Notes from the past…

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Spring Cleaning….GENEALOGY STYLE!

Since I have once again taken up my genealogical research after an extended hiatus, I have been quite busy. In my RootsMagic program, I created a custom report called RIN List. The RIN List is simply a list of every individual in my database, sorted by each person’s Record ID Number (RIN).

With that list in hand (on the left side of my desk, actually), I started at #1 and have worked my way down to #96, adding sources and images, checking for new data and making corrections as I go. A big job, to be sure! It has actually been a quiet satisfying and exciting task, as I have met two new “cousins” online and received a lot of new data and photographs. If I were to choose one particular category of my research that is sadly lacking, it would be ancestor photographs. I have a lot of surname STANLEY images, but very few for the rest of the clan. So I am always particularly excited when I find a new photo!

I have also been searching for the best way to share my research with others, and in turn safely back it up online. The recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disasters in Japan clearly illustrate the need for a safe storage solution “in the cloud”, as entire towns were literally washed away!

My sharing/storage solution actually has four facets:

RootsWeb WorldConnect

RootsWeb FreePages

Picasa Web Albums


Overkill, you say? Do I really need that much “security”?

Well, each site has certain advantages over the others.

RootsWeb WorldConnect is probably the most “basic” solution. Not much more than a simple GEDCOM. A lot of names, dates and places, but no images. However, RoostWeb is the most active genealogical site online, so here my data probably has its greatest chance for exposure to like-minded researchers. My WorldConnect database is also pretty simple to update as needed.

RootsWeb Freepages is more like a regular website that can be customized at will. My FreePages site contains the website that I created using my RootsMagic program, with a few photos. I can change it if I desire, to add more images, links, etc. Also easy to update.

Picasa Web Albums is where my images go. Photographs and scanned documents, also census pages, military files, and other docs that I have downloaded from Footnote, Ancestry, GenealogyBank and FamilySearch. 1 GB of free storage and if that isn’t enough space (it ain’t!), I can get 20 GB for $5/yr. Can’t get much cheaper than that!

Finally, there’s WeRelate. A true wiki, I have my GEDCOM, notes, sources, links, images…just about all my research is here. And as a wiki, it is a collaborative environment with user-contributed data, the goal being the creation of a single family tree. We all work together at WeRelate! It is a bit more complicated to update the GEDCOM, although that promises to get easier in the future.

And don’t forget this blog! Here I offer a narrative of my on-going research.

Oh, did I forget to mention that it will soon be tornado season in north Texas? Cloud storage…

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A word about backups…

DO IT!!!

Obviously I’m talking about backing up your genealogical data. That’s a no-brainer.

But what about your blog?

Sh-t happens, as evidenced by the recent data-loss-then-found-almost situation experienced by T-Mobile Sidekick users. What was supposed to be a very safe and secure place for your favorite and irreplaceable images and other such minor stuff, was suddenly a black hole.

What if something like that happened to your blog? Big as Google is, they are not immune to disaster. Sh-t happens, just ask T-Mobile…

You also need to backup your blog on a regular basis.

I use WordPress as my blogging platform, and operate it from my self-hosted site. When I decided to go the self-hosted route, I did my homework. I researched a lot of hosting companies and chose the one that seemed best for me. Stability, security, longevity, customer-friendly, etc. I feel pretty good about my choice and have been very pleased with the service so far.

But my hosting company could crash and burn tomorrow, along with my blog.

One of the things that I like about self-hosted WordPress is the availability of plugins to enhance a blog. There are plugins out there for every need.

The plugin that I use to automatically back-up my blog is WordPress database backup. Extremely simple to install, activate and set up a schedule for automatic backups. These backups can be downloaded to your hard drive, saved to your server or… sent to your email.

How much more convenient can it get? I set up my blog to be backed up and sent to my GMail every Friday, where I set up a folder to hold the backups.

Piece ‘o cake!

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My electronic “must-haves” for genealogical research

I admit it. I get most of my “family-historying” done with a computer and an Internet connection. Maybe someday when I retire and have time to write letters, make phone calls and visit court houses, then my work will be more pen-and-paper, more of physically hunting through dusty old records in equally dusty old buildings.

But for now, my mouse makes a great research assistant!

