Sep 042014

The_Hacker__s_Lair_by_ihumanwannabeThomas MacEntee runs a website called Hack Genealogy:

Hack Genealogy is about “re-purposing today’s technology for tomorrow’s genealogy” and a little bit more. Hack Genealogy is more than just a list of resources. Hack Genealogy provides information on emerging technology inside and outside the genealogy industry. Hack Genealogy wants readers to understand how others succeed in genealogy.

Obviously, there are many ways to “do genealogy”; each person has a different plan of attack.

Over the past few months, I have tried out various methods for documenting and preserving my genealogy findings. Some worked better than others. Some I liked, some I didn’t.

I have a couple of stipulations

  • I own and frequently use a Chromebook. As there are at present no genealogy database programs available for Chromebooks, I need a cloud-based solution.
  • In keeping with my Genealogy On A Budget philosophy, I “hold my purse strings tight.”

But when all the dust settles, this is…

How I Hack Genealogy:

  • Self-hosted website: Ruth’s Genealogy ($49.80/yr)
  • Blogging/CMS: WordPress with Suffusion Theme (both free)
  • Web-based Genealogy software: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding ($32.99)
  • Image and document storage and display: Flickr (1TB free storage)
  • Genealogy/History-related link management: Pinterest (free)
  • Read-only genealogy database: WorldConnect (free)

A final thought: “Genealogy without Documentation is Mythology.”

Aug 152014

HatLStanley1I was watching TV on Monday afternoon, enjoying another re-run of MASH, when a text alert flashed across my phone: Robin Williams had died. How sad, I thought. He wasn’t that old, way he? A heart attack, or maybe an accident. Yes, sad.

But as I was sending a text message about Robin Williams to my daughter at work, another alert appeared. I saw only one word on it… and I sat up straight on the couch and stared, simply stared at the screen with my mouth open.

How could this have possibly happened? I have been a fan since Mork & Mindy. And not only was Robin Williams a hysterically, incredibly, amazingly funny man, but he loved to laugh. He always seemed to enjoy his own humor as much as we did. He was always so happy. I just couldn’t believe, couldn’t grasp what I was reading and seeing.

The press conference the next day brought me to tears. This poor man was so desperate; he must have felt so totally and completely alone. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Robin Williams and my great-aunt Hattie Lee Stanley never met. I’m pretty sure of that. Robin was born in Chicago and lived most of his life in California. Hattie was born in Texas and lived most of her life here. Robin was in high school in California when Hattie died in New York.

No, they never met.

But they shared one decision, one act, one consequence.

My Aunt Hattie Lee Stanley also killed herself.

I have a vague memory of being in my grandparent’s living room that night in 1966. My older brothers and younger cousins and I were all playing while the adults spoke in tears and hushed tones. We kids were told simply that Aunt Hattie had died. I was 8 years old.

I barely remember Aunt Hattie. I remember going to visit her at her house in Fort Worth. That’s about it. I don’t recall if she was cheerful and carefree or dark and unhappy. 

So I really don’t know what could have been going on with her, what left her feeling like she had no options, no alternatives. 

I only know what she did. And I know how my great-grandmother cried.

Families have secrets. Things they don’t talk about.

We as genealogists spend our days picking our ancestors’ lives apart, trying to learn every detail. Where did they live? Where did they work? Who did they love? How did they die?

But can we ever know what they were thinking?

My Aunt Hattie has been gone 48 years, Robin Williams just a few days. I hurt for them both.


If you or someone you know is struggling, help is out there:

*National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

*American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

*Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas 24-hr crisis hotline: (214) 828-1000
Jul 142014

In Genealogy on a Budget (Part 1), I referred to an online article showing that a person could easily spend $18,000 per year on genealogy, making it a rather expensive pursuit.

I decided to make a list of the more popular research sites, as well as other necessities, such as genealogy database software, a scanner and a printer, just to see if I could come up with an $18,000 tab.

The costs of the items on my must-have list totaled about $1500, considerably less than the total presented in the article. But $1500 is still a lot of money, money that some folks just can’t afford.

Let’s look at how I manage to do some valid research, without having to mortgage my socks!

As for me, I’m always on the lookout for bargains and discounts. It is something of a challenge to spend money on what’s important to me, yet still come away with something in my pocket. And I do love a challenge!

First off, my computer is a HP desktop model, running Windows 7,  3 years old. The printer is about 2 years old, and I use the camera on my iPhone 4s, also about 3 years old. My genealogy software is RootsMagic 6.

