Smart Fields: Dates
One of the core tenets behind Origins has always been to make the life of our users just a little bit easier (at least the genealogy part of it, that is). One way we can do that is by writing software that does as much of the work for you as possible; taking away some of the drudgery of data-entry and allowing you to focus on other things that software and computers can’t do.
How does that apply to genealogy? Like it or not, a large part of modern genealogy is data-entry. We type endless information into our software and then run reports, look at it on screen, analyze it and try to make connections and fill in the gaps. Fortunately or unfortunately, though, computers are very literal. If you type one date in as abt 1900 and another in as abt. 1900, the computer sees them as very different things. Did you spot the difference? One has a period after “abt” and the other doesn’t. Unfortunately if you try to search for “abt 1900” the computer is going to ignore the second entry, the one with the period because it is not the same. Worse, if you try to sort information by that date, you are not going to get the results you expect. Here’s an example:
Imagine you have people with the following approximate birth dates:
And you try to sort a report by those dates. What you’d expect is this:
Everything sorted by year, regardless of how it was entered. That would be a reasonable expectation. But what you’re going to get is this:
Now it may not be that big a deal when all you’re looking at is 8 dates and no other information. You can easily see that all of the dates without the period are sorted and then followed by all of the ones with the period, again sorted within that group. But what if your report was 15 pages long with lots of other information in it? Then it’s not so easy to see what went wrong and adapt.
And that’s all just “about” dates. What happens to sorting when you throw in some exact dates, a couple “between x and y” and some before/after dates? Now things get really muddy. Not only do you need to remember whether you included periods, or whether you abbreviated “between” as “bet”, or “betw”, but also any number of other possible variations.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the software could enforce some consistency for you, and make it easier to get the information you want in the format you want it? Other programs offer some hints, or try to fix the data after it’s been entered in the form of “error reports”. We’ll still have error reports, But wouldn’t it be better if you could make sure the data was consistent and formatted the way you wanted as it was entered?
That’s where Origins‘ Smart Fields © come in.
Origins knows when you’re entering a date. So it helps you out. Instead of just a simple field where you can type in your information, Origins prompts you with some helpful guides. You no longer need to remember how you format your dates:
- Is it abt, Abt, abt. or Abt? (Or maybe you spelled it out – about or About)
- betw or between?
- 1900 – 1902 or 1900 to 1902?
On top of that, because Origins knows you’re entering a date and you’ve indicated a format, it parses the information and standardizes it’s internal format so when you sort, you can get this:
Notice that regardless of the format used to enter the date, Origins has sorted it chronologically. Take special note of the third and fourth entries. Because the third date could be as early as October 1901, Origins has sorted it before the fourth entry which has a date that can be no earlier than 10 Dec 1901.
How do Smart Fields © work? Easy. When you need to enter a date, Origins shows you this:
Right at the top, you’re given the choice for how you want to enter the date: Exact, Between, Before, After, etc. Select one of those and the field changes:
The benefit of this is that Origins can enforce consistency without you having to think about it. It also shows you in real time exactly how the date is going to be stored, and therefore how it will be displayed:
One thing that you can’t see here is that you can customize the date formats and abbreviations. Prefer not to have the period? Fine, you can change it. Prefer the date to be shown as June 10, 1903 or 1903-June 10? No problem. Make the change and Origins uses it for all new dates entered and any dates you had entered before the change.
Internally, Origins has parsed the date you entered into its consituent parts – Month, Day and Year, or whichever portion(s) you have provided. Now, we’re not claiming we can always be 100% perfect in our analysis of whatever you enter, but because we do the date parsing in real time and show you the results, you can make sure we got it right and adjust if necessary.
A few examples might help explain how this works:
|If you enter||Origins will interpret it as|
|7 May 1902||Month: May
|May 7 1902||Month: May
Year: 1902(if your computer is using US-English)
Year: 1902(if your computer is using British-English, Canadian-English, Australian-English, etc.)
|May 1902||Month: May
|1902 – May 7||Month: May
But if you miss the spacebar and enter something like “7May 1902” Origins is going to react by showing you ?????? as the date to be entered, alerting you to the fact that something went wrong and it can’t interpret your entry into a valid date. You can then fix it right away.
So stop thinking about how you need to format your dates and let Origins do that for you. We’ll also have Smart Fields © for locations, names and other fields. We’ll post details on those when they’re ready.
Origins Smart Fields © – coming soon to the best genealogy software on the planet.
As always, we’d love to get your feedback – either as comments here or in our feedback Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/heirloomfeedback/
Dave & Lil
PS: We haven’t coded this yet, but one other side-benefit of the Smart Fields © is that if your date entered could be impacted by the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars, we can let you know right away and take care of it for you.