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

My First Jamboree — Part 3 (The Finale)

I was so torn as to which session to attend first thing Sunday morning. Megan Smolenyak? Stephen Morse? I opted for an update on RootsMagic 5 — I have RootsMagic, but admittedly don’t have a lot of time to devote to it. I selected it for maintaining a fully sourced family tree, so working with it is no quick exercise. I hoped the session would renew my¬† interest in the process. There were a lot of newbies in the crowd, so the discussion stayed pretty basic, but I was impressed nonetheless and was glad to hear that a reader is under development for the iPad, which should be released later this summer.

Next, I attended Thomas MacEntee’s session on Illinois ancestry. I didn’t get to go to FGS in Springfield, Ill., last year although I really wanted to because my Corley line called Illinois home for many years. His session was chock full of Illinois history and resources for seeking various kinds of records. I can’t wait to dig into all of the information he revealed to us.

The next session was by Curt Witcher and he was in full snark mode, which was really funny to watch. He gave us the perspective of the librarian/archivist on the receiving end of so many genealogists’ queries and their rambling stories. I’m not sure how many in the crowd were swayed to edit themselves next time they go to a repository seeking information, but his examples of research query letters (one 6 pages long!) were priceless.

The final session I attended was “The Frugal Curator” by Denise Levenick — I learned so much! Her how-tos for creating boxes and bags for preserving various family heirlooms will be so useful. I can’t wait for the release of her book later this summer.

Sadly, it was then time to finish packing and check out of my room. I made quick work of it, ordered room service for an early dinner and then turned in my room keys. I had about 2 hours before the shuttle would pick me up to return me to LAX. Luckily several genealogy bloggers remained in the lounge and so I had a great time hanging out with them until it was time to depart. Laughing with and learning from some great friends — what better way to end a conference?

My First Jamboree — Part 2

Saturday morning, I power-breakfasted at the hotel restaurant, said hi to Caroline Pointer and a few others, and then was off to a full day of sessions. Caroline, Tonia Kendrick and I started out at Elyse Doerflinger’s “Conquering the Digital Monster” session, which she rocked. I came away with several useful tips and apps to try.

Next, I attended Lisa Alzo’s very informative “Beyond the Arrival Date: Extracting More from Immigrant Passenger Lists.” Her presentation was excellent and I’m quite jealous of the records she’s been able to find for her ancestors. I also attended a rather interesting session by Michael John Neill on a probate case with several unusual aspects.

I stopped by the exhibitor hall to have Megan Smolenyak sign a copy of her new book, Hey America, Your Roots are Showing! We chatted about Easton for a bit as she has visited friends here before. She’s soooo nice! And such a rockstar. I attended her afternoon session on “Reverse Genealogy” — one of the best talks that I attended at the conference.

After that, I was a bit sessioned out though and could be found once again in the bar (imagine that!) with the usual crew. Amy Coffin and I went out to dinner at the Greek restaurant across the street. We ended up sharing a table with Stephen Morse and his wife — they’re such a great couple. I can’t say enough how much I enjoy getting to know everyone at these events.

Oh! I forgot to mention that on the first day of the conference, I also met Gena Philibert-Ortega and picked up a copy of her new book From the Family Kitchen, which she was nice enough to give me as a thank you for hosting a guest post from her on finding heirloom recipes and cookbooks.

My First Jamboree — Part 1

I just returned today from four jam-packed fun days at the Southern California Genealogical Society 2012 Jamboree. Why would a Marylander with no ancestors from Cali trek so far? Because she was jealous of all her friends who’ve attended and touted the event in years past. Plus, I’d never been to California before.

I arrived mid-morning on Thursday after a very early departure from Baltimore and tried to nap in my hotel room before hanging with my genealogy pals in the afternoon/evening. I say ‘tried’ because I wasn’t very successful due to some ambient noise in the hallway. Turns out we were sharing the hotel not only with this year’s American Idol finalists, who are on tour, but hopeful singers auditioning for The Voice 3. And they practiced. A lot. In their rooms. At all hours. Not all of them very well.

But I digress. I met up with several fellow genealogy bloggers in the lobby and bar that evening, include Denise Levinick, Amy Coffin, Thomas MacEntee, Caroline Pointer, Kimmy VonAspern, Randy Seaver, Lisa Alzo and Kathryn Doyle (hope I’m not forgetting anyone!). Kathryn and Denise had actually served as my welcoming committee as I first arrived at the hotel. We had a great time catching up, but I made an early night of it due to my lack of sleep.

