Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 Roots & Rambles Posts of 2011

During the year 2011 I wrote 171 blog posts on the Marian's Roots and Rambles blog. The greatest amount of writing activity happened in the second half of the year.  What a great year it has been.  Below are the top ten blog posts based on overall hits. 

10. Where I Get My Information
 This post explains how I keep up with information on the genealogical community.

9. The Reality of Genealogical Education and Skills
 A look at the varied state of education amongst genealogists.

8. Data Overload: How to Create a Better System?
 A plea for help about my data overload.

7. The Nathan Brown Case Continued
 The introductory post to more information following my "Brick Walls: Cracking the Case of Nathan Brown's Parents" webinar that aired on Legacy Family Tree on November 2, 2011.

 6. Is it a Bad Time to Become a Professional Genealogist?
 A discussion of whether now is the right time. The bulk of the discussion is in the comments.
 5. And So She Risks Everything By Being Completely Honest
The post where I bare my Achilles heel.This post ranked #2 in terms of comments with 47 people replying.
4. Nathan Brown: How Exactly Did I Find Nathan's Parents?
 The nitty gritty details of exactly how I initially found Nathan Brown's parents.

3. My Genealogy Software Upheaval
Who knew that everyone wants to talk about software?! This post ranked #1 in terms of comments. A total of 52 people replied.

2. The Top 3 Changes in Genealogy
An overview of the major changes in genealogy in the last few years.

1. Top Chef Genealogist: Megan Smolenyak
An interview with Megan Smolenyak about her genealogy research for the television cooking show Top Chef.

Photo Credit: photo by sam_churchill and used under the creative commons license.

Some Words of Encouragement

My friend John, whom I know from Google+, is about to take a giant genealogical leap forward.  He is going to cross the invisible line from online research to offline research.  In order to continue his research he has determined that he has to leave behind the databases he has been relying on ( and and take a trip to the Maine Historical Society.

This is a big step and I am so excited for John.  I also know how scary it can be to go to a repository for the first time. Here's are some tips to make the adventure a little smoother.

1) Take Care of Practical Matters

One of the quickest and easiest ways to smooth the road to your first repository is to handle the practical matters first. Go to the archive or repository website and determine their address, phone number and hours of operation.  Next print out a mapquest with directions to the location.  Even if you have a gps, the mapquest will act a backup in case there are any road closures or your gps stops working. Before you go, call the archive to make sure they will be open the day you will be arriving.

2) Check the Catalog

The archive should have either an online catalog or guidance documents of their collections on their website.  Check these to make sure they have the records you are looking for. If you still aren't sure after viewing the website, send the archivists an email and ask.  Better to find out before driving for any length of time.

3) Check for Restrictions

Some archives have restrictions on what you can bring into the research area and what you can copy or photograph.  Some places will have lockers where you will need to store your personal items.  Bring quarters in case the lockers require them. Also bring dollar bills in small denominations.  There's nothing worse than only having a $20 bill and the copy machine only takes up to $5 bills.  There will likely be a change machine but who really wants $20 in quarters! Toss a few pencils in with your pens.  Pens are not allowed in some places.

If anyone has any other suggestions for a first timer please share them here. Also, if anyone has  first hand experience with the Maine Historical Society, I'm sure John would appreciate hearing your tips.

Good luck, John! I'm sure you're going to have a great experience.

Photo Credit: Photo by Stephen Cummings and used under the creative commons license.

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Genealogy Goals for 2012

During 2011, I came to the realization that I should be spending more time on my own family history research.  The more I looked around I realized that many of the top genealogists used their own family research for the backdrop of their books and articles.  I admit that I am a little slow to catching on sometimes!

I've always used the excuse that living in New England hampered my attempts to research my own families that come mostly from Pennsylvania and New York. As a location focused researcher, not being able to get to those places easily discouraged me.  No more. I'm starting 2012 with a new attitude.  I will start researching some early New England lines that I do have and have ignored. I will also focus take the plunge and focus more intently on my New York lines.


1. Get Organized

I watched Mary Hill's webinar on setting up a system for our genealogy research.  I really need to implement this.  Several years back I inherited all the family history records from my mother who was a life long genealogist but now is in the final stages of Alzheimer's. It's time to take all that paperwork and clippings and get it organized.  This is going to be my greatest challenge of the year.

2. Digitize Photos

My Dad, my brother and I have done a great job of scanning old photos but we haven't been very organized about it.  Unfortunately, since we sometimes scan separately, it's hard to tell if we've got everything done. This year I'd like to focus on finishing the job and pulling together all the photos so that they can be distributed by CD. And now that I have a Flip Pal I'd like to scan all of my Dad's personal photos that he won't let out of his sight.

3. Digitize Document and Clippings

I'm not sure how far I well get with this but I will continue making progress on digitizing documents and clippings. My mother saved everything so there is quite a lot to scan. I will attempt to digitize this material as I am organizing in goal #1.

4. Brick Walls

I will work to bring down two major New York Family Brick Walls. I need prove/disprove that Orange Hill is the father of my great great grandmother Charlotte Hill of Pompey, Onondaga, New York.  I also want to find further information, any information on my immigrant ancestor, William Edwards, who arrived from Wales before the Revolution, married a Palatine girl from Germantown, New York and then settled in Montgomery County, New York in the Glen/Charlestown area.  I vow to write and document as I go.

5. New England Research

I will plunge happily into New England research using my own family lines. I have largely ignored these lines because I felt they were mostly done by other researchers. I will start by focusing on the Sisson family, particularly because of their tie to my much loved places on the southern coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  I will also make an attempt to do some thorough and original research on my Manchester and Gurney lines.

6. Gravestone Photos

I will attempt to find/take and organize photographs of the gravestones of all my ancestors starting with the present and working backwards.  I've never done an inventory to see how many I have nor have I actively attempted to link them a genealogy software problem. I will create an inventory, link the photos and work on getting photos that I am missing.

7. Genealogy Software

After my genealogy software upheaval in 2011, I am looking forward to starting fresh. I will work toward re-entering my family history from scratch in Legacy Family Tree using proper citations.  I will have to learn how to use the software effectively. I will also learn how to use The Next Generation (TNG) so that I can control the design and output of my online family history presence and streamline adding new material.  I think the biggest challenge in both these cases is going to be the learning curve of using new software.  But I think the effort will be worth it.

Looking Forward

I have set some lofty goals for 2012! I will blog as I try to accomplish these goals.  Being accountable will hopefully keep me on track. And I will look toward turning my family research into some publishable articles.

Wish me luck!  What do your 2012 genealogy goals look like?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Genre and Genealogy

I have to admit that I am still mulling over Michael Hait's post "The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new experts?"

There's one last part I need to discuss and then I think I will be able to let it go.  In his final section he discusses what he'd like to see from bloggers in the future. He's hoping they'll give more consideration to the fact that their blogs are public and many people are reading them. 

This post does not directly address that issue but gives voice to my visceral reaction to the topic which is the matter of genre.

