Genealogy Research Tools News to Me

Recently, I attended WebSearch University in Washington, D.C. The conference is geared toward research professionals of all ilks. I attended pre-conference workshops on public records and finding business information in the “deep web” (those sites that aren’t indexed/searchable by services like Google). I learned about how to search without leaving a trace. There were sessions on Big Data, MOOCs, multimedia searches and other online resources. I was attending on behalf of the engineering company that I work for full-time, but a list of tools that I could put to use as a genealogist came to light as well. Here’s just some of what I learned:

Death Indexes Online — divided by state; online searchable death indexes and records. (Interesting side note: I found out about this resource in a session taught by a Department of Justice researcher who LOVES to use FindaGrave to search for next of kin in cases where there are assets to disperse.)

Western States — have an ancestor who lived in The West? This BYU-established resource may have marriage information for them.

GenWed — marriage records arranged by states

VitalRec.com — comprehensive database providing access to birth, marriage and death records.

Geonames.usgs.gov — this place name repository provided by the USGS can help you identify the county in which a place your ancestor lived in or frequented is located

NETROnline — find what public records are available online for a particular location

Public Records Search Directory — another resource divvied up by state and topic

Google tip — search for your ancestor by searching for “lastname firstname” AND “firstname lastname” to make sure you are finding all records (a good tip for other databases too)

Another Google note: I learned that Google disabled the use of the tilda (~) for searching back in June when it did away with almost 70 different services. At an earlier genealogy conference, I had learned to add ‘~genealogy’ to search terms on Google to help narrow results to only those that would be relevant to genealogy. According to Google, their built-in synonymizer should provide the same function, but you lose control over the search by turning it over to them. Just a word of caution.

Black Book Online — a site geared towards private investigators that may also prove useful to forensic genealogists and others trying to find living relatives

EInvestigator — another site that serves PIs; check out their link for genealogy resources

How’d I Do in January?

Okay, okay, okay. It’s only February and I’m already behind on my January goals. But I do have good reasons.

First, let’s grade my progress. Here are the goals I set for myself for each month:

  • Processing one document/source per week (if not more) into my RootsMagic database. I got off to a good start the first week of January and added several items to RM. So, if you take the average, yes, I did add what comes out to one document per week.
  • Writing at least one blog post per week. I only posted a few times in January. Explanation on why below.
  • Reading one genealogy book per month. I read several chapters in a book on archival preservation, but didn’t quite make it all the way through. Not the book’s fault — I am taking the blame on this one. I need to really set aside more time for reading.
  • Exploring one new technology per month. I actually have this one covered! More on that below.
  • And taking one genealogy-related trip every two months. I didn’t go anywhere in January. We’ll have to see what February holds.

On to my excuses (I think they’re pretty good, actually):

1) I was without my laptop for two weeks — I dropped it off with a local company to be suped up with a new hard drive, operating system, Parallels, and to have my old hard drive turned into an external drive. Could I have done all this myself? Probably. But it would have taken me even longer and no guarantee that everything would be working right. Unfortunately, the guy assigned to work on my computer caught the flu and was out for several days. That and waiting for parts to arrive meant a lengthy delay before I got my computer back. I relied on my iPad in the interim, but I really don’t like blogging on it. The good news is I have the laptop back now and it’s super-fast and up-to-date.

2) I started a new job. I’ve been getting used to a new routine and schedule and my personal genealogy projects have been on the back burner since the middle of the month as a result.

3) I picked up new client genealogy work. For the better part of a week, when I got home from the day job, I was on the clock for a client. This left little time to work on my own genealogy. The good news is that the client wants me to do more work on the project and I had a couple more inquiries from other potential clients as well. The bad news? I will still be delaying work on my own genealogy into February, which will probably mean I won’t be posting much new material on the blog.

Now, for the new technology tool that I learned about this month. I needed to create multi-page PDFs for my client research project. You can do this in a program like Adobe Acrobat, but I found out about a different, free way to do so (as long as you have a Mac). You can use the Automator tool to create a script that will string together individual PDFs into one larger file. Read more about how to do it here.

Let’s see how I do in February!

My 2013 Genealogy Re-Boot

2013 will be a year of big change for me. I’m starting a new job closer to my home and one of the results of this will be recouping hours each week previously spent in my car commuting. I’m hoping this will translate into more time that I can put towards genealogy.

