Modern Software Experience

2013-01-21

multiple reasons for one database

multiple databases

Quite a few genealogists have multiple databases. Some genealogists doing their own research use separate databases for each line or name they research, while many genealogists that accept client work still prefer to keep their work for each client in a separate database.

Inevitably, the genealogists using multiple databases start to wonder whether they are doing the right thing, and others using just one database for all their research wonder whether it would advantageous to split their database into multiples projects as well.

maternal and paternal

One of the most common splits is into maternal and paternal databases; one database for your father's ancestors and one for your mother's ancestors. Some researchers even split their research over four databases; one for each grandparent's ancestry.
Never mind the traditional genealogy assumption that you have only four grandparents. The real issue with this approach that you need to update not just one, but all the databases whenever anything changes for their descendents; you and your family.
Modern genealogy software supports colour-coding of individuals along ancestral lines. Splitting your research into two or four databases does not provide any real advantage over that.

selection & filtering

You do not need to split your database to create a GEDCOM file that contains just some particular line. Even with all data in just one database, you can still export a part of it.
Do not split your database, but familiarise yourself with your genealogy software's selection and filtering features instead.
The export to GEDCOM feature typically has selection and filtering options, so you still export and some particular line instead of everything.
If your software does not offer such features, you should not split your database, but upgrade to better software.

Focus on a particular project is in your mind, not your database.

project focus

A separate database for each project may seem advantageous because there is nothing from other projects in there to distract you from focussing on this one project.

Having all your existing research in one database is quite handy, especially when various projects overlap, and eventual overlap is unavoidable.
Moreover, and perhaps slightly more convincing for those who think their separate database will never really overlap, having all your existing research at your fingertips for immediate reference is quite handy, especially when various projects almost overlap, and you want to make sure it does or doesn't.

Focus on a particular project is in your mind, not your database.
Using multiple database may even be counter-productive. At some point, you will recognise a name or something else as something you have seen and perhaps entered before. If you have just one database, you can simply search all your data at once. If you use multiple databases, you will need to open other databases, and perform multiple searches, while you try to remember which database it is in.

Genealogist who maintain multiple databases believing that their databases cannot possibly overlap are deluding themselves.

overlap and duplication

The obvious problem with maintaining multiple databases is overlap and duplication. Sooner rather than later, two or more databases will overlap, and you will be entering data twice.
Once you find yourself entering names, dates, place records, linking to images and creating citations twice or even thrice, you are likely to conclude that using multiple databases wasn't such a good idea, and that you should merge them before it gets worse.

Many genealogists who use multiple databases are aware of this issue, considered it, and somehow decided that their database would never overlap, or merely that they'd deal with it when it happens, and use multiple databases anyway.

Truth is, overlap and duplication is not just unavoidable, but extremely likely. When you research your own ancestors, they are all likely to come from just a few areas. If there is no pedigree collapse in your own ancestry, there's pedigree collapse in the ancestry of a not-so distant cousin.
Even when your own father and mother are from different countries or continents, you may still find that his uncle married her cousin.

Some genealogists who accept client work believe they are unlikely to experience overlap, as their clients are not likely to be related. That is not less but more delusional than the thought that your own ancestors cannot be related.

If you work for clients, your clients will show your work to their family and friends. They may recommend you to family and friends, and then they will recommend you to their family and friends. When you think that through, you'll realise that overlap is not unlikely, but very likely indeed.

Moreover, a genealogist will typical specialise in a particular area and that focus on a particular area greatly increases the chances of overlap.
Genealogist who maintain multiple databases believing that their databases cannot possibly overlap are deluding themselves.

proband problem

When you research more than one ancestry, you encounter the proband problem.
Most genealogical research starts with ancestral research; finding the ancestors of the proband, often the researcher themselves. Today's genealogy software accommodates that very well; the first person entered becomes the home person. The software always open on the home person and makes it easy to navigate back to the home person, typically using the Home key for that. Moreover, in case you didn't enter the proband first, you often do not have to edit the database to fix that, but can simply set another home person.

Genealogists working for multiple clients will typically be researching many ancestries, and have just as many probands. They can find a desired proband using the search function, but that is a bit inconvenient. When you keep each research project in its own database, that database will automatically open on the home person for that project.

