26 April 2008

NOLA Rising

I'll be off on vacation for the next week, spending some time down in the deep South, including a return to New Orleans, where my husband was born and raised.

The last time we were in New Orleans was in December of 2005. The hurricane was all anyone talked about, and on Christmas day we joined a macabre line of cars driving slowly through the ruins of the Lakeview district.

One of my husband's grandmothers, who lived in the Lakeview, lost her home and most of her possessions to Hurricane Katrina. But, god bless her, she had the brilliance to store some old family letters in the freezer compartment of her refrigerator, where they stayed (relatively) safe through the storm, flooding and subsequent molding.

I look forward to seeing how New Orleans has progressed since 2005; in many ways I know they have moved forward, but in many ways I know things have become tiringly stagnant. One thing is for sure: New Orleans is full of people with amazing fortitude. And I am thankful that I can count among my relatives such inspiring and wonderful people.

See you after May 5th!

Alternatives to Google Notebook

After discussing the benefits of using Google Notebook for online genealogy in previous posts, I was wondering what other alternatives to Google Notebook might be available and did some poking around.

One application that caught my attention was Zotero. While targeted at individuals doing academic research, this browser extension looked like it could be of use to genealogy researchers, as it offers much of the same functionality as Notebook. One feature that particularly caught my eye was the ability to store snapshots of web pages, then annotate and highlight them, something which you cannot currently do in Notebook.

The Zotero tool installs within your browser (Firefox, Navigator & Flock), and behaves much like Google Notebook (sleeps in the corner of the browser, toggling between mini and full-page views, etc.) The interface is markedly more complicated than that of Google Notebooks, and so the learning curve is greater. I have fooled around with it for a while, and still find myself a little confused by the various features, and how to integrate them to the most effect.

The application has a comprehensive demo tour, which outlines its features. I have yet to really feel like I can just dive in and do research with Zotero, at least to the extent that I can with Notebook. Granted, I have been using Notebook longer, but the interface and the framework around which Notebook is set-up--general browsing and high-function bookmarking, vs. Zotero's more rigid research and citation structure--just feels more natural for the way genealogy research flows online. I would have loved to have something like Zotero when I was in graduate school as a literature student. As a genealogy researcher, Zotero just seems like overkill.

I'm going to give it more time, though, and see if I can't find a way to make the academic tenor of Zotero work for the broad-based research I do on behalf of my family trees.

24 April 2008

Google Your Genealogy

The site googleyourfamilytree.com appears to be dedicated to a book published by Dan Lynch (although I can't find any purchasing information on the site), however they offer a page with tools to facilitate advanced google searches without having to know the correct syntax.

From the page, you can perform the following searches using a field & drop-down interface:
» Google Local Web Search for Genealogy
» Google Local Map Search for Genealogy
» Google BlogSearch for Genealogy
» Google Database Search for Genealogy
» Genealogy Advanced PowerSearch
» Google Image Search for Genealogy

To visit, go to http://www.googleyourfamilytree.com/google_for_genealogy.html.

22 April 2008

Using Google Notebook for Online Genealogy Research, Part 2

Hopefully you've taken the opportunity to play around with Google Notebook since the last installment on using Google Notebook in genealogy research. This post will assume you've played around a bit with Google Notebook and have at least a basic understanding of how it works. This time around, I want to show you some of the features of Google Notebook which really make it perfect for organizing online research. And, as always, Google doesn't pay me for this. This stuff is just cool and useful.

Keeping Information in Context

One of the great things about clipping information to your notebook is the fact that items stay contextual, while at the same time the pertinant information you need is isolated and at your fingertips.

What do I mean by that? Take a look at this clipping I have from a page of a cemetery transcription:

The number one most awesome thing about this clipping? FORMATTING! Tables stay tables in clippings, which is fantastic. If you've ever tried copying and pasting a table from an HTML page into a text document or a Word document, you'll understand why this is so convenient.

Perhaps more importantly, I now have, noted and marked, information on my family of interest, without having to clutter my brain with all the other data on the page from which it came. The information of interest is isolated in my notebook, for easy reference, yet because the URL of the originating page is filed with the information, the context from which this little table was taken is just a click away... meaning that returning to the page to answer questions about the data, write a citation, or research another surname is easier than ever.


My notebook is organized around surnames... all items I find online for families I am researching get clipped to a notebook devoted to that surname. But how do I make sure that I can easily locate items that cover more than one surname... for instance, a record of a marriage?

