Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Value of Joining Societies

     In our current economic situation I think we are all holding on to every spare dime we can, something I think we should do.   When I was in India, I found myself answering the question again and again about why Americans don't save money.  My answer went something like this, " We don't save we invest, why would you put your money into a bank savings account which will only earn you less then 1% interest, when you can invest and earn more?" By the way, our local account in India paid 8% on savings, so it's easy to see why the Indians didn't understand our attitude.
    When I spend money I also try to make it an investment in my future.   There are so many organizations available to aid in our family history research. I have memberships to several of those organizations.  The Association of Professional Genealogist, The National Genealogical  Society, The New England Historic Genealogical Society and then of course there is  Each of these organizations require a fee.    Are they worth the money, do they provide value and have they helped to further my research or my work?
     I have been a member of for many years.  They have made the retrieval of records on line very easy and quick with good search engines and vast repositories available.  Lately, though instead of records I am finding more indexes to records, and while indexes are good, I prefer to look at the document in question for any clues they might hold for further research. I also worry about Ancestry limiting competition especially with their recent purchase of I would hope the goal of all the organisations is to make records more available not to limit access via membership at exorbitant rates. As Ancestry's rates increase so does my desire to look elsewhere for records.
     A great place to begin is local societies where your ancestors lived.  Depending on the area, they can contain vast amounts of information to aid in your search. They help provide local history books, pictures, yearbooks, newspapers etc. I like to search them out and give support to these local groups in an effort to help them in their work at a local level.  Especially in these rough economic times where many states are cutting funding these local libraries and societies can really use our support.
     Several years ago (OK, about 20 years now but who's counting?) I was beginning research on my husband grandfather, Frank Saylor.  Frank was born in the early 1900's and we were told he was from Paulding County, Ohio. I couldn't find him anywhere, I knew his parents names were Frank and Mary Saylor.  I also knew that he raised his family in the Lansing area in Michigan.  With a great deal of research (because of course, the family knew nothing or at least wasn't willing to share what they knew) we found that he grew up in Elsie, Michigan. The local library in Elsie had a wonderful selection of yearbooks and collections of local family histories.  We were able to obtain yearbook pictures, obituaries and cemetery records that helped us in our quest to know about the family.
    These local organizations are run by volunteers and these volunteers are a great resource in looking for information on your ancestor.  When I was trying to find more information on Mary Saylor, who it turns out was from Paulding county Ohio, I contacted the local society and was able to find Mary Smith Tschannon Saylor's father, John Smith. The local volunteer was able to track down her birth record for me.  May I also add here, she did it free of charge.
     Another great place run by volunteers is, more and more records are being added all the time and you can request pictures of existing headstones which can be very helpful in finding lost relatives (I have found a few that way).  I work as a volunteer taking pictures of headstones that people request in my local cemeteries and posting them on the site as I can.  In a small way, I can help others further their research.
     And although I prefer free, sometimes you do have to spend money.  As stated earlier, I have joined a few organizations and found them to be quite helpful.  The New England Historic Genealogical Society publishes a weekly newsletter that has helped me find wonderful resources on line. . This week's e-mail contained links to several local societies who have a presence on line.  I can't wait to spend time exploring these links and seeing what information they have for me! Here is a link to their newsletter:
They also offer copies of over 10,000 rare and out of print books that can aid in our research.   This is just one organization that has contributed to my growth as a genealogist.  What are some of your favorites and why are they your favorites?  I hope to explore more of these organizations in future posts now that I am back on line.  Have a great week everyone and good luck in your research! MJ

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Best Kept Secret: FHC portal

Well, you learn something new everyday.  Today's lesson is watch those blog "drafts".  Apparently this one that I wrote some time back didn't get published.  Found it waiting in "draft" mode.  So, a bit late, but here it is:

For those of you close enough to a Family History Center, you are able to access all of the following programs via their "portal" to several premium websites.

Of recent note is that has recently returned to their previous practice of providing their full subscription database through the portal rather than a downscaled "institutional" version.  I applaud this move heavily.  Those of us who want to have for use at home will continue to subscribe, even when there is a FHC only a mile away.  And for the rest?  What a great service!

In addition to, the FHC portal provides family history center patrons free access to these premium websites:

19th Century British Library Newspaper Digital Archive
Alexander Street Press – The American Civil War
Find My Past
The Genealogist
Genline Family Finder
Godfrey Memorial Library
Heritage Quest Online
Historical Map Works Library Edition
Paper Trail (from the Oregon-California Trails Association)
World Vital Records

The Old and the New of Tabs and Bookmarks

Well, if there is one thing that we can count on in this day and age, it is change.  Rapid change.  Always something better, newer, easier to use.  So, it appears that the very next working day after I wrote about the Enhanced Bookmark tool for iGoogle customization, I find something new and different.