For backup, I use free accounts with Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive, along with an 8GB USB drive and an WD 150GB external hard drive (purchase several years ago.)

This blog is hosted by for free, although I do have a custom domain name and have recently purchased a premium theme. I also have a Freepages site at RootsWeb and maintain a database at RootsWeb’s WorldConnect Project. Both free.

Internet access (broadband) runs $25/mo.

Now, to research. I do not have subscriptions to any pay genealogy sites.

So, how in the world can I conduct research???

At Diigo, I have a large collection of links to free genealogy data sites, amassed over many years of research. And I am constantly on the lookout for more. I “keep my eyes on the prize.” Sites like FamilySearch, The USGenWeb Project and its affiliated state and county sites, Find-A-Grave, the Bureau of Land Management, Chronicling America… all offer free original documents and photographs or indexed data, and many are run by volunteers. And they are constantly receiving and presenting new data. Also, sites such as maintain many free databases, such as World War I Civilian Draft Registrations  and 1940 United States Census.

Many local libraries have wonderful genealogy and history departments, and all you need is a free library card. The downtown Fort Worth Library is excellent (and has free weekend parking) and the Hillsboro Library in Hill County, Texas, the home of so many of my ancestors, has an amazing genealogical collection.

And I follow other genealogists on Facebook and by RSS with Feedly. These folks are always willing to lend a helping hand with advice and frequently post about new databases and genealogical finds. Just a few days ago, a link to a free Tennessee database containing scanned Bible pages was posted and in it I found a Bible for my Vance/Brevard line, with entries dating back into the late 1700’s.

If you need a genealogy database program, RootsMagic Essentials, Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition and MyHeritage’s Family Tree Builder are all free.

Finally, there are many folks out there who volunteer to do document look-ups or take photographs at far-away places, for free or simply for the cost of mileage or postage. I was a volunteer for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, and hope to be again when the new RAOGK gets under way. I volunteered to take cemetery photos and I never charged for my efforts. I see it as a way to “pay it forward”, to help someone else as a way to thank those who have helped me.

Oh, did I forget to mention that even those pay sites occasionally offer free access to databases normally behind a pay wall, such as WWI records from MyHeritage, available through the end of July. And Fold3 is providing free access to its Revolutionary War Collection, also thru the end of July.

So you see, genealogy can be an expensive hobby, but it truly doesn’t have to be!


Genealogy on a budget (Part 1)

Jul 142014

According to a recent article:

Ready to spend $18,000? The high cost of searching for your ancestors

The growing urge on the part of millions of Americans to investigate their roots has spawned a billion-dollar genealogy industry that is still growing by leaps and bounds. For the past eight years or so, I’ve heard people toss around the claim that genealogy sites are the most frequently visited (second only to pornography) and that ancestor-hunting is the country’s most popular pastime (after gardening)…

Yep, it’s pretty easy to spend some big bucks when you’re searching for your ancestors. We’ve all “been there, done that.”

But $18,000?

Ok, let’s look at some prices for subscription research sites:

(Assuming you have a computer and internet access)

(These figures may not be completely accurate. Have you tried to find the subscription rates for some of these databases lately? They are frequently well-hidden!)

And you’re gonna need a genealogy database program (Windows):

Definitely gotta have a scanner for that growing stack of photographs and documents:

  • starting at about $29 for a basic model

And don’t forget about backups (certainly don’t wanna lose all that expensive data!):

And then you will probably need pens, pencils, notebook paper, folders, computer paper, a filing cabinet of some sort- depending on your style (look for those Back-To-School sales)

But, wait! These figures are for online genealogical research. What about the old-school write-a-letter-visit-a-courthouse-research-at-the-library-wander-through-a-cemetery genealogical research?

Depending on how aggressively you search and the distance to the target, add maybe $50-100/month to that total (stamps, gas, snacks, mosquito spray, copying machine costs).

And, hey, you’ll need a digital camera, too. Less than $100 on right now. Or just use your smart phone’s camera (umm, they don’t grow on trees…).

So, let’s see here… our total is… where’s that darn calculator… 3 research site subscriptions, 1 genealogical database program, a case of Deep Woods Off, all that hardware and all those travel costs…

A total of about $1500 so far. Probably less, because I’m not planning to buy a new printer, digital camera or filing cabinet every year.

$1500 is certainly not $18,000, but it’s still a lot of money.

Well then, how can you have fun with genealogy, and still keep those expenses down?

(to be continued…)


Genealogy on a budget (Part 2)


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