the Copyright  Office that your genealogical research is an original work of authorship known as a “compilation.” A “compilation” is defined in Federal Law as: “a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting material or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.”