30 June 2008

Making the Most of Bookmarks in Firefox 3

I had considered writing a post on maximizing the new bookmark features in Firefox 3, but someone else already did a great job!

Especially helpful are the items on using tagging within your bookmarks, and "smart" bookmarks.


The word has been making the rounds about the new usa.gov genealogy page, which includes links for family history and genealogy research info for all 50 states. Each link leads toward a single resource page providing general overviews of resources available for the state in question. The state-specific resource pages are hosted by particular organizations, such as state libraries and historical societies.

For instance, the California link goes to a page outlining some resources available at the California State Library, and links to their Guide to Sources for Genealogy.

I found some interesting resources I was unaware of in some of the states I research, so the links are worth checking out even for "old hand" states. After all, resources are constantly coming online, and it's always worth checking out what's new!

24 June 2008

Quick Tip: Clip images from Google Books to your Google Notebook

Did you know that you can "clip" sections of text from any open copyright (any full-view) book in Google Books and paste that clip into your Google Notebook?

To do so, simply select the "clip" button in Google Books (indicated by the red arrow in the image below). You can opt to embed the image in another web page, send the clip to Blogger, or send the clip to your Google Notebook:

I have selected to send the clip to my Notebook. Here is the clip as it appears in my notebook:

Great way to keep track of the information you find on your ancestors online!

A few caveats with this:

1. Until I upgraded to Firefox 3, I could not get this feature to work. I am unsure if this was peculiar to my system or not.

2. Selecting the "text" option and sending to notebook will still send an image clip to your notebook. The text option only seems to work when sending to Blogger.

3. The selection cannot span more than one page at a time, which stinks if you have something like a biography that spans a page break.

On the bright side, however, the text in the clip you send to notebook is fully searchable!

20 June 2008

Quick Tip: Google Blog Search

If you are a blog fan, and are always on the lookout for new blogs covering content that interests you, you should try out Google's Blog Search.

This specialized search engine is easy to use, capitalizing on the same search functionality and phraseology that you can use for any typical search. Simply enter your search:

... and Google will present to you all of the blog posts containing your search term(s). You can refine the dates of the blog posts using the toolbar on the left-hand side of the results:

This feature is helpful for when you are looking for posts on time-sensitive subjects, such as recent announcements, data releases, etc.

Another Tool

Another useful tool, available if you use Google Reader, is the ability to create and subscribe to a feed based on your search term. This customized feed will store your search term, and continuously update itself with applicable posts as those posts are made.

The link to create a customized feed is located at the bottom of the blogsearch screen, underneath the results:

Clicking on the link will take you to your Google Reader account, where you can subscribe to the feed, file it as you please, then sit back and enjoy the customized information streaming into your reader!

17 June 2008

More on Ancestry's Search (dys)Function

In case you were wondering how feeble Ancestry's search function can be, I decided to do a test today on an individual I was researching:

Ancestry's search of this particular book, History of Dakota Territory, encompasses all five volumes. I tried to search for my individual, A. S. Jones:

Here's the result I got:

Here's the search results I got performing the same search, solely on Volume II of the book, in Google Books (the photo shows you the first of fifteen accurate search results):

Here is the first search result instance, shown above from Google Books, as found in the volume on Ancestry (it's the last name on the right-hand side, second line from the bottom):

So what's going on here?

13 June 2008

The Ancestry Newspaper Rollout: Why I Say "Meh"

As you've undoubtedly heard, ancestry.com amped up their inventory of newspapers today.

I use the newspaper collection somewhat, and am glad to see that they have expanded their title base, but without a modified, clarified... or dare I say improved search function, this new collection will be just as useless as the last one.

When it comes to the search functions for their newspaper collection, why can't Ancestry seem to get exact phrase searches right? It's hardly impossible... Newspaperarchive.com used to have the same problem, but recently released a beta search that is lightyears better than what they had previously, and actually allows you to search for exact phrases. All of the NewsBank products have great exact-term searching. The best I've seen is the 19th Century Newspapers database put out by Gale, which serves up great results that match your search query, or it gives you nothing at all.

Call me selfish, but this is how I expect databases to act.

What I can't stand is a database that forces you to wade through thousands of false hits because it can't seem to consider a first and surname as a singular, searchable unit. Is this too much to ask from a genealogy website?

Until Ancestry can get their act together and get a proper search function up for their newspaper collection, these sorts of trumpeted rollouts will fall short. When they announced the impending paper rollout on May 5th of this year, the blog had the gumption to mention that "newspapers have not been highly used on Ancestry to date", as if they were perplexed by why that could be. The comments backed me up and made me realize I am not alone in my frustration with searching through the collection.