You cannot currently copy an item from one notebook into another.. it's a move-it and lose-it (to its new location) type deal. That said, cross-referencing is made easier by the use of labels, pointed out by the red arrow above.

Using labels, one can file items with the preponderant surname (in this case, the groom's surname), but also label them with other surnames (e.g., the bride's maiden name). Clicking on a label in the labels panel (located underneath the notebooks panel in full screen view) will bring up all notes with that label, including a descriptive line telling you where each item is located:

By labeling all clips with the surnames they contain, you can easily locate information on all surnames you have information on, regardless of whether or not you have notebooks dedicated to them. This is especially handy for clippings that reference an entire family (like a biography or obituary). If you didn't use labels, but wanted the clipping accessible for each name mentioned, you would have to remember to re-note the item for each applicable notebook. Using labels, you can note once, label once, then rest assured that you can find this information later when you need to consider it through the lens of a secondary surname.


Within a notebook, you can organize your notes by adding Sections. Sections could be timeframes, locations, individuals or life events:

Items are easily re-arranged by dragging and dropping (within a section, within a notebook, or between notebooks), so you can organize information in whatever way seems most natural to you. In my case, it's life events for each surname.

Another useful organizational tool is the comment field associated with each clipping. In the comment field you can elucidate on items, pose questions to yourself for further research, or keep tabs on research to-do's. Information we find online often leads us to a process of off-line research. Comment fields are great places to keep track of your progress on just that sort of process:

One could annotate clippings for certain items with codes like "OrderDoc", then use the "Search My Notes" to find all items that have actions outstanding. Codes should be distinguishable from ordinary text that may be found in clippings, though, as the "Search My Notes" searches all data within the clippings, not just the comment fields.

I hope this little look into how I have used Google Notebook to organize my online research inspires you to consider using this tool for your own genealogy endeavors.

Next time in the Google Series, I'll be talking about Google Reader and genealogy blogging.

Till then, I remain,

Google Tools In Depth

Via Genea-Musings: A great site (http://genealogyfor.us) covering the use of Google search and Google tools in genealogy research.

I especially second the section promoting the use of Firefox. Security issues alone are a good reason to make the move to Firefox, but this page does a great job outlining the myriad other reasons Firefox is a great web browser.

21 April 2008

Old School: The Life of Confederate Soldiers

Although I spend a majority of time doing my research online, I am also a bibliophile at heart (BA and MA in English Literature!) so I have decided to include within the auspices of this blog occasional items of interest from genealogy or history books that I am reading.

This time around, I want to share with you The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy by Bell Irvin Wiley. This book would be incredibly interesting to anyone who has family that served for the Confederacy during the Civil War, as it discusses the details of what day-to-day life was like for the men who served. Clothing, food, transport, discipline, disease, ammunitions... all the details that have been glossed over in other works as somehow mundane are the focus of Wiley's study. His extensive use of letters, diaries, newspapers and narratives as source material make for some very compelling chapters on the real life of the Johnny Rebs. (Wiley also wrote a companion book to this item, Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, which covers the same topics from the viewpoint of the Union; I'll be writing more about that one once I finish reading Johnny Reb!)

At any rate, I thought I would share this interesting paragraph from the book, which details the general age-ranges of individuals who served for the South; such information could be helpful when figuring out what (if any) role a particular ancestor served during the war:

"[T]he ratio of men above 45 [years of age] and of boys below 18 was probably higher in 1861 and early 1862 than at any other time. The tidal wave of enthusiasm that swept hundreds of old and young into the ranks at the war's beginning lost its force with the passing of time, and many of extreme ages, beset with debility and with camp-weariness, returned to their homes after a year of service. The conscription law of February 1864 comprehended 17-year-olds and men from 46-50, but these were to be employed only as reserve force. The great majority of additions to the army after 1862 came from the 18-45 group, through upward extension of the conscription age and revocation of exemptions, substitutions, and details. There is apparently little foundation for the charge made by Grant late in the war that the Confederacy was robbing the cradle and the grave to sustain its forces. The overwhelming bulk of the Southern Army from beginning to end appears to have been made up of persons ranging in age from 18 to 35."

16 April 2008

Bookmarking Tab Groups for Specific Projects

If you're like me, you spend alot of research time online bouncing around from site to site, meandering a little along the way, then returning time and time again to favorite (or important) websites.

