Friday, April 27, 2012

Genealogy in a Post-PC World, Part 3: Productivity

We all know how important organization is to a genealogist's work. We also know how difficult it is to organize our documents, thoughts, and life in general. Personally, I have a very hard time staying organized. Managing documents in the digital age is getting more complicated. Finding a way to "put down on paper," in some orderly fashion, all the thoughts in my head is no small task. Lastly, we have to keep our life organized. Family responsibilities, kids, work, etc. all need our attention. Prioritizing that laundry list of tasks seems impossible some days.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Genealogy in a Post-PC World, Part 2: First Apps

It's official. I have my new iPad, and it is amazing. It's not much different physically than my iPad 1, but it is much faster, has a built-in camera, and has the retina display. I notice the speed especially when I'm rapidly switching from app to app, which I've been known to do. The camera is a decent 5 megapixels and does the job for most things. The retina display really makes a difference. Things on the screen look so much clearer now. I could go on and on about the iPad, but I'm here to talk about something more important: the apps.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Genealogy in a Post-PC World: Part 1

I'm always looking for ways to become more mobile, whether it is for research or blogging. I've finally decided to ditch my laptop as well as upgrade my iPad 1 to a new iPad. Welcome to the future! I've decided to chronicle my adventures in a new series called "Genealogy in a Post-PC World." Tablet devices are becoming more prevalent in our society and have become part of the daily routine for many people. I've had my iPad for over a year now and I absolutely love it. I find myself using my laptop less as the days go by. There are so many software as well as hardware options available today that I can do almost everything on my iPad that I could do on my laptop. I will use future installments to talk about some of the iPad software apps and hardware I am using and compare them to their laptop equivalents.

Monday, April 16, 2012

BillionGraves Brings Cemeteries to You

Many people are helping to index the 1940 U.S. Census. This group effort is helping to provide valuable information to many people all across the United States and the world. What happens after the whole census is indexed? What to do next? One suggestion: join

BillionGraves is a fascinating site. It seeks to build a database of headstone images from across the world that genealogists can access and use as part of their research. There are two ways to contribute to the BillionGraves project, capturing images and transcribing images. 

Capturing Images
BillionGraves has created a free app for both iPhones and Android phones. Using the app on your device, simply take photos of headstones in cemeteries. The GPS location of the phone is attached to the photo. When the photos are uploaded to the BillionGraves site they are pinpointed on a map so they can be easily found by others.

Transcribing Images
Once all of these images are uploaded from the phone to they need to be transcribed. This is where the skills developed indexing the census come in to play. It's very easy to enter the information for each headstone. You start by entering basic information, Given Names, Family Names, Birth, and Death. You can also enter an Epitaph as well as other information regarding the headstone. Once you save the information you can simply click Next and receive another headstone image to transcribe.

You can upgrade the basic account with either the "Notifications Package" or the "BillionGraves Plus Account." The notifications package gives you the ability to set "record watches" where you can receive email notifications based on certain search criteria you set. The Plus account gives you more record watches, virtual walkthroughs of cemeteries, and the ability to search records on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

If you are the competitive type you can try to get on the top 25 leaderboard. There are two leaderboards, one for top image uploaders and one for top transcribers. Get to work. You'll need at least 500 uploads or transcriptions to get onto the board.

If you've finished indexing the census or just want to take a break and do something else, head over to and help transcribe some headstones. Now that the weather is turning nice, grab your iPhone or Android phone, take a walk through your local cemetery and snap some photos and upload them to the site.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cubby: Cloud Data Service from LogMeIn

Powered by LogMeIn, Cubby is the latest entry in the cloud data service market. LogMeIn has been around since 2003 and provides "solutions for remote control, file sharing, systems management, data backup, business collaboration and on-demand customer support of PCs, servers, Macintosh computers, smartphones and other connected devices." Cubby is built to allow you to simply and securely share your information between PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.

"When it comes to sharing data in the cloud today, most solutions on the market are ultra simple but inflexible, or highly flexible but inherently complex. We see Cubby as an opportunity to deliver an ideal balance of simplicity and flexibility," said Marton Anka, LogMeIn's CTO. "It is designed to adapt to the way people naturally interact with their information -- to deliver the benefits of the cloud without forcing people to change their behavior."

