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THIS AND THAT GENEALOGY TIPS ON THE INTERNET & E-MAIL



WOODARD'S ATTACHMENT PRIMER - THE BASICS - Gary and Janet Woodard, Houston - dwo498@hal-pc.org:

Attachments are a great way to exchange information via e-mail when they work. They are a great source of frustration when they do not work.

What I would like to cover here is the bare essentials, the basics, that you will need to know to make your life with e-mail attachments easier. Hopefully there will be enough information that you will be able to take care of the specifics of your individual situations.

FIRST RULE OF ATTACHMENTS:
In order to open or view an attachment, you must have installed on your computer the very same software that was used by the sender to originally write the file.

There are some exceptions to this rule, but they should be considered to be of no consequence. Just accept the fact that if you do not have the same software as the sender, you are probably not going to be able to open or view the attachment. There are some work-arounds which will be discussed later that will work in some limited cases.

To illustrate this general rule of thumb. If someone sends you a file that was created in Microsoft Word, you will need to have Microsoft Word on your computer in order to open view the attachment. If it was originally created in Excel, you will need Excel on your computer in order to open view the attachment.

Sometimes it will require that you not only have the same software on your computer, but it will require that it be the same version. For example, if the sender creates a file in Microsoft Word version 6 and you have Microsoft Word version 4, you will not be able to open view the file. Assuming the opposite, that the sender created the file in Word version 4 and you have Word version 6, you will be able to open the file.

The general rule of thumb here is that a newer version will usually open an older version, but an older version will not open a newer version. The reason for this is the same as why the software vendor gives the package a new version number. They add features generally to the features in the previous version. The newer version will have all of the features, and support all of the features in the older version. But since the older version does not have all the features of the newer version it will not be able to import these features, and will therefore abort the file without opening it.

CROSSING PLATFORMS - PC-MAC AND MAC-PC:
"Platform" is a word used in computereze to indicate the computer system being used.

The two most common platforms are: IBM's Personal Computers, or PCs as they are generally called, including the PC clones made by other manufactures; and the Apple Macintosh. PC's and Macs are not the only platforms, but for home use they are the most common.

E-mail is in ASCII format which is a very simplified text format that consists of only 255 characters including the lower and upper case letters, numbers, punctuation marks, carriage returns, a smiley face and even a bell sound. Although there are some very slight differences in the way that the PC and the Mac handle ASCII, both platforms can read it with no major problems. This is what allows us to send and receive e-mail so easily regardless of the platform used by the sender and the recipient. The genealogical wonder file, the GEDCOM, is also in ASCII format which allows porting (computereze short form meaning either import or export) across platforms.

Software programs on the other hand are not in ASCII format, they are much more complicated. They have bold and italics; handle a multitude of different fonts, even different size fonts; do complicated things like handle tables, multiple column layouts, mathematical formulas and even tabs. In other words they are much much more sophisticated. This is usually referred to in computereze as "native format." Every software program has it's own specific "native format" which is designated by a three-character file name extension.

The operating system of PCs and Macs are not compatible. A file written on a PC can not be read by a Mac and a file written on a Mac can not be read on a PC. Here again, there are no absolutes in the world of computers and someone is going to take me to task on that statement. The PowerMac users will say that they can read the PC disks. Okay, if that's correct they will have no problem with handling PC files as attachments. But the rest of the world will have problems trying to cross platforms with attachments.

The only sure cure is to have a file that can be converted to ASCII and sent as a text or .TXT file. This is a truly lousy choice. There are software programs that you can buy that will emulate the other platform and allow you to read the attachment I suppose after you have loaded the Mac software on your PC. It just depends upon how much trouble and expense and hard disk space the attachment is worth. I question there real value when converting to ASCII or snail mailing a hard copy is an option..

So my advice is: unless you are willing to turn yourself into a computer nerd with the contortion abilities of a Chinese circus acrobat - just accept the fact that the two platforms are incompatible and find another way to exchange the information. The conversion doesn't really sound like a viable solution to one who does this all for fun!

EXTENSIONS - ARE VERY VERY IMPORTANT:
This is the key to attachments. Please let me repeat that statement. This is the key to attachments! What is referred to as the "extension" is the part of the name of the file that follows the period. All files written for PCs have a file name that ends in a period and then three characters. These last three characters are called the file name extension.

