Monday, December 31, 2007

Genealogy and Vista

In case you don't read the comments, time has passed and all genealogy programs use are now working with Vista.

Who Are Those People? - All Those Pictures

Going Digital 4

Scan all your old pictures. That's the first step. If you have many pictures think about scheduling an hour or two or three a week to the task until it is done. There's plenty of advice online as to how to do it. Select the method that is best for you and get busy. As you scan them name them in whatever system you are using. I name them by surname first name(s) description and then file them in the appropriate surname folder. Some people assign them numbers. If there are many people in the picture and you know who they are this is the time to make a text file with that information. I save it with same file name as the picture ending with ID. Thus the picture is jones john and family at 1876 graduation.jpg [or .tif] and the text file is jones john and family at the 1876 graduation ID.txt. Getting the pictures scanned should be a priority.

You probably should start the identification process as you are scanning because you may need the help of people who don't have forever left. Start with those with a few missing people and work up to those where you know only a couple of many or no one. Study the picture. Makes notes about what you do know in a text file you can save - date, location, event, who you can identify, etc. Share the picture and the text file with other researchers and family members. Great Aunt Nellie may not remember everything but she may recognize someone in the picture. Take a dozen pictures to her. Since she's not computerized you can take those you haven't scanned. [If she is send them by email.]

Set aside some time to identify pictures on a regular basis until you are done. In my case that will be the rest of my life.

Remember, your older relatives are your friends as are any older people who lived in the area where your family is from or who may have known the people in the photo for any reason. Researchers who didn't live locally may provide clues -- "looks a lot like Mary Jane Smith in this picture" or "don't know who they are but that is the old house at the homeplace in the background." Remember, none of us are getting any younger including those older relatives. This is something you should not put off.

I have a photo my mother clearly had all her adultt life. It's probably a high school senior picture and based on the clothing she is close to the same age as my mother. I don't know the person. My mother's relatives do not know the person. My mother's closest friends and high school classmates do not know the person. How did my mother get this picture and who is she? I intend to find out.

Unfortunately, just becase Great Aunt Nellie thinks it is someone you still need to seek other verification. I sent a picture to some older relatives. Two of them agreed as to some of the people in the picture and it seemed reasonable since these two relatives were actually in the picture. They should recognize the people, right? Unfortunately, several of the people identified were dead before those relatives were born. Later I realized some of those deceased people had children with the same name. Are those really the younger namesakes, a distinction blurred a bit by age? The investigation continues.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Securing the Data - Backup! Backup! Backup!

Going Digital 3

I live in hurricane heaven. I used to live in tornado territory. Some live where earthquakes threaten. Fire and flood can happen to anyone. Digital files are so much easier to protect from such disasters than paper files and books.

I keep all my files on external hard drives. I find it easier to have one hard drive for work files which are confidential, one for genealogy files, one for personal files, etc. but that's a preference. Having one drive would be easier for most people. I bought a small powered D-Link hub that efficiently handles seven USB items and takes up only one USB port on the laptop. Hard drives are getting smaller in size and larger in storage space. They also get less expensive almost daily. My WD Passport drives plug into any USB and do not require a separate electrical supply. They also fit in a large pocket, a purse, a briefcase, etc. I call them my "grab and go" drives. Several times a week they back up, independently, to a large portable hard drive. Once a week the large portable hard drive backs up to a MyBook hard drive. The MyBook is stored away from the computers and other portable hard drives.

With hurricanes you have plenty of warning if you are paying attention. It also works when you are going away for vacation. One drive goes to the bank where it fits nicely in the bank box. One drive is wrapped securely and goes into a secure container placed in what is deemed to be the safest place in the house along with other valuables. The small portables always stay with me. If I evacuate they go in my bag with the laptop. [What? Travel without a laptop? You are kidding, right?]

Backing up is a lesson you can learn the hard way or the easy way. Develop a system for backing up your files, then do it more often than you think is necessary and you won't learn the painful hard way.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Books - Will It Happen?

Going Digital 2

I had to remove all the books in my office so new carpet could be installed. It was a back breaking task that took several days. Along the way I noted, despite several moves and heavy handed weeding out, there were still books I don't need. I made piles of them. Now as I place the books back into the bookcases I am attempting to sort by subject and do further weeding. Since my dogs do not object to the disarray I can afford to take my time going through the books. Unfortunately I have a list of books I still want to purchase...

Books undoubtedly take up the most space of all my "necessary" paper. Obviously I have a computer which can play audio files including books and podcasts as well read many file formats. I also have Palm LifeDrive which can play audio books in several formats as well as read files in four or five formats -- making the available library of books and articles portable. There are many other devices that do that including some cell phones.

