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+.

Digital storage for family historians

I recently gave a presentation for the Society of Australian Genealogists at their ‘Lost in All Your Stuff’ weekend 1-2 November 2014 at the State Library of NSW. My topic was ‘Digital Storage, a difficult topic to cover adequately in 45 minutes.

You can see the full slide presentation here:

Free photo editing software





  • iPhoto

Cloud storage


Mozy and MozySync




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?

Meet the Challenge

This post was originally posted as part of the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge in 2010.

The challenge this week is:

Come up with a personal genealogy challenge of your own. Each person has different research goals and experiences. Use this week to come up with your own challenge, and then take the steps to accomplish it.


Haha, I thought. that one’s easy! My biggest challenge is finding the time toget everything done that I need to do. So I’ve decided, for the sake of this challenge, to narrow it down.

I don’t seem to find time to read any more. To just sit down with a book and read it. I used to do most of my reading on the train into the city, but these days I tend to do stuff on my netbook computer, which I’ve talked about before, or read research notes or minutes and notes for Council and committee meetings.

I used to always carry a book with me. Always. Now I don’t. If I think I’ll need something to read I might take a family history magazine or journal with me, but usually the netbook is enough to keep me occupied.

How do I read the books I need to read to further my research? There is so much I have to read:

  • books on Australian history
  • books on Fijian history
  • books written by early settlers and sailors in Fiji (usually downloaded from Google Books as PDFs)
  • books on how to find records for family history
  • journals and magazine, which are arriving all the time
  • fiction (we all need some down-time)

Kobo e-readerLast weekend, when I was walking past my local Borders bookstore, I saw the answer. The Kobo is Borders’ answer to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s an e-reader that is cheap ($199 Australian), light, easy to read, and small enough to take anywhere. It does nothing except read books, which is what I want. It reads PDFs as well as e-book formats.

Unfortunately I couldn’t buy one on the spot as they had run out, and were taking pre-orders. I said I’d think about it and went home. I thought about it so much that I rang and pre-ordered it from home. They told me it would be in on the 7th June, which is next Monday.

On Thursday (3rd June) I got a call to say they were in, and I could pick mine up! Woohoo!!! I did. I had a workshop to prepare so I didn’t really get to play with it until yesterday.

I’m already reading more than I ever did before. I’ve started on Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read before, although the story seems strangely familiar. I think that contemporary fiction counts as educational, don’t you? At least I’m not reading Harry Potter!

And I feel much better for it already. Reading is what was missing from my life.

The Kobo is a little slow to change pages, so I’ve already learned to press the button a little ahead so it’s there when I’m ready for the next page. I’m still looking around at what books I can put on there. It came with 100 books already, including Dickens and Jane Austen.

The PDF part is still a bit of a challenge, though. I downloaded two PDF books to experiment. They are:

  • Smythe’s Ten Months in the Fiji Islands, 1864
  • Fanning’s Voyages to the South Seas, 1838

I’ve had success finding ancestors, or potential ancestors, in these sorts of accounts, so I’ve got to keep reading them. Printing and reading takes way too much paper and toner, and I tend not to read them on the laptop, although of course I search them for surnames and places as best I can.

So far reading these PDFs has not been a success. An e-book flows so that no matter what font size you select, the text flows to fit the page. PDFs don’t do this, so there’s a lot of scrolling involved which is too disruptive, even in these old books where the pages are actually quite small. Apparently they are looking at software changes to allow this, but in the meantime scrolling is slow.

So that’s the challenge I need to resolve next, and this is what I’m doing to resolve it:

  • I’m experimenting with zooming in and changing the orientation to landscape, but it’s still slow to get down the page.
  • I’ll experiment with the different page sizes of different documents
  • I’ll look at different formats. Perhaps these books are downloadable as e-books rather than PDFs?
  • I’ll be experimenting with Descent, the journal of the Society of Australian Genealogists, which was published from the beginning of the Society in PDF form. That will save me having to decide before I leave the house which one I’m up to. If I can resolve the PDF issue!

Wish me luck!

What will you do when your computer crashes?

The longer you work with and read about computers, the more horror stories you read about what went wrong. Whether there is a happy end to the story or not depends on whether the owner of the computer backs up their data and how regularly they do it.

Here’s my story. This happened late last week. My laptop is almost three years old, so it’s getting on for a laptop. Laptops are different from desktops, they are built to be small, not to last. This laptop pretty well contains my life – my business, my family history, my photos, my university notes, everything.

