29 August 2008

Google News Archive Search [Reference Shelf]

Google's News Archive search now has some very useful content and features, making it a necessary stop on the research path for genealogists. Whereas the Google News archive used to span 30 days, it now searches historical content from sites such as NewspaperArchive, Google Books, Ancestry Newspapers, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Constitution, and The New York Times Archive, giving the archive a span of over 150 years, and fabulous breadth of content. Articles are marked with ($$) where access is limited by charge. Results from subscription sites work seamlessly if you are logged in to your paid account.

Accessing the Archive
To access the Google News Archive search, visit Google News. The link to the archive search is located in the upper left-hand corner:

Enter your search terms in the search field:

And you'll see your returns in a pretty typical Google search format:

This is well and good, but Google takes it one step further with a handy option to view your results along a timeline, a very interesting way to visualize the coverage of your particular topic across time.

Using the Timeline
The "Timeline" link is at the top of your search results:

Clicking on this link shows you an interactive and clickable graph of the results from the archive search according to years. In this case, of course, the higher the bar on the graph, the more results found in the news that particular year:

Let's say I'm especially interested in researching news reports about the 1905 outbreak of yellow fever in New Orleans. I can click on the ten-year segment in the timeline for 1900-1920, and the graph breaks down into individual years for that decade:

As you can see, the block for 1905 shows a much larger results return than other years in the decade. I can continue to click on the segments I am interested in until I reach the months of 1905. As the yellow fever outbreak began in July and ran through the bulk of the late summer, we see a correlating result list in this graph:

Clicking on the individual months will show only the search results for that time period, allowing me to follow the chronology of the outbreak coverage across months. Very cool!

27 August 2008

Feeding eBay [Quick Tips]

I covered the fine art of subscribing to feeds from Flickr a while back, but today I wanted to give a quick tip on subscribing to feeds from ebay.

If you're particularly interested in a certain city, state or area, checking ebay on occasion is a good move, as interesting photos, postcards, letters, even newspapers, magazines and other historic items often appear up for sale on the site. Even if you're not interested in purchasing the items, just browsing can be a rewarding experience.

Since we're all about being automated and having our content come to us, let's subscribe to an RSS feed for our ebay search!

Enter Your Search Term

Even if you've never used ebay before, the site layout is relatively easy to use for our purposes. Just focus on the big search field at the top of the homepage. Enter the location you are interested in, and use the drop-down menu to select a category to search in. I like to use the "Collectibles" category, which seems to be a catch-all for historical items:

Locate the Feed Button

After you click the Search button, you'll be presented with a page of results. Note that you can refine your results using the sub-categories on the left-hand side:

Once you have refined your results (if desired), find the RSS-feed button on the bottom of the page:

Click the button and follow instructions particular to your feed reader.

Sit Back and Enjoy

Here's a glimpse of what my ebay feed looks like in Google Reader:

Success! Now I can peruse posted items of interest without having to remember to go to ebay to look!

25 August 2008

1918 Influenza Pandemic Online [Tidbits]

As many are aware, the 1918 Influenza pandemic is celebrating an infamy milestone this year, marking the 90th year since its severe late WWI outbreak.

In memorial, I present a few links on the topic:

The CDC has constructed an online 1918 pandemic storybook, with narratives, recollections and family photos.

The DHHS has a very interesting site, The Great Pandemic, which includes details about life under the pandemic in different states across the country.

The University of Michigan maintains an influenza digital archive with interesting information about selected "pandemic escape communities"... areas which avoided the decimation wrought by the influenza outbreak.

[Storybook link via ResourceShelf]

23 August 2008

Digitized Newspapers [Reference Shelf]

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has posted and updated a listing of international newspaper repositories.

The listing includes a PDF documenting United States newspaper repositories state-by-state including digitized and microfilmed collections. I have abstracted the digital (online) access sites below for your convenience. There is more information and links to programs in the original PDF.