Several years ago through a promotion I got a copy of Val Greenwood's Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy in pdf, all 660 pages in the palm of my hand. A friend read parts of her copy on a plane during a long flight. I've read a bit while waiting in a doctor's office but, frankly, I don't like reading on a 2 1/2" by 3 1/2" screen all that much - and that's a larger than normal screen. Recently I purchased a 22" monitor for my laptop. That's more like it.

This year I purchased Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained in pdf. I confess, it is still no joy to read on the LifeDrive but it is incredibly handy to have that book with me while researching. And it is word searchable. Next June I am taking her course at IGHR so, after I registered, I bought the book too. In that scenario it is probably easier to have the book.

A couple years ago, as a project for a genealogy society, I tore apart some reprints they had made of old public domain books, ran them through a high speed scanner at a law office in Chicago, converted the output to pdf and made it word searchable. [This now doable in one step.] The final document was burnt to CD. The society now sells the CDs and doesn't waste space or money storing books to sell. They can literally print a book on demand. Digital books are attractive to sellers because they don't represent an investment in storage space or paper.

There are many already digitalized books online, often free to download, of interest to researchers. Google Books is a treasure chest of such books. And the word searchable benefit is hard to top.

Having the digital book -- and you can easily keep the whole book, not just a few pages -- on your computer means you never having to kick yourself for not looking up one more thing when you had the book in your hands 10 years ago.

Until your library is digital list your books on LibraryThing so you know what you have. I'm using a printout of my LibraryThing books to make sure I have all my genealogy books together as I put the office back together. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I still have more books than space in the bookcase assigned to genealogy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Swimming in Paper? Empty the Pool

Going Digital 1

We all have way too much paper and genealogists have more than most. I welcomed the opportunity to get statements, bills and other documents of day to day life electronically -- don't even have to scan, just rename and save. Any document not smart enough to come electronically -- tax bills for example -- are scanned as soon as paid. My personal life is now fairly paper free.

But what about all those records, carefully collected over many years, of our ancestors? I know a woman who has eight file cabinets of it -- one each for mother's maternal line, mother's paternal line, father's maternal line, father's paternal line and then the same for her spouse's ancestors. I hope she never moves or has a fire, flood or other disaster.

In 2002 my cousin decided she wanted to add more ancestors to her DAR membership. Mine lapsed but she keeps hers up. I advised I could do a couple without much effort so she chose those two. Guess what? DAR wants a copy of the vital records -- not the ones with an embossed seal but a copy. [More and more jurisdictions are giving up the embossed seal anyway.] I scanned all the documents, census records and vital records, printed them out and sent them to DAR. I saved the census records and other documents on my computer and tossed the paper. My cousin wanted to keep the vital records. As long as she is filing them it is fine with me.

I began scanning documents -- pages, including title page for citation, of multiple histories of counties where my ancestors were mentioned, pages from many books, stacks of email [carefully printed out] from other researchers on various lines, web pages [carefully printed out] with information or clues.

Publications are nice but generally there are only a couple items I want to keep. So I read them all, then I scanned the articles I wanted to save and tossed the paper. Why aren't journals available electronically? Some older ones are actually. You can obtain the NEGHR online as a member. The same is true of NYGBR which also has the complete collection on CD through 1960 available for purchase. There are undoubtedly others. I haven't developed whatever it takes to tear TAG apart just yet but I heard they have discussed making it available electronically too.

I have eliminated two file cabinets. I have one over sized file drawer with documents still to sort through and a stack of legal size papers. My legal size scanner is elderly and prefers to work only in small batches. As soon as that stack is gone it will be retired. After that it will more efficient to go to a copy service -- or to photograph them with a digital camera.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Genealogy and Vista

Have you updated to Windows Vista yet? I was forced to when I needed a new computer. Fortunately I have an older laptop running XP or I'd probably have jumped out the window. [It's only about 6" to the ground.] As it was I tore my hair out. Six months later I still prefer the old XP computer.

Several programs I use daily [not genealogy programs] do not work and were expensive upgrades, Adobe Acrobat Pro being one of them. There were some problems with hardware too including drivers for printers, scanners, etc.

I use TMG [The Master Genealogist]. The current version works with Vista with a few minor tweaks. I did check that out in advance of the install because in this case you need to know those things before installing. I also own Second Site, a program that works with TMG to create web pages. It works with Vista.

The latest version of GenSmarts works with Vista. GenViewer from MudCreek seems to work but GenMatcher does not. I like GenMatcher for comparing two GEDCOMS. Yes, I know other programs I own, including TMG, can do it but I like the way GenMatcher does it.

I have an old program which I believe is called Places. You type in a town name and state. The program tells you what county that town is in. Surprisingly it works just fine. I don't have a place in the US without a county in my TMG database because of this nifty program.

