Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lots of Fun New Stuff

Great things happen every day in this digital era of family history research--new records available online, new training events, new programs to help us do our research easier.  I don't think a day goes by without me noticing something new available to help someone.  I thought I might highlight some of the more recent digital events here:

FamilySearch has just added 11.5 million international records--Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, even Zimbabwe, just to mention a few--and 2 million U.S. records.  Of these, over 9 million records are from Hungary, yet that particular collection is only 38% complete and will be added to throughout the year.

RootsTech, the recently very successful conference held in SLC has put their video-taped sessions online.  http://rootstech.familysearch.org/  click on the Free Presentations On-Line box to the mid-right and select the session you want to view.

Webinars:  These are coming out of my ears, and no that is NOT a complaint.  Where online training seemed more difficult to find before, it appears to be plentiful now and I'm thoroughly taking advantage of it.  Here are a few to get you started:   
RootsMagic has put together a series of webinars on how to use their software and other products.  You can register and attend free, or you can access the archived version from their website at your convenience afterwards.  http://rootsmagic.com/Webinars/     
Likewise, Legacy Family Tree has been offering webinars.  Theirs have been on all kinds of topics, not just their software.  And again, they are free to attend with pre-registration.  They are also archived, but not all stayed archived "free", so you want to catch them quickly.  http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/webinars.asp  
Then we have Genea-Musings who focus on technology in general.  http://www.geneamusings.com/2009/10/free-genealogy-webinars.html   
Of course Ancestry.com, has been offering online tutorials and webinars for some time now on topics ranging from their Family TreeMaker software to basic searches to specific things like finding your Irish ancestors.  http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Webinars.aspx  
Last on today's list, but certainly not least is Dear Myrtle.  Her next webinar is on using Twitter.  Since I'm not into tweeting, and don't understand it at all, I should be attending this one.  She lists her upcoming webinars on her blog, http://blog.dearmyrtle.com/

BRAND NEW RELEASE!  Mocavo Genealogy Search.  This website was just open to the public for use Tuesday and has already impressed a few of us.  This new search engine was created by a genealogist for genealogists.  A quick search on a name I'm working on for a client just gave me 1,391 search results in 0.05 seconds from places like archive.org, the Ancestry message boards, FindAGrave, etc.  Just like the google hits, it would appear that the most logical matches are on the first page or two.  Looks like a quick way to see what is out there about that ancestor.  And as with anything, I wouldn't use it exclusively.  But what a great new tool--makes it easier for the non-techie to search for information.  The best part is it limits it searches to genealogy-type sites.   For a quick look, that is important.  But remember that when you are looking for a distant cousin that is still alive, it might not be here...try google or another search engine of your choice instead.  http://mocavo.com/  

Could there be anything else?  Quite simply, yes.  I've barely scratched the surface and I've only focused this post on things I've seen or heard about or used in the past few days.  The advantages of doing family history research in today's age are phenomenal.  At least in the sense that both training and more records are readily available.  Now, if only technology could create those records that seem to be missing, or burned, or overlooked, or otherwise lost.  Wouldn't that be the day?!

Happy sleuthing to all of you!

Peg

Friday, March 11, 2011

Easy RSS Feeds in Mac Mail

Blogs.  There are multiple blogs that I subscribe to or "follow".  Most about genealogy, but also some from family and friends.  Until today, I attempted to read them through my Google homepage using GoogleReader.  I must admit I wasn't very good at keeping up.  There are days when I would rev up the computer only to see 365 feeds waiting for my attention.  I would glance at the first few, and then click on the "mark all as read" button.  Just too much to deal with.  There is only so much time in a day!

It doesn't help that every single item posted gets a feed and pops up in the list.  That means I may be behind in reading say up to 10 posts from Dear Myrtle, 30 from Dick Eastman and 20 from Genealogy News, just to mention a few.  And buried in that list somewhere would be my daughter's last post about my grandchildren and my niece's description of their Texas escapades.

