Saturday, January 30, 2010

Backing Up Your Genealogy Data

If tomorrow you lost all of your genealogy files - would you cry?  Or would you say, "no big deal" and then download your back up files?

If your answer to the above question was "cry", then it is time you change your ways.  It is time to make a plan to insure that your genealogy files are safe no matter what happens.  Adopting "better safe than sorry" as your motto is a must!

But how should you go about doing this?  Good news is that there are lots of options for all of your needs.

1.) Remote Backup Services:
A remote backup service is a great way to backup your files.  In this type of backup service, you select the files on your computer that you want to be backed up and how often you would like your files to be backed up.  The files that you selected are then backed up to a remote server.  If you need to use your back up, you can easily download your files from the remote server.
There are two popular companies that do remote backup services: Mozy and Carbonite.  I am a user of Mozy and I really love it.  I started off with a free account that gave me 2GB of space and I fell in love.  Once my needs increased, I upgraded to Mozy's $4.95 a month unlimited plan.  I love that Mozy provides me with peace of mind for very little money (which is important to a broke college student like me!).  I've also heard really great things about Carbonite, but I've never used the service so I can't personally recommend it.

2.) Flash drives/CDs
Using a flash drive or CD to backup your files is another popular approach.  I use a flash drive to backup my files once a month.  This is also really useful if I want to take my genealogy files with me without lugging around my laptop.  Since I use RootsMagic4 and have the RootsMagic To-Go program also on my flash drive, it is really easy to show my ancestors to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.
CDs are also a very popular way to backup your genealogy files.  It is extremely easy to do and the CDs are pretty cheap to buy.  Plus, the CDs are portable and can be sent to a friend or family member so that you have an offsite backup.
However, the downside with this method is that you have to manually back up your files - this can take time to do and can cause inconsistent back ups if you aren't careful.

3.) External Hard Drive
Using an external hard drive is another easy option to back up your files.  An external hard drive is an easy place to back up your genealogy files.  You can schedule to have your files automatically backed up to your external hard drive.  Another plus is that the costs of external hard drives has dropped over the last few years.  For example, you can get a 1 TB external hard drive for under $100 bucks.
However, the downside here is that the external hard drive is not away from your house.  If a tornado strikes your home and your external hard drive is destroyed, then you no longer have a backup.  Or if your house is robbed and your external hard drive is stolen, then you once again no longer have a backup.

But What Should You Back Up?  Everything that relates to your genealogy.  Therefore, that includes your database files, pictures, documents, bookmarks of your favorite genealogy websites, your blog and blog template, your notes - everything that relates to your genealogy.

Data Back Up Day is on the first of every month.  It is so easy to back up your files these days - so there is no excuse.  Back up your files!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Organizing The Paper Mountain (Part 3)

This third and final part of this series is dedicated to some specific suggestions, tips, and special circumstances that weren't covered in the other two posts.

What If The Paper Mountain Takes Up An Entire Room?
If your paper mountain looks like Randy Seaver's Genea-Cave, then this section is just for you.  In this case, it is all about breaking the mountain up into smaller, more manageable chunks.  For example, conquer one corner of the room or one bookcase or even just one shelf.  It will take a big dose of patience and some time, but no matter how large the paper mountain is you can tackle it!

Think of it this way:  When one of my professors assigns a long research paper of about fifteen pages, the first thing I do is break it down into manageable chunks.  For example, I'll make a deadline for myself to have the notes done by one date and then to write a certain number of pages every week.  By doing this, the huge research paper seems manageable.  I am no longer overwhelmed by trying to write a fifteen page paper.

How Do I Take Care Of My Original Documents?
The original documents that we collect in the course of our research needs to be preserved and protected.  Often times, placing these documents into our regular filing system is not a good idea because our filing systems are not made with all archival quality materials.  So what is a researcher to do?

Denise over at the Family Curator blog discusses a great way to keep our original documents safe while also having the information in our filing system.

How Do I Go Paperless?
The new trend these days is to go paperless.  People now pay their bills online, shop online, and even order pizza online.  This trend is not only environmentally friendly, but it also saves a lot of space and is really easy to back up.  It also has the added benefit of being uploaded onto the internet and therefore can be accessed from anywhere with internet access.

