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.

RootsTech 2012: Day 1

Day One of RootsTech got off to a great start with breakfast with Denise Levenick, Footnote Maven and Jenna Mills.

The opening session included reps from Google speaking on new search capabilities for genealogy that got everyone excited. I’m sure my fellow bloggers will cover this in more detail.

The first topical session I attended was on Mining Newspaper Archives, presented by Tara Carlisle and Kathleen Murray. You can view their slides at goo.gl/6rt7D

The session started out with a whiplash-inducing overview of metadata and the digitization process.

Interesting takeaway: in the 1990s, standards for microfilm were finally adopted; anything before that probably won’t be very good.

They focused on Chronicling America (newspaper directory, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov), which has lots of information about a publication. Especially helpful among the data is who is holding each publication.

The Portal to Texas History also was covered. This free resource allows you to search or browse by county. Use the calendar view to choose a specific date. I can’t wait to use this to search for my Bexar County ancestors.

In the session on Using Advanced Photographic Techniques to Recover Content from Damaged Documents, presenter Jack Reese gave a fascinating look at how to salvage information from burned or water-damaged documents. It was great to see that there is hope.

The talk started with a brief overview of NARA 1571, guidelines for paper documents i.e. maximum temperature of 65 degrees F and 35-45% humidity. Keep documents at least 3 inches off ground and not below grade. Storing documents in a room with vinyl tiles or carpet subjects them to off-gassing and fumes, which is a no-no. Likewise, unpainted concrete walls create dust.

By working with the non-visible spectrum of light, researchers can view documents in a way not possible with the naked eye, or even most cameras and scanners. You can use a filter on a camera to show reactions that are not in the normal spectrum in order to see missing text. For instance, shooting fluorescent light onto a document can cause faded ink to emit photons that can be seen using a special camera and lens. Astronomy-related cams will have the right type of filter for doing this kind of work.

The speaker also discussed forensic document analysis, like that on CSI, but this has its drawbacks. The devices are small and really don’t accommodate large documents, resolution is limited and it is expensive.

So, he and his colleagues set out to build their own gadget, a document-restoration camera that is a combo of a specialty camera, lens, filters, and lighting.

He showed us examples of inspecting documents using infrared and UV examination. It was very cool to see how the writing is revealed!

This type of work requires an investment in equipment and some learning, but this can be done at home.

The final session I attended today was on The Power of Evernote. I have used Evernote before to keep track of citations, but that’s about it. Tevya Washburn and Kurt Francom taught us how to create Notebooks, tags, and use the browser extension to clip from web.

One of the great advantages of using Evernote is that if you clip from a page, it will be available to you even if the page goes away online. Text is searchable within Evernote, even if it’s in a clip.

The interface is slightly different for tablet users, but Jenna Mills of SeekingSurnames said you can still email clips from your iPad to your Evernote account.

The speakers suggested journaling in Evernote and tagging your daily posts for a summarized history by individual, for instance.

One of the best tie-in apps they discussed was If This Then That, which can even pull in Gmail emails and blog posts.

Go to fiddlerstudios.com/evernote for the presentation, links and more.

That’s it for now! Time for dinner and a comedy show!