I just downloaded the update to Firefox--4.0--and reviewed a few of its new features.  They have created a way for us to create tab groups for ease of use.  So, now all my British Research bookmarks that I frequent can be open and grouped together, while at the same time all of my Slovak Research bookmarks can be open and grouped together, and all at the same time that my personal tabs are grouped and open.  You can create as many "groups" as you want, name them what you want, and easily navigate from one to another.  It literally is as quick as drag and drop to the group, and click to name the group.

At first this seemed like a simple solution that could easily replace my enhanced bookmarks list, especially when I want to keep those bookmarks open, readily usable, and still not have my tabs all cluttered up.   However, the bottom line is that they are only in that group until you close them.  So, "groups" is not a permanent place to store bookmarks, just a great way to eliminate tab clutter if you tend to have 25 tabs open at a time.  

Another neat tool that Firefox 4.0 offers is to create an App Tab.  This works for something that you want accessible all the time, like your web mail, your blog, or your favorite research sites.  Right click on the open tab and drag to the left of the tabs and drop.  You should end up with an icon from that website that you can click on to open.  I just put my three most commonly used research sites there in a flash.

I would consider these new tools in Firefox 4.0 to be a great new solution to my research clutter, but apparently not a replacement for the enhanced bookmarks grouping solution I just wrote about.

To learn from a video, go to and click on "Meet Your Browser".


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Enhanced Bookmarks for iGoogle

While I'm on the topic of gadgets:  Let's cover Enhanced Bookmarks.  Here is one of the gadgets available to personalize your google home page that I absolutely love!  Now that I have figured out how to create separate home page "tabs" (see last post), I can add this gadget to each personalized tab and put only those bookmarks in it that directly relate to the focus of that tab. 

Searching under "add stuff" on your google home page, and using the keyword of "bookmarks", you will find at least a couple of choices.  This one is called "Enhanced Bookmarks".  It allows you to quickly add the name for a specific favorite website along with the URL, and then open it on that page or by using the box to the right, in a new tab or window (my preference).  You end up with a list in alphabetical order by the name you gave it.  Simple, quick, and easy to use.

For years I've "managed" my bookmarks or favorites by keeping them in folders by topic.  But that implies having to access the bookmarks menu, and drill down through a couple of headers and sub-topics to get to the one I wish to use.  By placing the most commonly used URLs on my homepage I can get to them readily.   And now that I can do this by topic using the tabbed home page feature, I'm really excited.


There are two kinds of tabs in Google!

Last fall I attended a conference session on technology aids for genealogists by Claire Brisson-Banks.  One of the things she mentioned was setting up multiple Google home page settings to aid in genealogy research.  Unfortunately I was in and out doing some volunteer work and I only caught the end of this part of the discussion.  She mentioned using "tabs" to accomplish this, and since I've used "tabs" for years now, I thought I understood what she meant.  But of course, using multiple browser tabs doesn't accomplish what she had described.

I happened to run into Claire on Trax during RootsTech, so I asked her to clarify.  Again, she simply said "use tabs."  I began to wonder just what it was that she got and I didn't about "tabs".  Well, today I finally figured it out.  Quite haphazardly I might add.  Not to embarrass myself or anything, but for some strange reason when Google upgraded their customizable home page experience and added an extra "tab" on the left, I didn't get it.  In fact, many times I've tried to figure out how to get rid of it; after all, it was taking up space, even if it was only an inch.

Today I played around with it enough to finally figure out this is the "tab" area that Claire was referring to.  OK, I consider myself fairly computer savvy, but I must admit I don't have time to keep up on every little nuance, and apparently I completely missed this one, even when it was slamming me in the face!

So, now I have added multiple "tabs" on topics of interest to me--Slovak research, British research, Utah research, etc. etc. etc.  Utilizing the power of the gadgets I have often used on my homepage but in different ways, I can now see the weather, news, related blogs or forums, photos, bookmarks, historical information, and all other kinds of things on one single page about Slovakia for example.  One could create a personalized tab on all things related to a specific surname, country, topic like genealogy, or whatever they wanted.  Now why I didn't see this before is shameful.  But I see it now, and I'm excited to continue to build it into something really useful.

Thanks Claire Brisson-Banks!


Found my Niche

I just found my genealogy niche.  And I found it in Seattle in the Pioneer Square District while visiting there with my husband who was on business.  Alas, I can't say more.  This will take some preparation before I wish to roll it out.  But it will be something to look forward to.  And I will announce it here first when it is ready.