Here are some tips to make your move to paperless as easy as possible:

  • An excellent back up plan is absolutely necessary.  I highly suggestion a remote back up program like Mozy or Carbonite to ensure that your information is safe, even if your computer dies.  To be extra careful, you might also want to back up to an external hard drive.
  • The way you organize on your computer is very similar to the way you would organize your paper files.  The big difference is that everything will be in virtual folders.  There are other options to organize your computer files that should be explored before you decide to make the switch.
  • You will still have to take care of your original paper documents in an archival safe way.
What Should I Do With All The Paper Newsletters, Magazines, and Periodicals?
The answer to this question will vary from situation to situation.  But here are some questions to ask yourself to help you consider what to do with all of them:
  • Is there a website or database where you can access the information?  For example, Family Tree Magazine offers the past issues of the magazine on a CD.  Each CD has a year's worth of magazine issues.  An added benefit about this is that they are searchable.
  • When was the last time you actually looked through these newsletters, magazines, and periodicals?  If it was more than 6 months, then you probably won't be looking at them again.  Therefore, it might be worth considering donating these items to a genealogy society, library, or archive.  You can even donate them to a friend or sell them on Ebay
  • If there is an article that you couldn't imagine letting go of, then by all means make a scanned copy of it and keep it on your computer for reference.  Then donate the paper item.
For the magazines, newsletters, and periodicals that you are planning on keeping, you'll need to make a plan.  But what should you include in your plan?
  • How long will you keep each item?  Six months is a good rule of thumb.
  • Store these items in labeled magazine boxes.  That way you can quickly find the issue that you are looking for.
  • Stick to your plan.  If you say that you will get rid of that document in six months, then actually do it!  Your plan is useless if you choose not to stick with it.

The Number One Organizing Tip That Isn't Stressed Enough...

Organization is a P-R-O-C-E-S-S.  You must continually work at staying organized if you actually want to stay organized.  Just because you made your research space look all nice and pretty, doesn't mean that you are organized.

So instead of feeling depressed after that last paragraph, feel accomplished at the hard work that you've put into becoming organized.  Then get determined to make it stick by scheduling time every week, every month - maybe even every day, to keep you organized and feeling great.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Organizing The Paper Mountain (Part 2)

So how is the organizing going so far?  Are you feeling like your moving in the right direction?  In this post I will continue to give you step-by-step directions to conquering the overwhelming paper mountain.  If you want a refresher, read part 1 of this series here.

Step Four
Now that you have your divided piles, you need to consider how you will further sub-divide those files.  To assist you in figuring out how to do this, I have given you more questions to answer that are similar to the questions I asked you in step two.

  • Think of how you divided up your papers.  In your mind, picture how you think about the details of your ancestors.  Do you think about them by the types of records you have?   Do you think about them by individuals or couples?  Your answer to this question will determine how you will further subdivide your piles.
Step Five
It is time to sub-divide all of those piles you have.  I know - it is a huge pain.  I bet you're completely tired of this boring, mundane task of sorting all of your papers.  Trust me, this is the least fun part of the process.  But it is the most important and is the backbone of your organizational system.

Keep your eyes on the prize: A clean, organized space with every piece of paper in it's place.  You can find any piece of paper in a matter of seconds.  No matter how big or how small your space is, you enjoy researching in it.

Step Six
The next step is to assess what organizational supplies you will need to store your papers.  Remember the decision you made about using a filing cabinet and file folders or binders and dividers? 

But there are some very important things to consider before you go shopping:
  • Do you want to color code?  This is by far not a requirement, but some people really find it beneficial.  For the most part, I've only ever heard of people using color coding when they divide their papers by surname.  Most people will divide their surnames into four or eight categories; these categories correspond with your four grandparents or eight great grandparents.  The four or eight colors that you choose are really up to you - just be sure that these are colors that you can always find at a store.  You don't want to try to expand your organizational system someday only to find out that the colored supplies you need are no longer being made.
  • Do you want your organizational system to be archival?  This is not a cheap option but rather an investment  in your papers so that they will last into the future.  The archival safe organizational supplies that you use will keep your papers from yellowing and fading over the years (although, eventually the papers will yellow and fade - the point is to extend your paper's lifetime).
Step Seven
With your list of needed organizational supplies in hand, it is time to get shopping.  Go to your favorite store, online or in person, and buy the supplies on your list.