On Thursday night I had finished creating the handouts for a workshop I was giving the next day and I had printed them out so that I could check them and write notes on them. I hadn’t yet copied them to my flash drive because I wanted to check them first. I was answering an email in Outlook, using Word, when there was a sudden and subliminal blue screen of death and then the laptop restarted itself. That’s weird, I thought, and waited for the restart, which seems to be a lot slower these days than when the laptop was new.

The restart gave me a screen I’d never seen before. I don’t remember the exact words any more but it said something along the lines of “your computer failed. If the failure was not the result of new software do this, otherwise do that”. It also offered the Safe Mode option. Well, I hadn’t installed anything new lately so I chose the “go back to the last safe configuration” option.

It got stuck on a blue screen of death, which I imagine was the same one that flashed at me before the restart. My registry was corrupted or missing. Missing! How could it be missing?

I tried the whole process again with the “just start up as normal” option and got the same result. I tried the “old configuration” option again. How often do we do that – do the same thing again hoping for a different result? Well, I got what I should have expected.

When I tried the next time I went into Safe Mode. I’m not entirely sure what Safe Mode means but it sounded comforting. Everything worked fine and it started up fairly normally. The first thing I did was to copy my handouts for the next day on my flash drive. Then I printed them all out again in case I couldn’t print them at the Society from the flash drive and had to photocopy them.

I then went to look at Outlook. Outlook wouldn’t open – my mail file was gone. Missing. Disappeared. It was quite a large file, as you’ll know if you’ve had yours for a while and you’ve been able to find it. It had years and years of emails in there, from family, friends, clients, the lot. Gone.

I had a backup on the laptop hard drive that was at least a year old. No good.

This is where the happiness of the outcome of the story is dependent on whether I had a backup and how old it was. I’m happy to say that my last backup was that morning and I was able to get my mail file back.

I have struggled with the backup question for years. I’ve tried CDs and flash drives (too much hassle to remember to do it) and backing up over the wireless network to the desktop. We bought a portable hard drive when my laptop hard drive was running out of space a few months ago with all the photos and music it had on it, but it doesn’t get used regularly for backups.


I use an online backup service called Mozy, recommended by that prince among men, Dick Eastman on his blog. The backing up occurs at a schedule to suit me on the files and directories that I specify, without me having to do anything. That’s the crucial thing, for me. I don’t have to remember to do it and go looking for the media. It happens automatically. I’ve tested the restore part in the past when I stuffed up a database and it works just fine.

So I checked and sure enough, there was my Outlook mail file on the Mozy server, all 431MB of it. I clicked on restore and went to bed.

Unfortunately when I eagerly checked the next morning my mail file wasn’t restored – Mozy had lost the connection. It’s the internet, it happens. So I started the restore again, the message started counting down that it would take an hour and a half to restore, and I took my printed handouts and my flash drive and went to give my workshop.

When I got home, success!!! I had my mail file back, Outlook started up as though nothing had happened and started receiving emails. All in all I lost 12 hours worth of emails, from the last backup on the Thursday morning until the crash that evening.

Perhaps the loss of all your emails doesn’t sound that serious to you? We get too many emails as it is. Yes, I do get too many emails, but many of them are from clients telling me what they want and giving details of their ancestors, and many more are from relatives with information for me about my family. In some cases these emails are the sources of the data I have in my own family tree. I print these ones, yes, but I also keep them in Outlook so I can forward them to others and find them more readily in their family folders.

The potential loss of my email was a disaster for me and my business and my life. With only 12 hours worth lost I could email the people I knew I’d gotten emails from (yes, I had read them before they disappeared) to ask for the information again, and no harm was done to my professional relationships.

The moral of this story is obvious. We need a backup strategy that continues to work without us having to remember to do it. I use Mozy for the things that change constantly and the portable hard drive for things that don’t change much like my photo collection. There are other online backup services besides Mozy but it’s the one I like – it’s cheap and it works.

It’s free for up to 2GB of data and US$4.95 per month for unlimited data. It’s more expensive for business users. The security and peace-of-mind it gives is priceless.

Eventually all computers fail. Be ready when yours does.

Who wants to know about their family history?