I have also added online digitized newspapers not in the IFLA list, and have marked those resources with an asterisk (*) to demarcate them. I have restricted this listing to archives with free access. Sites with paid access to historical newspapers are many, and outside the scope of this list.

Tundra Times: 1962-1997

Casa Grande Dispatch: "Digital archive going back to 1912."

* California Digital Newspapers

* Chronicling America

El Clamor Publico: 1855-1859.

District of Columbia
* Chronicling America

Boca Raton Newspapers: Various mid- to late-20th Century.

* Chronicling America

* Georgia Historic Newspapers

Hawaiian Language Newspapers: 1861-1927.

Ho’olaupa’i – Hawaiian Newspapers Collection
: 1834-1948.

Barrington Review Online:1914-1930.

Dziennik Zwiazkowy: 1908-17

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection: Various 20th Century.

Quincy Historical Newspaper Archive: 1835-1890.

* Kentucky Digital Library

* Chronicling America

* LOUISiana Digital Library

Early State Records Online: Various 19th Century.

Barnstable Patriot newspaper archive: Various 19th Century

Provincetown Advocate online: 1918, 1931-1934 and 1936-1967

Winona Newspaper Project: 1860-1946

Chillicothe Newspaper Archives: 1889-2006.

Historic Missouri Newspapers Project: Various

* Chronicling America

Las Vegas Age newspaper digital collection: April 7, 1905-1915, 1917-1922, 1924

New Jersey
Atlantic County Digitized Newspapers: 1860-1923

Historical Cranbury Press: 1880-1926

The Red Bank Register: June 27, 1878, to October 23, 1947

Silent Worker, 1888-1929

New York
Brooklyn Daily Eagle online: 1841-1902

Cornell Daily Sun: 1880-1979

Freedom’s Journal: 1827-1829

The Friend of Man: 1836-1842

Northern New York Historical Newspapers

Suffolk Historic Newspapers: Various 19th Century.

* New York Times

* Chronicling America

Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository

Lancaster County Digitization Project

Lancaster Farming newspaper: 1955-1983

Nazareth Item (Nazareth, PA)

Pennsylvania Civil War Newspapers: 1831-1877

Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project: Various mid- to late-20th Century.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Valley of the Shadow: Civil War Era Newspapers

South Carolina

The New South Newspaper: 1862-1866

South Dakota
South Dakota Newspaper Digitization Project

* Chronicling America

Utah Digital Newspapers: Various

* Chronicling America

Richmond Daily Dispatch: November 1860 through December 1865.

Valley of the Shadow: Civil War Era Newspapers

Virginia Gazette, The: 1736-1780

* Chronicling America


Historical Newspapers in Washington


Wyoming Newspaper Project: 1849 and 1922


* Small Town Papers

* Cornell's Making of America: Mostly magazines and periodicals from 1850-1879

* Paper of Record

[Link to ILFA via ResourceShelf]

22 August 2008

Blog 2.0

I started this blog, like most people do, with the fuzzy intent of sharing some viewpoints and opinions, sharing some knowledge, and reveling in the joys of writing and being read.

Now that this blog is approaching 6 months next week, I have decided that it is time to refine the scope of the blog and begin to apply a scheduled posting pattern for you, the gentle reader.

A New Tagline

To start with, I have refined my tagline somewhat, to reflect what I feel is the obvious focus of this blog: the role of the internet in genealogical research.

Technology is too broad a term for what I discuss, as I tend to focus almost exclusively on the internet to the exclusion of other technologies like wireless technologies, software and hardware. Thus the narrowing of terminology.

At the same time, I want to broaden the scope of the blog to encompass the greater implications of the role of the internet in genealogy, including its obvious benefits and detriments. The evolution of the internet in general is fascinating to me, and since genealogy is a lens through which I enjoy viewing the world, it seems a logical source of topics for me to explore and discuss.

To the above ends, I have revised my tagline to the following:

This blog discusses the use of the internet in genealogy research, providing links, reviews, tools and techniques. It also considers the broader implications of internet-centered genealogy and its potential to both enhance and degrade quality of research.