The proband problem has a bookmark solution.

bookmark solution

The proband problem has a bookmark solution.
You do not need each proband to be the home person of a database. You merely desire to quickly to navigate to the proband for your current research, and you can do so without making each project a separate database.

Modern genealogy applications offer the ability to set bookmarks. Just bookmark each proband, so can select them from the list of bookmarks.
If your software allows you to change the home person, you can even fixate the proband for the duration of your session; Upon selecting the desired proband, immediately change the home person to that proband. That way, you do not have to select the proband from the bookmark list again, but can simply hit the Home key for the rest of your session.

Splitting your database is robbing the consistency & reasonability checks of data to work with.

consistency & reasonability checks

You have to perform consistency & reasonability checks for each database you maintain. Consistency & reasonability checks are not only easier to do when you have all your data in one database, they also yield better results. That's because consistency & reasonability checks compare data in your database against other data in your database. So, the more data there is to work with, the likelier it is the checks will discover the issues that are in there.
Splitting your database is robbing the consistency & reasonability checks of data to work with.

The inability of your genealogy software to deal with large databases may sound like a good reason to split your research into multiple databases, but is actually a compelling reason to upgrade to more capable genealogy software.

application limitations

One argument for using multiple databases is that the genealogy software user can't handle larger databases. Some software has rather low upper limits, other software may become slow or unreliable.

The inability of your genealogy software to deal with large databases may sound like a good reason to split your research into multiple databases, but is actually a compelling reason to upgrade to more capable genealogy software.

merging databases

The state of genealogy standards and genealogy software being what it is today, merging a third-party database into your own database isn't such a hot idea.
Merging databases with your new spouse makes sense, but you should first make sure you do things the same way, and that may take some time.

If you kept several separate databases yourself, and have decided to leave that approach behind, and now want to merge all of them them into one master database, things are simpler, but not trivial. Your own databases are likely to be very similar, and if there's anything wrong with them at all, they're all wrong in the same way.
However, even merging just your own databases together isn't merely a matter of importing one database into the other. There will be duplicate individuals, duplicate sources, duplicate notes, and so on that you need to merge individually. Worst of all, despite your best effort to keep your databases synchronised, there are likely to be inconsistencies between the databases for you to deal with.

The best way to proceed is carefully. Perform trial runs with copies of your databases and keep experimenting until you are comfortable with merging and resolving issues.
Avoid merging inconsistent databases with each other. Check your databases for inconsistencies before merging them. Once you've merged your databases and resolved duplicates, check again to make sure the combined database is consistent.
Above all, keep plenty of backups.

pay-off

Merging and cleaning up databases can be a considerable amount work, but it is worth doing. Once you're done, you won't need to enter the same things into multiple databases again, you won't need to worry about keeping different databases in sync with each other, you'll have just one database to manage.

multiple databases

As a rule, all your research should be in just one database. However, there are exceptions the rule.

Sometimes researcher decide to start over; they conclude that they've made such a mess of their database that they are not going to try and clean it up, but are starting a new one, doing everything right this time, but keeping the old one around for reference.
You can doubt the wisdom of starting anew instead of cleaning up, but starting over in a second database, however drastic a decision that may be, is still considerably less drastic than actually deleting the old one and starting from scratch. It certainly makes sense to keep that old database around for a while.

several databases at once

Although you should have all your research in one database, it is still handy to have a genealogy editor that allows you to open several database at once, or two different views of the same database.
This allows comparing your database against a third-party database, against itself, or an older version. You may to want to compare against an older version because you started over, and use the old database to help you decide what to research next. You may want to compare against a recent backup because you just made an editing mistake.
Several genealogy applications allow editing the same database through multiple views, which can be handy when dealing with possible duplicates.

summary

Keep all your research in just one database. It is easier to manage, avoids duplication, and ensures the best possible results from consistency & reasonability checks.
Do not split your database because your current genealogy software can only handle small databases, upgrade to more capable software instead. Modern genealogy software features such as colour-coding and bookmarks make it easy to manage multiple lines and projects in a single database. The ability to select and filter individuals when exporting to GEDCOM allows you to share selected research as you see fit.
Think twice before merging third-party databases into your own database, and proceed carefully when merging your own.

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