Here are some of my personal suggestions of supplies you will want to consider.  I am currently using or have used each of these products:
  • My aunt used to have this three drawer black filing cabinet.  The two bottom drawers are made for holding your files, while the smaller top drawer can be used to store the box of extra file folders.  The only reason she got rid of this cabinet is because she needed a bigger one.
  • If you don't have too many files yet, then I would recommend getting this stackable filing drawer.  I like these because they are lightweight and easy to store out of the way.  
  • Archival file folders are the way to go if you want to try and prolong the life of your files.
  • If color coding is your thing, then these colorful file folders are for you.
  • I love binders and I use them for just about everything from school, calendars, bills, and organizing my paper files.  I really like this heavy duty one inch binder, although you could always get a two inch or three inch binder.  However, if you use a binder that is more than three inches wide then it will be bee too heavy and the pages will be hard to turn.
  • If you get binders, you'll also need dividers.  I highly recommend getting over sized dividers so that you can see the divider even if you are using sheet protectors.  You also might want to consider getting archival quality sheet protectors to prolong the life of your files.

Note: I want to apologize for the delay in releasing this post.  I was planning on having all three released by today. However, life got in the way and my mom is in the hospital again.  But don't worry, I'll get part three released by Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Organizing The Paper Mountain (Part 1)

As genealogists, we collect a lot of data and with all of that data comes lots of paper.  At first the paper flow is manageable, but the paper monster quickly takes control.  So how do you tame the paper monster and get back in control?

Over the next week or so, I will be doing a series of posts that will help you gain control of the paper.  If you follow my advice then at the end of this series, you will have gained control of the paper monster.  Each post will have an easy to follow step-by-step approach to solving the paper chaos.  

Step One
The first step to solving any problem is to admit that you have a problem.  The excuse that you have "organized chaos" is not going to work here.  Don't feel bad either - this is an incredibly common problem that  every genealogist eventually faces.

Step Two
Before you can begin the process of organization, you have to establish a plan.  So to help you define what your plan is, here are some questions to consider:

  • How do you think of your ancestors?  Do you think about them in terms of surname, couples, or record types?  Your answer to this question will determine how you will divide your paperwork.
  • Do you like file folders and a filing cabinet or do you prefer binders and dividers?  Each method has benefits and disadvantages, so it is really a matter of preference.
Step Three
With your plan now in place, it is time to start separating all of your papers into piles.  This will probably take some time and lots of space - so get comfy on the floor or at the kitchen table and get busy.  The way the piles are organized is based upon how you think about your ancestors.  So organize your papers by surname, record type, or couple.

Today you're closer to your goal of conquering the paper beast.  In the next post, I will discuss buying your organizational supplies and go into more detail about the various options in organizing the paper work.

If you have any specific questions, thoughts, or comments then please leave me a comment or send me an email.  I am always open to any suggestions, comments, or questions.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Surname Saturday: Harney (Part 2)

I promised you that I would continue my search for Fredrick Harney.  This is Part 2, where I am continuing trying to break down this brick wall.  You can refresh your memory of what I've already found by reading Part 1.

The 1910 U.S. Federal Census:
Thanks to a comment left by Cynthia on part 1, I was able to find Fredrick Harney in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census. His household is as follows:

*Fred Horni - male, white, age 64, widowed, born in Germany, parents born Germany/Germany, immigrated to U.S. 1872, naturalized, black smith in own shop
*M. Foster - servant, female, white, age 54, widowed, born Germany, parents born Germany/Germany, immigrated to U.S. in 1884, housekeeper for private family

I knew Fredrick was hiding somewhere in the 1910 census. He is indexed as "Fred Horm", but when I look at the document, I see "Fred Horni", which is easy to confuse.

