Changing File Formats, Backups, Synchronization, Flip Pal Scanner – CIG

September 21, 2011 Computer Interest Group Discussion

The Computer Interest Group meets the 3rd Wednesday of each month September to May at 7:00 p.m. for a question and answer style discussion of genealogy computer hardware, software, and technology issues at the main Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, normally held in Meeting Room B, but October 19, 2011 will be held in the Computer Room across from our normal meeting location.

Why Do Software Programs Change File Formats?

One question was sharing family data burned to CD/DVD that won’t open in Family Tree Maker. This is because software upgrades sometimes changes file formats and extensions. File extensions are turned off by default in Windows, so most users are not aware of What File Extensions Are or How to Show File Extensions in Windows 7, Vista, or XP. Common examples are FTW/FTM FBC/FBK for Family Tree Maker, WPS for Microsoft Works Word Processing, and DOC/DOCX for Microsoft Word. Software upgrades occur because of improvements in programming, computer hardware, new technology, and response to user requests for new features and how to deal with the massive amounts of digital data constantly becoming available online and elsewhere. Software programs have Help Information online normally available through their Help Menu, or keyboard shortcut F1, that explains how to use their programs and understand their terminology that is easily updated online rather than printing expensive traditional paper books that are quickly outdated.

  • Family Tree Maker used by a majority of ACGSI members changed their file format in 2008 so that previous file formats are not read by the newer versions. Family Tree Maker Support provides instructions in “Opening old and unsupported files in Family Tree Maker 2008-2012” using the 2005 Starter Edition that will save a file format that can be read in versions 2008 and newer. Files are normally saved as a GEDCOM when exchanging files between different genealogy software programs
  • GEDCOM is an acronym for GEnealogical Data COMmunication developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a standard way to share basic genealogy family tree data. Some genealogy software produces propriety GEDCOM formats not read by all software, most include basic family information, but not photos, sources, etc. Wikipedia has a detailed explanation. The Appalachian Mountain Families has a lengthy list of instructions for various software programs from Family Tree Maker to Personal Ancestral File to Legacy and others on how to convert a family file to a Gedcom file. They also list the common file extensions with each program.
  • Glossary of Computer File Formats by Family Tree Magazine shows some of the more common computer file extensions
  • Microsoft Works 9, discontinued in 2008, was a word processing software using the WPS format file extension, WPS versions 6-9 open in Microsoft Word 2007-10. Previous versions of WPS should open in older versions of Word like 2003, XP(2002), etc. It’s always best to save the file in the originating software to a compatible format using the File > Save As or File > Export menus selecting the destination software format.
  • Office 2007 and 2010 adds an X for XML (Extensible Markup Language) DOCX for Word, XLSX for Excel, and PPTX for PowerPoint. Microsoft Help Introduction to New File-Name Extensions explains these changes and how to make conversions from and to previous versions.
  • Microsoft Office Support explains how to convert from Works WPS to Word DOC/DOCX, Adobe Reader PDF/Portable Document Format and Open Office formats.
  • There are various programs online that claim to convert from one format to another, but I don’t have any experience with them. If you do have this experience, consider writing a short article for our blog, or send relevant links of reviews.

File Synchronization and Backups

This question has been discussed at many meetings with general agreement to use online backup sites like Carbonite or Dropbox. There are many other online storage sites like some ISP’s (Internet Service Providers), Windows Live, Norton, etc. FamilySearch Wiki has a Dropbox article that explains how Dropbox synchronizes your family and other computer files. Keeping backup files up to date on an external hard drive is another way to synchronize data files. Another long time synchronization technique is Windows Briefcase introduced in Windows 95 for synchronizing laptop to desktop files using a specified folder where you save all your files that need to be synchronized. The exact installation process is specific to which version of Windows is being used, current version is Windows 7, but is easily found online including YouTube videos. It’s always a good idea to do an online search to find pros and cons of any of these methods. At one time floppy drives, ZIP drives, burning to CD’s, then DVD’s, even flash drives have been used for backups. They all have advantages and disadvantages.

LOCKSS – Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe – keeping multiple copies in multiple locations is the key to protecting paper and digital data from natural and man made disasters. The popularity of affordable multi-terrabyte hard drives makes them the most economical  way to store massive photo and video libraries that go along with preserving family histories for long time storage. All Windows operating systems have built-in backup software, in addition to normal backups, Windows 7 creates an image of the operating system and all installed software. Some external hard drives provide additional backup software, while Norton Security Suite currently provided by Comcast to their customers also has backup capability to any attached drives as well as their Free 2 GB of online  backup. The possibilities seem endless!

The New Family Tree Maker 2012 with TreeSync™ may resolve the synchronization issue for users since it now allows easy updates to your tree online from your desktop, laptop, even iPhone or iPad — and then simply click to sync so your tree is always up to date, no matter where you or your loved ones access it next.

Flip Pal Scanner


  • One member demonstrated the Flip Pal mobile scanner bought at the FGS (Federation of Genealogical Societies) conference at Springfield, Illinois, with double sided glass for a clear see through scanning operation. It uses batteries, a possible drawback, uses barely visible light producing excellent scans with software that reassembles multiple scans into one image for further editing in other image software. Here are 10 YouTube videos and a review on Tip Squirrel .
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