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.