Based on the 1900 and 1910 federal census, Fredrick immigrated to America in 1872.  So I began my search on, but I've been unsuccessful thus far.  I'm noticing that my difficulty is that I only have a possible year of arrival.  I don't have any idea as to what port he came into, what port he left from, who he was traveling with, or a date.  I am lucky in the sense that I have a possible year, but I also know that Fredrick is an ancestor who is good at hiding.

Did He Marry Again?
I find it to be unlikely that Fredrick married again since he was not married in the 1910 federal census and he died in 1911.  However, it is possible that he married again but I have not found a marriage record to prove that.

The Final Resting Place
Over the last week or so, I began asking my mom some questions about what she knew of the Harneys.  I knew that in the 1980s she had taken a trip to Indiana.  She told me that she has seen the actual stone with Fredrick Harney's name on it.  I got so excited that I immediately grabbed the closest pen and paper.

Then I hit a brick wall again.  When my mom had visited the cemetery, it was in the middle of a snow storm.  As a native Californian, she considered the weather too extreme.  When she went to see the stone, she stepped out of the warm car and snapped a quick photo.  She wasn't concerned with getting a good picture - she was concerned with getting back in the warm car!

I've found the pictures my mom has taken.  While a stone can definitely be seen, the picture is taken from too much of a distance to read the words on the stone.  So close, yet so far away.

Still Stuck...
While I moved a few bricks, this is ancestor is still a brick wall.  If you have any further suggestions or comments, I would be greatly appreciative of any help you can bring me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

New Youtube Video: Big Annoucement

I just wanted to let everyone know that I have a brand new Youtube video out.  I'm hoping to make another one tomorrow, but with editing and all, it probably won't be up until Saturday or Sunday.

Here is the video:

To subscribe to my Youtube channel, please click here.

If you have any suggestions, comments, or video requests please email me.  I love hearing from people and talking with them!

Monday, January 11, 2010

5 Organization Mistakes To Avoid

At the start of a new year, everyone is making resolutions. One of the most common resolutions in the genealogy community is to finally get organized. While we may start off energetic, excited, and with the best intentions, things don't always continue that way. Before long, you're overwhelmed, bored, and frustrated with trying to get organized. Then the piles return, you can't find that birth certificate of Great Aunt Martha, and you feel like pulling your hair out or hitting your head against a wall.

In order to avoid this unpleasant situation, here are 5 organization mistakes to avoid:
  1. One size does not fit all. What works for one person may not work for you and what works for you may not work for someone else. You have to find a system that seems natural and makes sense to you. You might even need to tweak some systems to make them work for you.
  2. Look at the pros and cons of each organizational system you find. This one is very similar to #1. It is important to analyze the pros and cons of each system and pick the one that fits you best. Some things will matter more to you than it does to someone else. Some things will be deal breakers that aren't to someone else. Pick the one that fits your needs and your organizational priorities.
  3. It takes time and work to stay organized. But the time that you put in will be small in comparison to the time that you save. Being organized means that you can find what you need to find when you need to find it. You'll be more efficient and get more research done.
  4. Buy organizational supplies after you have assessed what you have and what your needs are. Too often people get all excited to get organized that they head straight toward the stores to buy supplies when they don't even know what they need. Until you've assessed what your needs are and figured out a plan, you can't go buying supplies.
  5. Reassess your needs every so often. Needs can change as your research progresses or as time passes. Therefore, every once in a while, you'll need to assess whether or not your organizational system is still working.
Happy Organizing and Happy Researching!

Further reading:

Disclosure: Some of the links in this blog post are to my Amazon store. When someone buys something from my store, I make an incredibly small percentage of the sale for referring a customer to Amazon.