Cubby is very similar to Dropbox and other storage solutions available today:
  • Free online storage space (5GB free compared to Dropbox's 2GB)
  • Access to your data on multiple computers and mobile devices
  • Share files and folders with others
  • iOS and Android apps to access documents away from your home computer
There are also differences between Cubby and the other competitors:
  • You can make any folder a cubby - it does not have to be located inside the Cubby folder
  • Unlimited peer-to-peer syncing -  files can be synced between computers without affecting your Cubby cloud storage limit
  • Restore deleted files - all deleted files are kept in an archive (part of Dropbox's paid service)
  • Recover older versions - each revision is saved in the file's archive (part of Dropbox's paid service)
With your Cubby account you receive 5GB of storage space in the cloud. Cubby is currently in beta, and you can request an invite at Once I get my invite and get to play with Cubby a bit I will post an update with my thoughts on how the service actually functions.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Busting Brick Walls - from Family Tree Magazine

ggg grandfather Jonas Cleland's Farm (1877)
Family Tree Magazine's Genealogy Insider e-newsletter has a great tip of the week. I really should call it "tips of the week" because it contains 5 tips on breaking through the walls you've run into on your genealogical search. Sometimes taking a step back to look at all the information you have gathered helps you gain a new perspective on old material. I find it good to go searching after another branch of my family tree if I've been banging my head against the brick wall searching for a particular ancestor. After a while of searching the other branches I come back to the brick wall. I find that I come back to it with a new set of eyes. I think of things that hadn't occurred to me earlier. This is how I found a land map from 1877 that showed the farms of both my gg grandfather Anton Wagner and ggg grandfather Jonas Cleland. The biggest surprise of all, there was an actual drawing of my ggg grandfather Jonas Cleland's farm in Indiana!

The tip of the week is part of a Power Course from Family Tree Magazine's Family Tree University called "Tear Down That Wall! Tips and Tricks for Breaking Through Your Genealogy Brick Walls". The course is only $59.99, and space is limited. Power Courses provide the equivalent of a 2-hour lecture over a week's time. Family Tree University provides all sorts of courses, from very basic courses to more advanced topics.

Don't forget! Use discount code FTU0412 to save 20 percent off tuition!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

DNA: The Key to Expanding Your Family Tree

At some point in everyone's life they wonder where they came from. Where did your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents originate? Your DNA is the key to unraveling the mysteries of your family tree. Advancements in the science of genomics are creating a revolution in the world of genealogy. DNA tests offered today can help determine your ancestors' origins and even help you find distant relatives.

I won't pretend to know great amounts about genetic genealogy, but I want to provide some avenues where you can go to find more information. I've included links to the three major DNA testing companies and a couple blogs available on the web.

DNA Testing
There are three major companies offering DNA testing specifically geared toward the genealogist, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, and All three of these companies will provide you with a breakdown of your ethnic origins as well as connect you with close and distant relatives. Ancestry's DNA testing has not officially launched yet and is still in beta testing. They plan to launch later this year. Ancestry's product sounds the most interesting. From what I've read, it sounds like they will try to match other members' trees to yours. The Genetic Genealogist has actually been part of the beta test and has published several articles regarding the Ancestry DNA project.

The Genetic Genealogist - from Blaine Bettinger's site: "The Genetic Genealogist examines the intersection of traditional genealogical techniques and modern genetic research. The blog also explores the latest news and developments in the related field of personal genomics."

Your Genetic Genealogist - from CeCe Moore's site: "Aims to encourage everyone to discover the fascinating world of genetic genealogy (DNA Testing for Genealogy) by making it accessible to and understandable by the non-scientist."



Monday, April 9, 2012

Build Beautiful 3D Timelines with BeeDocs

I'll be upfront. This software is built for the Mac. Don't run away Windows users! This software alone could convince you that you need a Mac. BeeDocs makes two great software applications for developing 3D timelines that will help you present your data in a whole new way. Timeline 3D is the full-featured version and there is a stripped down version called Easy Timeline.

Timeline 3D allows you to do some amazing things. Your 3D timelines can be published to the web. They are fully interactive and optimized for mobile devices. Timelines can include images, audio, and video. They can then be exported to iTunes or YouTube, or it can be added into your video projects in iMovie or Final Cut Pro. Timeline 3D is only $65 and can be downloaded directly from the BeeDocs website.

Easy Timeline is meant to be more of a self contained application. You can create the same beautiful timelines, but you are limited in what you can do with the 3D timelines outside of Easy Timeline. Easy Timeline is $19.99 and available for purchase through the Mac App Store.

Both versions are incredibly easy to use. I think it's worth getting the full version, especially if you have a website or blog where you publish your genealogical media. BeeDocs provides a link to a PDF comparison chart so you can determine which application is best suited for your needs. Again, this software is for Mac OS X only.

