Friday, May 11, 2007

Family History TV on your computer


Did you know that you can watch TV on your computer? Many commercial programs provide full shows on their sites, but my favorite WebTV site is RootsTV. Based here in Utah, the programming is created by family history researchers from around the world. When I last counted, there were 23 separate family history channels on this site. Turn the sound up and stroll through the site. Click on the graphics on the right side of your screen to choose the channels.

I can safely guarantee that you'll find programs of interest on RootsTV. If your connection speed is slow, just click on the play button and when the progress bar has partially filled, point to the bar and slide the button back to the beginning. I'm watching the Ancestors TV series as I write this note. Take time to throughly explore the site. There are fascinating stores buried all over the site. If you can't sit to watch a full program, start it running and listen while you work...

Old Photos

If you are like me, you have a ton of old photos that you've: 1. Inherited through the years 2. Found at garage sales or antique shops or 3. Rescued from your grandparents attic / basement, etc. after their death. The old photos are like GOLD -- IF you know the names of the folks in the photos. Unfortunately, most of the time, no one wrote names on the back of these old photos. (We all know that you always write names and dates on the photos you take ... right?) How do you find out who these folks are? Ask surviving 'old' family members as a starting place. If you don't have success there then you may want to....

* Scan the photos and post them on Dead Fred under the 'Mysteries' section. Folks who visit the site may recognize the people in your photos and will post their identities. Be sure to post all the knowledge you have about the photo to help narrow down the possibilities.

* While visiting Fred, troll through the surname section and see if someone has posted photos of any of your ancestors / relatives. I found several of my extended cousins photos there a while ago and knew some of their living descendants. When I alerted them to the photos, they called me 'Santa'. They thought all photos of their ancestors had been destroyed. Good Stuff!

Photos in general

We all take a lot of photos in the course of a year. This year, remember to take photos of old family homes, headstones, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Get in the practice of taking your camera with you to family events, on Memorial Day visits, etc. You'll be happy you did. Once you have the photos, scan them if they are on paper. Link your digital images to people and events in your genealogy database and your reports will look even better.

Homesteading and BLM Lands

Did your ancestor(s) homestead or obtain land in the west from the Federal Government? Take a look at the BLM Land Office Records site. In many cases, the original documents is posted for land patents. If not, the legal description of the property is shown.

I've found many pieces of property that were obtained by my great grandfathers. I was surprised to find that my great grandmother obtained several mineral properties after my great grandfather had died! Who knew? Here's one of the pages showing properties my great grandparents obtained in California. This information has helped me add additional story patterns in their life stories...

* Click on the "Search Land Patents" link on the green bar to start your search...

Veteran's Gravesites

Do you have family members who served in the U. S. Military? They and their families may have been buried in Veteran's Cemeteries. Two years ago, I found one of my long, lost great uncles buried in the veterans cemetery near San Francisco. Last year, the records for an other family members were posted from a cemetery near Seattle.

* To see if your ancestors / family are listed on the site, click here...

Parishes in England

Are you looking for the name of parishes and church buildings in England? If you had ancestors in England the answer is YES. The free Parish Locator program is extremely useful in finding parishes in the UK. In addition to this program, you can find parishes on the web. As an exercise, try finding one of your ancestors using these steps..

* First look on the GENUKI Church Database site. Just type in the name of the town / parish and choose the county. Hit 'Search' and the list will appear. If there were multiple places with the same or similar name, you'll need to click on the down arrow and choose the location you want to get the listings.

* Next, go to the Family History Library Catalog and find the film number for the birth, marriages, deaths in that parish / church. Order the films and search for your ancestor(s) record(s).

Hopefully, you'll find something new. Maybe even a 'new' ancestor.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Tools and Views

I've spent part of two days helping some cousins get started in family history research this week. Both of them had some experience with family history software, so we focused on some other software tools to help in their quest.

Both of these sisters and I are now in a research 'team' working on our common ancestry. We are using e-mail and the telephone to coordinate our research efforts and have already enjoyed several research finds. Team up with your cousins whenever you can... you'll be surprised with your joint 'finds'.

Here is the free software they installed to assist in their research efforts. (The titles are links to the software web sites)

Faststone Image Viewer

This free photo editing / organizing software is Powerful. It is amazing that it is free. If you decide to use it, the controls are found by pointing to the 4 sides of the screen.

The new team mates love this tool and are already using it to clean up, crop, etc. old family photos. (and they are sharing the results with me!)


Free .... A fast, easy to use Image Viewer. Add the plugin's from the site and you can also use it to listen to music, view video's. It is a great program that I've used for several years.


Free -- View census images, hand written documents, etc. in the upper window while you type the transcription in the lower window. You can save the transcription as a text file or copy and paste the text to an event in your family history software. Try it. You'll like it. The link on this page is new. I talked to the author in the Netherlands yesterday and he has just moved his website to this new address.

Opera Web Browser

Free -- Firefox is my web browser of choice, but I use Opera more and more. It is extremely customizable. I've found that I use it most by having Opera 'read' web pages to me by using a simple voice plug-in from the Opera site. Now when I'm working on my records and have found a site with a history about my ancestor, area history, etc., I just highlight the text that I want to hear and let Opera read to me while I continue to work. (I even 'read' the histories on my own site when working on that individual... They bring many clues and 'To-Do's' to mind, thus enhancing my ancestor detective efforts..)Opera voiceera has built in e-mail if you want an 'all-in-one' program. If not, just don't turn it on in the settings. You don't hear as much about Opera, but it is a solid program that usually 'pushes' the other popular browsers to keep up...

