The Sky Is (Not) Falling

Ancestry succeeded in rocking the world of a large number of genealogists today with their surprise announcement that they would be retiring Family Tree Maker genealogy software at the end of 2015.  Cue Chicken Little and hoards of unhappy genealogists bearing pitchforks and flaming torches.

Angry Mob (clipartsheep.com)

Angry Mob (clipartsheep.com)

But hold fair citizens of Genealogy-land!  All is not lost and, nay, the sky dost not fall today!

First dear reader, I strongly encourage you to go read Ancestry’s blog post here.  Knowledge is power and Ancestry spells out exactly what their short-term plans are for Family Tree Maker software.  If you didn’t run off to read their much-discussed blog post and are still with me, dear reader, here’s a short recap of what Ancestry said:

  • Ancestry will stop selling Family Tree Maker software as of 31 December 2015.
  • Ancestry will continue to support the Family Tree Maker software at least through 1 January 2017.
  • All software features (including TreeSyncTM) will continue to function and Ancestry will offer support, bug fixes and compatibility updates at least through 1 January 2017.

So take a breath, dear reader, your Family Tree Maker software will not turn into a pumpkin at the end of December.  As a user of Family Tree Maker myself I freely admit that losing FTM sucks.  A few years ago I reconsidered whether I wanted to continue using FTM, tried out some other programs and discovered I was still happy with FTM so I dove into learning to utilize all available features in FTM.  I recently had started going through and making sure I had all my sources attached and properly cited (a project that I’m still currently working on).  Having put all that effort into my FTM file I was initially devastated when I read about Ancestry’s intention to discontinue FTM.  Genealogy isn’t just a hobby for many of us.  It’s a very personal crusade to find and remember our ancestors.  When we partner with organizations and allow them to be a part of our genealogical passion it becomes the ultimate betrayal when said organization doesn’t behave as genealogists feel it should.  But no matter how personal of a relationship we believe we have, these organizations are still businesses in the end and must do what they can to survive and thrive.  And there’s always another side to every story, though we may never know what it is.

At this point you may be grabbing your pitchfork or flaming torch and asking yourself what the point of this post is.  Quite simply the post is merely my opinions and intentions as a user of Family Tree Maker.  Change is never easy, but sometimes it’s for the best.  There are several other programs and apps on the market to try and choose between.  And here we arrive at my first opinion: there is plenty of time to research, review and choose new software.  There’s no need to dive headfirst into purchasing new software right away.  Many of the companies that are still offering genealogical software provide a free trial of their software.  Go download the trial versions and use them to the fullest capacity allowed by the trial version.  Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy is writing an ongoing series called “Plan ahead for genealogy research without Family Tree Maker ~ Part 1 of an ongoing series” that I highly recommend following along with.  She lists several good resources that have already been posted on the WWW.

Which brings us to my second opinion: look at this as an opportunity…an opportunity to wrangle those loose ends and clean up your genealogy.  Thomas MacEntee started a great, free program called the Genealogy Do-Over.  There are different ways to participate in this program and it’s an excellent way to check your research, make sure everything fits the way it’s supposed to, cite your sources and (in general) clean up your genealogy.  Besides the Do-Over website, Thomas has created a Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group which is a great location for discussion and resources (even if you don’t plan to participate in the Do-Over!)

And for the trifecta, my third opinion: continue learning and trying new things.  Sometimes as genealogists we get stuck in a rut.  Running the same searches, looking at the same databases, checking the same sources over and over hoping to find some new information.  We must be careful to avoid becoming stagnant and try hard to remain flexible.

Also keep in mind, Ancestry hasn’t really made mention of long-term plans.  While they may be choosing to discontinue FTM at this point in time, there may be another idea currently in development.  Or they may choose to focus on other things instead.  New technology isn’t an overnight creation.  It takes time, effort and manpower.

So, dear reader, take a breath and look to the future.  It has a bright and beautiful sky.