Check out this short video that gives you a small taste as to what Timeline 3D and Easy Timeline can do. There are a bunch of other videos on their site that go into more depth on the software's features.



I've Got Dropbox. Now What?

You made the leap. You joined Dropbox, installed it on your computer and maybe your mobile device, and now you're staring at the screen waiting for it to do something magical. Congratulations! You've joined the world of cloud computing, but what does cloud computing really mean to you as a genealogist? Cloud computing is meant to free you from being forced to do all of your work in a single location. The same information is now accessible on your desktop, laptop, and mobile device; anywhere you have access to the Internet. Let's take a look at how to take advantage of some of the features of Dropbox.

One of the best and perhaps least known features of Dropbox is its ability to keep multiple versions of your files. Dropbox keeps your files, and versions of your files, for thirty days. What does this mean to you? While working on a document you delete a paragraph or two, save the file, and then close it. You have lost those paragraphs forever. If you had saved the file in your Dropbox folder on your computer you could go back and retrieve that previous version of the file before you deleted the paragraphs.

You can also get back files that you have completely deleted as well. You are able to view all deleted files from the last thirty days and undelete the one you need. If you have a paid Dropbox account you can activate the Pack-Rat feature. Pack-Rat keeps an unlimited amount of snapshots of your files, allowing you to retrieve a file from any time you like.

For more details on retrieving old versions of files, retrieving deleted files, and Pack-Rat, go to

New discoveries are made in our research, and we want to share these findings with friends and family. The first thing you must do with a file you want to share is put it in the Dropbox Public folder. Once a file is in the Public folder a link is generated which you can send to others, which will allow them to download or view the file on their computer.

See "How do I link to files in my Dropbox?" on the Dropbox help pages.

If you are collaborating on files with others you can also create a shared folder. This shared folder will sync itself on each user's Dropbox account. If you are working with others, searching on the same surname, you can pool your resources in one shared folder. It's perfect for those large projects or family documents you want to share with others. You don't have to worry about emailing the files, trying to figure out who has the most current version, or any of those hassles. Everyone can work off of the same file.

See "How do I share folders with other people?" on the Dropbox help pages.

We have all heard it at least a hundred times, BACKUP YOUR DATA! But do we always do it? Of course not. Instead of making a copy of your family tree file, from whatever software you use, and saving it on Dropbox, why not just keep the file on Dropbox in the first place? Most software applications allow you to choose where you save your files. When you install Dropbox, it creates a folder on your computer, and whatever is in that folder gets synced up to the cloud. Just place your family tree file in the Dropbox folder and make sure your software is pointing to that file. It's nice to know that my file is somewhere safe. Even though it's backed up on a hard drive, bad things can happen. If, God forbid, lightning struck or a fire broke out in your house, you would most likely lose both your computer and backup drive. An off-site backup is just the thing you need to make sure you never lose your files.

Hopefully I've given you some things to think about when it comes to using Dropbox. I have used it for a long time now and am a big fan of it. I especially love having all of my documents and photos available to me on my iPhone and iPad. I can view documents wherever I go and show off my old family photos to friends and family. If you haven't yet joined Dropbox, do it know. Follow this link and get your free 2GB account. If you join using this link you will help me get some more free storage on Dropbox. I can use all the space I can get.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Boston University Offers Two Online Genealogical Courses

Are you an amateur genealogist looking to take your skills to the next level, a professional genealogist seeking to enhance your existing skills, or are you in a related career field wanting to broaden your knowledge? If you are any of those you might want to consider enrolling in Boston University's program to earn a Certificate in Genealogical Research.

The Genealogical Research Program is a 15-week, non-credit course taught by experts in the field of genealogy who bring with them over seven decades of combined experience. It is headed by Melinde Lutz Byrne, FASG, a practicing genealogist since 1976 and author or editor of over forty books and articles.

During the 15 weeks, you will cover topics such as:
  • Foundations of Genealogical Research
  • Problem-Solving Techniques and Technology
  • Evidence Evaluation and Documentation
  • Forensic Genealogical Research
  • The Professional Genealogist
The Genealogical Research Program will also help you in your pursuit of a Certified Genealogist designation from the Board of Certification of Genealogists. You can learn more about the certification process at

Boston University also offers a new 4-week course titled "Genealogical Essentials." It is a great course for those who want to formalize their skills in genealogy or prepare for the 15-week certificate course.
To find out more about the online programs, go to Summer classes start May 8, 2012. Registration for the summer sessions of Boston University's genealogical programs is almost closed. Sign up by April 18 to attend. NGS, NEHGS, and APG members receive tuition discounts. If you can't make it for the summer, you can sign up for the fall session instead. The fall classes have a 5-installment payment plan to help spread out the cost of the course.