Within the field of genealogy there are many different types of genre that are played out in printed publication.  As we explore these types of genealogical genres we have to ask again, what is genealogy?  Is genealogy strictly when we are talking about discovered family connections and the citations we show to prove those connections?  Or does genealogy encompass everything from the materials that we create to teach others about genealogy, the journal-like stories we write to share our journey, the discussions of serendipity we have experienced along our way? Is that genealogy or do we need to come up with a sub-field to cover those topics?

Let's look at journals and magazines.  There are many different types.  There are the peer-reviewed journals such as The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, The National Genealogical Society Quarterly and The American Genealogist (TAG).  I could be wrong about this but when Michael gets talking about genealogy this is what I think he is talking about.  Not that that is bad thing.  These publications are amazing, the best of genealogy and what we strive for in our research.  They are the closest thing we have to academic journals.  They are written in a scholarly manner, peer-reviewed in a scholarly way and the citations alone are a lesson in good research.  They are not always to most riveting works to read but they push us to become better genealogists. Since we all agree on that, let's move on.

My question is, what about all those other genealogy publications?  Are they genealogy too or they something else?  There's American Ancestors, the NGS Magazine, The New York Researcher and numerous others created by societies and other groups. These magazines sometimes include scholarly work but they also include articles that teach about different issues confronted by genealogists such as DNA, technology, writing, new record groups, project management and much more.  Some of the materials are footnoted and some aren't based on whether it's appropriate.  Do we make a distinction between publishing genealogies and publishing topics within the field of genealogy?

And what about the pop genealogy magazines?  Can we consider those genealogy? There are a number of publications such as Family Tree Magazine, Internet Genealogy and Family Chronicle that specifically don't include footnotes in their articles.  These are perhaps considered as how-to genealogy magazines.  They discuss research and encourage genealogists to try new resources but they don't specifically print genealogies.

Each of these publications has their own voice. Each one has a specific target audience. Each one has specific guidelines for writers that need to be followed.  The guidelines spell out exactly what the mission of the magazine is and how they intend to communicate with their readers.  Some magazines, such as the last group, specifically don't use citations in their articles.  Are they not genealogical publications because of that?

That's how I feel when Michael is encouraging bloggers to be their best.  I feel like (and this could be misinterpretation on my part) that he wants us all to be in the first category.  The thing about genealogy blogs is that, just like magazines, there are many genres of genealogy blogs.  Some are scholarly work where genealogies are published, some are diary-like stories of a research journey, some are editorials, some are book and product reviews, some are satire, some are how-tos.  And some are people just getting their feet wet with research who are reaching out to the greater community through their blog.

What makes blogs even more complicated is that each post could be a specific genre with the overall blog not specifically adhering to any one type.  So we can't actually look to a blog to have a specific genre. We must consider each post separately.

So again, the question is what is genealogy? Who has the right to decide? Who has the right to publish it? Are their two distinctive elements to genealogy - the academic publication of "a genealogy" and all the other peripheral stuff which circles around, explores and supports the ultimate goal of a published genealogy?  Do we need to be more specific about these distinctions when talking about genealogy?

As far as bloggers are concerned, they are just like journals and magazines.  They determine what their voice is.  They decide who they want their audience to be and they decide how to represent that voice in writing. Just like genealogy publications they each serve a different purpose and express their views in different ways.

So instead of talking generally about genealogy and encouraging people to write in a better way, perhaps we need to more carefully voice our comments to specifically address which genre we are talking about and how they can specifically improve within their chosen genre.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Christmas Wish for You

Merry Christmas everyone! Here is my wish for you:

If you are a celebrating a joyous Christmas with family and friends - I wish a you a day full of laughter. Hug those that are with you and reflect on how blessed and lucky you are.

If you are feeling sadness today - Acknowledge it but don't dwell on it.  Try to accept that you can't change the source of your sadness. Perhaps treating it like any other day will help.  Distract yourself or reach out to others in person or via phone or the internet.

If you've been overwhelmed and stressed with the holiday season (like me) - Rejoice and celebrate that the pressures are now gone (or soon will be).  Look forward to the new year and all the opportunity that it brings.

If you are alone today - Please accept this virtual hug! I wish I could there in person to keep you company and put on a smile on your face.

I would like to wish everyone many blessings today! May we celebrate our friendship.

Hug the ones your with, honor the ones who have left us and creative positive memories for the next generation!

Merry Christmas!

Photo by Marian Pierre-Louis, 2009, taken at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Social Media Pet Peeve

I was just reading "Easy & Fast is the name of the Comment Game" over on Caroline Pointer's For Your Family Story blog. Caroline was talking about the challenges of leaving comments and also her unhappiness with companies who shut comments off.

I thought I would take a moment and share one of my social media pet peeves.  Many of my friends are dabbling in social media and don't always "get it."  I understand that social media can be a challenge because it's not intuitive for some people.  Give it time! I promise it will get easier.

The problem I have - yes, my pet peeve - is with the big time folks (I will leave it vague at that) who embrace social media but make it a one-way street.

These people use all forms of social media - or at least the ones that I monitor - Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn.  They post their blogs links, etc to keep their fans up-to-date.

But here's the ironic thing. It's all one-way. If you reply via twitter, Facebook or other means you will not get a response.

I replied to a tweet or facebook post one time that a certain person had posted. A few weeks later I got a reply that said if you want to contact me send me an email at this address.

If you are not going to be monitoring your social media accounts you shouldn't be using them!

In a way, the companies that Caroline was talking about are at least more honest.  They are letting you know that you can't communicate with them.

Social media is a two-way street.  If you are going to use a social media channel you need to expect that people will reply to you using that channel. If you are going to tweet, be prepared to tweet back.  Otherwise you're not really doing social media.

Photo credit: photo by satguru and used under the creative commons license.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are Bloggers Really the New Experts Part 2

In part one on this topic I responded to Michael Hait's post "The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new experts" by touching on the topics of the old and new paradigms in the genealogical community.  Here in part two, I will respond the second half of his post where he discusses whether it is a good thing or not.

Part 2 - Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a Good Thing or Bad Thing?

 As Michael continues in his post he says "Almost single-handedly Thomas [MacEntee] has led the charge in gaining respectability for genealogy bloggers"  I can't agree with this more.  Whether people like it or not Thomas has revolutionized communication within the genealogical community and has lead the community into bold new territory. What and have done for digitizing records, Thomas has done for individual genealogists by giving them a voice and the tools to express it.  Thomas couldn't have done it without a great support team, but the truth is it's unlikely any of us would have done it so dramatically and rapidly without his indefatiguable energy.

Michael touches on the what genealogists of the future will be like when he says,

"A new generation of genealogists has already started to be born. They are not genealogists first and online genealogists second. They will be raised under the new paradigm, and may start by thinking that “everything is online.” Even once we dispel this notion, we will have to deal with another issue that is far more frightening."