Focused Topics

I am also going try to balance the content of this blog better by averaging out my content across what I feel are some of the more important areas:

Quick Tips: Shorter posts with graphic instructions, Quick Tips are designed to make it easy for users to adopt newer applications and technologies, and organize and make efficient the ones they already use. Even small tweaks like installing browser extensions can make a huge difference in your online life! An example would be Adding Ancestry search to LookItUp2.

Site Reviews and Roundups: Reviews will be in-depth explorations of online tools of potential use to genealogists. An example would be my post on Remember the Milk.

Roundups will be burst lists of new tools and services online which I have not yet used. An example would be this roundup.

Reference Shelf: Reference Shelf entries will explore data and information available online, across multiple sites. An example would be my post on the deep web.

OpEds: A blog wouldn't be a blog without a little personal blowhardism, so these posts are inevitable. An example would be my lukewarm reaction to the trumpeted Ancestry newspaper rollout.

On a serious note, I would like to introduce some thoughtful posts on the role of the internet in genealogical research, even touching on how generational and technological differences are changing how genealogy is "done", how it is "discussed" and how it is vetted.

Last but not least, I will include the occasional random tidbits of interesting and fun facts that I run across during my genealogical wanderings.

In Conclusion
I hope that these changes will prove to help both myself and the readers of my blog. Here's hoping the next six months go swimmingly! Check it out in the next couple of weeks and feel free to let me know what you think.


20 August 2008

Quick Tip: Taming Facebook Overload

If you've been swept up in the Facebook Geneablogger revolution, you've probably come to realize that Facebook, while a great tool for us all, can add to an already overwhelming amount of online data overload.

Today I just wanted to share a quick way to organize your Facebook contacts, so that you can head over to Facebook with goals in mind, and not always be sucked into the pleasurable social morass that Facebook so excels in.

An Organizational Tool

Among my many friends on Facebook, I have a number of different "groups" of friends... friends from my hometown, friends from college, work acquaintances and also the Geneabloggers.

If I head to Facebook with the express intent of, say, seeing what my Geneablogger friends are up to, I can streamline the process by organizing my friends into Lists.

Creating Lists

Creating lists and assigning friends to those lists is simple. To start, begin by clicking "Friends" in your navigational bar on your landing page:

Once on the friends page, click on the "Make a New List" button, and you will be prompted to enter a group name:

Once in the editing section for this newly named group, to make life easier, choose the "Select Multiple Friends" link in the upper-right hand side:

To add friends to this list, simply click on their photo as below:

Now, when visiting Facebook, you can filter your friends to view things like Status Updates, Profile Updates, etc. for only the group you are most immediately interested in reading about. For instance, here I have visited my Geneabloggers group, and selected "Recently Updated":

Voila'. An easy way to catch up on my Facebook friends, without being confronted by the status updates, links, and activities of all 73 friends at once. Lists trim the chatter to a manageable way to keep up to date while still staying sane.


18 August 2008

So Fresh and So Clean!

A mini round-up of applications that have caught my eye, and seem to be (potentially) useful for genealogists of different stripes:

* del.izzy: A handy site that lets you search your delicious bookmarks. Adds a functionality missing from delicious' own search, in that de.lizzy allows you to search the page content of sites you have saved in your bookmarks.

* GuardarComoPDF: Don't let the foreign language scare you off. This site allows you to create a PDF document from any .doc, .txt, .rtf, .jpeg, .xls, or .ppt file, without having to own a program such as Adobe Professional.

* Earfl: Another weak and weird URL, but an interesting service: make a phone call, speak like you're leaving a voicemail message, and after you hang up, your recorded "message" is available online, and can be embedded on a website. Quick, get your great-aunt Winnie on the phone!

Mad love to MakeUseOf which helps me help you stay abreast of things...