Happy 101 Award

I've been awarded the Happy 101 Award. Since I've been awarded by so many people and I want to thank each of them, I am going to list them. Here is a big "Thank You" to the following people:

As part of accepting this award, I must list ten things that make me happy. So here we go:
  1. Breaking down a brick wall.
  2. Reading about someone breaking down a brick wall
  3. Going to genealogy conferences
  4. Meeting other genealogists and bloggers
  5. Talking with older relatives about our ancestors or themselves
  6. Facebook. I love Facebook.
  7. My cat. She is wonderful and my partner in research.
  8. Reading Genealogy Magazines
  9. Daydreaming.
  10. My boyfriend - because he always supports me.
I know I am supposed to pass this along to 10 other bloggers, but I can't keep track of who has/hasn't gotten this award yet. Therefore, if you are a blogger who hasn't received this award, please feel free to consider this award given to you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Surname Saturday: Harney (Part 1)

My great-great grandfather, Fredrick Harney has been a brickwall for me since I began doing my genealogy. His story has been a bit of a struggle for me to find because he is an Austrian immigrant and German/Austrian genealogy is not my strong point. To make matters more complicated, his wife has been married before, has kids from this former marriage, and rumor has it he married his daughter-in-law's sister. Are you confused yet?

I first came across the Harney family in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. The family is living in Hobart, Lake County, Indiana. The household is as follows:

*Fredrick Harney - white, male, age 35, married, blacksmith, born Austria, parents born Austria/Austria
*Margaret Harney - white, female, age 38, wife, married, keeping house, has Neuralgia, born in Prussia, parents born Prussia/Prussia
*Mary Harney - white, female, age 14, daughter, single, school, born Austria, parents born Austria/Prussia
*Frank Harney - white, male, age 10, son, single, school, born Austria, parents born Austria/Prussia
*Edward Harney - white, male, age 2, son, single, born Indiana, parents born Austria/Prussia
*Frederick Harney - white, male, age 6/12, son, single, born Indiana, parents born Austria/Prussia
*George Becker - white, male, Grandfather, age 76, widowed or divorced, cannot read or write, born in Austria, parents born Austria/Austria

Based on the above information from the 1880 U.S. Census, here is what I can know:
  • Fredrick Harney was born about 1845 in Austria.
  • Both of Fredrick's parents were born in Austria.
  • Fredrick is a blacksmith by trade.
  • Margaret Harney was born about 1842 in Prussia.
  • Margaret is ill with a disorder called Neuralgia, which causes pain in nerves for no reason.
  • Both of Margaret's parents were born in Prussia.
  • The two oldest children, Mary and Frank, were born in Austria.
  • The two youngest children, Edward and Fredrick were born in Indiana.
  • Based on Edward's age and place of birth, the family has been living in Indiana for at least 2 years.
  • George Becker is probably Margaret's father.

Next, I found Fredrick Harney in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census in Hobart Township, Lake County, Indiana.

*Fr Harney - Dad, white, male, born Nov 1846, age 53, widowed, married 24 years, born in Germany, parents born Germany/Germany, immigrated in 1872, been in U.S. 28 years, naturalized, blacksmith
*Fred Harney - son, white, male, born Nov 1880, age 19, single, born in Indiana, parents born Germany/Germany, day laborer
*May Hemstreet - daughter, white, female, born Sep 1865, age 34, married 9 years, has 4 children, 4 children living, born in Austria, parents born Germany/Germany, immigrated in 1873, been in U.S. 27 years, naturalized
*William Hemstreet - grandson, white, male, June 1892, age 7, single, born in Illinois, parents born New York/Austria
*Frank A. Hemstreet - grandson, white, male, Apr 1894, age 6, single, born in Illinois, parents born New York/Austria
*Margaette R. Hemstreet - granddaughter, white, female, Sept 1897, age 2, single, born in Illinois, parents born New York/Austria
*Frederick E. Hemstreet - grandson, white, male, Feb 1899, age 1, single, born in Illinois, parents born New York/Austria
*M.T. Hemstreet - son in law, white, male, Apr 1864, Apr 1864, age 36, married 9 years, born in New York, parents born New York/New York, book keeper

So based on both the 1880 census and the 1900 census, here is what I can know so far:
  • Fredrick Harney was born in November 1846 in Austria or Germany.
  • Fredrick Harney is a blacksmith by trade.
  • Fredrick Harney probably married his wife, Margaret, around 1876.
  • Fredrick immigrated to the U.S. in 1872 and is naturalized.
  • Frederick Harney was born in November 1880 in Indiana.
  • Mary (Harney) Hemstreet was born in September 1865 in Austria.
  • Mary (Harney) Hemstreet immigrated to the U.S. in 1873 and is naturalized.
  • Mary (Harney) Hemstreet has four children, all of which are born in Illinois.
  • Mary Hemstreet is most likely married to M.T. Hemstreet, born April 1864 in New York. The couple was probably married about 1891, possibly in Illinois.
I then began to wonder when Fredrick died. A search on in the database, Indiana Deaths, 1882-1920 gave me this find:

*Frederich Harney, Sr. died on 11 Apr 1911 in Hobart at age 65.