For some time now I've thought about the potential solution to this issue.  OK, I haven't thought too hard or I would have had it fixed long ago.  Aside from having multiple Google home pages with various themes and related feeds, I just hadn't found the right solution.  Until today.

Still fairly new to the Mac environment, having purchased my iMac just last summer, I can plead ignorance to the obvious.  After all, it takes a few months to acclimate to a new operating system after spending the bulk of your life on another, then another few months to selectively transfer all of your files (no I didn't want to migrate everything), another few months to get used to running Windows in the VMware Fusion virtual machine and subsequently unity mode.  So, now I'm several months into this transition and I have finally found the RSS feed option in Mail.  I had organized all my mailboxes so they come to one location, all of the mail folders to store things I needed to keep, but somehow I missed that nice "RSS" feed mode in spite of the fact that Apple automatically puts their feed there for you when you start the machine.

I decided to give it a try.  I opened up my Google Reader, pulled the URLs of the genealogy blogs I want to follow out and one at a time added them to the RSS Reader in Mail.  Now it seems logical that there would be a way to add multiple feeds at a time, but I haven't found it yet.  Nevertheless, it didn't really take me long to selectively move the most popular ones to try this out.

And voila!  All of a sudden I have an alphabetical list of the blogs I'm following along with the number of feeds received and unread.  Now, instead of reading one of this, one of that, skipping through looking for topics of interest, I can select the blog and glance through the topics in the same manner that I would glance through the subject lines of multiple emails, open and read or hit the delete key as appropriate.  In no time at all, I have made quick work of what used to be a daunting task.  And I don't feel like I missed anything--as I often did when GoogleReader numbers got out of control.  After all, if I don't want to wade through a particular list of feeds today, I can save it until tomorrow, and it will be there waiting for me in its nicely tidy little feed box.

I'm sold on this concept.  I've all of my genealogy feeds to Mail, leaving just family feeds for Google Reader. 

Now, knowing that not everyone owns a Mac, I did a quick check to see if other email products perform similar functions.  And many do.  For those who don't, there are services that allow you to subscribe for a certain number of feeds for free, more for a fee.  Perhaps you are way ahead of me and have been receiving your RSS feeds in your email for years.  If not, you might try checking your help menu to see how to add them in your particular program.  And see if you like this method of "keeping up" to be a bit more efficient.

Lesson of the Week

There is something to be said about the statement "we learn something new every day".  That has never been more true than as it relates to my study of family history research.  Not only does the landscape in this industry change constantly, but the breadth of knowledge that is available to us is phenomenal.  One could never know everything.  And we begin to specialize...whether it be in a geographical region or a family line.  And with that, we embark daily on the challenge of learning what is needed in order to move forward with our research.

Along this line, another favorite statement of mine goes something like this:  "just because I learned it once, doesn't mean I won't need to learn it again".  This is most likely to occur when I learn something and don't apply it frequently enough to make it stick.  But that isn't always the case, as was proven to me this past week.

My "lesson of the week" is this:

First, find out what records exist.  Then, determine if they are available.

No kidding you say--this is new?!  Well, yes and no.  Obviously, every time we take a look at the Handybook or Ancestry's RedBook to determine the boundaries of a county, when vital records began, and where they are held, we are applying the rule of first finding out what exists.  Then we work on determining where those records are stored and if they are readily available.  But how often do we really apply that principle?  Or do we, spoiled as we are with all of the readily available records going online daily, simply pull up a well-known website and do a search, fully expecting what we need to be there?  And when it isn't, we wonder why; but do we look to see if actually had the record series we need? 