Am I just another frustrated "Jones" surname researcher? Perhaps. But I also love much of what Ancestry does across their site, and I appreciate that they are continually expanding the role of the internet in everyone's genealogy research. And as someone who really believes in the value of newspapers for genealogical research, I wish they would show those newspapers, and this new, vast newspaper collection, the respect that it so richly deserves.

10 June 2008

Google Books Index Update

I wanted to let everyone know that I have been hard at work on the Google Books Index, an index of full-view books of genealogical interest available at Google Books.

Each state now has its own page, and resources on each page have been organized by type of book.

I have indexed 890 books, mostly county and state histories, some directories, and historical society publications.

Next up will be the indexing of books with vital records and record transcriptions, then surname-based family histories.

08 June 2008

Your ancestor's homestead... as seen from space!

Inspired by a great article from WeRelate about using the government's GLO Records website to find information on your ancestor's land, I finally set about researching the BLM records for my great-grandfather Peter Shannon, who homesteaded in Montana in the late 1800's.

The phenomenal tool that I found was Earth Point, a website which provides an easy interface to input the township and range information and view the result in Google Earth. The tool even breaks down the view into quarter sections! This made locating the exact spot of my great-grandfather's homestead a breeze, and I got to get a satellite-view of the terrain, the roads, and an easy way to measure distances to the nearest cities.

If you haven't yet downloaded and played with Google Earth, I highly suggest it. Once you have it installed, give Earth Point a try too!

04 June 2008

Sticky Wikis

People seem to have wikis on the brain lately. Perhaps its holdover from the spring cleaning urge, but I too have been bitten by a wiki-bug of sorts. In an attempt to start organizing my family history information, I've been hard at work transforming some of the individuals in my family tree into pages in my own personal family Wiki. If you've ever visited Wikipedia (and most of us have), the you have at least some experience with the Wiki format... an easy to use robust site-functionality that allows for collaborative production, editing and content. Of course, in the case of Wikipedia, most of us have simply looked something up, read an article or two, then moved on. But for genealogists, a wiki can be so VERY much more.

Imagine, if you will, the possibilities of creating a family wiki and collaborating on information about individuals with other researchers. Being able to collaborate means that photos, family stories, etc. can all be collated into one page, at one place, providing an excellent means of documenting the lives and stories of your ancestors.

There are a number of routes you can take if you decide that you want to start a wiki on your family, and I will cover a few of them in this post.

Prefab Wikidom

* The website WeRelate is aiming to be a massive-user online Wiki, and if it achieves that goal, it could be a phenomenal resource. The possibilities of this site have been covered before by a number of blogs including Randy Seaver and Moultrie Creek, so I won't dwell too much on it except to say that I have poked around it and it definitely has the benefit of being quite easy to use once you get oriented. With a small ramp-up time for any user with basic wiki and 'net understanding, this could be just the wiki powerhouse you are looking for.

If the massive collaborative attraction of something like WeRelate strikes fear into your heart, but you still want to have the ease of a pre-fab wiki, there are a variety of online services (also called wiki farms) you can use.

* One of them is Zoho.com. Zoho provides a full-featured online wiki and is also very easy to use. Some of the things I like most about Zoho are the ease of registration (sign in using Yahoo and Gmail) and the interface, which tries to mimic traditional word processing software. I think this interface takes alot of the intimidation factor out of the creation of a wiki for some people. On the flip side, the interface is MUCH too graphical and roundabout for anyone used to working with wikis (e.g., creating a new wiki page requires clicking on a tab, naming a new page, etc., vs. the easy double-bracket method of a traditional wiki). For someone who wants a wiki feel without all the wiki learning curve, something like Zoho is great.

I have also used pbWiki, and loved it. PBwiki is essentially a next-step hosted wiki, which basically totally mimics the functionality of wiki-ware you would install on your own web hosted server.

Wikipedia has a great run-down of various wiki farms and their costs and popularity, as well as the all-important fact of whether or not they have ads displayed on users' wiki pages.

Going Solo

If you are a control-freak, or just like to geek around with software, you can go the route of installing your own wiki-ware on your web server. I went with Mediawiki, which is the free software wiki that was developed for Wikipedia, so you get absolutely full-functionality, and total control. All it requires is a willingness to learn some of the ins-and-outs of wikiware and some rudimentary comfort with PHP. What I love about going solo is that you can dictate the style, look and functionality of the wiki on absolutely every level, and I have found the software to be very user-friendly, not to mention there is a ton of documentation out there because of the popularity of the software.

You can see the work I have begun on one of my ancestor pages here.

You can see my major wiki, which I have created as a repository for online research links here.