Every piece of computer software writes files with different extensions. I can not tell you what extensions are used by your own software. But you can go into FILE MANAGER/EXPLORE. depending upon whether you have Windows 3.x or Windows 95, and look at the names of the files written by your various software packages and get an idea of the extensions on the names of the files that you have saved.

To illustrate, Microsoft Word writes files with the extension .DOC, Excel writes files with the extension .XLS Word is of course a word processor and Excel is a spread sheet. I can not open an Excel document using Word nor can I open a Word document using Excel. They are entirely different types of software programs.

You can try this yourself on your own computer. Open up your word processor and attempt to open a file from your genealogy software. One of two things will probably happen: (1) your word processor will abort the file open, or (2) you will get a message like TEXT ONLY?, say yes, and you will get a screen of nice little rectangular boxes. What is not likely to happen is that you will be able to read the information. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - IF YOU DO THIS DO NOT - ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SAVE THE FILE FROM YOUR WORD PROCESSOR - IF YOU DO YOU WILL HAVE LOST YOUR GENEALOGY DATABASE - ON SECOND THOUGHT IF YOU WANT TO DO THIS, COPY A FILE FROM YOUR GENEALOGY SOFTWARE INTO ANOTHER DIRECTORY/FOLDER BEFORE YOU TRY THIS!!!!!!! Do not ever SAVE a document that you have forced another software to open. It destroys the ability of the creating software to ever open that document again. If you want to save the document always, always do a SAVE AS and give the document a different name before you hit the OKAY button. Someone is going to mention that you could just backup your genealogy software before you do this. That, of course, is true, and should be done, but then you have got to restore the database, isn't it easier just to copy a single file and then delete it when the experiment is over?

Every software package writes files with different extensions. In order to open/read the file will require that you have a software that writes those same extension, and in most cases that means having the very same software as the sender. I don't wish to appear to harp on this subject, but it is absolutely critical that this is understood.

Most software packages do not write files with only one extension, but there is a primary extension which is really the file that you saved. The other files are ancillary files. Word processors generally do not write a lot of different file extensions but when you get into spread sheets and databases you will find that there are dozens of ancillary or helper files associated with your primary files.

Your genealogy software is a good example of a database that writes multiple files. I am sure that if you look at the directory/folder where you save your research files you will find that there are probably twelve or more files associated with each family database. Not all of the information you put into your genealogy program is stored in one file. It is very likely that marriage information in particular is stored in a separate file. Actually the marriage information is just the date place information and the codes for each of the individuals. The names of the couple are not stored at all, they are just links to the original personal data on each. This will hold true for any "link" for instance child/parent . For this reason, it is not possible to send a primary file from your genealogy software to someone, even if they do have the same software on their computer. You would have to send each and every file that is associated with that particular family database in order for the person on the other end to make use of the information. Fortunately, genealogy software provides another way of exchanging information, the GEDCOM. (GEDCOMS will have to be a separate primer. All of the same rules apply to GEDCOMS as to other attachments with the exception that you can cross platforms and software programs. In other words you will be able to send or receive GEDCOMS with people on PCs or Macs and with different software programs.)

Some genealogical software packages, The Master Genealogist for example, do write a single backup file which does include all of the information in the primary as well as the ancillary files. Assuming two people exchanging information have the same software sending this single backup file as an attachment is far superior to exchanging GEDCOMS. Frequently genealogical software will be able to handle information that falls outside of the standards for GEDCOMS. In that case the back up file will contain that additional information whereas the GEDCOM from that same database will not.

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE:
We now that we have the first rule of attachments, you must use the same software to open the attachment as was used to create it. We also have a basic understanding of file extensions. Now the question becomes, how can we use this knowledge to make attachments work for us. There is a very simple answer - prior knowledge.

What you do prior to sending or receiving an attachment can add immeasurably to your success. What prior knowledge do you need to do this?

(1) You need to be familiar with your own software. In some cases you will need to know what version number of a software package you have. Open up your software program and click on the HELP icon and you will get a drop down menu with the option of ABOUT (what ever the name of the software). Click on this option and a screen will come up giving you the name and version number of the software being used.

(2) You have to be familiar with the extensions (the last three characters of the names of the files) that your software writes and reads.