A post from about how little Americans in general know about their family history has surprised me. In summary, the results are:

  • Most 18- to 34–years-old Americans (83%) are interested in learning their family history. For older age groups the percentages were increasingly smaller.
  • Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.
  • One in five Americans don’t know what either of their grandfathers do or did for a living.
  • One in five Americans don’t know where their family lived before they came to America.
  • Four out of five Americans say they are interested in learning more about their family history, and yet half have never tried.

Source: Survey Reveals Americans’ Surprising Lack of Family Knowledge, 24-7 Family History Circle,, 7 Dec 2007.

I wonder what the results of such a survey would be in Australia? I suspect they would be much the same. I think the biggest surprise for me is the number of young people interested in their family history. That four out of five under-35s are interested in knowing more about their ancestors came as a bit of a shock. After all, these are not the people you see in family history societies and libraries.

How can we share what we know about our family history with the younger members of our own families? How can we make it interesting for them?

I don’t think kids will be interested if we show them the things that we get excited about – certificates and mentions of our ancestors in newspapers and the like. They like stories. I tell my nieces stories about individuals – about their great-great-grandmother Margaret who went from Scotland to New Zealand with her family when she was four years old to settle in the new town of Auckland, and went on to marry a man who had kids already by a first marriage and died when he was only 46, leaving her with her own kids and his too. And I ask them to imagine what it must have been like for her, as a four-year-old, to travel on a sailing ship for months to the other side of the world and live in what must have looked like a wild west town – dirt streets and horses and all.

Kids need to be involved, and all of this age group are much more accepting of new technology. Not just accepting, but expecting! They expect the internet to work like we expect the phone to work. Put it to use!

  • You could get them to create a family tree on Ancestry or FindMyPast or GenesReunited or one of the many other websites available for this purpose.
  • You can show them what is available on the web and how it can help build up a picture of the ancestor in question.
  • You can give them copies of photos of their ancestors and get them to upload them and link them to their family tree.
  • They could then print out a chart of their ancestors, complete with photos. They might be inspired to hunt for missing ones!
  • You could put them in touch with distant cousins and show them how they are related.

The possibilities are endless. Young adults could also be more involved by handling the web side, copying photos and hunting out more information.

And what about you? Do you know what your grandfathers did, or still do, for a living?

Do you know where your family (or families) lived before they came to Australia?

Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? Especially on the female side?

Do you know which of your younger relatives might be interested in the work you are doing in your own family history?

There is so much to learn, and so little time. The younger we start, the more time we will have, and the more we can build and what has been done before. It’s not just a hobby for the retired!

Electronic Gadgets Part 3 – put your family tree on your phone

Well, I’ve done it, and I’m very happy. My family tree is on my phone and goes with me everywhere.

 How have I achieved this remarkable feat, you may ask? Read on!

 You may remember that I have been trying to replace 4 heavy little electronic gadgets with one or two. I bought a new phone, a Nokia E65, to replace my previous phone, my PDA and my MP3 player for those long trips out to repositories. My phone is wonderful, it has a microSD card, which I replaced with a bigger, 2GB, card on which I can store music and podcasts for those long trips on the train, and it has the capacity to store my family tree as well, so I don’t have to carry my PDA unless I know I will want to take lots of notes using the portable keyboard. The camera it has is inadequate for taking images of archived documents, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. It also happily browses the web for me, so I can do anything from checking opening times of repositories to watching ABC TV for free while I am waiting!

So all I had to do was get my family tree onto my phone, so that if I find myself with time to spare or unexpected records become available I can quickly check to see what I need to find. All my names, places and dates would be readily available.

I use The Master Genealogist (TMG) to keep my family tree data in order, and I use the companion product Second Site to turn my data into web pages for the web or to publish on CDs. It seemed to me that if my phone could read html web pages it should be able to read html that was stored on the phone. SO that was what I did, I created a “website”, or a set of html pages, using Second Site, and uploaded them to my phone. I then created a bookmark so that I wouldn’t have to go delving into document folders to find the index page.

Of course, I had to tweak the settings a bit for use on a very small screen. I’m still experimenting with this, and if you try it for yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Exclude exhibits. If you want pictures of your ancestors on your phone, put them somewhere else. Even a small photo will take up most of the screen, so you will have to scroll past it. Of course, you can use links to them instead of embedding them if you wish.
  • Set one person per page. This will create a lot of pages, which will take a long time to download to your phone initially, but I assumed that each file will load quicker when you select the person you want to view.
  • Use a very simple theme – lots of coloured boxes doesn’t translate well to the small screen, and takes longer to load.
  • Use a simple format that doesn’t put space in between columns, as do the 2- or 3-column formats. On the small phone screen you will see the first colum and then blank space, requiring a lot of scrolling across. I used the Narrative format.
  • Reduce the number of tag types according to what you think you may need when you are out and about.
  • Suppress memos if you have long stories in them.
  • An icon next to your direct ancesors and other important people makes them easier to find.
  • Skip the long description of the site that you’ve put on your real website, and the Compiler details. You know who you are, and no-one else will see it.