Today I want to share with you a nifty feature available in most browsers, which you may or may not have noticed: bookmarking (or, in Internet Explorer, favoriting) groups of tabs. This is a great way to instantly launch a set of bookmarked websites that you may use whenever you are doing some online research. Here's how it works:

1. Open all the tabs you want to bookmark in a new browser window. In this instance, I'll be using Firefox. To start off, I open a group of the sites I use most often when doing online genealogy research, each with its own tab:

2. Bookmark (or Favorite) the tabs. In Firefox, the command to do this is "Bookmark All Tabs" found under the Bookmarks menu. In Internet Explorer, "Add Tab Group to Favorites" under the Favorites menu. In Safari, "Add Bookmark for These Tabs" under the Bookmarks menu.

3. Name the Tabs group. In this case, I'll call mine GenealogyResearch:

4. Test your new bookmarked tabs. Open a new browser window and test out your new tabs:

Voila! A quick and easy way to jumpstart your research by opening your most-used websites.

Happy researching!

13 April 2008

Using Google Notebook for Online Genealogy Research, Part 1

If you haven't yet begun using Google Notebook for your online genealogy research, I have one word for you: why?

I'll be discussing this tool in two parts, first briefly discussing the merits and mechanics of Google Notebook, then, in the second part, showing you how I apply it to my own research. A word of warning, though: Google Notebook is only supported in IE 6 and Firefox 1.5+. Safari users, Netscape users, Opera users, etc. are out of luck on this one. As always, I don't get paid by Google for this, I'm just an eager young technophile in love with innovation.

Change is Good

How do you make sure that you return to interesting websites that you run across while browsing the web? Perhaps more importantly, how do you save small items--a small entry regarding an ancestor in a page of transcriptions from a newspaper, one-line entries in cemetery surveys, or even photos? Do you bookmark the page with your browser? Do you copy and paste lines of text into a text document? Do you right-click and save photos to a folder on your hard drive?

Most of us have done (or do) one or all of the above, then, somewhere along the way we realize that things are being forgotten because these systems of saving fail to stand up to the ways in which we tend to use our computers, and the ways in which we tend to browse the internet. Bookmarking with the browser can be cluttered and unwieldy, unless you spend precious time making folders and managing bookmarks. Posting and annotating footnotes with an online bookmarking site like del.icio.us may work for a while, but I have found that in the scope of a well-used account, special nuggets of information or sites tend to get buried in all the links and notes.

By far the best organizational tool I have used, which suits well the tendency of online research to meander and ramble, is Google Notebook. Why? Because Google notebook allows me to keep actual snippets of text and photos visible, collected in one place, with links back to the original pages on which I found the items in the first place. By organizing my research by surname, I have virtual scrapbooks of information I have found on my families from across the internet. Here's a sneak peek at my notebooks, which I will discuss in more detail next time:

For today, let me nudge you with the basics of Google Notebook and how to get it working:

The New Way

First, here's the video from Google that gives you an idea of how using the notebook works:

In order to use Google Notebook, you have to have a Google Account. If you don't, you can sign up for one. Once you have an account, you can go to the Google Notebook Homepage and get started by installing the browser extension appropriate to your browser.

(I have to note here that I use Firefox pretty much exclusively, and never use Internet Explorer, so I am much more familiar with the operation of Google Notebook in Firefox. It is also my understanding that IE users must install the Google Toolbar in order to get the Google Notebook extension. As a screen real-estate junkie, I find this disappointing, but I will poke around more and see if the toolbar can be avoided. Suffice to say that in Firefox the notebook addon sits quietly in the lower right-hand corner of my browser and doesn't take up any space at all until asked.)

Once you get the extension installed you are off to the races, and can begin creating, editing and adding to your notebook(s). Using the notebook is easy, it doesn't take much to get going. If you get lost, you can always check the Google Notebook FAQ to get started. Play around with it and see what you think. I'll be back in the next installment to show you how I this tool has revolutionized the way I research online.

Till then, I remain,

12 April 2008

Using Addons in Firefox to Expedite Online Searching

The WorldCAT blog featured an interesting video on making use of Firefox extensions to enhance online searching functions.

A particularly interesting nugget, for me, was the mention of the "Add to Search Bar" add-on available from--where else?--the Firefox Add-ons page.

The Add to Search Bar add-on allows you to add the search function of any page into the search bar within the Firefox browser, all with just a right-click:

I have played with this little add-on for the past week with mixed success. It was impossible to get my local library's search function to work properly, but I was able to add and use the search function from another local library just fine. I was also unable to get the search to function properly for the FHL catalog.