Yes, genealogists of the future are going to be different. Let's embrace it.  Two visionary leaders in our community, D. Joshua Taylor and Dick Eastman have both spoken about what the future of genealogy looks like. Dick most recently presented his views in his talk "The Family History World in 10 Years Time."  I would highly recommend every listen to it (I will check to see if the online version is available to everyone). Josh and Dick both caution that the face of genealogists will look very different in a few years time, from their desire to use the internet to their varied backgrounds in non-traditional regions of the world such as China, South America and India.  Will the genealogical community step up to meet the needs of these new genealogists?

Michael regrets the decline of genealogical societies across America.  He questions whether bloggers can replace the support and expertise that genealogical societies provide and rallies his readers to create a resurgence to support societies.

I have two thoughts on this: 1) Bloggers are not replacing societies, the greater overall paradigm shift is making them redundant and 2) Genealogical societies need to change to meet the changing needs of the community.

Bloggers versus Societies

"GeneaBloggers do not generally scour every cemetery in a specific county and publish full listings of the gravestones. Genealogical societies do."

Actually it's genealogists who scour cemeteries not societies.  At times they implement and publish their work through societies and sometimes they do it on their own.  The paradigm shift has seen a move to and not bloggers.  Bloggers do some transcriptions but nearly enough to impact or threaten societies.  Thus it is the large data collection websites who are a challenge to societies in this regard. Has been a bad innovation? I don't think so.  The fact that we are moving from published transcriptions by genealogical societies is an example of how the exchange of information has changed not only within the genealogical community but also in the world at large.  Let's also keep in mind that quality among transcriptions vary whether they are done by individuals or societies.  Some transcriptions are nearly perfect and some are riddled through and through with errors.  Just like any document used in research, each transcription regardless of who created it needs to be evaluated for its own merit.

"GeneaBloggers do not abstract all of the obituaries of some small county newspaper from the mid-19th century and publish them. Genealogical societies do."

Again, the paradigm has shifted from genealogical societies to large information providers such as and's "America's Obituaries and Death Notices."  Bloggers are not threatening societies, the information paradigm shift is.  In fact, bloggers are providing a better, though limited service, by compiling obituaries and other information within the context of families and localities rather than strictly as an out of context individual record.

"GeneaBloggers do not maintain genealogical libraries containing decades of work on local families. Genealogical societies do."

The introduction of this issue again shows lack of recognition of the changes that are happening in the greater world.  All libraries are under threat not just genealogical libraries.  Only major archives and large state or regional society libraries have financial viability.  Most people who belong to larger societies like the New England Historic Genealogical Society or  the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society do not even live within a reasonable distance to use the libraries regularly, if at all.  The members instead derive their benefit from online database and superb publications.  These societies are not under as great a threat as are the smaller town, county, regional or even state societies.

Michael concludes this portion of his blog post by stating "These resources can only remain available as long as we continue to support the societies that provide them."  I completely disagree (for some of the reasons stated above).

Societies have a lot to offer but they need to change with the times. They can not continue to offer services in an outdated manner when change is happening all around them.  I am not going to give my money to a society who provides me with nothing.  A society needs to provide value to me, their member, in order for me to continue to support it.  I belong to a number of societies and will continue to do so. But I have also lapsed my membership in many other societies.  Societies need to change to meet the needs of their members and have a forward vision if they want to continue to exist.  Supporting outdated models is not a viable option.

However, I do agree that genealogists can support societies by becoming active members of them.  Their energy, passion and leadership involvement can help transform smaller societies so that they can remain viable for the future.  Simply sending money to a society is not enough. Active participation and transformation is the answer.

Are Bloggers the New Experts?

Michael is concerned about the varied quality of bloggers and the visibility they have within the genealogical community.  Of course, this begs the question, who is the genealogical community?  Are the folks watching Who Do You Think You Are? and dabbling in family history part of the genealogical community? Is it inclusive of everyone or a smaller subset of actively engaged individuals?

There are two main issues (amongst a myriad of others) that need to be discussed. The first is the paradigm shift of information in the world at large.  No longer do people watch the three network stations for their news.  People now watch the news that suits their needs and opinions whether it is accurate or not.  Bloggers have entered the arena as an alternative news source for the genealogical community.  The quality of that news or information is just as varied as the news you can get from the mainstream media.  This is the way society has evolved whether we like it or not.  People have choice and they will decide which outlet suits them best.

The second issue is autonomy. Yes, bloggers are operating in a public forum but no longer is information controlled strictly by the entities that have the means to finance television and radio stations and printed publications.  Now everyone has the opportunity to have a voice.  Blogs are autonomous and we are free to disseminate whatever we like as long as we don't break any laws.

Would I like genealogy bloggers to provide quality content? Absolutely.  But bad content in genealogy has existed since the beginning of the field right alongside good content.  I would love for it to go away, especially in regards to erroneous family trees spread across the internet.  I agree with Michael when he says " Put your best face forward. You don’t have to change your voice to sound professional."  The fact is bloggers are autonomous and can choose what to publish on their blogs.  The best we can do is to lead by example. And that's where we should focus our energy as role models. And as members of the existing establishment embrace blogging, we will start to see a demise of the fringe bloggers and the rise of a more mature blogging community.


Are bloggers leading the genealogical community?  Are they guiding the future of where the discipline is headed?  Let's not get confused here about leadership versus advancement. The positions of leadership within the community are held by the editors of publications, the officers in state-wide and national genealogical societies and professional organizations, and by the directors of institutes and certificate programs.  How many bloggers are in those positions? If they are, then you could make an argument that one or two bloggers are leading the community. In reality, bloggers are a vocal and visible segment of one aspect in the advancement of genealogy.

I could be wrong here but I think Michael is defining leadership in the development of genealogy by the strict discipline of rigorous research. I would say that leadership is the ability to move a community forward while adhering to its principles.

The principles of genealogy have already been defined by the creation of the reasonably exhaustive search and the BCG Standards Manual.  True vision takes place when we harness these already existing tools and combine them with future needs to move the community forward.

Technology will be a big part of that as we have seen with the creation of RootsTech.  The changing demographic of future genealogists will also be a big part of that.  Will bloggers be a part of that as well? Certainly. Will we choose to meet the needs of future genealogists or will we further pigeon-hole genealogy into a restricted field because the new entrants don't meet our view of what genealogists are?

Michael Hait has started a great dialog about genealogy as a whole by planting seeds of thought about bloggers and their role within the genealogical community.  Michael is a brilliant thinker and voice within the genealogical community.  We are typically in agreement on most topics.  Over the course of this two-part series I have chosen to nit-pick based on some of the examples he has used to express his ideas.  But ultimately we want to the same thing - to move the field of genealogy forward in the best way possible.

Are Bloggers Really the New Experts?

Last week Michael Hait's wrote a thoughtful and thought provoking post called "The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?" on his blog Planting the Seeds.  In his post he discussed whether genealogy bloggers are perceived as the new experts because of the shift from traditional media to the internet and social media as the source for information and news.  I would strongly encourage you to read Michael's post before diving into this one.

