Instagram for bloggers

Christmas chocolateI’ve recently started using Instagram, after an absence of a couple of years. It’s fun! Any photo you take looks better on Instagram –

  • it’s small, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not in focus
  • it’s square, so you are forced to crop the photo to focus on what’s important
  • you can quickly and easily make the colours brighter
  • you can change the colours altogether, so it looks like art or an old photograph

I find them Instagram photos very useful for blog posts. Here’s a post I just wrote about technology and the year ahead. When I went looking in my collection for the perfect illustration I found the one I took a couple of months ago of the old wooden escalators at Wynyard Station. Perfect!

CherriesYou can turn any photo into an Instagram work of art. You don’t have to take the photo with Instragram; you can select an existing photo as long as it’s on your phone or tablet, and then go to work on it. Here’s a photo I took a couple of days ago of the carton of freshly-picked cherries we bought on the way home from Melbourne. I opened Instagram and found the photo, then cropped it and made it more red. Dropbox then uploaded it to my laptop automatically.

OK, the closeup photos are not fabulous. That’s the fault of my phone, not Instagram!

When you are out and about with a phone that takes pictures, think about taking some photos of ordinary things – food, stairs, brick walls, windows and doors, clouds, trees – and then Instagram them when you get home to use in your blog. Easy!

Top 10 Social Media Sites for Family Historians – Revised 2014

I think that social media was made for family historians. We are different from other people – we actually enjoy finding distant relatives and keeping in touch with them! Social media helps us to find relatives and old friends in ways that were not possible in the days of mailing lists and message boards.

CarolesCanvasThe first time I said that was more than four years ago, in this post. Four years is a long time on the internet, and things have changed. Some of these sites have fallen off my radar so it’s time for a revision. The image shows the cover of the first edition of my book Social Media for Family Historians with screenshots of my blog Carole’s Canvas, Youtube and GenealogyWise, a network I never really found a use for. The second image is a more recent screenshot of Carole’s Canvas. The main difference is the emphasis on pictures, as well as the general simpler and cleaner look. Pictures are what make a blog, or any social media post, more engaging.

Here are 10 social media sites that are not directly related to family history (except one) but are nevertheless important for communicating, sharing and collaborating with other family historians, and family in general.

In alphabetic order:

Blogger is the best-known of the free blog hosting sites. Writing a blog about your family history and the discoveries you make is one of the best ways of getting young people interested, and attracting other asyet-unknown relatives. It is owned by Google so you can use your Google ID to log in and create as many blogs as you like.  The address of your blog will be You can choose from a large number of designs and options, and posting is quick and easy.

Delicious is a social bookmarking site. You can save bookmarks to sites as you find them and categorise them however you wish. You can also find sites that others have similarly categorised, which can save you a lot of time when researching a topic or place. I no longer Delicious, and imported all my bookmarks into Evernote.

Facebook is a social networking site used by 500 million people around the world to connect with friends and family. It is easy to find people and for them to find you, if you want them to. As long as you change the privacy settings as soon as you join, and don’t click on anything you don’t understand, you will be safe from harm.

FamilySearch Wiki is a collection of over 80,000 articles (up from 40,000 four years ago) on many aspects of genealogy research around the world. Articles can be added and changed by anyone, making it progressively more comprehensive. It’s the best place to start if you find you have to research a country you aren’t familiar with.

Flickr is a photo and video sharing website. You can share as many photos as you like (within reason) with as many or as few people as you like. Photos of ancestors and places of historic value can be made public to attract others interested in the same people and places, and uploaded to the National Library of Australia’s Picture Australia (now part of Trove).

Google Docs is a free office suite of applications that allows you to share documents and collaborate with others. Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and forms are all available. They are accessible to you anywhere as long as you can connect to the internet. You can keep them private or make them available to others to view or edit.

Pinterest is a popular place to collect and share photos and ideas. It is wonderful for gathering ideas for projects such as crafts or home decorating. It is fabulous for drawing together images on topics of historical interest, on your own family or local history in general. Pinterest has come a long way in four years, and is a new addition to this list.