Untitled Photo by Reymark Franke (Unsplash)

Untitled Photo by Reymark Franke (Unsplash)

Google It!

How many times have we heard that from someone?  What was the score for that baseball game?  Google it!  How do you take care of an orchid?  Google it!  How do I locate my ancestors?  Google it!  Okay, no, it’s really NOT that easy (don’t all genealogists wish it was?) but Google can definitely be a friend in genealogy.

Obviously Google has become a tool which many, many people utilize.  That much can be determined by the use of the word Google as a verb and the fact that Google (as a verb) has made it into the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Which, I might add, is pretty funny to me since I’m of that age group that remembers when people used to tell you to look in the card catalog.

card-catalog-prehistoric-googling
From The Dork Side (FaceBook)

You can use Google to help you research how to do just about anything, find just about any place or understand just about anything.  But have you, as a genealogist, Googled your ancestor’s name?  I’ve previously Googled a couple of ancestor’s names and had no luck finding anything so usually what I use Google for is your standard internet look up.  But the other night, on a whim, I decided to try Googling another name of one of my ancestors.  I wasn’t expecting to find anything but I needed a break from my research so I figured “what the heck!” and typed my ancestor’s name and last known location, Guian McKee Kentucky, into the search box and hit the search button.

The first few entries were some pretty standard items: a WikiTree entry, some old emails someone had posted to the internet and some Ancestry forum entries.  It was rather interesting to read the old emails and see that others had been searching for this same ancestor but it was one of the Ancestry forum messages that really intrigued me.  A user was asking anyone if they knew of a source for a book “Descendants of Guian McKee, Sr. & Abigail Lane” other than the Family History Library in Salt Lake.  And there was a reply to the question.  How exciting!  Even more exciting was the fact that the reply contained a link to a current blog that was supposed to have a synopsis of the book on it!  A quick perusal of the first few blog posts revealed nothing about the book or my ancestors but blogger KevinW had both a search box and list of labels on the right side of his blog.  Fantastic!  And what to my searching eyes should appear in the labels section but the name of “McKee”.  Even better!

Queue a click of the McKee label and perusal of the blog posts lists under it.  This led to an immediate add of the blog to my Feedly genealogy feed because it was quite obvious KevinW was researching another branch of Guian’s descendants.  Now I was wondering why in the world I hadn’t done this sooner?

I always try and contact potential cousins on the off chance that they might want to exchange information.  Most of the time I strike out, but lately, I’ve been getting lucky and finding cousins who are happy to exchange information.  KevinW was one who was glad to share his knowledge.  I now have some new reading material thanks to his willingness to share what he knew about Guian.  I hope one day I can return the favor.

There are some tricks to Googling your genealogy.  Find My Past posted a good article here by Daniel M. Lynch which discusses some tips and tricks to Googling your family tree and Kimberly Powell wrote a good article on About.com which provides 25 Google search tips for genealogists.  Lisa Louise Cooke has some fantastic resources on using Google in your genealogy, both paid and free.  You should take a minute to check out her website here.  Typing “Google” into her website search box will provide you links to past blog posts about Google and it’s tools (if you haven’t seen her webinar on Google Earth you are absolutely missing out!) and she’s got several Google-related items which have received really good reviews in her online store.

Googling your ancestor can be hit or miss but, as with any tool, learn how to use it and it can provide you with successful results.  And remember: “If at first you don’t succeed, call it Version 1.0.” (Author Unknown)

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

In my quest for learning as much as I can about all things genealogy-related I’ve taken to reading as many blogs as I can. Reading what others write about their experiences, successes and failures is not only educational but allows an outlet for sharing between genealogists and the opportunity to support and assist others who are taking a similar journey to mine.

So about two weeks ago I was reading through a stack of blog posts and ran across a post written by a mom on her blog about genealogy education for children. The subject matter of Emily’s post Engaging Children with the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner (and GIVEAWAY!) was getting her children involved in helping with genealogy by letting them use her Flip-Pal to scan scrapbooks and photos. When I had a small child I hadn’t ever considered looking for ways to get him involved. I wish I had, he might have more interest now if I’d involved him the way Emily involves her children in her genealogy.