I had so many reactions to Michael's post.  Some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn't. He covered quite a lot of ground in that one post. I am going to try to address it here. Be warned that this is a highly opinionated piece. As I can tend to be capricious at times, perhaps I can be persuaded to change my views at a later point, but this is where I stand now.

I am going to break this up into two posts:
1) Signs of the New Paradigm and the Old Paradigm
2) Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a Good Thing or Bad Thing?

Part 1 - Signs of the New Paradigm and the Old Paradigm

Signs of the New Paradigm

I would agree with Michael that bloggers have come into their own.  Originally disregarded and ignored, genealogical bloggers have quite a bit of clout now.  Using Joan Miller's post "Genea-Bodies: the New Somebodies" was a very good example of this transition. I think the important thing to keep in mind here is Joan's statement "We became Rootstech’s biggest cheerleaders because we cared and we were engaged." This pretty much encapsulates it for me - passion.  Bloggers have drive, passion and a voice which they want to share whether anyone is listening or not.  In the end it turns out someone was listening.

Michael said the paradigm shift really hit home for him when featured “five of the genealogy community’s top thinkers” to comment on their recent survey results.  This is where we start to diverge in opinion.

Michael said "I doubt it is coincidental that three of the five genealogists chosen write popular genealogy blogs. This is a perfect example of the paradigm shift in genealogy."

I think this has less to do with a paradigm shift than working the current paradigm.  The fact that identifies those people as genealogy's top thinkers is a matter of opinion (not that I disagree with it).  It's their opinion and they are projecting that opinion. It doesn't really matter if the folks are or aren't genealogy's top thinkers. The fact is as genealogists we are taught that when we evaluate a source we need to consider why it was created and by whom.  In our journey through critical thinking we know that it is often more important to evaluate news/information sources than record sources.  All five thinkers chosen are very forward thinking and technologically focused.  That fits with the direction that the company is projecting with the results of their survey.

I hate to quote singer John Mayer but I'm going to do it anyway.  The song Waiting on the World to Change seems like an appropriate anthem for this discussion of a paradigm shift.  In the song Mayer sings, “Cause when they own the information, oh / They can bend it all they want.” 

My point here is that commercial entities are going to choose voices that best support their direction or goal.  And even more importantly, the identification of certain people as leaders in an industry does not suggest that there aren't equally as important people in the industry who aren't being featured.

Again, in no way am I detracting from the five top thinkers.  I have high respect for them all and agree that they have a tremendous voice within our community.  But we need to err on the side of caution when a commercial entity that is relatively new to the scene is given the opportunity to define the leaders of an entire industry or community.

The Global Paradigm

Michael began his post discussing how the distribution of information has changed in the world.  Many real-time events are captured on twitter before they hit main stream media.  It's very important to remember that this is a global paradigm shift and not just one within the genealogical community.  Every aspect of our society has been altered by the change in how we receive and filter information.

Likewise, the phenomenon of blogging and bloggers is not unique to the genealogical community. Both technological shifts and paradigm shifts see their initial growth by "early adopters."   Typically what happens is that the "small guy" with the entrepreneurial mindset initiates dramatic change then the establishment steps in after most of the risk is gone and co-opts the new technology or paradigm.  A simple example of this would be Apple and its development of the iPad.  Now that it has caught on all the other technological manufacturers are jumping on the band wagon.

Michael then goes into a lengthy discussion about ASG and the old paradigm.  He lists many examples of how the members of ASG altered the field of genealogy.  It think it's very important to remember that before they became the establishment they were the innovators, changing the face of genealogy and meeting the needs that were required at that time.  In the same way, tomorrow's establishment will be made up of the genealogists who are meeting the needs of today's genealogy.  What we need right now is very different than the foundations that were laid over the last 40 years.  And that's a good thing because it shows that we are progressing and building on what has been established.

I think we what are experiencing with social media and blogging in genealogy is similar to the iPad example.  The only difference is that the establishment is waiting a much longer time to adopt the new paradigm.  I have absolutely no doubt that the traditional establishment will adapt to these shifts. They are simply being more cautious.

Therefore the concerns about a broad range of varied skills being on display within the genealogical blogging community shows that we are still in the early stages of development.  Already the foundation of a more mature adaption is being laid with the entry of Barbara Mathews, CG (The Demanding Genealogist blog) and Meldon Wolfgang (Mnemosyne's Magic Mirror blog).  Others will surely follow as they find value in blogging and internet outreach.  Perhaps the more rapid example of this within our own community is the use of webinars as an effective, innovative, educational format.  Members of the established "old paradigm" are embracing this more quickly than they are blogging.

Continue on to Part 2 where I discuss whether the paradigm shift is a good or bad thing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Sense of Home

My friend Melissa Mannon of the Archives Info blog recently wrote this on her Facebook wall, "Hanging photos of my family makes home seem even more like home."

That sentence sparked a cord in me.

When I moved away from home as an independent adult I lived first in a series of apartments.  I kept my possessions and decorating to a minimum due to transitory nature of my life.  Then I got married and just before having our first child we moved into our first house. It was decorated in what my mother always liked to call "early marital poverty."

It wasn't until about six years later that we moved again and settled into our second home.  I'm not sure if it was because we had moved to the burbs or if it was just the right time in her life, but it wasn't until then that my mother decided to share some family heirlooms.  My brothers and I were allowed to make requests and as long as they didn't overlap we got what we wanted.

I asked my mother for two items, both of which surprised my adult-self very much.  I asked my mom for items that I didn't really like as a kid.  The first was as painting of my 3rd great grandmother, Eliza Shaw Gurney, as a young child.  The second was a statue presented by the Providence, Rhode Island YMCA to my great grandfather, Seeber Edwards, as thanks for his fundraising efforts to build the YMCA building in that city.  Both of these items I found curious or even strange as a child.  I found it ironic that I wanted and was asking for these things as an adult.

The transformation in my life happened almost immediately.  I have always loved my home but suddenly having items in my current house that I had grown up with was calming and reassuring.  These heirlooms had been an ever-present part of my daily life during my childhood. Now they found a new home in my house and for the first time my home really felt like my home.  I never realized the impact that having items from my family and from my childhood would have on how I felt about my environment. The connection with my family and with my past was strong and powerful.  It gave me a tremendous sense of comfort.

So when Melissa said "Hanging photos of my family makes home seem even more like home," I know exactly what she means.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Frustrations with Facebook

When it comes down to it, Facebook is not really that difficult to use.  A few clicks here and there and you are on your way to communicating with friends, family, colleagues and the world at large. Human nature, on the other hand, can be very complicated.  Combine Facebook and human nature and you have a potential recipe for disaster.

Here are my latest conundrums.