Boston University also offers the Genealogical Research Program on campus as well. If you live in the New York City area, BU will be offering the Certificate Program in the city soon. You can sign up for more information off of their main page,

Personally, I am signing up for the fall session of the online course. I can't wait to see what the program is like. If anyone has gone through the course please let me know how it is. I'd love to hear some feedback before enrolling.


RootsTech Releases Conference Vidoes Online

RootsTech, the family history and technology conference was held on February 2-4, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference brings together developers and genealogists of all levels to share and learn about the latest technology advancements in the world of genealogy. Attendees can participate in hands-on workshops, attend seminars, and meet various vendors in the expo hall.

For those of you, like me, who were not able to attend the conference, RootsTech has posted videos on their site of the presentations that were given. There are some great videos available, including topics such as podcasting and blogging, using online tools in your research, and the future of technology in genealogical research.

The videos are available on the main page of the RootsTech site,

After being inspired by these videos, get ready for RootsTech 2013! They have already announced the dates, March 21-23 in Salt Lake City. I hope to see you there.


Thursday, April 5, 2012 1940 Census Infographic

Take a look at some of the details surrounding the launch of the 1940 US Census images. Terabytes of data, millions of page views, and the #1 trending topic on Twitter. put together a great infographic outlining the details behind a launch of this size. Check out the census images for yourself at

1940 census

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Family Tree Software Choices for Mac Genealogists

I'll admit it. I'm biased. I am a big Apple/Mac/iOS fanboy. I worked for Apple for 6 1/2 years, and I truly do love their products. That being said, the first pieces of software that I want to mention are all Apple related. I will eventually get to apps made for iOS, but for now these are strictly computer-based, Mac applications. The three applications are Family Tree Maker 2 for Mac, Reunion, and Mac Family Tree. At some point in time I have used all three of these applications. I currently use Family Tree Maker 2, mainly because of its syncing abilities with

Family Tree Maker 2 for Mac
Family Tree Maker finally came to the Mac and it made quite a splash. I was very excited to finally have this product available natively on the Mac. I had used the Windows version for years running under Parallels on my Mac. The big feature of version 2 is TreeSync. TreeSync's main purpose is to make sure you have the same data everywhere, whether you are on your desktop, iPad, or iPhone. If you make a change in one place it is updated everywhere.

The other little feature I like of version 2 is its use of full screen mode in Lion. It allows you to take advantage of every inch of the screen, making it an even better experience using the software.

Family Tree Maker 2 is available for purchase on for $55.99, a 20% savings off the regular retail price. You can have it shipped to you, or it is available for immediate download.
Reunion 9 for Macintosh
I haven't used Reunion in a long time, but when I did I felt that it was a really solid, well designed application for the Mac OS. It has received many awards and positive reviews throughout the years, with regular updates keeping it fresh and current. Some of my favorite features are the reporting and the web publishing options. Reunion will generate all of the HTML for you, creating a standalone site that you can upload to your web hosting provider. iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions are available, at additional cost, so you can bring your family tree with you wherever you go.

Reunion 9 for Macintosh is available for purchase or download for $99 at

Mac Family Tree
This is the software that I have used the least. I must say, though, that the 3D rendering of the family tree is amazing. There is nothing else like it available in any other software package. I found it to be not as user friendly as Family Tree Maker or Reunion, but it was still pretty easy to get started once you play around with it a bit. Overall, it is a great piece of software for documenting your family tree. 

Mac Family Tree is available for purchase or download for $59.99 at 

All three software applications are great choices for managing your family tree. Again, my preference is Family Tree Maker, mainly because of the TreeSync feature. 


MyHeritage Announces All 1940 Census Images Available Online

MyHeritage has announced that all 1940 US Census images are now available for viewing for free! Now the work of indexing all of those records begins. MyHeritage released the first index for Bristol County, Rhode Island. There is no word on how long the indexing of all the images will take.

I haven't yet had a chance to take a look at the images myself. That is my plan for later this evening. I cannot wait to find some of my relatives on the new images.

Wolfram Genealogy & History Research Assistant

Wolfram Alpha, the information powerhouse, has an interesting app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. The Genealogy & History Research Assistant describes itself as a way to "explore the world of your ancestors." You can find information regarding relationships between family members as well as a wealth of historical information. The app is $4.99 and is a universal app, meaning the same version will work on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.