I am sure other things will occur to you as you go along.

Once you’ve uploaded the files to the phone, find the index.htm file open it to see how your website looks. You may need to do this a few times until you are as happy with what you see as you can be. Those of you with more html knowledge than me can probably restrict the size of the window – I will get to this one day, and in the meantime I don’t mind scrolling. Get the properties of the file, ie its filepath, and create a bookmark in your web browser so that you can go straight to it from your homepage. And there you are!

The phone-based website will never replace what I have on my laptop, so if I am going somewhere to do concentrated research on my own family I will take my laptop with me. I just use it when I am somewhere that I could look something up quickly, like a newspaper or a new set of probate indexes, that I wasn’t expecting and so I can check the date that g-g-grandfather So-and-so died.

And, of course, you need a reasonably “smart” phone to do this. One that will browse the web, and preferably has expandable memory. Give it a go and let us all know how it went.

My website is

Electronic Gadgets Part 2

The story so far: I want to reduce the number of electronic gadgets I carry around with me on genealogy research trips. Instead of carrying a mobile phone, a PDA, a digital camera and an MP3 player, I’d like to carry something that combines at least 2 or 3 of these functions.

Well, I’ve got a new phone. It’s a Nokia E65 that I’ve bought as part of my new contract with Vodafone. I use Vodafone because it gives me reception in my house, which is down in a valley which other networks don’t reach. It has PDA functions, an MP3 player, and a digital camera. It’s my favourite toy!

The phone has enough PDA functions to make me happy, many of which I am still learning about. I can download my calendar appointments, to-do list and notes from MS Outlook, update them when they’re done and upload them back to my laptop. Of course, I can’t get Gedstar Pro to work on it, but I will be looking at creating reports in my family history software, The Master Genealogist (TMG) or creating HTML pages using Second Site to download to my phone, so that I have the relevant facts and dates with me if I need them.

The MP3 player has already proved itself useful on the train. The phone came with a 256MB microSD card, onto which I downloaded some music and some podcasts. I listened to a very interesting lecture about Oliver Cromwell from The National Archives on the way home from the city on the train. I bought I bigger card, 2GB, on eBay so that I can get more music and podcasts on there without having to replace them too often.

The camera is useless for real genealogy work; there would be no point trying to use it to photograph documents out at the State Records Reading Room in Western Sydney. It says it can manage 2 megapixels but it is only good for happy snaps of family and friends. It is very good at that, though! They just can’t be enlarged to full-screen size on the laptop without looking very grainy. So the real digital camera will be accompanying me on research trips. There were very expensive phones with 5 megapixel cameras, and I test-drove one that I think had a 3.2 megapixels on a brochure in the shop and it was unreadable.

So that’s a maximum of two gadgets I have to carry – the phone and the camera. Not bad. Plus I have the added convenience of having music and podcasts, and my calendar and other information, with me all the time even if I haven’t thought I would need the PDA or the MP3 player, because I always carry my phone.

I’m very happy with my new phone! I just need to get my family tree on it now. Stay tuned!

Electronic gadgets

I’ve been considering the gadgets I carry around with me that have been proliferating over the years. They are all very useful, even indispensable, but they do contribute rather heavily to the weight in my bag. How many of these do you have?


Of course, I have a mobile phone, as so many of us do. That’s where it all started, I guess. I think this is the 4th one I’ve had over the years, or perhaps the 5th. The phones get smaller but I think they are probably now as small as they can be while still being usable by human fingers – there’s a lot of sliding and folding in phones these days. A mobile phone is essential these days for being picked up from the train station or meeting others in crowded places, among many other functions.


I could write a whole blog just on PDAs, for genealogy and for other things! They are little computers in their own right, and can carry your family tree around with you in a little metal box instead of a folder or 10 of reports and charts. Your calendar, address book, research notes, and even games can all be conveniently carried. Add a portable keyboard and you can type lecture notes and upload them to your PC. You can also record interviews on many of them.