1) Lists

Despite the fact that Google+ is touted as allowing you to keep your "circles" separate, I've been doing this on Facebook since the beginning using lists.  The tricky part about Facebook (which you don't encounter so much on Google+) is that everyone uses Facebook differently.  Some people use Facebook to connect with a closely guarded group of family and/or friends.  Others use facebook to connect with a wide group of friends or old acquaintances from high school or college. Others like to connect with their colleagues or people who share similar interests.  Each person uses Facebook in their own way and staunchly sticks to that.  With so many people using Facebook in so many ways the human nature factor gets complicated.  For instance, you want to friend someone who is a colleague but then you get the awkward "I only use Facebook for family" response or something similar.

I use Facebook primarily to connect with colleagues and other people who have a shared interest in genealogy, history or something similar.  The challenge is I also have Facebook friends who are family and plain old regular friends. Up until now I have used lists to keep them separate.  I know for a fact that my friends and family are not going to be interested in seeing my historic gravestone photos.  So I've displayed those just to my genealogy friends.

This system worked pretty well until Facebook took away my genealogy list. In fact, it's worse, Facebook taunts me with it.  On the left hand side of the main page, Facebook lets me see that my list still exists but no longer can I actually select it as a target list when targeting my status updates. 

What should I do?  Display all my posts to everyone and potentially annoy my friends and family. On the other hand I can just post less, leaving out those really specific genre posts.  Needless to say Facebook is messing with my lists and it's affecting my ability to communicate. 

2) Subscriptions

After Google+ started, Facebook reacted by introducing subscriptions.  This means that people can start to follow you without friending you and thus eliminate some of the human nature difficulties mentioned above.

I've been thinking about this a lot and it's not as simple as you think. At least for me.  Over on Google+ nearly all of my posts are public.  I have no problem with that.  Neither do the people who follow me over there because they are used to a more open environment.

On Facebook, however, I'm feeling a bit like a protective mother hen.  Typically people comment  a lot on my status updates.  In the safe, closed environment of my wall people have been free to have discussions without having to worry about it being open to the public. (Maybe I'm wrong to feel so protective?)

I toyed with the idea of using public posts.  I even tried it a few times.  I found that my Facebook community continued on as normal with their discussion.  The disconcerting thing for me was that I was not sure any of them were aware that certain posts were public.  And this is where I get very protective.  I want to maintain that freedom to discuss what's going on within the genealogical community without anyone having to worry whether their friends or family or non-genealogical associates can see their comments.

So I've opted on my own not to do public posts on Facebook.  It really has nothing to do with Facebook and everything to with the trust I've developed with my Facebook friends.

The Conundrum

So here's the conundrum.  Between the lists that are getting messed with and the upcoming change to timeline I'm losing faith in my being able to control and target certain posts to certain people.  It's getting to be too much work.

And with the trust I've developed with my Facebook friends I'm not willing to make my wall public.

The Solution

To make my life easier I did what I never thought I would do - I created a Marian Pierre-Louis Page on Facebook.  That way anyone who wants to subscribe to my posts can find them all there.  And now I have a place where I can dump all of my professional thoughts and writings without having to worry about friends and family.  Anyone who wants to keep up with my blogs, lectures, etc can "like" my new page.

Nothing is going to change as far as what I'm posting on my facebook wall. So I wouldn't necessarily recommend any current Facebook friends to head over there or else you'll see duplicate posts from. It's simply being offered as a way for people to follow me on Facebook without actually friending me.

I'm not sure how this experiment is going to go. Time to wait and see.  If anyone has any better suggestions let me know.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Would You Still Love the Cloud if It Shut You Out?

I received an email from Susan Clark today, the author of the Nolichucky Roots blog.  I've read Susan's genealogy blog for a long while and I'm also her Facebook friend.  She's hardly the sort of person that I would predict would run afoul of Big Brother but that is what has happened.

For reason unknown to her, Google has shut her down.  They have removed her blog, disabled her Google+ account and taken away access to her email account on gmail.

Does the cloud seem like such a safe place now?

This is not the first time Google has disabled an account.  You can read of another instance that was written about on Reuters.

Susan has tried to contact Google to no avail.  She has not been privy to what she did wrong. Nor can she defend herself.

What would you do if you used gmail as your main account and it suddenly got shut down?  How would you feel if your blog were removed and you had never backed it up? (Here are some instructions for backing up your Blogger blog)

The lessons learned from Susan's experience are ones that we should wisely heeded.  How dependent are you on Google and what would happen in they pulled the plug on your accounts?

Photo Credit: Photo by AMagill and used under the creative commons license.

You're Researching but Are You Reading?

At the start of her book The Family Tree Problem Solver, Marsha Hoffman Rising explains there are "two basic ways of conducting your family history quest: searching and researching."  She goes on to say that searching is more or less a quick path to information while researching is creating and testing theories and implementing a research strategy that will lead you to answers that simple searching can't provide.

You may be a beginning researcher or you may have over twenty years of experience.  If you don't learn the best methods for researching (so that you can get beyond searching) you will get stuck and spin your wheels.  It will still be fun, but you have a limited time, so why not make the most of it and accomplish as much as possible?

The best method for becoming a better researcher is to read.  Can you remember the first genealogical book you have ever read? If so, leave me a comment and tell me what it was.  If haven't ready any books on genealogy then it's time to head straight to the library.

The only way to become a better researcher is to read and learn from genealogical books.  For those of you who are saying you can learn from institutes and classes too, well, that's true. But those classes are going to make you read some books.

I would encourage to read actual books. I love genealogical magazines and journals but the real transformation in your research skills is going to happen reading books on methodology or specific topics such as ethnic research.

If you're a brand new researcher perhaps you want to check out Megan Smolenyak's Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, A Companion to the NBC Series.  This is a fun, easy read that will give you a broad introduction to genealogy.

If you've been researching for awhile and you're doing mostly American research then you should definitely read The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (2nd Edition) by Val D. Greenwood. I'm reading this now and I learn something new in every chapter.

Then there are the books that all American researchers should read like Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose, Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records by Patricia Law Hatcher or the Marsha Hoffman Rising book mentioned above.

No matter how much I think I know about doing genealogical research, these books prove to me that I have more to learn.  I typically have three books in progress all the time. Some books help me more than others but they all combine to make me a better researcher.

If you're doing genealogical research and you're not reading while conducting research then stop what you're doing.  Assess how successful your research has been and seek out some books to help you improve. Books are some of the simplest tools you can use to help your reach your goals.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Enhance Your Genealogy by Uploading Custom GPS Coordinates

Today I'm featuring a post by guest blogger, Ed. Ed recently left a comment on one of my blog posts where he described how he uploaded custom coordinates to his GPS.  I was fascinated by the concept but knew nothing about how to go about it. Ed is going to share not only how beneficial using gps coordinates are to genealogical research but also specifically how to upload the information to a gps.

A few years ago I was preparing for a trip to visit three generations of my ancestors, the Smith family, in their family cemetery which I had never visited before in eastern Iowa. From descriptions I found online, it was described as being in the middle of a field a quarter mile from the nearest road, not visible from there and in general very hard to find. However, with today’s modern technology that is widely available, I found it easily on my first try.