But this still leaves me with so many other questions:
  • If Fredrick really is naturalized, then where is his record?
  • Where is Fredrick and Margaret's marriage record?
  • Where are Fredrick and Margaret buried?
  • Where are the passenger lists that list Fredrick, Margaret, and the kids?
  • Where is Fredrick on the 1910 census?
  • Are the rumors true that Margaret was previously married? If so, then to who?
  • Did Fredrick marry a second time after the death of Margaret?

Stay tuned until next week, when I will write part two of this series of posts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Follow Friday - January 8th, 2010

I have never participated in Follow Friday before. I think that this can be a valuable way for the Geneablogging community to get to support one another and gives a chance for readers to learn more information.

Here are my suggestions for this week:

  • The Armchair Genealogist: I always learn so many useful tips from this blog. The title is wonderful and I definitely consider myself an Armchair Genealogist.
  • We Tree by Amy Coffin: Amy is a very talented genealogist. Her blog is very well written, humorous, and always educational. I'm expecting to "experience" the Family History Expos in Mesa, Arizona through her posts. Also, her 52 Weeks To Better Genealog series is going to be a fun learning experience to participate in.
  • The Educated Genealogist is another wonderful blog. It is always so full of humor and creativity. I love how practical she is when it comes to researching her ancestors and I learn a lot from her methods.
  • BONUS: Okay, this last blog that I will suggest is not a genealogy blog. Instead, it focuses on creating and maintaining a blog. I know a lot of people probably made a New Years Resolution to start a blog, and this is the perfect resource for any blogger. So check out Problogger for all of your blogging needs.
I encourage you to check out these blogs. If you enjoy what you see, then please subscribe to them or leave them a comment. Geneabloggers always appreciate the love.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why Internet Sucks (And How You Can Fix It) [Guest Author]

The image to the left is by TimOve, used under Creative Commons License.

Pretty controversial and ambitious title, huh? We all know -- especially those of us raised in the digital age -- that the internet is the harbinger of global inter-connection and the golden age of information. You don't need to go to a library anymore; just Google it. Most of us are also familiar with the downsides of this hyper-connection and information overload, but we don't reflect on how it affects our genealogy.

Is the internet good for family history? Absolutely. There is a ton of potential beginning to be realized as the medium matures. But, on the flip side, e-vangelists say that every new wave of technology will cause radical paradigm shifts. This just aint so. This article will discuss common beliefs these e-vangelists hold, and give some ideas to get you thinking about how to truly improve the web.

The internet lets you learn about distant repositories, records, search indexes, etc.

Well of course it does. Assuming those records are digitized and indexed, the organizations have websites, and the contact info on them is up to date. Of course if the records are digitized and indexed, there will likely be a fee to access them. (How criminal, I know...In the age of BitTorrent, why can't I just swipe Ancestry's whole database? Information wants to be free!) And please don't get me started on the usability, privacy controls, or search algorithms that subscription and genealogy social-networking sites use. That's a rant for another time.

But plenty of repositories aren't really online. Sure they have a token website, but most don't even respond to their email. (They really don't. I've tried emailing more than one large repository, and it's painfully obvious they have no customer management system set up at all.) So really, most websites end up being a glorified white pages listing. This is still good and useful, but far from the informational utopia we are being told exists.

How You Can Help

  • Find your local genealogy society or repository and offer to digitize records or create indexes.
  • If your talents lie in CSS and web design, offer to create or restructure their website into something that does not cause viewers' eyes to bleed.
  • Even just offering to man the email address and respond to or forward enquiries promptly can do a lot for an organization. (Make sure they advertise next to their email that all messages will be answered within X business days, so that people know you do actually check it!)