I use a Palm LifeDrive and GedStar Pro. GedStar Pro contains my entire TMG database in my pocket. Palm does not work with Vista and therefore neither does GedStar Pro. The only option is to switch to a Windows based PDA and a Windows PDA genealogy program. That's expensive, not to mention replacing all the other software I've come to depend upon in my 10 years with Palm. I also have several genealogy books on my Palm for reading on the go. I'm not giving it up any time soon.

Family Tree Maker says it works with Vista. I haven't tried it.

If you are considering a new computer it is going to come with Vista and you are going to have as much "fun" learning the system as you can stand. Vista is to XP as a dog is to a spider unfortunately. Make sure you know upfront what programs and hardware you need to replace, update or learn to live without. More importantly, make sure your genealogy software is compatible or can be made compatible with an upgrade or a tweak. Changing programs with database is not something to take lightly.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Ever buy a book while at an event or traveling only to find you already had a copy when you got home?

I attended IGHR [Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research] at Samford. I've been a member of Librarything for awhile but I've never really used it. Amy Giroux, CG, CGL, suggested using it to list your genealogy library. It is stored online and available to you from any computer so you can't forget it. If you are organized you can print out a list of your books before you go. If you aren't you can still print out a list when you get there.

It's free for the first 200 books. If you want to catalog your entire collection you can get an annual membership for $10 or a life membership for $25. You can make your catalog private or public. If it saves you buying one duplicate it is probably worth for that alone.

This is my genealogy library, at least what I have entered so far. I haven't done the local histories or surname books.

Of course, you are not limited to genealogy or any one subject. And there are other uses for the list -- for your insurance should something happen to your collection like fire, flood, tornado, hurricane for example.

I see another use for the catalogs. Perhaps you simply cannot find the book you need, particularly one of those local histories or a long out of print book. Maybe you can go Librarything, see who has the book and, very nicely, ask if they would mind looking it up for you in their copy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Free Stuff

The web is just full of free and useful tools. For example, you can calculate a person's birthdate from the date of death and age [commonly found on old tombstones] at: birthdate calculator.

Have you found a place but have no clue where it is? Try the Geographic Names Search from USGS.

The largest collection of free family history, family tree and genealogy records in the world. That's what the LDS Web site calls itself. It is constantly growing site without equal.

One of my favorite sites is by Stephen Morse. He has many, many "one step" pages to speed your search of public databases. A good many of them facilitate the search of immigration databases like Castle Garden and Ellis Island as well as manifests from some ports. There are also one step searches for census records and vital records which are online. In addition there are searches specific to Jewish genealogy.

How about the Civil War? [If you call it something grin and bear it - the information is generally filed under Civil War.] If your ancestor served you will want to check the federal government's Soldiers and Sailor System - a searchable database with a microfilm source citation for the information so you can look it up yourself. A state by state list of links [not necessarily free] is another source. Many of the individual state GenWeb sites have their own Civil War information.

Footnote is NOT a free site but it has several free databases of interest, notably the Pennsylvania Archives. They have the Civil War pension files from the National Archives although not in the free databases.

These are just a few of the freebies. Every day it seems there is something new. You can keep up with what's happening in genealogy by reading Dick Eastman's blog. It's free. Eastman has been doing genealogy online for close to 25 years. He'll keep you uptodate and introduce you to sites you never considered.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


The Census is often overlooked as an information source. It's much more than a list of the names of the people who lived at a particular location. It is particularly useful for people researching ancestors 1870-1930 as those censuses contain more information than earlier censuses. Also, if your ancestors were immigrants information on immigration was collected beginning in 1900.

For general census information, including the non population schedules, go to Dollarhide's Census Book and read all about it. However, the easiest way these days is probably to go to Heritage Quest or -- possibly both available free through your local library -- and view the census records. Be sure to check with your library -- many provide Heritage Quest to you from your home computer.

So what can you learn from the census? How about where your ancestor was born [state or country] and the birthplaces of that ancestor's parents? From 1900, how old precisely are they, including month and year of birth? When they arrived in the US? Were they naturalized? How long they were married on census day? How many children were born to the woman and how many are still living? Some questions were repeated in later censuses so you can compare. Earlier censuses provide less information. A complete list of the census questions is online at Census Finder. They also have downloads of census forms so you can do your own transcriptions. Remember, get the names of the neighbors too -- they may be helpful at some point.

There are other useful pieces of information on the Census Finder site so take some time to browse. They have, for example, links to free information regarding censuses and other listings, often to GenWeb sites. They have done a lot of work for you. It's a good place to start when doing research.

The Census Finder site is not limited to U.S. Censuses.

Using tools available to many free you can find and/or flesh out several generations of your genealogy in a few hours.