Additionally, I’m in the midst of a genealogy re-boot. While I’m choosing to blog about it at the beginning of the New Year, it’s actually been underway for a couple of months (even before I knew that I’d be taking the new job). I’ve been slowly making changes to my blog and how I do research, in the hopes that I will be a better, more organized genealogist in the long run.

Steps I’ve taken so far:

1) most notably, was the re-design of my blog, which was mostly cosmetic, but was needed to make my content more accessible and pleasing to view;

2) I updated my versions of Crossover and RootsMagic, as I plan to start using RM more (more on that later);

3) I started blogging more often, using the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories as a convenient way to bring more content to my blog (this also helped me to make use of many photos I recently acquired; more on this later as well);

and 4) I added a small “cousin-bait” paragraph to blog posts about my ancestors, inviting those who may share those ancestors to be in touch with me. Folks still find my blog by searching for terms that make it painfully obvious that they share, or at least are searching for, an ancestor of mine, but still, they don’t make contact. However, I have started to hear from cousins more often (one of whom cited the cousin-bait paragraph in his email to me), so I think this was a worthwhile update to make.

I have many more changes that I hope to implement. Among these is to set goals for things I’d like to accomplish each week or month, such as:

  • Processing one document/source per week (if not more) into my RootsMagic database. I have been neglecting this database entirely over the past year, and that’s bad because it’s the database where everything is sourced properly. My Ancestry.com family tree allows me to discover lots of potential resources, but not everything on there is proven fact. I’m using RM to create a fully sourced tree.
  • Writing at least one blog post per week. I’ve been neglecting this blog, but I hope to have lots of new content thanks to my revamped genealogy plan.
  • Reading one genealogy book per month. I am a book collector, but haven’t done very well when it comes to reading those books. I’m excited that I will have more time and energy to put toward this goal.
  • Exploring one new technology per month. This doesn’t have to be genealogy-related, necessarily. Things are changing so rapidly these days and there’s so much out there that I want to explore.
  • And taking one genealogy-related trip every two months. I won’t be able to travel to far-flung conferences this year, but I’m hopeful that I can do things like attend local APG chapter meetings, FHL events and the like.

There are some specific things I want to have completed by the end of 2013:

  • Become an expert Evernote user (I’ve only been using this tool haphazardly until now).
  • Explore FamilySearch more, especially FamilySearch Wiki.
  • Clean up the surname organization of files on my computer.
  • Re-organize my office. I brought home a lot of stuff from my old office and so I need to find a way to store everything in my home office and still be able to use the space.
  • A renewed focus on photo organization and actually using my photos, not just archiving them. My focus over the past several years has been to try and preserve as many family photos as I possibly can. I want to start using these photos more, however. I have many of them in scrapbooks and other items that only I can enjoy. I want to explore ways to share the photos more easily with family members and others.

I’m publishing this post as a way to hold myself accountable for the above goals. I’ve been in a holding pattern over the past year when it comes to my own personal genealogy research. This is partly due to a lack of time, thanks to my old commute. However, the biggest problem was that I didn’t have a plan. I expect that I’ll be revising the above plan as I achieve goals, acquire new skills and learn about new resources. I’m looking forward to sharing my new discoveries with you.

No Need to Adjust Your Screen

No need to adjust your screen. After three years, I finally decided to give Bayside Blog a new look.

I had many reasons for doing so. The old blog layout was so skinny, in terms of the column width that was allotted for actual blog post content. All photos appeared very small. The header graphic was very large and pushed a lot of the content too far down the page. Most importantly, I heard that it was not a very accessible design for those with vision problems. The text was a light gray (a setting I couldn’t adjust) and hard to read.

The new look, I hope, is more visually pleasing and I know it will be more flexible in terms of what I want to be able to display. The wider main column will especially be helpful.

I’ve added a couple of new features. There is a link to my Facebook page for my house history section of my business. I also added a widget that displays the complete list blog post categories, for easier browsing.

Please let me know what you think!

Album Rescue Project: Album Two, Photos 1-6

Finally delving into Album Two of the Album Rescue Project. The disappointing thing so far is that the first several pages are devoid of photos — someone removed them at some point. Footnote Maven warned me that antiques dealers often do this because they think they can make more money selling the photos individually than in the albums. I’m not sure if that was the case here, but it makes me wonder who and what were in those photos.