I spent the next morning hanging out with a subset of the above group in the lobby of the hotel after having breakfast with Elyse Doerflinger. I also introduced myself to genealogy megastar Megan Smolenyak. I was ecstatic to run into Tonia Kendrick, whom I hadn’t seen since FGS in Knoxville in 2010. We had lunch that day and then Denise Levenick and I went to the conference registration desk to pick up our nametags and check out the exhibit hall before the first sessions of the conference. At some point during that day, I ran into Kim Cotton (or was it the day before?). I also finally got to meet Gini Webb. It’s so fun meeting folks I’ve only been in contact with over the web.

One of my favorite parts of the conference is networking with fellow genealogists, but there were sessions to attend. On Friday, I attended sessions on a genealogy case study and the impact of the Internet on genealogy. I skipped the last session of the day and instead was found in the bar with Lisa Alzo, Amy Coffin, Thomas MacEntee and many others who wandered in and out.

Carla Laemmle, on the right.

That night was one of the highlights of the conference — the Hollywood Gala. We were encouraged to dress to the nines, and many did. There were movie stars from days gone by on hand, including Carla Laemmle, who was in the cast of 1931′s Dracula. We had a lot of fun posing for a photographer while we gabbed and sipped sparkling cider.

More to come in a future post!

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, 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!

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!

Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference 2012

Today was the 2012 Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City. I had a great time seeing old friends and learning at the sessions.

The first session speaker was J. Mark Lowe. He spoke on creating an advanced research plan.

Lowe covered a lot of ground, including recommendations for several products to help you collaborate and report back to clients. He mentioned LiveBinders.com to create a three-ring binder on the web that can be private or public with PDFs, web resources, notes, etc.

Another suggestion was Oneeko (one echo) to share with up to eight users. ScreencastOMatic allows you to record video from screen with audio, annotations and animations.

On the research side, one tip that struck me was to look for doctor journals for evidence of births, etc.

Next, I listened to Thomas MacEntee talk about giving virtual presentations. He had a ton of advice on everything from gadgets to services to dos and don’ts (as a presenter and as an audience).

The last presentation I attended was There’s an App for That by Laura Prescott. She had a great idea to use iMapMyWalk, which allows you to add photos to a map and can be handy for walking a cemetery.

She reminded us that the Ancestry app features those infamous leaves, which allow you to check out potential records related to your ancestors.

I definitely need to check out DocumentsToGo, which features many useful tools like word count and others. It looks very handy.

Finally, I downloaded Photoshop Express. It’s free! I had no idea!

I skipped the last session of the day (I was feeling antsy and decided to take a gym break). Then, I headed over to the Salt Palace to register for RootsTech and met up with a bunch of friends that I had heretofore only known online: Footnote Maven, Elyse Doerflinger, Russ Worthington and Denise Levenick (whom I had met briefly the day before). Kim Cotton joined us too. We all went out for a great dinner at PF Changs and then several of us hung out in the lobby of the Radisson, gabbing and having fun. I can’t wait to see more folks tomorrow as RootsTech gets underway!

My Take on Genealogy Conferences

The GeneaBloggers community is abuzz about conferences this week. It’s only within the past year and a half or so that I’ve been able to attend national and local conferences, but here are my observations:

I’ve been thrilled with the quality of the information presented at every conference I’ve attended so far. Our community members have so much to offer each other and I have had a very hard time picking which sessions to go to more often than not because there are usually several offered at the same time that I’d like to attend.

I am willing to travel far and wide if there is more to do beyond just attend the conference in the location where it is being held. I’ve not attended NGS yet because it hasn’t been held in a location where I either had friends or family to visit or where I could do research. I attended FGS last year in part because I could visit my sister in Knoxville at the same time. RootsTech has the draw of being in Salt Lake City where the Family History Library is located. I would love to go to FGS this upcoming September in Springfield, Ill., because I have family history there and could do research at the same time. Alas, the timing won’t work with my schedule this year.

At local Family History Conferences held by the LDS church, the use of social media hardly gets a mention. At FGS/APG last year, the organizers regrettably asked attendees to refrain from blogging, tweeting or even having laptops open during many of the presentations. RootsTech got it right. They had a hashtag that attendees could use to Tweet about the conference and openly embraced the use of social media. I hope other events soon follow suit.

As with any type of conference, the part I value most is meeting and hanging out with other attendees. I often joke that I would come to a conference without any sessions if I had still the chance to meet and talk with so many diverse and talented people. I make a point of scheduling meetings and meet-ups at nearly every break and meal during conferences. Those opportunities are not to be missed.

I would love to have the opportunity to attend portions of FGS and NGS remotely, since I can’t make either one this year. I’d even pay for the privilege, especially if sessions were archived and offered after the fact. RootsTech webcasted many of its sessions and those who couldn’t be there in person flocked to their computers so they could take part too. This made the social media interactions that much richer and I think encouraged many more attendees to make an effort to attend next year.

For those who struggle with what to do with all of the material you accumulate during a conference, you might want to check out a series of posts I did after surveying folks on what they do with everything after they get home.