Skype is a free program that allows you to make secure voice and video calls to other Skype users anywhere in the world over the internet. You just need an internet connection and a computer with a microphone and speaker such as a laptop, or an inexpensive headset. You can also buy a Skype phone to use like a regular phone, and make calls to regular phones, although they charge for this service.

Twitter is a ‘microblog’, where you can make short posts of 140 characters or less to give links to photos, websites, blog posts, or just ask questions and hold conversations. Twitter posts, or tweets, are searchable so you can find people interested in the same things as you. So many people and organisations use Twitter to let us know what they are doing that you can always learn something useful. Twitter has proved itself as the first place to get breaking news about local or world events. It also now displays photos directly in your feed, making it more engaging and immediate.

YouTube is a video sharing site that allows you to upload videos and share them with a few people or with everyone. You can search for videos on family history and other topics from archives, libraries, genealogy record companies and many other organisations.

I use most of these sites on a day-to-day basis. Many of them are now part of my daily life. I talk to my immediate family; share documents and photos; save bookmarks; read blogs and check Twitter on a regular basis. Although my own blogs are not hosted by Blogger, prefering to use my own hosting, I recommend it highly for first-time bloggers.

Try some of these out; do some searching, and see what you can find. You might be surprised. And hooked!

Google Reader was removed from the original list, as it was discontinued by Google. I have much less time to read blogs than I did four years ago, and I find that the only time I read them is when I see a link that interests me from another network such as Facebook or Google+.

Social Media for Family Historians, 2nd edition

Social Media for Family Historians 2nd editionThe second edition of my book, Social Media for Family Historians, is now out. It explains what social media is; what use it is; and introduces you to more than 25 social media sites that can help family historians to communicate, share and collaborate with other family historians and with their own families.

It has been expanded and updated, with some sites removed that I no longer consider useful, and new ones added, such as Google+. The section on getting started with Facebook in particular has been greatly expanded, demonstrating the new privacy settings and layout.

You may discover new ways to communicate using Sykpe and SecondLife; social networking sites such as Facebook and Google+; blogs and microblogs such as Twitter; sites for sharing family trees such as Ancestry and MyHeritage; sites for sharing photos and videos such as Flickr and YouTube; and community information sites such as wikis and social bookmarking.


1. Introduction
– About this book
– My experience
– A warning
2. What is social media?
– The internet
– Self-publishing
– Social media
– Mobile computing
3. Why use social media?
– Advantages
– Disadvantages
4. Communication
– Chat
– Social networking
– Blogs
– Microblogs
– Virtual worlds
5. Sharing
– Family trees
– Photographs
– Videos
– Social cataloguing
6. Collaboration
– Wikis
– Documents
– Questions and answers
7. Dangers
– Risks
– Some simple rules
8. What are you waiting for?
Appendix 1. How to get started with Facebook
– Sign up for Facebook
– Using Facebook
Appendix 2. How to get started with Blogging
– Find a host
– Create an account
– Name your blog
– Set security
– Create your profile
– Select a design
– Start writing!
– More advanced blogging

You can buy it from Gould Genealogy, and I hope you do!

Tumblr for Family History Societies and Libraries

I think Tumblr is a great platform for a blog. You can share enormous photos, links and news, and the format is large and easy to read. It’s perfect for a family historian who doesn’t want to do a lot of writing, or only occasionally.

Here is an example of a Tumblr blog (mine):

Tumblr blog It's Your World

If you click on the picture you will go to my Tumblr blog.

What does this have to do with family history?

Now this is a personal blog and it’s not just about genealogy, so I need you to use your imagination a bit. Imagine you can

  • share a few pictures of historic photos or documents
  • tell a few stories about what you have in your collection
  • tell stories about what other researchers have found to solve their research problems
  • explain what your society does
  • have a link over on the side to let people know where you are and how they can join

The way Tumblr works, and the reason it is so popular and easy to deal with, is that what you share takes centre stage. Pictures are not tiny little things that you have to click on to get a bigger image; it’s right there in all its glory.

You can also reblog the posts of other people, to create more interest, although I wouldn’t go overboard with this. There is someone on Tumblr called librarianista who shares magnificent photos of libraries (and cafes near libraries, such as the one above). There are historic photos and retro fashion photos, all of which can add interest to a family history society blog, to encourage people to think about the context of the ancestors’ lives.