Here is the first photo in Album Two:

Album 2, Photo 1

This photo was glued onto the page, and so I scanned it by flipping my Flip-Pal scanner over onto it. I wasn’t happy with the scan though — there seems to be a lot of reflection off the paper. I’d had some luck removing glued images from pages in Album One and so I took a chance, but disaster happened. The photo was too stuck to the page in one area (the lady’s hat) and it tore. I’m despondent — it’s the first time that’s happened to me. In retrospect, I should have cut the photo, backing and all, out of the page instead. Lesson learned.

The next photo was attached to the page using photo corners and so came up a lot easier.

Album 2, Photo 2

Here we have our star from Album One, so my original hunch that these two albums belonged to the same person or family was correct.

Album 2, Photo 3

This photo was too big for the bed of my Flip-Pal scanner, so I scanned it in two sections and stitched it together using software. Isn’t it a great image? I love the expressions on their faces.

Album 2, Photo 4

Here we have our star and her friend that made many appearances in Album One. Not sure if the gentlemen pictured have appeared before though.

Album 2, Photo 5

Here’s our star again with a couple of gentlemen, one of whom also was in Photo 4. Hmmm… a new beau? It’s definitely not the same guy whom I assumed to be her boyfriend in Album One.

Album 2, Photo 6

And here’s the same gentleman with a helpful date written on the photo. Unfortunately, that’s the only notation written on any of the photos so far.

For those who followed along with Album One, I’ve been making a list of all the codes in Album One (no codes so far in Album Two). Hoping to see some patterns emerge when I study the list more closely.

Learning to Use My Flip-Pal

It’s been a while since I posted. April is always a very crazy month for me and that carried over into May this year. Things have settled down a bit now though and so I’m returning to the Album Rescue Project.

One of the reasons it was hard for me to get to this project lately is that all I had was a flatbed scanner that was inconvenient to use for such a long-term and large project. I decided it was finally time to buy a Flip-Pal scanner and I’m already falling in love with it.

I can work on this project practically anywhere now. I’m currently camped out on my couch, watching TV.

I was really impressed by the stitching software that comes with the scanner. I’ve got the same capability with my flatbed scanner, but never used it, so I didn’t know what to expect. One of the first photos in Album 2 was too big for the Flip-Pal. I scanned it in two pieces and then opened them with the EasyStitch software.

That’s all I had to do! When the software opened both images, it automatically stitched them together and they came out perfectly (see below). I’m sold.

My first stitched photo using my Flip-Pal scanner.

Social Media Makeover for Genealogy

Last year, at the Association for Independent Information Professionals conference, Mary Ellen Bates gave tips for completing a one-day marketing makeover. With a tip of the hat to her, here’s how you can apply the same principles to your social media profiles on the web to maximize exposure to those who may be looking for you (or at least looking for the same ancestors as you).

Blogging

If you’re reading this site, you know about blogs and may even have one. I’ve done a pretty thorough job of tagging my posts with the surnames that are mentioned, but other bloggers have gone a step further and created a list of the surnames they are working on all in one place. I decided to do the same and used my Ahnentafel chart as a starting point. While I was at it, I did a refresh of the about page for my blog and republished that.

One additional step I plan to take is to add my email address to all of my posts that deal with ancestors. Too often, I see folks find my blog by searching for common ancestors, but they don’t reach out to me. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to be in touch.

Facebook

I’m friends with dozens of other genealogists on Facebook and I happen to know that at least a few of them have found distant relations on this social media site. I’ve even made a few such connections myself. I don’t have my profile set up so that just anyone can see everything. You have to be friends with me to see most of the information about me. So what if a cousin is seeking me out on Facebook? Would they be able to find me?

You can see how your Facebook profile appears to others by clicking the “View As” link under the little gear icon on your profile page. That will take you to the version of your profile that the public sees. From there, I clicked on “About” to see what information was visible there. I noticed that my blog address was missing from my Contact Info box for one thing. I also noticed that I’m not taking advantage of the About You box — I’m considering listing my surnames there too.

Twitter

Twitter has been a great tool for connecting with other genealogists, but its Profile page barely allows you to list more information about yourself than you can include in a tweet. All the more reason to make sure you’re making use of all of the available fields — name, location, web site and bio. The Bio field only allows up to 160 characters. Currently, my web site field points to my business site. I added my personal blog address to the Bio field.

LinkedIn

I don’t really spend a lot of time on LinkedIn to begin with and I haven’t tried to use it as a cousin-seeking tool. I do link to most of my blog posts from LinkedIn, however, as a way of sharing my latest research. Has anyone else used LinkedIn to connect with distant relatives?