The first and hardest part is to find the place you want to find using Google Earth which is a free program you can download from the internet. Once you have found your target, in my case Smith Cemetery, add a ‘placemark’ by clicking the pushpin icon on the toolbar at the top of the screen and placing it over your target. Google Earth will give you a chance to name your placemark and more importantly, will give you the GPS coordinates.

My GPS device requires any coordinates input into it to be in decimal format (instead of degrees, minutes, seconds) so depending on your GPS device, you may have to change the settings in Google Earth to have it output the coordinates in the same format. In my case since I needed decimal format so I clicked on Tools, Options and choose that option on the 3D View tab as shown below.

Once I had the coordinates, all I had to do was input those into my GPS device, tell it to go there and followed the directions. That worked great but I often found myself visiting areas of the country for reasons other than my interest in genealogy, which also happened to be an area where my ancestors lived. But due to my lack of foresight, I didn’t have the GPS coordinates with me. I started looking for ways to keep that information with me right on my GPS unit.

Customizing Your GPS

My GPS is a Garmin and has a Points of Interest or POI Loader that you can download for free from their website. This program allows you to upload your own custom files onto your portable GPS device and access them through the touch screen interface. All you need beside the POI Loader is a spreadsheet program like Excel and the USB cable that came with your GPS unit.

In an Excel spreadsheet, enter the longitude in the first column, the latitude in the second column and the text you want to appear on your Garmin screen inside quotes in the third column. You can enter multiple locations by simply adding new information on new rows. For example, I have the locations of all my ancestor’s gravesites within one spreadsheet, another spreadsheet for homesteads and a third for other genealogy related sites that I might want to visit someday in the future. Once you have all the information entered, save your file to your computer using the Save As command and selecting Comma delimited or CSV format. The Garmin POI Loader website has numerous examples of how to create these spreadsheets and load them onto your Garmin GPS.

Once you’ve uploaded the file or files to your GPS device using the POI Loader software, your file name will then become an item under Custom POIs on your Garmin GPS that once selected, will list all your targets along with the usual direction and miles it is from your current location. Select the one you want and away you go.

Another advantage to getting familiar with using GPS coordinates is that it is a very easy way to give ‘directions’ to other tech savvy people to locate a gravesite of an ancestor for example. So many times I can find the cemetery and know my relative is buried in block C, row 3, 4th plot from the left and without a map, still spend hours walking around looking for their grave. Once I have located the grave, I write down the coordinates of the headstone, update the data on my CSV file and reload it on my GPS device when I get back home. Then if someone wants the information, I can give them the coordinates and by following their GPS, the can get within a couple feet of the desired target saving them a lot of searching and allowing them more time to visit. The possibilities for using this system are endless.

Ed is an amateur genealogist who was inspired to know more about his ancestors as a child after seeing someone else's family tree but only started actively researching about five years ago. He occasionally writes about his latest genealogical findings on his blog, Riverbend Journal.

Photos courtesy of Ed.

Heritage Gift: The Deck of Cards has Arrived

Previously, I wrote about creating a custom deck of cards with photos of my ancestors.  It was fun making the deck but the true test is in the final product.

The first thing I noticed about receiving the deck was that it came directly from Hong Kong.  When using the Printer's Studio website I suspected they were located outside of the United States but didn't know for sure. So keep that in mind if you choose to use Printer's Studio.  It could impact delivery time or it could be important to folks who choose to support businesses a little closer to home. The big issue for me is safety.  Products from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, etc are monitored closely to protect consumer safety.  Products from some other parts of the world aren't.  When a large manufacturer imports goods they are held more accountable.  When I am ordering goods directly, I'm not sure that my safety (thinking of inks and children) is a consideration.  Not a deal breaker but something to think about.


The cards arrived in a nice clear plastic box (see photo above) which was a little better quality than I was expecting.  The size of the cards was fine too - probably standard playing size.

The big thing that did surprise me was the photos were all in black and white.  When I created the cards I had assumed my photos would be in color. I didn't see any notice to the contrary.  I just checked the website again and didn't see any mention of the cards being black or white.  There was simply no reference to the end color.

Now that's not really a problem in general.  Most old photographs don't have much color anyway.  The issue, however, is contrast.  The text didn't show as well on certain cards because the shading differences were too subtle.  Some cards came out really nicely in black and white and some became overly dark.  If you choose to get these cards, I would recommend converting your photos to black and white first so that you'll be able to see the anticipated end result.

Randomizing the Deck

I did contact Printer's Studio about their policy of printing the same photo on the same number (hence easily turning the fun into a memory game).  I asked them if they could change their system so that the photos could be printed randomly on their cards.

Here's their response:

"Hi Marian,

Same image for same # is the idea from our customers.   They don't want same image for all prints but they just have 4 images.   We do have more options on 13 images or 54 images for a deck.   Our IT team is working on your idea of uploading your images and click on the button "autofit" to fill up all the cards randomly.

We appreciate your idea and please do keep on writing us email if you come across more ideas in the furture.

Your PrinterStudio Team"

Their response was very upbeat but doesn't sound like they are going to make any changes soon.  I think the only thing you could do would be to select the 54 images option and then randomly place 13 (or 4) photos across the 54 cards.  Truth is, anything with more than one image is going to allow for memorization or card counting.  There's no way around it.

In this particular case the focus is more on the photographs of my ancestors as a keepsake and less about the cards actually being used for playing.  So this is not a big issue for me.


In the end I think I got a good product at a reasonable price (US $7.99 +$5.99 shipping). I ordered the cards on November 28th and they arrived December 12th.  That was exactly a two week turn around.

The quality of the cards and the case was good and overall the photos printed well.  I would have preferred the photos to be in color but I am happy I tested this on one deck so that I can tweek the process for the next time.

I will continue to search for a reasonably priced alternative a little closer to home but I'm not sure I'm going to find it.

Would I recommend Printer's Studio to others? Yes, I would. Please pay close attention to notes about contrast and text above and you will be happier with the end end result.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flip Pal: Where It Shines and Where it Doesn't

I've been writing a lot about the Flip Pal lately.  It's a great new tool and overall I'm very happy with it.  But no tool is perfect.  It needs to be selected for the right reason and the right task - just like any other tool you would buy.

Yesterday on my blog Jennifer left this comment:

"Thanks for the info on stitching. I have been debating whether to get a Flip-Pal scanner. I will use it primarily to scan 8 1/2 x 11 documents, though I am sure I will use it for photos too. Because I plan to use it primarily for documents, I've been debating whether just to get a portable scanner with a paper feed."

When I read this, I really felt it was time to talk about Flip Pal's strengths and weaknesses.

Flip Pal is the perfect tool if you need a light, portable scanner that you can take with you to scan snapshots while visiting family or at an archive, particularly if you need to scan computer screens or microfilm tables or if the archive doesn't allow wand scanners.