The internet lets you find cousins all over the world.

Oh, it absolutely does. Even if you are the type who sets aside the dubious connection most of these "cousins" have to you, you will find many distant relatives online. And many of them are among the nicest, most decent, honest people you will ever meet. But our shared blood doesn't mean we can throw away all our online privacy and protection knowledge -- in fact it's all the more reason to be wary, as con artists know the quickest way to get past your guard is to find (or fabricate) a similarity or connection to build rapport with you. I know we want to believe and often feel that we are building real relationships online, but we absolutely must keep regular internet safety rules in mind.

There will always be fraudsters, so be way. One of the most hair-raising moments of my genealogy adventures occurred when a lady gave me her portion of our family tree, complete with full names, birth dates and places of all the underage children in her branch. She did this knowing only my (self-disclosed) first and last name, e-mail address, and my assertion that we were descended from the same set of great-great grandparents. I did not specify how I descended, nor did I provide any of my database or information first. If I were these children's parents, I would be VERY upset.

How You Can Help

  • Be wary about giving out your personal information online, as always.
  • If you post your tree online or do database swaps, do up a separate, public version of your database that does not include people after the most-recent deceased generation. (I.e., my husband's father is still alive. My public database doesn't include any information on generations newer than my husband's great-grandfather.) You should leave this gap because although records pertaining to, say, my husband's grandfather, are restricted, he is still in public obituaries, other news stories, and websites. Those in turn give information about the living generation, which we want to protect as much as possible.

Family history blogs and websites let us connect with others researching our family.

They absolutely do...if anyone else is, in fact, researching the family and is also aware that they can use Google to find these sorts of sites, and if you further have a not terribly common surname. Now, assuming all those criteria are met and you do find the website of a fellow researcher, what are you likely to find? Something that's poorly designed, a bear to navigate, infrequently updated, unsourced, and badly written. Most family history websites just add to the digital flotsam that clogs up bandwidth.

How You Can Help

If you want to put up a website about your family history, here are some tips:

  • Learn about web design and coding. Use a pleasant but contrasting colour scheme, avoid flash objects and moving graphics or sound, look for straightforward contact pages and navigation schemes, and avoid posting "walls of text" -- break it up with relevant photos and pictures where possible.
  • Learn about search engine optimization. You want people to be able to find your site by typing in "[surname] genealogy". This means choosing your URLs, page titles, and headers accordingly.
  • Browse the web for other family history pages and make notes on what you like and what you can't stand.
  • Test your website on at least two or three (preferably more) differnet computers with different monitor sizes, resolutions, browsers, and operating systems to ensure your site displays properly, or at least readably, on all major configurations.
  • Only upload your public database and ensure that you: a) are okay with it being duplicated around the web without your consent or any acknowledgment that you created it, and b) have sourced everything.

Any information I want, I can find with Google.

I wish. If you're looking for major records, you can probably find the repository via Google, although you still have to click through to the website to search their index. Anyone researching a specialized type of record, a more obscure ethnicity, a specific piece of local historical information, or more advanced genealogy techniques has dealt with this. You will try twenty different search terms and still get the same, irrelevant results. And we're already getting the skeezy kind of infomercial pitch pages for badly designed information products, too.

How You Can Help

If you have knowledge of a particular area or subject, give back to the community: write up a quick webpage or a blog post providing some helpful information:

  • Even just a rough outline of how to proceed with the topic, or a list of good reference works and where you can get them (or their summaries, if the books are impossible to acquire) helps immensely.
  • Think about the search terms people are likely to use when trying to find your information. Include these keywords in your page titles, headings, and text of the page so it is easy to find.
  • Register your page for indexing and archiving at the following sites: Cyndi's List, Google, and The Internet Archive Wayback Machine.


The internet is here to stay. As the tech enthusiasts predict, it will change our lives in ways we can't yet imagine. I hope the above discussion has spurred you to think more critically about their claims, and what you can do to help improve the state of genealogy online. Please feel free to link to your projects in the comments below, or explore further pros and cons of online genealogy.