Pinterest

I recently joined Pinterest and have been using it mainly to collect recipes, but it also can be used for genealogy. I did a quick check and Google does include it in search results, so be sure to tag your pins with appropriate surnames or create boards about particular surnames, to make it easier for others to find you.

If you’re interested in searching Pinterest for your own surname(s), I recommend going to Google instead of using the Pinterest search interface. In the Google search bar, type “‘surname’ site:pinterest.com” and it will bring up just results from Pinterest, but in a list format that’s a bit easier to sort through.

So, the above are the main sites I use to connect with others. I’m sure there are similar tips for freshening up your presence on other sites. Why not take a few minutes to make sure your profiles are up to snuff?

RootsTech 2012: My View

It’s been almost a week since the end of the RootsTech 2012 conference and I’m finally able to get some thoughts down about my overall experience there. I’m adding my voice to dozens of other bloggers who also attended. I’m not going to try and cover the whole thing — just the highlights and a few low-lights for me.

Highlights

One of my favorite things about these events is meeting the other attendees and this year did not disappoint. I finally got to meet several genealogy bloggers that up until last week I’d only known online and we all got along swimmingly. If nothing else, I think any conference can be a success from an attendee perspective if you get out there and meet the other attendees and network. I especially enjoyed getting to know my roommate, Footnote Maven. We had a really great time and looked out for each other throughout the conference (we both were hobbling around on injured feet).

Kudos to the conference organizers for scoring free breakfasts at the Radisson for attendees staying there. What a money-saver! I don’t know if that’s a standard part of the room package that the Radisson offers to event planners, but this attendee was thankful and used almost every one of my free breakfast coupons. The breakfast buffet was a great opportunity to run into other genealogists too. I’ve never had as much face time with Thomas MacEntee as the two mornings I was up early enough to find him at breakfast. What a treat!

The RootsTech app for smartphones and other handheld devices was a huge help to me — it was great to have the schedule at a glance (both the overall schedule and my own personalized session schedule). The alerts sent through the app weren’t all that effective — I usually noticed them too late and I think whoever was adding them was doing so as an afterthought rather than as planned missives. Better luck next time on that front. I was using this app on my iPad and it worked great, but I fear I would have found it to be too small on my phone, so I didn’t download it to that too. I’m also not sure there was a way to have your information from the app on one device automatically update on another.

I attended one or two really, really stellar sessions. Both covered advanced photography topics. Most of the other sessions were useful and educational, but there were one or two stinkers. Now we’re starting to get into the low-lights section, so let’s introduce that header, shall we?

Low Lights

Back to the sessions. There were a few problems here that started even before we all arrived in Salt Lake City. The session schedule for this conference was announced very, very late. I made a cursory schedule of sessions that I thought I might like to attend a few days before the conference and then shifted things around as the syllabi became available.

I think the schedule and the syllabi need to be posted much sooner and I think it would be a good idea for the conference planners to try and track what sessions folks intend to attend (the app is perfect for this!) and plan their spaces accordingly. Some of the sessions I attended were more than standing-room only. The rooms were uncomfortably packed and hot.

There were nearly 1,000 more attendees at RootsTech this year than last year and yet it felt like they were trying to cram us into the same number of sessions and spaces. Not physically possible. Shortly after arriving in SLC for RootsTech, I learned we were sharing the Salt Palace with another event — I think the conference organizers need to invest in more space next year!

On the content side of things, some of the presenters raced through too much material for their 60-minute slots or covered material that didn’t really align with their session descriptions. I’m going to join the chorus of attendees asking for more advanced session topics next year.

Another low light for me was the vendor area. It was expanded from last year and it was a little bit easier to navigate around (at least after the first day; more on that later). I’m not usually the type to want to learn about new software at a vendor booth — I’d rather visit their web site or download a trial version. If I’m going to visit a vendor booth, there’s gotta be something hands-on for me to play with that I can’t try out from my living room couch. Several other attendees bemoaned the lack of actual gadgets available at the conference. With the exception of Flip Pal, I don’t think there were any gadgeteers there. At a tech conference. Lame.

Back to navigating the vendor area on the first day of the conference. There were a few booths I actually did want to visit, but I couldn’t reach them. Why? Because they were mobbed by other attendees. But these weren’t attendees actually interested in the services those booths were promoting. They were just trying to get their passports stamped by enough vendors to win a t-shirt. Again? Lame. Nix the whole passport thing — if 2 percent of the folks getting those passports stamped had a valuable conversation with any vendor, I’ll be surprised.