15 August 2008


[Via MakeUseOf]

PDFgeni is a new (still in beta, and still lacking navigational links kind of new) search engine that focuses on indexing and serving up PDF content found on the web.

The interface allows you to preview PDFs, which is great, especially when compared to Google's notoriously mangling "View in HTML" PDF preview option. This is accomplished using PDFMeNot, a classic app for those unwilling to submit themselves to the often hellish implications of launching Adobe Reader.

I fiddled with the search engine, and it has a long way to go before it gets marks for polish. Quoted search terms don't function correctly, and the design is a murky with some AdSense overload, but I think this search engine can be very useful as a portal into the sometimes underutilized world of PDF content.

I searched around on my current research dilemma, Acadian genealogy, and found some items of interest that I hadn't run across before. It's definitely worth giving this site a shot.

Try out PDFGeni here.

13 August 2008

Quick Tip: Adding Ancestry Surname Search to Lookitup2

I talked last week about Greasemonkey and some tools you can use to make online genealogy research even easier. Today I want to show you how to add an Ancestry surname search capability to LookItUp.

To do the following, you must have Greasemonkey and the LookItUp2 add-on installed in your browser (instructions can be found in my prior post here). You must also be logged in to your Ancestry account.

To Add Ancestry Search to LookItUp2:

1. Highlight any word on any webpage (it doesn't matter what or where, as long as something is highlighted). While the word is highlighted, press Shift+3. The following screen will appear:

2. Click the "New Site" button as indicated by the red arrow above.

3. Fill in the information for the site name (e.g., "Ancestry")

4. Insert the following URL into the URL field*:


5. Add a letter shortcut for your site. If you have not deleted any sites, be aware that the letter "a" is defaulted to ask.com in LookItUp2. (You can remove any sites you don't think you will use by deleting them using the "Delete" button located to the far right of each line).

Your added fields should look something like this:

6. Click Save and the window will close.

7. Try your search out! (Remember, to use LookItUp, you simply highlight the word you want to search on, then press Shift+Control+Space). The Ancestry search will be on the last tab. Click on the tab or press the shortcut key you assigned to see your results. Here's an example using a surname from a Wikipedia article:

* Note that the URL provided above searches on the surname defaulted to the entire United States. To limit the search to one particular state, replace the phrase "2CAll+States" in the above URL with the name of your state, capitalized, using a "+" sign between words for states with two names. For example:

Replace 2CAll+States with 2CCalifornia to search in California

Replace 2CAll+States with 2CNorth+Carolina to search in North Carolina.

As you can imagine, you can set up multiple Ancestry search possibilities with different states in which you typically research.

09 August 2008

What's In Your Library?

What with the recent spate of fires, floods, and, of course, notorious hurricanes, keeping valuable items like photos, documents, files, and heirlooms safe has been on the mind of many genealogists. But what about one resource you may take for granted? One resource that possibly surrounds you in your home, but for which you may have no printed record or inventory?

I'm talking, of course, about your books!

As a true bibliophile and recovering English major, I happen to have a full catalog of my books, including a listing of just about every book I have read since I was 16 years old. For most purposes, this list is a vanity thing. I learned years ago, however (when one of my closes friends experienced a fire in his Haight-Ashbury apartment building and lost alot of his possessions) that libraries are very difficult to replace if you don't know what it is you are trying to replace. Without a comprehensive list of the books you own, should disaster strike, and you lose your books, you may find yourself reaching for elusive volumes for years to come, only realizing what you have lost when you need it most.

To that end, I present two online websites dedicated to cataloging your home library. One I have tried exclusively for this post. The other I use for my general literature. I will present a little bit of information on both sites, as well as the positive and negative aspects of each, to allow you to make a decision on which site to try.

Library Thing

LibraryThing is a big thing with the litgeek types, and rightfully so: it provides an extensive database of books, ease of input, active community involvement and a pretty straight-forward, easy-to-use interface. It is here that I have cataloged my general library.