I played around with adding a search of ancestry.com using a keyword search, and had some limited success... Same with using the interment.net search... results were just a little too broad, and having to go back and delimit searches or refine them sort of lessens the usefulness of this add-on for such large sites with various datasets.

The add-on does work brilliantly for straightforward searches of limited datasets. Searching for a title in your local library without having to navigate to the library's catalog page is surely a top-notch application here. I'm sure there would be other applications for this add-on as well... is anyone else using this add-on in a particular way?

09 April 2008

Tracking Down Full-view Titles in Google Books

Just in time (well, a day late, perhaps) for our installment on exploring Google Book Search, the Google Book Search blog provides a timely tip on tracking down full-view versions of books that could presumably be in the public domain.

This is one of those cases where a pretty powerful tool is disguised as a meager little link!

07 April 2008

Google Books and Genealogy

For this installment of my series on utilizing Google tools in your genealogy research, we are going to poke around a little in Google Books, a functionality which essentially allows you to do a full-text search of thousands of books. If you haven't taken the time to check out Google Books, or if you haven't used it lately, I hope this brief introduction to some of the major components of a Google Book Search will excite you to explore this tool in more depth on your own.

If you are using an iGoogle page to organize some of your online research tools, there is a module which will link directly to your personalized Google Library (called "My Library" within this application) and allows you to search Google Books from your iGoogle page.

Here's a glance at mine:

Perhaps not the most visually exciting thing in the world, but useful nonetheless. Searches done from the module, as I have done below, can also be done from the main Google Books page at books.google.com.

Finding Resources and Understanding Results

In this instance, I want to find information on genealogies written about Burgess families. I can type my search term into the module, and a small list of results shows up in the module itself:

The search yields a number of interesting results. Clicking on the first result brings me to a detail page on that publication, which we will study in three parts:

1. About this book. This section provides information on the publication, much like a copyright page. It includes original publication information, as well as details on from what depository (and when) the work was digitized.

Because this particular work is in the public domain, there are two buttons beneath the book image: one which will allow you to read the publication online, and another that will allow you to download a PDF of the work. As the size of the PDFs are generally quite large, this may be prohibitive for some users, so Google provides the option of adding the book to "My Library" which is a way to "bookmark" publications of interest, and return to them whenever you want.

2. Locating this publication. On the right-hand side is where you can find information on locating copies of a publication for purchase or borrowing. Obviously, in this case, the point is moot, since I can readily access the electronic version linked to on the left-hand side of the page. However, for books which are not in the public domain, and therefore are not readily accessible, this information becomes much more important. Typically, items in Google books are presented in one of three ways: Full view (public domain items fully readable and also download-able), Snippet-view (short passages or a limited number of pages available for view), or No Preview (searchable, but not readable at all online). For snippet and no preview items, being able to purchase the book may be a preference for some users.

Of particular interest for many publications (many of which may be out of print) is the link reading "Find this Book in a Library". Clicking on this link will take you to the information page in WorldCat, a global library catalog. Clicking on this link for my example Burgess Genealogy yields the following page:

WorldCat finds 55 repositories with my publication of interest, and sorts them according to distance from my home zipcode. I can now go to the library of interest, or contact my local library regarding options for interlibrary loan.

3. Reading this book. For books with content online, this area typically provides the table of contents, for an easy jump-off point to browsing the book. Also important is the section marked "Search in this book", which will allow you to utilize standard and advanced search term constructions to search within the book.

There are a number of other tools on the "About this book" page, including Google Maps modules which plot all localities mentioned in the book, and also a Web References section which links to web pages which mention the book you are looking at. All can be very helpful in finding new information, or identifying publications of interest.

I hope that this brief introduction prompts you to explore Google books, and see what it can do for you. I have had success just searching for names of ancestors to see what comes up. Searches for an ancestor of mine who was a doctor yielded letters to the editor of a medical journal from the early 20th century, as well as mention in the proceedings of a post-WWI senate hearing. For the former, the journals were public domain, so I was able to read the letters in full (and find out my ancestor had a great sense of humor along with a good dose of professionalism). For the latter publication, which was only available in snippet view, I could tell that a letter my ancestor wrote regarding his son's service in France during WWI was read to the senate panel. The book is out of print, but using WorldCat I was able to locate the volume in a university library, and can now order the volume via interlibrary loan.

Next time we will look into Google Reader and learn how to tame the ever-growing blog jungle.

'Till then, I remain,