The more popular blog sites are Blogger and WordPress, and these are the best if you want a lot of control over the layout of the words and smaller pictures within the text. This blog, for example, is written in WordPress.

The advantage of Tumblr is its ease of use and the fantastic way it displays images. They are BIG. Images are what get people in, no matter what the post, but if the blog is mostly images people will stay and look, and keep looking. And that’s what you want.

What, share all our photos for free???

I have heard the argument many times from family history societies – why would we give away our images for free on a blog? I am not proposing you put everything up there. Just a sample is enough. After all, you are not going to attract people to the society to see the photos you have if no one knows they are there.

Once you have a blog, you need to link it to your society website, and vice versa. The point of a blog for a society or library, in the end, is to get people interested enough to go to the website for more information, and perhaps to join.

This post was inspired by this post at Mashable about using Tumblr for non-profits. Whenever I see something about ‘non-profits’ I think ‘societies’. You can read the post at


After writing this post I came over all enthusiastic and created a new blog on Tumblr called Social Media and Genealogy to demonstrate a bit of what I am talking about. It’s more for family historians than societies, but it may give you a better idea of what such a blog could look like than the ones that are there now.

First look at Google+

GooglePlusGoogle+ is Google‘s new experiment in the world of social networks. I say ‘experiment’ because it is only in limited release; you have to wait for someone to be able to invite you, and then you have to accept the invitation during one of the brief, unpredictable periods when new members are being accepted. I also call it an ‘experiment’ because Google have tried something similar before. It was called Google Wave and it didn’t catch on. Google Wave was removed from circulation.

It is inevitable that Google+ will be compared to Facebook and Twitter, and I will be doing the same. I’ve been using both for some years now, and have watched them evolve and become more useful. Google+ is only a beginner, and will become more useful as it grows, adds more features and tweaks, and more people get into it.

I’ve been on Google+ for an hour or so now; long enough for some first impressions:


So far I like it. It looks clean and easy to understand. Perhaps that will change as new features are added and it gets more complicated, but for the time being I prefer being there than in Facebook.


In Google+ you add people to circles. The ability to do this, and to differentiate circles, is built into the product and is very friendly and intuitive. Circles are like lists in Facebook and Twitter. You can categorise people according to whether they are friends, family, acquaintances or people you follow; or you can add your own categories. I have already added ‘genealogists’ and ‘Australia’, as many of the people in my circles are genealogists and/or Australians and some of the things I post are only relevant to them. No point asking a Canadian genealogist about what was on ABCTV in Australian last night.

Google+ Circles


Google+ looks much like Facebook when you get into it. You get a feed of all the news from the people in your circles, in descending chronological order from the most recent down. Where Google+ is different is that it is very easy to filter the stream by circle, so that you see only the messages in your Family circle, or your Genealogists circle:

GooglePlus homepage

If I am displaying all circles and I want to post something, I am asked who I want to share it with:

GooglePlus postAnd it won’t let me post it without selecting someone. So if I’m going to make it public I can’t make a mistake. But if I then post again it assumes what I said last time – Public. So watch out for that.

I think the difference here is that people now use Facebook for their friends and Twitter for everyone. You know that if you use Twitter all the world can see it. So you make the decision before you go in. With Google+ you have to make the decision each time you post something. I think that could be confusing, and perhaps dangerous.

It’s new, though, and so am I, so I’ll withhold my final judgement for the time being.


Uploading photos is appallingly slow compared to Facebook. I upload photos to Facebook on a regular basis, often from my phone. It’s relatively quick and I can share them without worrying that they are too big for my blogging software. So I’ve tried to upload photos to Google+ of the HMB Endeavour from a recent trip to Cairns. I started it off and went to do some things. I wish I’d recorded when I started it, because it’s still only half way through. Maybe the quality is better, but who’s going to care?

Again, perhaps this is a startup thing, and it will improve as it gets bigger and more experienced. I haven’t uploaded photos to Picasa Web for a long time so I can’t really make that comparison.

When it eventually finished uploading I saw there was a photo I had selected by mistake, and I can’t work out how to remove it. Perhaps I have to go to Picasa Web to do that.