However, if you are planning on doing a lot of 8x10 photo scanning or 8 1/2x11 document scanning,  you may want to re-think.  The stitch feature on Flip Pal is great but it's not really practical if everything you scan is 8x10 or larger.  All that stitching adds a lot of time to an already slow process.

I would encourage Jennifer to get a scanner with a feeder that can accommodate regular sized paper. She will have to determine for herself whether that means a portable one or a desktop one.  Even a tabletop scanner without a feeder is going to be burdensome.  If you are scanning lots of documents consistently then getting the feeder option would be worth it.  If you scan documents occasionally then stick with a regular scanner that can accommodate the regular paper size.

I know that everyone is very excited about the Flip Pal.  I am too.  But it is not the answer in every situation.  Before you spend your money be honest with yourself about your needs and how you are going to use a scanner.  Better to purchase what will serve you best than to buy something that will become a source of continued frustration.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Perfect Instant Heirloom

On Saturday I received in the mail what I consider to be the perfect instant heirloom.  It was a Christmas card from my aunt.  But as a family historian it had more than I ever could have hoped for in a family treasure.

You see, my aunt will soon be moving.  The card was a very simple plain white card.  The front of the card contained a pen and ink sketch of her new home.  Beneath the sketch, printed on the card was her new address (I've removed the address).

Inside the card was a greeting that said

"Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
From now on Santa can find me at this new address
and now you can too!!!"

And the best surprise of all?  On the back was a note that said

Pen & Ink
Wanda Edwards
[town, state]

My cousin Wanda is an artist.  She created the drawing of the new house for the Christmas card.  Not only did I get a lovely Christmas card with notice of change of address (address included) and a drawing of the new house but the card was also drawn by a relative.

Whether my aunt intended it or not she produced a perfect family keepsake.

Think about whether you can incorporate your family into your holiday cards.  Don't have a professional artist in the family?  Try using a drawing or photos that your kids created.  And remember to give them credit on the back of the card!

And this reminds me that I need to get cracking on my own holiday cards before it's too late....

Stitching with the Flip Pal

I have to admit that my first two attempts at stitching were failures.  The first photo stitched ok but with some black areas where I had missed overlapping.  The second photo was a total disaster with Flip Pal telling me there wasn't enough information to complete the stitch.

Read the instructions!

When you open the Flip Pal software you will get a little menu like this.  On the left hand side under Help / Manuals make sure your read the option "How to Scan and Stitch Large Originals."  That's where I learned that there should be at least a one inch overlap to get the best stitch.  I hadn't done that with the first two attempts.

The photo I've been scanning is an 8x10 of my grandfather and I.  For first two attempt I did four scans to cover the whole photo.  Armed with the new information I went back and did six scans - three across the top half of the photo and three across the bottom.

Watch those hands!

I took the lid off the Flip Pal and used it upside down to scan my photo which was resting on a desk.  I have a tendency to grab the left and right sides with my hands to move the Flip Pal around.  Inadvertently this caused me to press the scanning button before I was ready.  I must have done that four or five times before I learned the lesson.  Try grabbing hold of the corners instead of the ends so you don't have this problem.

Stitch Away!

With your now properly overlapping scans you are ready to stitch.  In the Toolbox Menu select the top middle option - Stitch Scans (see image above).

You with then see this rather plain screen.  Press File, then select Open.

Next select the photos that you want to include in your stitch.  It's easiest to select the first photo, press Shift (and hold) and then select the last photo to grab all the images at once.

The Flip Pal will then run through a series of five steps while you patiently wait.  It can take up to a minute to stitch all the photos.

At the end Flip Pal shows the completed scan.  Success!  Flip Pla saves the stitched version as a new image.

Here's the raw version before cropping. You can see the wood of the desk surrounding the photo.  The black area is part of the image that was not scanned originally. I'm going to crop the desk and the black areas and then my photo will be perfect.

As you can see the stitch software does a pretty nice job!  You can't detect any lines where the individual pieces were stitched back together.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Breadcrumbs: Get Involved!

[Breadcrumbs is a series on the Marian's Roots & Rambles blog that looks at ways to leave tangible breadcrumbs behind for your future descendants to find.]

Looking for ideas on how to leave clues for your future descendants?  Have you ever thought about getting involved with town government?  This is one of the surest bets for immortalizing yourself for your descendants.

I can only speak about town government in New England. Hopefully you'll find something similar in your area, at least in regards to leaving archival records.

Much of New England runs on the concept of town government.  Some of the positions are elected and some are appointed.  The appointed positions are volunteer and there is often ample opportunity for the average town resident to get involved.

The role of town manager, mayor, selectmen are demanding high responsibility jobs.  You would have to be very interested in town government to take on one of these positions.  There are, however, many other positions that are less demanding and very fulfilling.  Consider participating in the local historical commission or the local cemetery commission.  Both of these groups have direct impact on the preservation of history within town.  I happen to hold positions on both my local historic and cemetery commission.

When it comes to leaving a trace behind, the key benefit about government is that it documents everything.  There is a lengthy paper trail from meeting minutes, to executive decisions and project reports. 

The icing on the cake, at least in New England, is the annual town report.  If you are a member of a board or commission in a New England town then your name will be included in the town report.  Not only will your ancestor find your name included but the annual report also acts as a mini census. You see, in order to hold an elected or appointed town government position you need to be a resident of the town.  Not only will your descendant find a trace of you in a particular year, they will also know that you were resident of the specific town.

Getting involved in town government provides a double bonus in helping your descendants find you! Now get out there and get involved!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Help Build the History/Genealogy Momentum

Fireplace in the Dwight-Derby House
I came across an interesting article online this morning.  It turns out the Medfield Patch in Medfield, Massachusetts has a weekly column to help keep town residents up to date on historical happenings.  The column gives news about the Medfield Historical Society, The historic Dwight-Derby House and the Vine Lake Preservation Trust which oversees historic Vine Lake Cemetery.

Some folks in the town of Medfield actively developed a relationship with their local Patch editor.  Now they have the regular weekly column.

Wouldn't it be great to see this sort of column in every local Patch?  Perhaps there is an edition covering your area?

Patch provides online community-specific news in the United States in California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, PennsylvaniaRhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, North Carolina.

Start building relationships with the Patch folks and get local history/genealogy events covered on a regular basis. No Patch in your area?  Try finding a local news outlet that has an online presence.

Show them that Local History and Genealogy is Interesting!

Before contacting your local Patch or news editor make a list of all the interesting genealogical and historical events that are happening. Think beyond your specific organization and present a picture of all the historical activity in the area.  Include national items that are gaining momentum such as the television program Who Do You Think You Are? and upcoming the PBS miniseries Finding Your Roots.

Don't give all your information to the editor right away.  Use the drip method.  Get in the habit of contacting the editor every week with two or three tidbits.  After a few weeks email the editor and offer to meet them for coffee or show them some of the local sites.  For instance, you could say, "Did you know there is an historic town pound in Millis? I'd be happy to show it to you."