(3) Communication with the sender/recipient.

PRIOR COMMUNICATION - PRIOR COMMUNICATION - note the word PRIOR. The very most important rule of prior knowledge, and this can not be to heavily stressed: You have to communicate with the sender/recipient to learn what software they have that will read/write files with these same extensions.

As anyone that has suffered the frustration of trying to open an attachment without success can tell you - it does absolutely no good to send or receive an attachment if it can not be opened. Yet every day on the groups and lists this same question appears - I got a file with the extension .XXX how do I open it? Who is more likely to know the correct, note correct, answer to that question better than the person who sent the attachment? Of course it is now post knowledge rather then prior knowledge!

Another very important rule is - DO NOT send an attachment to anyone without their prior consent. First this is considered bad netiquette (computereze for etiquette on the Internet). There are several reasons, briefly: some are using services that will not handle attachments; some have limited mailbox space; some are paying by the minute for connect time. But the most important reason is to be sure that the other person wants the information in the attachment - and of course that they have software that will be able to open the attachment.

It seem obvious that both the sender and the recipient are going to have e-mail so send a query concerning the information in the attachment and the software used to create the original file.

The recipient will need to know:
(1) What type of software was used to create the file. Was it a word processor, spread sheet, database, genealogy program or something else

(2) The name and the version of the software used to create the file

(3) What the extension is on the file.

(4) The size of the file.

Once the recipient has this information, they can let the sender know if they have software that will handle the attachment before both have wasted their time and effort in sending and receiving it.

If you are a recipient of an e-mail attachment and do not have the above information, simply drop a post back to the sender and ask for the specifics that are required. Who is going to have more information or more correct information than the sender?

SOME WORK-AROUNDS:
This is addressed mainly to persons exchanging genealogical information. Occasionally you will find people using a database other than a specific genealogy program or a spread sheet to record their genealogical information. Since both of these are fairly rare, I will not cover the limited work-arounds that I am familiar with for databases or spread sheets. Since almost all genealogical research out side of a specific genealogical program are done in word processors, I will cover only word processors in the work-arounds. As I mentioned before GEDCOMS are a special case as they generally are portable into any current genealogical software without the use of a work-around.

When the recipient gets the above mentioned software information from the sender and sees that they do not have the correct software to open the file; maybe, just maybe, all is still not lost. Here's where the communication may save the day.

A lot, actually most, software packages will, if forced, write to the format of other software packages. That sentence got a little convoluted so let me explain.

Microsoft Word, as I said before, will write in its "native format" a file with an extension .DOC. Let's say for sake of learning that I have some information in a Word version 6 document that you feel would possibly shed light on your family research. Also let's say that you have the older Word version 4. Earlier I said that I would be able to read your version 4 documents, but that you would not be able to read my version 6 documents. That is still true, but only so long as I send you the file in version 6 "native format."

In our prior communication I learned what version of Word you had to work with, therefore I know that if I send you a Word version 6 document, it will be useless to you. So I could just e-mail back that all was lost, sorry about that.

That's not what I am going to do, because I am familiar with my software, I know that Word version 6 will also write to the Word version 4 "native format." What I am going to do is to open the file that I want to send you as an attachment and then SAVE AS and choose the version 4 "native format." That is the file that I will send to you, and because it is in the same format as your version of Word, you will be able to open it and hopefully find valuable information for your family research. By knowledge of my software and by prior communication, we found a way to send you the attachment that was a success rather than a frustration.

See how the rules of prior knowledge have turned a potentially frustrating situation around from a no win to an easy success.

Now let's take this same scenario one step farther. Let's say that I learn from our prior communication that you do not have Word, you have Ami Pro for a word processor. Before I would say all was lost, not being familiar with Ami Pro, but knowing that most current word processors will read/write several popular "native formats." I would first look to see if my version of Word would write to an Ami Pro format, it doesn't. Then I would write you and ask if Ami Pro would read any of the Word "native formats' and if so exactly which ones. Between this back and forth communication, I can almost assure you that we will find a format that I can write to and you can read from. Again, by communication, we have turned a no win into a successful exchange of attachments.

