Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Battle of the Grandmas

No, I'm not talking about a nasty cage fight between inlaws or even a spat between Nana and Grammy at the Christmas dinner table after too much eggnog.  I'm talking about the Grandma (Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) database, and which version is best for you.

What is Grandma?  It contains the genealogical information on 1.3 million Low-German Mennonites from the 1400s to the present.  It is maintained by the California Mennonite Historical Society and consists of lightly-curated submissions from users.

If you're not using Grandma (or GM), you are missing out.  It's the quickest way to access the research results of most Mennonite genealogists; and since most researchers provide their sources, you can get good ideas for extending your own research.  And it's amazingly current - I was surprised to find myself in the database when I opened it (I'm #112822).

There are two versions - an online database and a CD/downloadable database.  Which one should you use?

Let's start with the CD/download ($40 with two years of data updates).  Here's a screenshot of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Fast.  Not all of this information came with the database as I have added from my own research.
The GM database works with any software, but since GM is most commonly used with the shareware Brother's Keeper (BK), I'll make some comments about it as well.

1.  More events and facts - The online database only has birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial, and immigration.  But there are many more pieces of information on the CD/download such as residence, census, physical description, church membership, naturalization, probate, cause of death, and much more.
2.  Control of the data - You can manage the data - extracting a subset for a project, merging it with non-Mennonite relatives not in GM, make instant changes, do things that the committee running GM disagrees with, export GEDcoms to post online, etc.  But most importantly, you can instantly edit your own data.
3.  Fuller source citations and notes - The sources online are quite abbreviated
4.  Includes full data on living people
BK Software
1.  Many more report options and some more customization than the online version, although not as much as Legacy.
2.  Clean, intuitive layout with separate tabs for children, siblings, notes, to-do, etc. that make them instantly accessible without cluttering the screen.
3.  Search results box has more info than the online version, so it's easier to see if you found the person you want.
4.  BK is faster than Legacy at handling a database with 1.3 million people.

And now for the online ($20 for two years of access) version.  First, a screenshot for the same Jacob Fast:

1.  Very limited export of data - I think an Ahnentafel report of a person's ancestor is the only export.  No GEDcoms.
2.  No editing - Unless you just want to view things, you'll have to do your own work in your own genealogy software or on paper.
3.  Innovative searches with date ranges, locations for vital events, keywords in immigration data, pair searches for husband-wife, parent-child, and siblings.  Although BK has many more searches, they don't have the pair searches, and the searches in BK are so cotton-pickin' sloooooooow.  To me this is worth the price of online access by itself.
4.  Requires internet access.
5.  Easy to submit corrections and new information with a button on each person's page.  With the download version, you have to e-mail the information.
6.  Deals with the name-spelling problem automatically.  What if you are looking for Aganetha Klassen?  The spelling possibilities are endless - Agnetha, Agneta, Agnete, Agnes, Aganeta, etc. etc.  And then the last name - Klassen, Klaassen, Klaasen, Claassen, Classen, Classin, etc. etc.  First and last names are coded when they are entered into the database - with the online database, you never have to worry about this.  But in the downloadable database, they have added a "reference code" for each name combination as a workaround.  So you would have to search for /036ag if you wanted all the variations of Aganetha Klassen on the CD.  And you would need to remember to add the reference code to any new people whom you enter.

So what's my recommendation?
If you're a serious genealogist, get both.  You need a database you can edit and print reports from (the download version) and the excellent searches and name-handling capabilities of the online database.

If you're not going to get both, then I think it comes down to whether you value the editing and report functions.  If you're content just looking things up in the database and printing the most basic reports, then the cheaper online version is for you.  Otherwise, get the download/CD.

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