About the Author: Katrina McQuarrie is a Gen Y genealogist who believes in making family history more accessible to non-nerds and young people. She runs a genealogy blog of her own called Kick-Ass Genealogy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Press Release: New Genealogy Gems App for iPhone and iTouch

Note: I am very happy to share this press release from Lisa Louise Cooke about her brand new iPhone and iTouch app. She is the author of the wonderful Genealogy Gems Podcast. She is also a very talented speaker (I know from experience because I've seen two of her classes and they were phenomenal!). She is one of my genealogy idols and an incredibly fun person to be around. While I haven't tried this product out (only because I don't have an iPhone or iTouch), I know that Lisa only puts out quality products and puts her hard work into every project she does.

Press Release:

SAN RAMON, Calif. – January 4, 2009 - The Genealogy Gems Podcast, the #1 podcast in the genealogy category in iTunes has launched the first ever genealogy podcast app for iPhone and iTouch (in partnership with Wizzard Media). The Genealogy Gems Podcast app provides users with streaming genealogy audio and video on the go, and exclusive Bonus Content.

A free “online genealogy radio show,” The Genealogy Gems Podcast has provided innovative research strategies, family history expert and celebrity interviews, and genealogy news since 2007. These “gems” of genealogical information inspire family history researchers of all experience levels and helps them make the most of their valuable research time. The new app provides one more way for the popular podcast to reach it’s worldwide audience.

“Mobile technology is the wave of the future,” says Producer and Creator Lisa Louise Cooke. “At Genealogy Gems we strive to be out in front bringing the highest quality genealogy education to those seeking to enrich their lives through family history research. The app makes this possible on a whole new level.”

The app streams all the episodes (including show notes!), and new episodes are downloaded automatically. Bonus content on the new app includes exclusive material such as audio files and custom genealogy themed wallpaper, as well as Cooke’s 20 page pdf e-book 5 Fabulous Google Research Strategies for the Family Historian. New bonus content will be added as episodes are published. Cooke says users have much to look forward to, “There’s always something new coming to your iPhone and iTouch with the Genealogy Gems Podcast app!

About Genealogy Gems

Genealogy Gems is one of the leading producers of online quality genealogy-related media. Also found at the Genealogy Gems Web site http://www.GenealogyGems.TV , recognized as one of the 101 Best Web Sites for Family History 2009: The Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast, the Genealogy Gems TV Channel at YouTube, the Genealogy Gems News Blog, Genealogy Gems Premium Membership including exclusive podcasts and videos, and The Genealogy Gems Podcast Toolbar.

Lisa Louise Cooke is the author of Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies, and national genealogy speaker. She also produces and hosts The Family Tree Magazine Podcast, teaches online webinars, and writes and produces videos for the magazine.

Media Contacts:

Genealogy Gems

Lisa Louise Cooke, Producer and Creator

Phone: (925) 272-4021


Website: http://www.GenealogyGems.TV

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Genealogy Reading List

As part of Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog is challenging bloggers one week at a time in her 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy. Each week, a new blogging prompt will be given that will help sharpen our genealogy skills.

Challenge #1 says: "Go to your local public library branch. Make a note of the genealogy books in the collection that may help you gain research knowledge. Don’t forget to check the shelves in both the non-fiction section and the reference section. If you do not already have a library card, take the time to get one. If you have a genealogy blog, write about what you find in your library’s genealogy collection."

Here are the books that I am planning on checking out:

I am so excited to head to the library on Monday or Tuesday to check these books out. All of these books are thankfully in stock at my local library.

Note: I have a store on in which I recieve a small percentage of the sale when you buy something from Amazon by clicking through my links. I am not trying to push you to buy these books. But if you are going to buy these books anyway, then why not do it through the links provided on this blog. You pay the same price as if you had bought it by going straight to

Disclaimer: None of the authors of these books have asked me to promote their books. In fact, I haven't even promote their books. I haven't met any of the authors (with the exception of Drew Smith).read these books yet - so I cannot provide a review. None of the authors have paid me or given me any products to promote their books.