I’ve gone to Picasa Web and it’s changed now that I’m on Google+:

Picasa messageYou can see my Endeavour album here. It seems I can edit the album in Picasa Web but not in Google+. Perhaps that will change. I will leave the odd photo there so you can see it. Leave a comment if you pick the odd one!


As social beings we don’t just deal with people as individuals; we deal with organisations as well. Facebook and Twitter both allow organisations to connect with us, sharing their news and new features.

Google+ isn’t yet at this stage, so it unfair to judge. When it is ready for organisations there will be a whole new layer of complexity. Or maybe not!

The default circles include one called ‘Following’. Following is what you do to organisations in Facebook and Twitter, so perhaps Google+ has already distinguished them for us. If the people/organisations we ‘follow’ are in separate circles from family, friends, and genealogists then perhaps the distinction will be enough to keep the separate functions of Google+ in our minds. When we want to ‘read the news’ we open the ‘Following’ circle, and when we want to chat to friends we open the Friends circle. If we want to interact with the organisation we can.

Well, those are my first impressions of Google+. What have yours been?

We have wedding photos, but what about anniversary photos?

ChampagneLast night my husband and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. We are expecting very many more anniversaries after this one.

We try to do something special for our anniversary every year. Some years we go away for the weekend, and I seem to think they are in the majority. They are probably just more memorable. Most years we just go out somewhere and have a good dinner and drink champagne and eat too much, like last night.

What we didn’t do is take a picture of ourselves having dinner. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a series of photos of us celebrating our anniversary through the years? Not just when we spend the weekend in the Blue Mountains or Port Stephens or Palm Beach or the Snowy Mountains, but every year, no matter what we do.

If only we had thought of it sooner.

Even last night I was watching two women at another table. Their fruity cocktails arrived and one of them pulled out a phone to take a photo of themselves with their brightly coloured drinks. Even then it didn’t occur to me to take a photo of us with my phone.

Not any more. I am determined to have photos of us celebrating our wedding anniversary every year, starting with our 25th anniversary next year. I will also go back through the years and collect photos from past anniversaries. I’ll start a digital photo album to record our anniversaries and the continuing happiness and strength of our marriage.

It will be a lovely record for us to look back on, and for our families to reflect on how happy we were after we’ve gone.

My own mini-scanfests

When you come back home after a productive research trip to an archive or library do you often end up with a stack of photocopies?

Yes, me too.

I use my digital camera whenever I can but sometimes it just isn’t possible to take photos. Sometimes the repository doesn’t allow it, and other times the documents are folded up so well that it is just easier to get the experts to photocopy them. When I get home I tend to leave them for a while in the ‘filing’ pile, and the longer they stay there the harder it is to get around to dealing with them.

For me a major part of the post-research trip process is scanning the photocopies. A piece of paper is no good to me if it fades or gets tea spilled on it, or the laser toner sticks to something other than the paper, or it goes up in a bushfire.

To address the post-research filing issue I bought one of those multi-function printers. It prints in colour and black-and-while, it scans, it photocopies, and it faxes. It’s a marvel of modern technology. When I chose it I made sure of two things –

  1. it prints and scans both sides of the paper (duplex)
  2. it has a document feeder

Multi-function printerThe duplex requirement is fairly self-explanatory. The document feeder means I can put a stack of pages in the top, press some buttons to tell it to scan to my laptop, and away it goes. All I have to do is press the OK button on the laptop, and then I can get on with something else. If both sides of the page needs to be scanned I can select that option and the pages are scanned in the correct order.

Of course, at some stage I have to rename the files to something more meaningful than SCAN0001.jpg or whatever I’ve chosen as the default, but I can do that later, and sitting down.

My scanner is not much bigger than A4, so A3 photocopies are a problem. There are a couple of solutions – perhaps you have others?

  1. scan each half at a time, making two images that can then be joined together (or not!) in your photo software
  2. photocopy the A3 at a library or somewhere with a big photocopier, reducing it to A4, and then scan the A4 photocopy. Yes, some quality is lost, but it takes much less time and is more likely to result in a useable scan than option 1, which I rarely get around to doing.

