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!

I Just Registered for RootsTech 2012!

Did you hear? RootsTech 2012 registration is now open! What’s more, you can register at a bargain price of just $99 now until Saturday. Find out more here at my friend Amy Coffin‘s blog, We Tree. She’s also an official RootsTech 2012 blogger, so be sure to follow her!

Why should you attend RootsTech? RootsTech 2011 was an amazing experience, bringing together genealogists of all experience levels and developers who create technologies for them. I made so many new connections and learned so much. I cannot wait to go back for more. Also? It’s in Salt Lake City! Mecca for genealogists. The Family History Library is right across the street from the conference venue.

Tuesday’s Tip: YourList

A few months ago, I posted about a site called SearchTempest.com that allows you to search across eBay and CraigsList by geographic area and topic. Recently, a reader commented about a different site of the same ilk: YourList, which searches local classifieds and other shopping listings.

I was intrigued by the fact that YourList recognized my location as soon as I brought up the homepage. You can change the location from the homepage as well. A search for “genealogy” brought up two listings in my area, including a yard sale offering “40 years’ accumulation of stuff!”

I haven’t tried it out with any surnames yet, but I thought I’d post about this resource to see if anyone else has had luck with it!

Tuesday’s Tip: Expand Your Google Search Horizons

The default number of results per page that Google returns is 10. But how often do you click through to the ensuing pages? When you’re searching for someone on the web from their Ancestry.com profile, if this setting is the default, often 10 results is all you get. You can fix this though.

You will have to make a choice. Is it more important to you that Google tries to guess what you’re typing and brings up results as you key in your search terms? This is called Google Instant and you must turn off this feature in order to return a higher number of results per page.

To do so, click on the little gear on the Google homepage (it’s next to your name, if you’re logged in to Gmail or another Google service). Select ‘Search Settings.’

Under Google Instant, select the radio button for ‘Do not use Google Instant.’

Now you should be able to select how many search results you’d like to have appear under the Number of Results section. I selected 100. Think about how many more results you may peruse and discover if they’re all on one page!

Note: I first learned about this trick from super-sleuth Cynthia Hetherington at one of her training sessions and changed my search preferences accordingly several months ago. I noticed that with the recent Google redesign, the number of search results per page defaulted back to 10 per page, so I changed it back. Now, when I search for someone on the web from their Ancestry.com profile, I get lots more results at my fingertips.

Tuesday’s Tip: Inserting Images in GoogleDoc Spreadsheets

For the Friends Album, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of the various images and data I’ve assembled about each. One of my goals was to be able to sort the spreadsheet by location, photographer, etc. Imagine my frustration when I first sorted the spreadsheet and the photos didn’t sort with the rows.

I had initially populated the spreadsheet with images by using the menu command Insert -> Image and then resizing each image to fit the designated cell. I’m not quite sure why this command exists, because it was pointless.

After the sort didn’t work, I did some research on how images really should be included in Google spreadsheets. I found this page, which was very helpful. Instead of using the menu command, using this formula embeds the image in the selected cell:

=image(“URL”)

It was a pain to go back and repopulate the spreadsheet with images the proper way, but at least now I can sort the rows and the photos will move with them!

New Tools for the Friends Album

I’m almost halfway through with blog posts about the 75* people featured in the Friends Album. I felt I needed to do two things to better wrap my head around these folks, where they’re from and how they are connected.

Firstly, I created yet another map in Google Maps, showing the locations for each of the friends featured so far (previously, I created a map showing the locations of the photographers I’ve found in Danbury, Connecticut). The photos were taken in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. A large number were taken in Danbury, Connecticut. Yonkers, New York, and New Milford, Connecticut, also were the sites of several photos each.

Friends Album Photo Location Google Map (links to Google Map)

It’s good to see the geographic dispersal of these photos, but I wanted a way to more intricately compare the data I’ve compiled from each image. I next created a Google spreadsheet that shows (where known) the names, locations, approximate dates, ages, photo types and assorted notes, along with thumbnail images for each photo.

Friends Album Google Doc Spreadsheet (links to spreadsheet)

I still have to go through and try all of the different sorts and filters available to me now that I’ve populated this with data. I’m trying to figure out if I can link the thumbnail images to their larger versions on the web. I’ll continue to update the spreadsheet as I investigate each photo. The link provided here will automatically update with my changes. I invite folks to check out both of these tools and let me know if you notice any patterns that I might be missing.

* Originally, I counted 75 people in the album, but now have found a couple of people with more than one photo included. As of now, the number of distinct individuals is probably closer to 70.

Follow Friday: Luxegen

I had the pleasure of meeting Joan Miller at RootsTech last month, but I’ve been following her on Twitter and on her blog for a long time.  I encourage you to do the same.

