Modern Software Experience

2011-06-09

genealogy research utility

GenDetective

GenDetective is a new, commercial product of RumbleSoft. RumbleSoft describes GenDetective as a tool that analyzes your genealogical data to produce research recommendations based on missing or incomplete data. GenDetective 1.0 is available for Windows only. The RumbleSoft website states that they expect to offer native Mac OS X and Linux variants about a year from now, but I would not advice anyone to start counting down until there is a beta for these platforms.

virtual assistant

The name GenDetective suggests that we should think of this utility as a detective, but I don't think it is one. I don't think of it as a detective, but as an assistant; an assistant that help me plan research trips. The GenDetective Reporter welcome screen seems to agree with me; Welcome to GenDetective 2001, your genealogy research and trip planning software..
The way I've been planning archive visits is to make a document noting what I want to look into, what I hope to find, and the information I already have to help me find what I don't have yet. That generally takes more time than I would like it to take. The idea is that GenDetective can automate that.

GenDetective versus GenSmarts

The description of GenDetective does not sound entirely unlike GenSmarts, winner of the 2007 GeneAward for Most Promising Utility, but it is not a direct competitor. Both GenSmarts and GenDetective find holes in your data and then try to help you fill those holes, but they do so in different ways.
GenSmarts finds holes in your data and then tells you which online site may have the record you need. GenDetective finds holes in your data and then tells you which repositories you should visit. GenSmarts helps you find online data, GenDetective helps you find offline data.

Right now, GenSmarts and GenDetective seem more complementary than competitive; you could GenSmarts to help you find record online, and then use GenDetective to plan repository visits for records that aren't online yet. However, most users would probably prefer to have a single product that performs both functions, so I would not be surprised to see those two product become competitors.

10-day trial

You do not need to buy GenDetective to try it. You can download a free 10-day trial, and I suggest you take advantage of that. There is no better way to experience a product like than using it with your own data. Itt is also good to be sure that it actually installs and runs on your system. There are installation issues, and another thing I found out is that GenDetective is not frugal with memory, so even if it installs fine on an older laptop, it may not run smoothly enough to be practical.

technology

GenDetective isn't a Windows application, it is a Microsoft .NET application. It uses Microsoft Access as its database system, and generates reports in Adobe PDF format.

For GenDetective 1.0 to work, several components need to be installed and configured correctly:

  • Microsoft .NET runtime 2.0 or later
  • Microsoft Access 2007 runtime
  • Microsoft Office 2007 Primary Interop Assemblies
  • MicrosoftSaveAsPDForXPS
  • GenDetective 1.0 itself

1.0 roughness

GenDetective 1.0 definitely is a 1.0 application; it has some rough edges that you can hurt yourself on. I immediately experienced this; GenDetective installed just fine, but when I tried to run it, it demanded that I install Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) version 2.6 or later. Fact is that you neither need that and should not try to install that if you are running Windows XP or later. I've been in contact with RumbleSoft, and they confirmed that other users reported other installation problems.
GenDetective 1.0 does not run on my Windows Vista 64-bit system, but runs fine on my older Windows Vista 32-bit system.

using GenDetective

GenDetective consists of two programs, the GenDetective Analyzer and the GenDetective Reporter. Using GenDetective is a four-step process:

  1. Export a GEDCOM file from your genealogy database
  2. Import the GEDCOM file into GenDetective Analyser
  3. Run GenDetective Analyser to analyse your database
  4. Run GenDetective Reporter to create reports

GenDetective 1.0 combines step 2 and 3 into a single import & analyse step.

issues

An obvious issue with this usage model is that you regularly need to export and import your database, which is both somewhat cumbersome and, perhaps more important, takes more time as your database gets larger. That is significant, because you hardly need a utility like GenDetective when your database contains just a few individuals. You need it when your database contains so many individuals that you find it hard to decide what to research next. Utilities such as GenSmarts and GenDetective would definitely benefit from AncestorSync support; when the database is quickly brought up to date, you can focus on using the utility.

Having to deal with import and export is an inconvenience, but the GenDetective idea suffers from more fundamental issues. GenDetective wants to produce various reports for which it needs to know such things as whether you already know the burial location or already found an obituary. Problem is that there are no GEDCOM tags to convey that information. GenDetective tries to resolve this by supporting several different conventions that you may be using, but if it does not support your convention, you are out of luck; that part of its functionality will be not available to you.

Getting Started

GenDetective comes with a Getting Started with GenDetective Guide. When I first opened it, I quickly decided that it is too long for a Getting Started Guide, and that is too much like a user manual.
However, after playing with GenDetective for a bit, I suggest that you do read the guide, especially when you have only ten days to try the product. GenDetective just isn't the simplest genealogy application to get started with…

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