Digital camera

Who would have thought that the simple change from film to digital would make such a difference! We can now take photos in libraries and archives without using a flash, and we can check them to see if they are in focus before moving on to the next one.

MP3 player

Not really necessary for genealogy, I admit, but very useful for long dull train trips. I bought one that would fit my whole music collection – classical, rock, Latin American – and I find that what I use it for most is podcasts – downloaded radio programs. There are some genealogy-related ones – the one from the The National Archives is always interesting. I often listen to Richard Fidler’s Converation Hour from ABC Sydney, and even James Valentine’s Form Guide when I want something light. I can also record interviews with it and upload them back to my laptop.

All these bits and pieces need to be recharged and synchronised with my laptop. I have a line of little cradles on my desk with cables hanging out everywhere – for the PDA and the MP3 player, and chargers for the phone and the camera. It is all getting very complicated, and quite heavy to carry them all around, so I am looking at consolidating a few of the functions performed by these separate gadgets into one. My mobile phone needs replacing and so I’m looking at so-called smartphones – a phone with bells and whistles such as an MP3 player, camera and some PDA functions.

Some of these look more like chunky PDAs with full keypads, and that’s not what I’m after. I just want one that looks like a phone, isn’t too big and heavy, and does a lot more than my current phone does. So that’s what I’m shopping for, as part of my quest to find a reasonable phone contract with a network that gives reception in the valley where my house is.

I’ll let you know how I go.

Computers in Genealogy

How on earth did we get by before we had computers? It’s hard to remember now how much longer everything took and how much harder we had to work! I’ve been thinking lately about all the ways computers help make genealogy more enjoyable and my list keeps getting longer and longer. Perhaps you can think of other ways as well – let me know!

We have email! Remember what life was like before email? We had to read about other researchers in books or journals and write them letters, and then wait for a reply. Correspondence took days, weeks, even months. With email it can be almost instantaneous, although of course it often isn’t. We can also send family history societies details of our brick walls and get replies back much quicker than we used to.

Family history software has replaced, for many of us, the index cards and files of paper we used to use. It was hard to keep track of what we had and where it had come from. Now, we can see all the facts we have about an ancestor at once, in one place. We can redraw charts in a very few minutes and print them out. We can even include photos on them.

Even if we don’t use a family history program we almost all use a word processing program, and perhaps even spreadsheet and database programs. Word processors allow us to write letters, reports, family histories and all sorts of things by typing and printing rather than hand-writing or using an old typewriter and white-out. We can easily correct our typing mistakes and edit what we’ve written as we go.

We can scan those precious old photographs and documents and distribute them to other family members. We can borrow and quickly scan those of our distant relatives and just as quickly return them.

We can print out reports and photographs quite easily. Most of us have black and white printers, if not colour photo printers, and can arrange them on the page the way we want, and even add text so we can see who is in the photo. We can print out reports from our family history program for family members without computers.

We have CD or DVD burners to back up the data we’ve spent so long acquiring. We can create copies of our family tree for family members.

We can put our family tree up on the web to help others to find us and share information. Storing a copy on the internet also backs it up in case of disaster on our own computer, or a worse catastrophe like a house fire.

We can buy data issued on CD to look at at our leisure. Parish register transcripts, census images, governement gazettes, encyclopedias, all sorts of rare old books are now available to us for the price of a CD.

We now have more indexes to births, deaths, marriages, censuses, wills, ship passenger lists – the list is growing every day. You used to have to find the index, if there was one, perhaps on microfiche, and then find the actual record. If there was no index you might have had to order a microfilm if your local society didn’t have it, then pore through the film, one frame at a time, looking for an entry that may or may not have been there. Not any more! Jump on the computer and have a look on the web!

Once we’ve found the entry we want in a index, we can now very often download an image of the actual record. Digitisation of the actual records has made many of them available on the internet, for free or for a relatively low fee. Then we can print them, store them, back them up (yes, I keep mentioning the backing up part).

To find documents or other resources that are not so easily accessible, we can check the catalogues, directions and opening of the repositories where they can be found before we leave home.

We can shop at home for the books, CDs and software that we need to continue our research.

Many of us now take our computers out with us when we go researching – laptops or even PDAs. PDAs are a topic in themselves, which I might cover another time.

Computers are marvellous resources, and get better all the time. I know there are family historians out there who do not take advantage of all of these wonders, and I guess they are not likely to be reading this!