Another important part of the process is to write the citation on the photocopy before scanning it, if I hadn’t already done it at the time of the photocopying. If I’ve requested copies at State Records NSW I pay for them before I leave and so this labelling must be done at home, preferably the same day while the file is still fresh in my mind.

Then there’s the analysing, data entry, filing into my family binders, and all of the other tasks that give meaning to whatever I’ve found, but that’s another story.

What do you do with your photocopies when you get them home?

Picasa face-recognition scan conclusions

Picasa face recognitionI have posted previously about letting Picasa 3 scan for faces so I can identify them. I had hoped to publish the results at the time but I was caught up with other things and didn’t get a chance.

Unfortunately I don’t have an accurate record of how long it took. I started it on about the 1st October with 14,000 photos to process. On the 4th it was 50% completed after I had added an additional 5000 photos because I added some of the folders under Documents. On the 5th it was saying all day that it had 51% to go. Then that evening it changed to 52%. I thought it was going to take another week, but the next day it was finished.

That’s 5-6 days. For 19,000 photos.

It ran for 24 hours a day, and I only closed it down occasionally when it was slowing down what I was doing. It used an average of 45% of my CPU, so sometimes this was a problem. I don’t remember the processor that my laptop has, but it’s a bit over 2 years old.

Of course, not all of these photos have people in them – there are landscapes, wildlife, and images of documents.

Some things I have noticed:

  • if I sign in to Google it can get the names from my contacts list
  • it runs very slowly at other times and quite quickly at others
  • it picks up faces from the covers of books and photos on the wall behind the real people
  • it can find faces in very fuzzy pictures
  • it is not bothered by hats and sunglasses
  • it quite often suggests the wrong person but that person is closely related, such as a sister, aunt or grandmother
  • it identifies people more accurately the more photos you have identified
  • it can identify people at all ages in their lives
  • it is better at identifying babies than I am
  • it doesn’t recognise cats, dogs or gorillas, although it did identify one front-on picture of a dog
  • I have a lot of duplicate photos, and when I identify one it suggests the same name for the others very quickly
  • I am terrible at remembering names
  • I nearly have more photos of my nieces than I have of my husband or myself

By the time it finished it said it still had about 6500 faces to identify. I am slowly whittling those down. I now have just over 5000. There are also the faces it can’t identify as faces, which I have to do manually if I want it done at all.

It seems to have trouble with faces if they are:

  • at an angle
  • have hair over one side
  • side-on unless they are completely from the side
  • really, really fuzzy

And yet sometimes it sees a face where there isn’t one. I thought this one must be in the background somewhere.

Panda face

He looks like he has a little beard and a receding hairline.

This is the photo it came from:

Picasa panda

Can you see the face, in the top right corner? Not a face at all!

It also picks up the hundreds of faces in the backgrounds of photos and wants to know who they are. You can mark each one as ignored, and you can see these later if you want to. When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was 75 years old they opened it to the public to walk across, and the photos from that day have many people in the background. Fortunately they are mostly wearing lime green hats so I could quickly exclude them when I saw them.

All the people in a wedding photo can be identified if you have already identified them elsewhere. Even if you don’t know their names you can give them a number, like Wedding 12, and group photos of the same person together. You can then more easily identify the person, or a relative can, when you can see a number of photos of the same person together.

I have had a wonderful time with Picasa, and I still am. I am finally learning, through having to identify photos, which of my grandmother’s three sisters is which, and what my mother’s older brothers looked like when they were young.

I have also very much enjoyed seeing pictures of the same person throughout their lives all in the one place. Here are some of my grandmother Amy Eason nee Stewart:

Amy Millicent Eason nee Stewart

You can see her from the earliest photo of her that I have, when she was a baby; as a teenager, a young mother, and so on all through her life. The photos are of varying quality but the only one I had to manually identify was the blurry side-on one in the 3rd row.

A valuable lesson I learned was in trying to identify what it is that makes this person look like that person. What is it in my face that Picasa mistakes for my grandmother’s? Or two of three nieces but not the third?

To be fair, sometimes Picasa is totally wrong. It tried to tell me that this same grandmother was in a shot of my husband posing with the Wests Tigers rugby league team. It wasn’t. When it ‘groups’ unnamed faces it tends to put faces together that are shot at the same angle. Sometimes I think it is suggesting names based on the frequency with which that name appears, or on the previously identified name, but that might just be my cynicism.

