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: Local History News Alerts

This past weekend, there was a huge celebration in the town of Easton, Md., surrounding the placement of a sculpture of Frederick Douglass in front of the Talbot County Courthouse. Douglass once gave a very famous address on the steps of that courthouse.

The events this weekend got me thinking about the likelihood of similar events taking place in towns across the country. With all of the patriotic holidays during the summer, there are many celebrations of local and national history throughout the country during this season.

Local newspapers tend to preview such events with articles about area history. What a great way to learn about the hometowns of your ancestors! Might your ancestor get a mention? Here’s one way to find out: set up a Google News Alert for your ancestors’ hometowns and add keywords like ‘history’ to the search string.

Use the AROUND operator to make results more relevant. When I did a search for “San Antonio” and “history,” the results weren’t what I’d hoped for. I changed the search string to ‘”san antonio” AROUND(5) history’ (meaning where ‘history’ appears within five words of ‘San Antonio’) and got much better results.

You can add other keywords to the search string too. Were your ancestors farmers? Miners? Play around with other keywords to narrow your results.

I had trouble getting relevant results from one of my searches. You can click on Advanced Search to narrow the results by source location OR by coverage of a certain location.

I tried out a Google News search for one of my ancestral hometowns, Elizabethton, Tenn. I typed ‘Elizabethton Tennessee history’ into the search bar. The results varied from calendar items for workshops at local history landmarks to an article on local sports history. I set up a news alert so that future articles about the area come to my attention.

When you set up the news alert, you are presented with a number of options that will affect the results you receive. You can have the alert cover everything from blogs to video. I usually select “Everything” from the Type drop-down menu. Likewise, I also select “All Results” under Volume.

I have dozens of news alerts set up for my day job, and I find it can be overwhelming to receive all of those emails. Since I already have Google Reader set up for keeping track of genealogy blogs, I elected to receive these local history updates in my feed there, rather than receiving still more email.

Don’t forget to navigate around the Google News results using the menu on the left. I hit Archives and found articles about presidential candidate Herbert Hoover visiting Elizabethton in 1928. Another article, from 1957, detailed the homecoming of conjoined twins (joined at the head, no less), who had been successfully separated just in time to return home for Christmas that year. Note that some of the archive hits may require payment to view the full article, depending on the publication.

None of these stories involve my ancestors, but what great snapshots of local happenings over the years.

It also pays to search for county names and not just town names. I found this article on a flood that swept through Elizabethton (spelled ‘Elizabethtown’ in this article, which is why it didn’t show up in my previous search) in 1901 by searching for “Carter County.” Surely my ancestors were affected by this flood.

Another interesting find was this reprint of a letter by Abraham Lincoln.

Another bonus to performing these searches is you may discover newspapers you didn’t know existed. This could lead to more fruitful searching later on.

Tuesday’s Tip: SearchTempest.com

I’ve already discussed a couple of finds I acquired by searching eBay, but there’s another site out there that can offer a treasure trove of family items — Craigslist. This is a site for folks to post items for sale, services offered, etc. It has a notorious reputation for certain of its listings, but that shouldn’t deter you from looking for family heirlooms therein.

Craigslist can be hard to search because it will try to zero in to your locality. You can force it to bring up sites for other locations, but it’s hard to search them all at one time.

Enter SearchTempest.com. This site allows you to search for items on Craigslist and eBay across a wide geographic area.

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I entered my last name and zip code on the homepage, but set the “within” option to 3500 miles. This brought up search results on Craiglist from a variety of areas. It also gave me a list of localities where items were not found, which could come in handy in certain circumstances. I liked the way the Craigslist results were separated out by locality.

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I learned about this service at a training session I attended last week by AIIP member Cynthia Hetherington. Genealogy was not the topic of the session, but you never know where sites like this will come in handy in our trade!

Tuesday’s Tip/Disasters: Flat Roofs Always Leak

This post is part of 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History (focus this week on natural disasters) and the Geneabloggers Tuesday’s Tip blogging prompt.

Here is the 52 Weeks question: “Week 10: Disasters. Did you experience any natural disasters in your lifetime? Tell us about them. If not, then discuss these events that happened to parents, grandparents or others in your family.”

The closest I’ve come to living through a natural disaster was last year’s Snowmageddon in the D.C. area. If you’re interested in reliving that, please see the story, starting here.

This week’s topic got me thinking about what to do to prevent damage to your family history records and artifacts in the case of a natural disaster.

I concentrated on archives and preservation for my MLS degree. One of the classes I took was fascinating — we studied the various ways different types of materials can deteriorate — my professor actually collects damaged books and other items on purpose and brought them in by the cart-load to each class so we could see how problems develop and the effect different types of damage have on documents, etc.

Of course, we also talked about how to prevent such damage. Keeping valuable documents out of harm’s way is a biggie. Here’s the number-one tip the professor impressed upon us constantly throughout the class:

Flat Roofs Always Leak

And it’s true. They have not developed a fool-proof system for draining the top of buildings with flat roofs. I work in a relatively new building and they’re constantly chasing down the sources of leaks during heavy rainstorms. Once they patch one problem area, the water just travels to the next one. It always finds a way.

So how does this affect you? Consider where you’re storing your precious family photos, documents and heirlooms. Are you in a building with a flat roof? I suppose you could move, but let’s say you don’t have much choice in the matter — how can you protect your valuables from the inevitable?

There are plenty of protective containers for items like photographs, papers and books. Make sure you are storing items in waterproof containers. Are they in the attic? If yes, bad idea. Not only does that put items first in line for water damage in the case of a roof leak, but most attics do not have the temperature and humidity controls of other areas of a building. This also can lead to damage caused by moisture (the same goes for basements).

Let’s say you have scanned everything as an added precaution. Where is your computer? What would happen if it got wet and your hard drive was fried — make sure you are backing up regularly and in multiple ways. I recommend having an online back-up in the cloud, a back-up to an external hard drive and a back-up of items to CD or DVD. Now, let’s take it a step further.

Let’s say you’ve done all of that. What happens if even those DVDs get damaged? Consider making duplicates of your DVD copies and sending one or more to relatives in far-flung locations. This was a tip shared by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive at Rootstech. His advice was to send your back-up copies as far away as possible.