29 March 2008

iGoogle and Organizing Your Genealogical Research

Today I would like to embark on part three of my series on utilizing Google tools to enhance your online genealogical research. Previous posts focused on using the power (and storage capacity) of Gmail to create a custom, searchable mailing list archive; today I want to do a little bit more of a general look into how using iGoogle (or a customized Google homepage) can help keep you organized when your research goes digital. As always, I'm not paid by Google for this, I just dig their stuff and find it helps me in my online research.

It is easy to setup an iGoogle page, and a page can be setup without having a Gmail account. The link to setup the iGoogle page is found in the upper-right corner of the main Google.com page, as shown here:

Once setup, the page can be customized in a myriad of ways, some purely for aesthetics but some, more to our interest, for function and efficiency.

Here's a look at one of the tabs on my iGoogle page:

As you can see, across the top of the picture, I have a number of "tabs" on my Google homepage, one of which is the Genealogy tab, which is open and shown in the picture. Since I use my iGoogle page for more than just genealogy, this setup suits me just fine.

On this page are some examples of the tools which can be added to the iGoogle page through the "Add stuff" link in the top-right of the page.

1. Organizing tools. A to-do list tool, from the website Todoist.com. I could write a whole series on the robustness of this little modular application, but since time and space don't permit, suffice to say it is a fabulous to-do list application, which I use to track "to-do" items for my website as well as for my family research.

For me, the computer is the absolute center of my genealogical research. It's where I do research on records and repositories, where I review and order materials and books, where I write my letters requesting records and photocopies, and where I scan, notate, document, and enter information into Family Tree Maker. Because the computer is the epicenter of my work, I find it most intuitive to have a to-do list that lives somewhere on the computer, (or online) and is only a click-away when I want to figure out what items of research I need to prioritize or perform next.

I find paper lists tend to get jotted on, folded up, stuck in folders, plopped into books, spilled on, chewed on by my son... any number of calamities can befall them. My online list resides safely on my iGoogle page, in a central and accessible place, and, when I need to, I can print out a copy and take it with me or use it as a research outline. Notes are made, points are written, tasks are accomplished, and I close out my research sessions by updating my lists to reflect what has been done and what needs to be done next. I can then recycle my piece of paper, close my browser window, and not worry about what's going to happen to my to-do list when it gets windy out and I forget to close the window!

2. Functional Tools. These tools sit at the ready to perform common tasks that arise in the course of online research. The Google Map tool allows me to search quickly for towns, landmarks, etc., all without opening another page and getting bogged down in the more complicated functionality of Google Maps proper. This tool is great when I run across an unfamiliar location in a document or record, and want to get a sense of where it is located.

Other tools, like the calculator, are self-explanatory in their use. The benefit of having these commonly used tools in one place is one of expediency and efficiency. When I don't have to close my browser window and search around for the windows Calculator program, or get out of my chair to fish around in my check drawer for my real-life calculator, I save time... time which I can devote to more research.

3. Browsing Organization. This module is a direct link to my Google Notebook, which I will be covering later in this series.

For now, the short version: Google Notebook serves as a sort of digital scrapbook of items of interest one finds online. You can "clip" information or text of interest by highlighting it and saving it to your notebook. This is great for little nuggets of information I want to revisit, and wish to save for further research and evaluation. The module on my iGoogle page defaults to the main notebook, which contains my unfiled items. Since I see these items on my homepage almost every day, I never forget to revisit sites of interest, and I am never left wondering what site to visit or what to do with my internet research time.

4. Research Interfaces. This particular interface is a direct link to the Google Books search (another feature which I will be covering in depth later on). Much like the Google Maps module I noted above, I can perform a search from directly within my iGoogle homepage. Unfortunately, the Google Books Search takes you to a new page to see your results. However, I find that the benefit of having this module on my iGoogle page is as much as a reminder as it is an interface... seeing the module reminds me to check out what information is available in Google Books.

The four types of tools I have noted above really just scratch the surface of what is available, but they are some of the most useful tools I have found thus far.

As far as the organization of the iGoogle page, it really could be setup to suit any sort of need. If your iGoogle page were completely devoted to genealogy, you could envision a tab for each region of research, with tools and "most popular" links for each tab. The possibilities are really astounding, and as more tools and modules are added every day, there's always something worth looking into.

In the next installment of this series, we'll talk more in-depth about Google Books.

'Till then, I remain,


Tolley Family Historian said...

I too have been using iGoogle as a research interface, mostly incorporating links to favourites/essential/frequently used on-line data bases, homepages to archives etc. Your todo list is better than mine, and I'm gonna grab yours, and also put in a map search link. Thanks for the ideas.

Craig Manson said...

I've been a fan of Google for a number of research tasks, but I hadn't thought about how to organize them. Now I've done it! Thanks!

Jennifer said...

I'm so happy you've found the post helpful!

Mel said...

I am an iGoogle user but I didn't know about some of these features. Thanks for the tips!