Google Earth

Free -- If you have a fairly fast Internet connection and aren't using Google Earth already get it! Google Earth lets you tour the world from your chair at home. I use it to plot the homes, headstones, migration, etc. of my ancestors. The new FamilySearch website has integrated Google Earth photos with family events plotted on them. I use Google Earth to scan the area for rural cemeteries, battle grounds, etc. associated with my family. You can often find them looking at aerial photos when an address description is almost useless.

Already have Google Earth installed? Great. Click on the attached file and press the 'Play' button in Google Earth to tour a few burial locations for some of my family. Now it is your turn to plot your own family homesteads, graves, etc. It is easy. Just read the help file... My attached file is simple, but you can easily make very detailed files if you want...

I have plotted all of the current temples and most of the announced temple locations in Google Earth files. Connie and I will never physically visit all of them with so many now in existence, but with Google Earth, we can 'visit' them from a satellite view..

When you are looking for towns, etc. surrounding a known ancestral location, consider using Google Earth. You'll be surprised how much a visual 'lay-of-the-land' can help you determine which little town or or larger city might have been the repository of family records, etc..

Lastly, a reminder to visit the Utah Digital Newspapers or a similar site for other locations. Thousands of new images have been added to this site recently. In less than an hour, I found the obituaries of my great grandparents and my wifes great grandparents, as well as many other references to family members.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Life Browser and other goodies

The folks in the FamilySearch Labs are at it again. I'm certainly happy to see the church turn this small group 'loose' to create wonderful web based tools for Family History Research.....

Recently, they asked for comments on a new tool they are creating called 'Life Browser'. When I looked at it, I immediately noted that it could be integrated with the new FamilySearch that I've been beta testing for the past year. I think you'll immediately see the possible 'magic' in the program. Go to the FamilySearch Labs website and click on 'Life Browser'. Turn up the sound on your speakers (one of the items has a voice / slide show) and browse away. Remember that ALL of the buttons, arrow heads, etc. on the site function or will function in the final product. If you loose the pedigree view while browsing, look for the little down arrow near the top left of the page and click on it to drop the pedigree frame back in place.

While you are on the FamilySearch Labs website, take a few minutes to look at the beta version of the Pedigree Viewer. I've mentioned this program earlier. Get ready to zoom around the pedigree by changing the views, highlighting direct lines, etc. Have fun. You can't hurt anything by clicking away..

Lastly, while on the site, be sure to click on the FamilySearch Indexing... Yes, this is a ploy on my part to get you interested in becoming an Indexer, but even if you can't at this time, visit anyway and see if there is anything of current interest...

If you see something that you like... tell the folks using the Feedback link on the page. If you see something that doesn't work... tell them about it. It is being designed for users and they enjoy getting input from the end users.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Digital storage media

If you haven't experienced failures in your storage CD's or DVD's yet, you will. It is just a matter of time. I've seen more than a dozen of my genealogy backup CD's fail during the past 18 months.

So, what did I do wrong? I burned the data to a 'good' quality CD, wrote on it with a permanent pen or label and then stored the disks in a CD storage case made by CaseLogic, standing upright in a cool dark place with no pressure on the case. So I did everything right .... right? Well, some folks argue that the permanent ink will cause a failure in the CD, but that isn't necessarily true... It depends on where you write and many other factors... At least it isn't as bad as stick on labels..

Let's look at where the data is written on a CD or DVD. If you hold a CD in a horizontal position and look at it, you really only 'see' the plastic disk in its construction. The data is actually written on the underside of the foil that we associate with the top of the disk. And when I say foil, it is very thin foil when compared to the aluminum foil in our kitchens.

We see folks throwing CD's and DVD's down on desks, etc., stacking 'stuff' on them, and not even think that the music, movie, data is only a few thousandths of an inch below the surface. I'm surprised that CD's and DVD's last as long as they do. We often see folks prying their CD's and DVD's out of the storage cases by pulling up on one side bending the entire disk. Since the foil is so thin, every bend of this nature tears the foil storing the data in thousands of tiny cracks, guaranteeing an early death of that disk.

Additionally, the 'good' blank CD's and DVD's that we buy at the store aren't really that 'good'. They weren't designed as archival media, but rather for short term storage. Remember how many floppy disks you've thrown away in the past when they 'failed'? The same logic holds true for the standard CD / DVD we use today. They are good for so many uses / months and then we toss them....

Knowing that your hard drive IS going to fail, how are you backing up all your genealogy, photos, etc.? Using the right media will go a long way to insuring that the data and photos aren't lost.

Dick Eastman wrote an article on this subject a while ago. See his article about this problem here.

Dick references another article about buying storage media created with special dyes that greatly enhances the life of a CD / DVD. Read that article here.

Did I buy a stack of DVD's made using this dye for my data storage? You better believe it! I have too much time and money invested to loose my data because my carefully handled, carefully stored media failed due to its design.

We live in a digital world... If you don't want to loose your data, photos, family videos, etc., take a few minutes and read the two articles, then order the right storage media for your own use. Next, change the habits of yourself and family. Always hold disks by the outside edges, stop flexing them and stop abusing them by throwing them around. Store them upright, in a cool, dark place and remember ..... Your hard drive(s) WILL fail. It isn't a question. It is just a matter of when. If you don't back up your data regularly, you WILL loose it. How often should you back it up? That all depends on your threshold of pain.. Loose your data and photos once and you'll know at least one level of it...