In this way you'll be able to establish rapport.  After the meeting and your continued demonstration as a good source for the editor, make your pitch for a weekly column.  Tell them you will send them event items each week that they can include in the column.

Don't take all the work on yourself.  Ask the editor to contact the folks at the other historical and genealogical organizations directly for their info.  The editor will build his/her local network and you will encourage the community to become more involved in preserving local history.

Photo Credit: Photo by Marian Pierre-Louis

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Getting Local Before You Make the Trip

On Monday I wrote about Getting Local with Research.  And while I am a strong proponent of visiting the place of your ancestors, I am also very much in favor of good planning.  The further away you live from your ancestor's home the more you should prepare.

If your ancestors lived just five miles down the road you wouldn't need any preparation.  Just go and see what it looks like and then continue on with the process of discovery.  If your ancestors lived more than fifty miles away then a good deal of preparation will save you a lot of heartbreak.

Here are some suggestions to help you "get local" before leaving home.  Searching for these items will be nearly as fulfilling as making the trip.

1) Discover the lay of the land
Find as many maps as possible of the town you'll be visiting.  Look for historical maps as well as a good current road map.  Use the maps to get a feel for the lay of the land.  Check the historical maps for old cemeteries and old businesses such as mills or blacksmith shops. Perhaps these buildings, or remnants of them, will still be standing.

Next look at the topography of the land. Make note of the lakes, rivers, ocean or other waterways.  Are there mountains nearby or plains?  Is the town isolated or in a built up area? Topography could have greatly affected the history of the town and the movement of your ancestors.

2) Locate the cemeteries before you go

The old maps should have helped you locate the old cemeteries in town.  Don't presume that these will be easy to find using a current map.  Pull up the Bird's Eye view on Bing Maps or Google Earth and see if you can locate the cemetery today.  If you have a hard time locating it with these tools then you will likely have trouble in person too. Call ahead to the local town or regional government offices and see if you can find a cemetery supervisor who can give you exact directions.

3) Put your preservation hat on

Pretend that you are preservationist bent on saving old houses.  Where would you look to find information on the old houses that are still standing?  Most governments have some form of tracking system.  By tapping into this resource you can identify which houses in town were standing at the time your ancestors lived there.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to get a photo of yourself standing in front of a home that your ancestors would have known and seen as well?  Better yet, perhaps your ancestor's home is still standing.  In Massachusetts you can access the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) to obtain this information. In other states the information is often found online at the state historic preservation office website.

4) Play tourist

Do play the role of tourist and search for tourism materials related to the town or region that you will be visiting.  You may be able to locate museums or historical sites that you didn't know existed.  Be sure to check for events that will happen at the time you will be visiting.  It's fun to take part in a community activity and get a chance to mingle with the locals.

5) Contact the historical society

Be sure to check the internet for the local historical society.  You might need to write a letter or call to get in touch with them.  Many local historical societies are very small.  That can translate as limited visiting hours or a small core staff of volunteers.  Don't let that deter you.  The local historical society should be a high priority if you can make arrangements in advance to meet with them.  These are the folks who typically know more about the town than anyone else and can tell you which old-timers have lived in town the longest and are worth a visit.

6) Make a Contact List

This is a critical item for every research trip or ancestral home visit.  Make a list of the local public places you will want to visit such as the library, town hall, historical society, churches, etc.  Include on your list their addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation.  Preparation such as this will mean smooth sailing during your trip and will let you quickly change gears should some place be unexpectedly closed.

Let these six suggestions help you "get local" before you leave town.  It will help enjoy the journey and the eventual in-person trip all the more!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Top 5 Reasons I Listen to Webinars

I love to listen to webinars.  Even though I am a speaker myself, I listen to as many webinars as possible. Here's my list why:

My Top 5 Reasons to Watch Webinars

1) Accessibility
Webinars are available around the clock.  They provide a 24/7 learning experience.  Can't see them live?  They are usually archived and made available for you to watch at your convenience at a later date. There's no driving involved and as long as you have internet access you can watch them from home.  This is ideal for genealogists who live in isolated places or have challenging schedules.

2) Affordability
Webinars provide some of the most affordable genealogy education available.  Many webinars are free and others are available at a minimal cost.  When compared to traveling to a conference or seminar the savings are huge.

3) Connections
Webinars give me the chance to connect with speakers that I haven't had the chance to meet in person.  There are lots of speakers from around the country and around the world that I haven't had the chance to see.  While a webinar doesn't provide face to face interaction in a true sense, I still take away a sense of their personality and I love to hear their accent.

4) Learning Expansion
One of the difficult aspects of attending a conference is that you have to choose only one lecture in each time slot.  At a great conference it can be nearly impossible to choose between the top notch offerings. Webinars help fill in the gaps. I get to learn about new technology or subjects that I might not spend time on at a conference.  In just an hour's time a webinar can expose me to brand new ideas that will jump start my research or get me inspired.

5) Experience
As a speaker, watching webinars allows me to learn from other speakers' mistakes.  Webinars are a new form of presentation for genealogists.  We are all still learning how to perfect this medium.  By listening to webinars I can determine what works and what doesn't by listening to other speakers. One of the most helpful things is to get advance notice about technology glitches.  If something goes awry for a speaker I can try to fix the problem before one of my talks so that it doesn't happen to me.  Watching webinars helps me to be a better webinar speaker myself.

Where to find Webinars

The complete calendar of webinars by all providers is available on the GeneaWebinars site.  Be sure to check all the information to determine when the webinar is being held, particularly note the start time and time zone and whether there is any cost associated with it.

Here are several sites that frequently provide webinars:

Legacy Family Tree

Casefile Clues Genealogist, Michael John Neill

Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree Extension Series

Friends of NARA Southeast Region

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breadcrumbs: Double Your Impact During the Holidays

 [Breadcrumbs is a series on the Marian's Roots & Rambles blog that looks at ways to leave tangible breadcrumbs behind for your future descendants to find.]

The winter holidays are a perfect time to leave breadcrumbs for your descendants. In fact, you have the opportunity to benefit from a double impact and it's as simple as sending flowers.

At Christmastime, my church offers its parishioners the chance to buy poinsettias to decorate the church sanctuary for the holidays.  The bright red poinsettias give the church a festive look.  The poinsettias also give you a chance to leave some breadcrumbs behind.

When you donate poinsettias you have the opportunity to leave a remembrance.  People often dedicate the flowers to family members who have passed on whether they be children, parents or other loved ones.  Many people dedicate the flowers to their grandparents.  The remembrances are then printed in the bulletin for the Christmas service.

Do you know what happens to the church bulletins/programs?  They get archived! They become a part of the church history.  When your descendants come looking for you their ancestor they will find a trace of you in the church bulletin.  Not only will the find you but they will have the double benefit of  learning about your ancestors in the remembrances you have left behind each year.

Do your descendants a favor and send flowers each Christmas!  And get double genealogy benefit by leaving a remembrance for your parents or grandparents.

Merry Christmas!

Photo Credit: Photo by OiMax and used under the creative commons license.