So, how did I "re-learn" this valuable piece of information?  The professor in a British Family History Research class re-iterated it in the context of British records.  In this situation I learned that we should first access a "what exists" resource like the NIPR (National Index of Parish Registers) which provides a complete list by county (shire) of what records exist, for what dates, and where they are kept.  It also includes non-conformist records, and specifically outlines the gaps in the records. Then when we go to the Family History Library Catalog to see which of those records were microfilmed, or to some of the online resources to see which records are available online, we approach the situation fully educated.  

When doing my locality survey for this class, I totally skipped that important first step....went straight to the 1851 England Jurisdictions (maps.familysearch.org) to see what the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions were and then the FHLC (FamilySearch online catalog) to see what had been microfilmed and to familiar online sources to see what was available digitally.  As assignments were returned, the professor pointed out the obvious and reviewed it again--apparently many of us had skipped that important time-saving step.

So, I knew this.  Perhaps not as it relates to British research which is somewhat new to me, but in general.  It just hadn't played out in my mind in a way that it could translate to a new geographic area of research.  Sometimes we just need to "re-learn" it.  And that was my lesson for the week.  I'm sure it will make me a better researcher overall if I apply it more frequently :)
 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Back in the USA!

While in India I had a great deal of difficulty in using the internet.  If we had electricity, we didn't have internet. Often we would have power but no internet.  How great it is to be back in the US of A! I spent the last 3 weeks setting up my daughter's town house in Rexburg, Idaho, to accommodate the addition of myself and my fifteen year old son. I have a work space and but I am using a borrowed computer. My next big task is getting a computer so I don't have to borrow my daughter's all the time.  After all, she is a student and needs to do her homework.  Who would have thought the day would come when I would heard the words, "Mom you need to get off the computer so I can do my homework!"

I have an iMac 27" in India much to my husbands enjoyment.  So, what to get for the American side of the family.  We will eventually be living in the same household again so do I really want the same computer?  I think I will be ordering the 21" iMac for here in the USA.  It will work well with my IPad, which is important, the IPad has been a wonderful tool for me, not only can I carry my family tree with me using Ancestry to go, but I have access to my e-mail and other files while on the road.  Dropbox has been wonderful for this transition.

 I uploaded everything I would need from my computer to Dropbox, before I left India, now all I need is my new computer! But, in the meantime, I still have access to my photos and files while on the road.  This will be very helpful when I travel to South Carolina for the annual NGS conference this May.
You can find Dropbox here:    http://db.tt/twTJ4mW

It truly is an amazing time to be involved in researching your family history.  Every day wonderful new "toys" and resources are being adapted to make our work easier.

On a side note, when I registered my son for school here, I felt like I had entered into a time warp. The girls  have adopted the hairstyles from the late fifty's, early sixty's.  After having traveled around the world it was even more startling to see. Nowhere else had I come across these retro hairstyles.  They also really like fishnet stockings here.  For a moment I felt like I had stepped onto the set of "Hairspray" or "Grease".  It just goes to show the more things change the more they stay the same1

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Resources

There are a myriad of resources available online, from tutorials to waypointing sites to live webinars.  No shortage of methods by which to learn our craft.  Still, there are pieces that may be a bit elusive to the newcomer--like just where do we find all of these resources?  Or the overwhelmed--like how do I filter it down to just the ones I need the most? 

One of our goals is to help with the basics.  Not to replace what already exists, mind you, but to fill in some of the gaps as we see them--point to the resources where already quite nicely done, and add our own when we see fit.  So, having just attended a webinar by Dear Myrtle hosted by Legacy on Blogging, we have created a new page to store those resources.

The Resources Tab will be a work in progress.  But please feel free to let us know what you think the needs are.  What is missing out there?  What do you wish someone would just write a very simple instruction page for? 

Mary Jane has been quite busy of late reading through forums on the various software products and finds that one place we probably need to begin is a basic lesson on sourcing in software.  Many seem to avoid doing it or just place all their information in notes because it seems too difficult to navigate.  So, you can look forward to that one in the future, along with our personal reviews on some of the software options available out there.

What else?  You tell us!