My mouse and a few other essential items, that is.

The following is a list of what I use routinely to help fill in the blanks of my family story. When possible, I prefer to use open-source software that can be downloaded and used at no charge. Genealogy can be a very expensive past time, but in this day and time, gotta pinch those pennies!

Obviously the first item one needs to do online research is a computer. Personally, I prefer a laptop. I don’t like being tied to my desk. If I want to sit on the couch or at a table at the library (yes, I do occasionally make it out of my living room to do research :) ), nothing better than having all my records with me. I also prefer to have the smallest-sized laptop that I can get, as long as it still has lots of memory and does what I want. Easier to tote around. I recently purchased a new 10” netbook, since my last laptop was not long for this world. Incidentally, the netbook has 3 times the memory and a much faster processor than my old laptop, with a price tag of $325 compared to $1200. And built-in wireless is a must!

What good is a computer without Internet access? I have DSL that adds $10/month to my landline phone bill. For years, I had dial-up, but to be able to browse online census images or Civil War pension files, dial-up is just too slow. $10/mo dial-up = $10/mo DSL. ‘Nuff said.

One also needs some type of genealogy program, some place to put all those names, dates and places. I use RootsMagic 4. Over the years, I have tried almost every commercial genealogy program and I just prefer RootsMagic. Use what you like, whatever you are comfortable with it. One open-source program that I recently played with is GRAMPS. I was pleased with it, but since I had already spent money on RootsMagic, I’ll stay with it. If not, I think I would probably use GRAMPS.

A digital camera is also a must-have. Quality brand-name cameras are available for under $100. Your digital camera will also work pretty well as a scanner/copier in a pinch.

The other item that will actually cost $$$ is a printer/scanner/copier. Good ones are available for $70-80 from Walmart or BestBuy.

Ok, so far I have spent about $500. But all of these gadgets are expected to last for many years. I often use my laptop for several hours per day, and the camera and printer don’t collect much dust, either. Good investments.

An image manipulation program is invaluable. Cropping, resizing, sharpening, editing- the more images that you find and download to your hard drive, the more you will need an image manipulation program. I use Paint Shop Pro, vs7, from Jasc Software. Some years ago Jasc was acquired by PhotoShop, so I don’t believe Paint Shop Pro is still available. But I have used PSP7 for years and am very comfortable with it. A simple Google search will produce lots of hits for excellent open-source or freeware products, and many programs are available to use online at no charge. An excellent open-source program, frequently compared to PhotoShop, is GIMP.

Other free or open-source software that I find extremely useful, even mandatory:

  • Notepad- one of those programs that comes with all new Windows computers
  • TiddlyWiki- my electronic research notebook. Denise Olsen from Family Matters has created an excellent TiddlyWiki tutorial
  • Clipboard Recorder- fantastic for all of that copying/pasting of sources and other info
  • PixelRuler- this nifty little freeware program is super when you need a straight line to read across a census page!
  • OpenOffice- the open-source alternative to Microsoft’s expensive office tools. Totally compatible back-and-forth with Microsoft products
  • Transcript- another wonderful little gem, fantastic for transcribing old documents
  • PDF-XChange Viewer- to save a .pdf document as a .jpg. Handy when downloading .pdf newspaper clippings from GenealogyBank. A .pdf document can’t be added as a media file to most genealogy programs, but a .jpg image can… :)

And of course, never forget to back-up your records!!! I can’t emphasize this too much. You have all of your genealogy research on your computer, years and years of notes, documents, photos. One day, your house is broken into, there is a tornado or a flood, or your hard drive decides to take a mental health day. In an instant, everything you have collected, all your research, EVERYTHING… is gone! It happens every day, folks. Don’t push your luck or one day you will be very, very sorry.

USB drives are cheaper than ever these days, and depending on the size of your database, you may be able to save everything on a USB drive. For larger databases, an external hard drive will do the trick. One important point, keep your backup in a separate location. A family member or trusted neighbor’s house, at your work, maybe even a bank security box. There are also online storage sites, many free or very reasonably priced. I use both an external hard drive and an online storage site. ADrive offers 50GB of storage for free. More than enough for most genealogy databases!

(FYI: these are my opinions only. I am not being compensated by anyone!)