My other complaints have more to do with the Salt Palace — they need to beef up their wireless signal availability. Also? Please get some better food options.

Am I likely to attend RootsTech next year? Probably. The registration fee has been reasonable. It’s right next to the Family History Library, which on its own is worth the trip. So long as I can keep networking with my fellow genealogists, I’ll be willing to fly out there. But I do want to see a few things improve for next year. Here’s hoping the organizers are listening.

Stay tuned for one more RootsTech post (my greatest hits — facts, tips and tricks that wowed me).

RootsTech 2012, Day 3

I ate nachos way too late last night and hence was awoken by very strange dreams early this morning. But the early bird gets to breakfast with Thomas MacEntee, and I also got to meet Chris Whitten of WikiTree. Caroline Pointer joined us as well.

I was able to attend this morning’s keynote talk by the Ancestry guys led by CEO Tom Sullivan, and they showed some really promising demos of things to come from that site.

Next, I attended Is Your Ancestor Hiding in This Picture? by Patricia Moseley Van Skeik of the Public Library of Cincinnati. This was a follow-up to her talk last year about the 1848 panoramic daguerreotype of Cincinnati. This year, she showed the results of their research into the various buildings and businesses pictured. Really good, inspiring stuff for this photo researcher.

Then, I attended the fold3 overview and learned a lot of new ways to use this service. Their Training Center features videos by Laura Prescott (she also wrote a lot of the collection descriptions).

Check out fold3′s listing of all resources, which shows the completion status of digitization for each collection. Go to the information page about a collection to search or browse just that collection.

You can browse by conflict on the homepage, which is very handy for eliminating irrelevant records.

When you are in a set of search results, use the Watch feature to send you alerts when possible new records are found for a particular person at a particular place.

You can check out which other users are adding information to pages for particular people or annotating particular records and connect with them. You also can upload an image about a person that’s related to other docs and/or their page on fold3. Anything that users upload is free for others to view.

One really nice feature of fold3 is the ability to create memorial pages. Users can create pages for places and organizations, not just individuals.

I had a nice lunch with Linda McCauley, Jenna Mills and Caroline Pointer at Blue Lemon before skipping the last session to get in some last minutes of research at the FHL. That was not going so well, so now I’m back at the hotel, watching my Terps. Will be heading out later with a LibraryThing friend who lives nearby.

Stay tuned for more posts from me including my best-of tips that I learned at RootsTech and my overall thoughts on this year’s event. Something for me to work on during the long flight tomorrow.

RootsTech 2012, Day 2

After breakfast with Footnote Maven, Elyse Doerflinger and Denise Levenick, I spent the morning at the Family History Library. After lunch, I finally attended a couple of sessions at the Salt Palace.

The first was Genealogical Uses for QR Codes, by Thomas MacEntee. I have used QR codes on things like posters at work, but was interested to hear more ideas about their applications in genealogy.

The session was recorded, so I assume it will be available later. This was Thomas’ first time giving this presentation.

QR stands for Quick Response. QR codes should link to robust content such as video, census pages and family trees.

One application that is just getting off the ground is QRmemorials.com, which provides QR codes that can be applied to gravestones and link to online memorials of the deceased.

Among the genealogical applications for this technology:

  • Store source citations
  • Turn your biz card into a QR code
  • Store your surname list, family trees, research databases, citations
  • Include photo info on photo sleeve

Some things to keep in kind:

  • Give the QR code image a name that makes sense so you can find it more easily later
  • The more info, the bigger the image. It’s best to host your information online and then make a link from the code
  • Be careful what information you make available. Do you want anyone to be available to see it?

The next session of the day for me was Google Toolbar and Genealogy, by David Barney of Google. I was already aware of a lot of the items he covered, but here is what was new to me:

- Put ~genealogy at the end of your search string for more genealogy-related search results (this tip courtesy of Dan Lynch). The tilda tells Google to include words like genealogy in the results.

- Add a date range like so: 1827.. 1888 (also courtesy of Lynch. I really need to get his book)

- When searching images:
In the search bar, click on the camera and upload an image to find similar images

- The Chrome browser has a screen capture extension that allows you to edit the capture with tools like blur, drawing and text.

Now, I’m resting up in preparation for a wild night at the Family History Library: Geneabloggers Radio, Who Do You Think You Are?, and research!