Shortly after RootsTech, Joan posted about SEO (search engine optimization) for genealogy. This was one of the most helpful blog posts I have ever read. I immediately put into practice some of her tips on my own web site and in my APG directory listing. It’s paying off. I’m already seeing an uptick in hits to my business web site and this has netted me sales and new clients. Thanks, Joan!

Changing with the Times

I’m going to wax philosophical after all of the talk since RootsTech about a genealogy technology revolution. I recently got to thinking how genealogy isn’t the only realm in which big changes are happening (and I’m not just talking about the Middle East either).

The most recent copy of American Libraries from the American Library Association includes an article titled “Is ALA Ripe for Rebellion?” (January/February 2011, page 84). The Special Libraries Association recently went through an “alignment” process that included an attempt to change the name of the association.

In both of the above instances, the associations are struggling to keep up with the times and the needs of their members. Technology is playing a big role in the challenges they are facing and the solutions available to them. I think genealogy is experiencing a similar shift and the RootsTech conference brought the issue front and center.

When change is on the horizon, it can be frightening and it’s natural to want to batten down the hatches and try to weather the storm, but change also can be a good thing. Consider this quote from Thomas Jefferson included in the above American Libraries article:

“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical… It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” (p. 85)

Indeed, when a thunderstom rolls through, it usually clears the air and leaves the ground ripe for new things to grow. Many in genealogy may view the recent talk since Rootstech as a disruptive thunderstorm, but the changes brewing will lead to many new possibilities and opportunities.

Sorta Wordless Wednesday: Face Time

I created this short movie using the Movie from Faces function in Picasa, which I learned how to do at RootsTech in Geoffrey Rasmussen’s session on “Digital Images for Genealogists”:

"Face" Movie created using Picasa -- links to YouTube video.

As Geoffrey pointed out in his session, the photos in the video overlap using the eyes in each photo as the focal point.

This didn’t work perfectly. I was annoyed when I loaded Picasa onto my computer and it wouldn’t let me upload photos just from one folder — I had to let it search either my entire computer or a large subset.

Also, a couple of the photos that I uploaded to Picasa weren’t recognized as faces (even after retouching to try and make them clearer) and so weren’t included in the movie. It was still fun to try out this technique though. I think it’s a neat way to show the progression of time in a person’s life. I could have added captions to the photos and recorded audio to go with the movie as well.

Here’s how to create your own version:

  1. Install Picasa on your computer.
  2. Upload the photos you want included in the movie.
  3. Select the photos and then select Create–>Movie–>Movie from Faces in Selection
  4. You can preview the movie, edit the photos and reorder them. Once you have it to your liking, click Finish Movie and then you can export it or upload it to YouTube.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Technology

This is the first time I’m getting to participate in the 2011 blogging series 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History, developed by Amy Coffin of We Tree. This week’s topic is technology:

“What are some of the technological advances that happened during your childhood? What types of technology to you enjoy using today, and which do you avoid?”

The first thing that popped into my head was personal computers. When I was 5, my family got a Commodore 64 for Christmas. It had a cyan-on-blue screen and if you had software for it, it either needed to be hand-typed from a software book or there were cartridges that could be inserted into the back of the keyboard (I had a few educational games like this). Eventually, we hooked up a cassette contraption to it and then a 5 1/2″ disk drive much later on. I didn’t have Atari growing up — this was it.

Well, not long after purchasing the computer, my mom made the mistake of leaving me alone with it. My 5-year-old brain decided it would be a good idea to see what happened if I pressed every single key on the keyboard… at the same time.

The result wasn’t a good one and the Commodore was soon non-operational. My mom finally dragged a confession out of me. She was none too pleased, but luckily, the computer was still under warranty.

However, there was a lesson to be learned here. Mom said she was going to take me with her to the store to return the computer and I was going to have to tell the sales clerk exactly what I did to break the computer. I was mortified and dreaded the trip. I vividly remember standing in line at Juvenile Sales in Wheaton, Md., as Mom started to explain to the clerk that we needed to exchange the Commodore for a new one.

And then, magically, the clerk, no questions asked, just took the proffered destroyed computer and receipt and said “No problem, I’ll just go get another one.” Mom didn’t even have a chance to segue to my confession to the clerk. It all happened so fast that we were walking out the door with a new Commodore in a matter of minutes. “You really lucked out, Missy,” Mom said (not using what was to become my nickname, but more in a “Listen here, lil’ Missy,” type of way).

Phew!

Another technology that became quite popular as I was growing up was VCRs. I remember the day I came home and Mom had hooked up one in our den. The first thing my sister and I watched on it was a rented videotape of various “Tom & Jerry” cartoons. Earlier this weekend, while surfing IMDb, I came across a series that we used to rent all the time: “Fairy Tale Theater” with Shelley Duvall and various guest stars. Oh my gosh, it’s so weird to watch these now!

Of course, VCRs are now ancient history and I don’t even have a DVD player hooked up right now. I just stream everything. The leaps we’ve made in my lifetime have been amazing to see!