For another step deeper into the abyss. You tell me that you do not have a word processor. I would tell you that you can log onto the Microsoft Web Site and down load a free program called Word Viewer. Once you have Word Viewer installed on your computer, I can send you the attachment and you will be able to view it in Word Viewer. This will allow you to see the information as though you had a word processor. Oh Oh! You have only e-mail, you do not have Web access. I can then tell you that if your mail box is large enough, I will download the program from Microsoft and send it to you via e-mail Yes, you can even send computer programs as attachments to e-mail. With a little acquired knowledge and the willingness to communicate a no win can become a success.

What I hope that I have gotten across is that attachments are a wonderful tool and with a little acquired knowledge and some detailed communication they can add greatly to your genealogical research. I have dozens of disks of genealogical research. I am more than happy to share any of this information with anyone that feels they might benefit from the information. I am sure there are thousands of people out there just like me. But I can guarantee you that I am not going to set down and retype all that information into an e-mail. For two reasons, okay I'm lazy! and formatting. Information sent as an attachment will retain the original formatting whereas copied into e-mail it can take hours to determine where the tabs should be - and then information is likely to end up in the wrong column which will skew the validity of the information.

I have only covered the very basics of exchanging attachments. I have not been software specific because I am not knowledgeable about the extensions on software other than what I own. I have used Microsoft products to illustrate my points, not because I push Microsoft, it's just because that is what I use and what I am familiar with.

I sincerely hope that you have found something of help here. I will be glad to attempt to answer any questions about attachments. I only ask two favors. Please put my name in the header to get my attention. I received quite a few e-mail every day and I delete a lot before they are read. So grab me before I hit the delete button. Please do not send me a note saying that "I got an attachment with the extension .ABC. How do I open it?" Probably I will not know and besides that I believe I have fairly well covered what to do in that event - communicate with the sender.


MORE FROM THE WOODWARDS:
Regarding unreadable e-mails - this is a common problem when trying to send lineage, census and other highly formatted documents via e-mail. In addition to being frustrating, it surely makes for the possibility of errors creeping in during the reconstruction. To solve the problem, you have to consider sending the information as an attached word processing file.

E-mail is in ASCII (ask' ee) format, which is a stripped down character set that is supported by most software programs and platforms. There are only 254 characters in ASCII. And since everything digital takes up a character, even a period and a space, there is no tab or table, bold, underline or anything fancy in ASCII. (That is unless you consider a "beep" and a "smiley face" fancy. In hindsight, I would imagine that the originators of ASCII are questioning some of their decisions.) The popular .TXT or text files are also in ASCII and will, like e-mail, destroy your formatting.

Sending anything in block paragraphs works great, but when you get to formats that include tabs, tables or columns it can be very difficult to reconstruct after transmitting in ASCII.

There are a couple of alternatives:

The first thing to do is to exchange available software information with the receiver. If you are each using the same word processor you can send your formatted file as an attachment in the native format of that word processor. This is the very best way to preserve the formatting you have done in your genealogy files. If at all possible take this as the first choice for a minimum of grief on both ends.

The second choice alternative would be to send the information as an attachment in as a RFT (Rich Format Text). This is a format that has been around for several years and is supported by all of the better word processors. This will come close to having the same word processor and sending in native format.

Even if you are not using the very same software, there may still be a way to exchange the files and preserve the formatting. Most better word processors will "read/write", "open/save as" in an emulated native format of several other word processors. If you do not have the same word processor, each of you can check to see if the word processors you do have might share the ability to write/read an emulated native format that you share. In other words, if you have Microsoft Word and your recipient has a software program that will not import MS Word .DOC files but will import WordPerfect files, you can send in the emulated WordPerfect native format from your Word and the recipient will be able to open the formatted document in their word processor even though neither of your are using WordPerfect. Go into the SAVE AS on your word processor and check all the emulated formats that you word processor will save files. This is pretty much a trial and error method of exchanging files, but if all else fails it's worth a shot.

The other thing to consider, regardless of which of the three alternatives you chose is the font that you use for your genealogy information. If the recipient does not have the same font installed on his computer their word processor will substitute another font. This is not big deal, but sometimes another font will throw off formatting and make your document difficult to read. This can usually be corrected by the recipient with a little bit of difficulty. For that reason it is a good rule of thumb to use New Times Roman or Arial for all of your genealogy files. These both come with windows and any Windows user should have them.


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