Once logged in to the site, the home page features items about your library, as well as a lot of community-oriented panels, like recent recommendations, site announcements, active forum topics, etc.:

The panel view for your own library is where the action takes place (browsing, updating, sorting and generally petting your collections):

Pages for individual books show tons of information, include links to reviews on LibraryThing, links to book discussions, and average ratings:

Some Good Points
  • Uploading books is easy, as you can enter books by author, title, or ISBN. The site mainly uses Amazon and the Library of Congress as its major databases to pull covers and publication information based on what you enter; it is rarely stumped.
  • The site is popular, and active, which makes it interesting to use for those who enjoy a social-aspect to their websites. To that end, you can browse other people's libraries, compare libraries, engage in discussions about individual books, and even leave comments on other people's book pages.
  • The site uses tagging, which makes browsing across genres, books and users incredibly easy.

Some Not So Good Points
  • Only the first 100 books are free to add to your library. After that you can pay a yearly fee or a single lifetime fee. The rates aren't that bad... it's sliding scale, honor system, and yearly fees start at $6.00, lifetime fees at $19.00. The rates are so modest I hesitate to call this a "bad" point, but my inner-frugality insists that I make mention of this point.
  • You can only upload books to LibraryThing, which means that if you want to catalog DVDs, Videos, CDs or anything else, you are out of luck.


I have been trying out GuruLib as a catalog tool for my genealogical collections, and am so far decently happy with the results. Entering books via ISBN makes additions snap-simple and the database seems to be fairly extensive, on par with LibraryThing.

The main page of the site defaults to your profile page when you are logged in. This page has the typical coverview of your library contents:

This screenshot makes clear where GuruLib really shines: you can catalog more than just books, and can include multimedia, and even documents! This could be a huge boon to genealogists whose collections include CDROMs and various software (I cataloged my CDROMs under software, for simplicity sake); the upload of documents could be very handy for printouts, research guides, etc.

Individual book pages are pretty sparse, without alot of the information seen on LibraryThing:

Some Good Points
  • As mentioned above, GuruLib lets you catalog more than just books; software, music, movies and games are also part of your potential catalog.
  • You can also upload documents like PDF, DOC, PS, PPT or XLS files, up to a 5MB per file limit. (It's not clear what the overall limit is).
  • GuruLib is free free free to use.

Some Not So Good Points
  • The GuruLib interface is.... lacking, and the design leaves alot to be desird.
  • The navigation is confusing at times, and it can be difficult to figure out how to get to what you want.
  • The site doesn't have the social function of a site like LibraryThing (note the book detail page, which does not have links to other users who have the same or similar catalogs). This could be a drawback for individuals looking to see what people with similar research interests have in their libraries, and also eradicates the possibility of finding new titles of interest.
  • The site lacks tagging outside of some automatically generated genre tags.
  • It would be great if the various categories were expanded, and if the document-upload feature were more prominently displayed.

A Choice

Overall, both sites perform the same function. If you are interested in cataloging your books for the sake of having an offsite record of what is in your library, then either may be right for you. In fact, while LibraryThing presents a host of social and organizational tools, the stripped down interface and lack of clutter on GuruLib may be just right for a no-nonsense cataloging project. If you want to interact with your collection and with others, though, then LibraryThing would be the site for you. In the end, both are fun to use, and cataloging can become strangely addictive. The thrill of watching your library go digital can be enjoyable in and of itself, making what could be a chore a fun hours-long project.

08 August 2008

Greasemonkey-What It Is, Why You Should Care

If you are using Firefox, you should have heard the term "Greasemonkey" being tossed around once or twice on your internet travels. If you haven't, no sweat. Let this post serve as your primer on Greasemonkey, and by the end you will be itching to get Firefox greased up and ready to speed down that infamous "information highway."

What it is

Put simply, Greasemonkey is an extension (also called an add-on) for Firefox that allows you to manipulate web pages to your liking. More than just a simple add-on that works on a single site or in certain ways, Greasemonkey gets under the hood of your total browsing experience, and allows you to create a more seamless, efficient web.