All in all I am so glad I went through this exercise. Identifying faces has become my procrastination-of-choice, and it has made me much more likely to name the faces of photos I have just taken rather than leave it for years when I can no longer remember the names. I am also determined to research the names I should know but can’t remember – school classmates, fellow safari tourists, even Wests Tigers. All those unnamed faces bother me!

Social Media for Family Historians – my first book!

Social Media for Family Historians front coverSocial Media for Family Historians, my first book, was published on Friday 22nd October 2010. It was launched at the Unlock The Past History and Genealogy Expo in Sydney.

It contains 76 pages in full colour to explain what social media is and why it is of use to family historians. It introduces more than 25 websites that can help family historians, and anyone with families, to communicate, share and collaborate with each other.

I think social media could have been designed specifically with family historians in mind. The networking that we do as researchers is made much easier by social media sites, and the interest that we have in distantly related family members is way beyond that of a normal person!

We can share our family trees, documents, photos and videos; use Skype to communicate across the world; and write a blog to share our discoveries with family members, and to allow others to find us.

Here is the Table of Contents:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. What is Social Media?
    • The Internet
    • Self-publishing
    • Social media
  • 3. Why use it?
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • 4. Communication
    • Chat
    • Mailing lists and Forums
    • Social Networking
    • Blogs
    • Microblogging
    • Virtual Worlds
  • 5. Sharing
    • Family Trees
    • Photographs
    • Videos
    • Social Cataloguing
  • 6. Collaboration
    • Wikis
    • Social Bookmarking
    • Documents
    • Questions and Answers
  • 7. Dangers
    • Risks
    • Some simple rules
  • 8. What are you waiting for?
  • Appendix 1. How to get started with Facebook
    • Sign up for Facebook
    • Using Facebook
  • Appendix 2. How to get started with blogging
    • Find a host
    • Create an account
    • Name your blog
    • Set Security
    • Create your profile
    • Select a design
    • Start writing!
    • More advanced blogging

The book is $19.50 plus postage. It will be available from Gould Genealogy any minute now, or directly from me. Email me if you are interested in purchasing a copy at carole (at)

Whose face is that? – Picasa 3


I have recently upgraded my Picasa to version 3 and let it start running through my photos looking for faces so I could tag them. Picasa is photoorganising, editing and sharing software from the Google people. It’s free.

The scan started two days ago, and it’s now 32% of the way there. Yes, I have a lot of photos. I have restricted to photos in the My Pictures folder for the present, which it says contains about 14,000 photos.

Despite the slowness of it, and the fact that it uses up to half my CPU continuously, I will let it finish. I really like it. I am amazed at how it recognises faces, and find it much more useful than I expected to.

It works like this. It goes through all my folders of photos that you see on the left, looking for faces.

Picasa faces

When it finds one it draws a box around it and asks you who it is. If it thinks it knows it makes a suggestion for you to confirm. Simple!

Picasa bunnies

Out of all the lions in this photo it picked out my niece, Madeleine [sorry Mad]. If I want to ignore the others in the photo I can click on the X.

Eventually, it has a list of people and shows you the thumbnails of the person from each photo in which he/she appears. If it has made a guess then it asks you to confirm. Here you can see some suggestions it has made about photos of me:

Picasa confirm my face

They are all me! I can click on the green tick for each one, or remove the ones that aren’t me and then click on ‘confirm all’.

Where it gets tedious is when it doesn’t recognise what it sees as a face, because it’s tilted at an angle or half in the shade. You can manually draw a box around the face and name it just the same. It also has trouble with fuzzy old black and white photos, although not as much trouble as I feared.

Where it gets interesting is not where the suggestions it makes are correct, but are nearly correct. It chooses siblings or direct ancestors such as parents or grandparents.

Actually, I don’t know whether it’s just going for the law of averages. When it identifies a photo of my grandmother as being me it is very interesting try to work out why. Sometimes it’s a face at a similar angle and lighting to another photo, but sometimes it must be facial similarities.

Try it out for yourself! I’ll let you know when it is finished. It seems to be speeding up, but it will still be some days away.