The blog post also served as a review of the Flip-Pal. What a great idea! Let the kids use it, then review the product based on the kids’ use of the product. And her little one did a great job scanning with the Flip-Pal! Personally I’ve been drooling over the Flip-Pal for months now, ever since I learned about it online, but hadn’t had the chance to work it into the budget yet. So when I saw the chance to enter the giveaway included in her blog post I figured, why not? So I entered, not really thinking I’d win…but, big surprise, I did!!!! And guess what came today (just in time for an upcoming trip to Washington, DC)…

IMG_0440.JPG

Color me excited!!!! I can’t wait to break this bad boy in.  Hmmm, I think I see some scanning in my very near future 🙂

And a big shout out to Emily for hosting the giveaway! Check out her blog at http://kowalski-bellan.weebly.com/growing-little-leaves, I highly recommend her posts for both parents and non-parents alike!

This Ain’t Your Grandparents’ Genealogy

Growing up I can remember my grandparents spending hours sitting in front of the microfilm or microfiche readers at the Family History Center in Independence.  I would watch them scroll from page to page.  Occasionally they would even write something down.  For the longest time I wondered what they were doing sitting in front of those machines and I even ended up interested enough to ask one day.  That’s when I got the explanation of genealogy.  I think I was around eight years old at the time.  Eventually, I joined in on the game of genealogy cat and mouse.

Genealogists today are much more fortunate than the genealogists of yesterday.  While my grandparents had to hunt for the names they were looking for page by page in the microfilms of the census records, I have the option of running to the library and using Ancestry.com.  And it’s not just computers and digitizing that have made things easier but with the advent of iGadgets and Android devices genealogists now have oodles of accessibility and tools designed to make our lives better and data easier to save, access and share.  I appreciate being able to access my genealogy over my lunch hour at work without lugging around a big, heavy binder full of paper.  But even electronic files can end up being a mess if you don’t organize your electronic items.  I’m not talking just your family data, but also downloaded files, saved emails and other pertinent items.  I’m not an expert in organization (just ask D1, he’d love to give you a witty or humorous reference about my hoarding tendencies) but I wanted to share a few items I use regularly in my genealogy research:

1. Computer database: Right now I’m looking at potentially switching databases.  I’m currently using Family Tree Maker.  I loved FTM when I first started doing computerized genealogy and I still like it (for the most part) but I’m also checking out RootsMagic to see if I like that program any better.  There are TONS of genealogy computer databases out there, each person has to decide what works best for their own genealogy.  The best advice I ever heard was that whatever software you choose, make sure you learn about it and commit to it fully before deciding whether or not you’re happy with it.

2. Websites: There are waaaaayyyyy too many to name but the sites I frequent are Find a Grave, Cyndi’s List, Ancestry, HeritageQuest, NARA and FamilySearch.  There are so many more good sites out there that I just can’t name them all in one blog post but those are just a few I use.

3. iGadets: I’m by no means a power user on any of these items but I cannot live without my iPhone and iPad.  I use both for genealogy, those I mostly refer to my iPad when I can, simply because the screen is larger and I like that option better.  In a pinch the iPhone does the same thing and I typically have internet connection on that no matter where I am, which is convenient.  Some of the iGadget apps I use for my genealogy are:

  • GedView: I did a review of GedView here.  GedView is my workhorse, go-to iPhone app.  I keep it up to date by either inputting new data right away manually or periodically replacing the GEDCOM file I’ve imported into it.
  • MobileFamilyTree: I also did a review of MobileFamilyTree here.  MFT is my fancy-pants go-to iPad app.  I keep it up to date by either inputting my new data right away manually or periodically replacing the GEDCOM file I’ve imported into it.
  • Evernote: Oh I absolutely LOVE me some Evernote!  I can’t imagine how i got by without this app.  I don’t use it just for genealogy (although that’s why I started using it).  I also use it for saving emails, software registration information, class notes for courses I’m taking (genealogy and non-genealogy courses), recipes and many other items.  In Evernote I can combine multiple emails on one subject if I want, then save it to the appropriate notebook, tag it and search for it later!  I’m still learning the best way to use this program/app but I can’t help but love it more everyday.
  • KustomNote: I haven’t used this a great deal yet but it definitely looks promising.  This allows you build templates and forms or use templates and forms others have built and submitted for note taking.  I’ve already downloaded a research log form and a couple of other forms I’m looking forward to using.  You don’t use this so much as a stand-alone app, you use it in conjunction with Evernote.
  • Quickoffice: This is a paid iGadget app.  It’s not cheap but it functions almost exactly like the Microsoft Office suite.  Since purchasing this CloudOn has entered the picture (I have that app as well) which allows the user to access their Microsoft files via cloud storage and edit and create just like if you were actually in the Microsoft programs.  Both are fantastic apps.
  • Cloud storage: I love my cloud storage as well.  I have an account with several different storage entities.  Dropbox, Google Drive and Box are the entities I’m currently signed up with.  I use each one for different purposes.  Dropbox is pretty much my primary go-to for sharing documents with family and also my general items that I access all the time.  BrotherDear prefers Google Drive so I typically will share all my pictures there.  Box is used for my business life.  Keeping business and work separate is very important for me so having separate cloud storage was very important in my mind.
  • Feedly: I love following interesting blogs.  And I love the fact that there is an app to deliver the new posts of those feeds to my phone everyday.  To keep that information centralized and easily readable I use Feedly.  I used Google Reader combined with Byline but both these items were clunky in my opinion.  Feedly has been the best discovery I’ve ever made.  Feedly also interacts with IFTTT and Evernote!
  • Pocket: Another fantastic discovery.  I regularly add blogs to my Feedly list.  I don’t always have time to read every single post but I don’t want to just skip over them since they may contain interesting or useful information.  That’s where Pocket comes in.  Pocket lets me save the articles I want to read until a time that I have time to sit and read them in their entirety.

Just because all of these items are electronic in nature doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned paper.  I have, by no means, gotten rid of my paper.  I still use binders, pedigree and family charts, printouts of record copies and sheet protectors.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone ever go completely digital.  Yes, paper takes up more space but should you ever have a problem with your computer, jump drive, cloud storage, etc. the paper files will be there.  And on the other end of that coin, if your paper files ever get destroyed you will still have electronic copies (and, if you do things correctly, backups of your electronic files).  I also don’t only rely on my iGadget for photography.  I still use my DSLR camera as often as possible to take pictures of items like tombstones.  Though, in a pinch, the iGadget will do almost as well.

I’m sure as I begin to get into mobile genealogy a little bit more I’ll discover new and interesting tools and uses for older tools that I didn’t know about but for now those are some of the things I use regularly.

I can only imagine what my grandparents would think if they saw how we were doing genealogy today.  The ease with which we can obtain information is astounding!  This definitely ain’t your grandparents’ genealogy, that’s for sure!

Follow Friday: AK’s Genealogy Research

Welcome to another edition of Follow Friday.  Today we’re looking at AK’s Genealogy Research.  Annette’s blog was created for the same reason most of the amateur blogs were created – to document her research and progress.  And that’s why I love these blogs.  Blogs like AK’s Genealogy Research show the ups and downs and successes and mistakes of genealogy research.  A good number of her blog posts make reference to the use of DNA in genealogy research, which I haven’t been able to take advantage of yet.  However, I will be marking those posts for later reading.

Annette’s writing falls somewhere between conversational and instructional, which I feel makes her posts a very good read.  She had a very interesting post on Service Records of Volunteers, 1784-1811 and another really really good one on Learning Evernote. I’ve just started using Evernote so finding posts about how others use it is like a goldmine to me.  Take a minute to check out her blog, it’s well worth your time!