Sounds great, right? So let's get started!

Getting Greasemonkey

You begin by downloading the add-on here. Simply click the "Add to Firefox" Button and the following box will come up:

Click "Install Now" when the button de-greys, and the extension will install. You will have to restart Firefox for the extension to function correctly.

Give the Monkey Bananas

On its own, Greasemonkey doesn't do a whole lot, but sit idly in the background waiting for something exciting to happen. Much like a banana to a monkey, so is the User Script to Greasemonkey... it's what makes Greasemonkey come alive and start to show its charm.

User Scripts are simply small scripts, written by individuals, which use the power of Greasemonkey to accomplish certain things within your browser. Some user scripts are designed to work along with specific sites (like Google, Amazon, or even online gaming sites). Some make very minute changes to the layout or toolbar options for certain sites. But some user scripts stand out for the ways in which they re-configure the web to make it more efficient and user-friendly.

You can browse the gamut of these scripts at userscripts.org.

Some Very Useful Scripts

So what can greasemonkey and user scrips do for the genealogist?

LookItUp2- A great script that extends your ability to use the web in a more seamless way. LIU2 allows you to select text and search for a word or term in a variety of different websites without leaving the page you are on.

Let's say I am on the Allen County Government Website, and was wondering if this "Allen County" had any genealogy resources I should be aware of. With Greasemonkey and the LookItUp2 script installed in my browser, I can simply press Shift+Ctrl+Space and a screen appears over my current screen:

The top red arrow shows the search field, where I have entered my query, "Allen County Genealogy". Next to this field is the drop-down menu which allows me to select what site I would like to search (the list includes Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Google Images, Google, Websters, Answers.com and more).

The second red arrow shows the results I have gotten for my search in Google. Note that under this pane is the original Allen County Government page on which I started. I can browse as normal within this pane, then, when I am finished, simply click-off of the pane into my standard browser window, and the pane disappears!

Google Extras- Another powerful script that adjusts search results in Google to provide search over multiple different sites like Google Images, Wikipedia, Google Videos, and Dictionary.com.

Let's say I search on Google for "genealogy" with this script installed. This is what I see after performing my search:

This "megasearch" makes use of the traditional white-space in the right margin of Google results pages, and makes short work of finding what data is online related to your search terms.

Custom Sticker-Adds temporary markers to web pages to be used while working on that page. The markers disappear after a page refresh or upon returning to the page, but will remain if the page is re-navigated to by going backwards through your history.

An example of using the red markers on Ancestry:

The nice thing about these markers is that they remain when printing the page, providing an easy way to mark text or lines for printed web pages!

In Conclusion

These are just a few examples of the useful scripts you can find to make Greasemonkey a most useful browser extension. Greasemonkey and its attendant user scripts seems to me to be a glimpse of where the web is headed... a streamlined place where web sites interact across URL, less boxed in to their sites and more energized because of their fluidity and customizable use. As is apparent, the new web is one driven by you and your specific needs... no more waiting for a webmaster to add or removed certain tools, features or functions! The browser is back in the driver's seat.

A Word of Warning

You should make sure that you have installed (or updated to) the most current version of Greasemonkey, as vulnerabilities are always possible, and have emerged in the past. Of course, if you are using Firefox and not Internet Explorer, you probably know how to manage your online security already. But hey... never hurts to hear a helpful reminder.

05 August 2008

Chronicling America Update

The Chronicling America website recently updated its newspaper database to add more than 73,000 pages. The update also brings in newspapers for two new states- Nebraska and Texas.

Check out the expanded collection here.

04 August 2008

Digital Resources-State by State

The Library of Congress is helping researchers by compiling a useful list of links for online research. Specifically, they've compiled a list of state and local digital archive and memory projects.

Many of these links are repeats from the usa.gov genealogy lists, but there are some interesting links on this LOC page, so it is worth checking out.

Visit the LOC site here.