22 January 2009

Google Reader for Beginners [Tidbits]

I missed this when it first came out, (I was in the depths of the post-holiday haze), and thought maybe you might have too:

Google put out a nice tutorial video on Getting Started with Google Reader, perfect for anyone looking to get in on RSS-feeds and readers without knowing where to start:

21 January 2009

Internet Archive Check-In [Reference Shelf]

Have you checked in at Internet Archive recently?

If not, you should check out the recent submissions from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center to see if any volumes of interest to you have been added recently. You can subscribe to the RSS feed for submissions from ACPLG, and have automatic updates on volumes added to the digital library!

20 January 2009

Up Close with the Lincoln Bible [Random]

The Library of Congress has some great photos of the Bible that Obama used for his swearing in today. The tome, of course, was used by Lincoln for his swearing in 148 years ago.

16 January 2009

Food for Thought [Random]

I have just finished up reading Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which explores the divergence in the rise of dominant social forces across continents. In other words, how come Europe came to dominate across the globe, instead of being dominated by someone like the Aztecs or the Australian aborigines?

Anyways, it was a fascinating book, and well worth a read. But in the epilogue, Diamond had a great sentence which really struck me as pertinent to anyone doing research, especially genealogists:

"Naturally, a host of issues...remain unresolved. At present, we can put forward some partial answers plus a research agenda for the future, rather than a fully developed theory."

And this from someone who wrote a 450 page book on the subject! It occurs to me that all genealogy is really a process in motion, and never quite put to rest. The fumbles, I think, come when we fail to engage in the ongoing development of our research, constantly pushing ahead with a "future agenda for research". Granted the complexity of history and the nuance of every single human life, we're writing and researching essentials that are not easily, if ever, captured.

It seems a great lens to approach each research subject, when we ask "who was this person, and what was their life like?" What is our partial answer? What is our agenda for further research? At what point do we call our theory "the story" and what steps do we take to document it?

14 January 2009

Wordless Wednesdays: Crafting with the Ancestors

My great-grandmother Ame Burgess (Jones) [center front] with a smattering of her female relatives, all (it appears) working on socks:

13 January 2009

Gravestone Memory [Random]

If you're bored or have a cold (like me), you might enjoy a quick game of Flickr Memory. Type in a tag (I used "headstone") and the game will find photos from flickr tagged as such, and you're off on a game of memory!

If you're particularly enamored of one or more of the photos you see, you can view them on flickr for more information.


[Via How About Orange]

12 January 2009

Dream Research Resources [Random]

I've been engaged in smatterings of random research on relatives lately, as I attempt to organize and tame my research files. I realized that often we are blessed with a great resource in one research location--great newspaper coverage, fabulous online records, that sort of thing--that we wish we had for EVERY location we're researching.

I thought I would share with you some of my absolute FAVORITE online resources for research, whether because of their usability, potential, or content. Each resource is particular to a certain geographic area, but each gives us an idea of what is possible when it comes to the future of online research. Only in my dreams would a single place I am researching have all of these kinds of resources online!

Newspaper Resource:

Pennsylvania Civil War Newspapers. Impressively searchable (wildcard, phrase and exemption searching) as well as an easy interface. I wish Ancestry could get something this usable working on their newspaper collection.

Vital Records Indices:

Louisiana Secretary of State. All death records that can be ordered are found on this index. No more shots in the dark when ordering a record! As a runner up I would vote for the Illinois State Archives and their myriad databases, although I find their site a little more confusing to navigate; I suppose that could be because they are presenting so much more information on so many more people from so many more places!

Vital Records Online:

South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955, from Ancestry. I may be biased in this, since my husband has roots in South Carolina on both his mother's and father's sides, therefore I do a lot of research there. I do find this database (along with the Delayed State Births and Charleston Births database) to be very very useful to me as they provide images of the original certificates! This saves me about $15 per record I would have had to order from the state (and their turn around time was in the MONTHS)! Well worth the cost of the Ancestry membership just right there. I imagine that as data storage costs continue to drop, and broadband access increases, we'll see more and more primary documents going up on the web, as opposed to the index focus of previous years.

Various online indexes and transcriptions:

sfgenealogy.com. Hands down one of the best. A mind-boggling assortment of information bound to help anyone researching in the Bay Area. I have found reference to many people that I've researched in the Bay Area. That's pretty impressive.

For this category, I also really like the Illinois Genealogy Trails sites. The Genealogy Trails sites started in Illinois in 2000, and they recently started expanding to cover the entire United States. They don't say it directly, but I get the feeling they're trying to take another crack at what GenWeb has tried to do, but has failed in some regards: provide updated, data-heavy sites that are user-friendly and contain pertinent information. I would imagine as Genealogy Trails expands it will have the same "hit or miss" character to the individual county sites (some better than others, as is the case with GenWeb), but for right now their emphasis on DATA DATA DATA seems to be working.


Cheers to the Milwaukee Archdiocese for their Catholic Cemeteries Burial Records database. While some other diocesan records are incongruously protected from the light of day (*COUGHCOUGH ORLEANS PARISH I'M TALKING ABOUT YOU COUGHCOUGH*), the Milwaukee Archdiocese seems to understand that genealogical research connects people to their Catholic heritage. Seems like a no-brainer, but, well. As a Catholic myself I can admit that the Catholic church can stymie all reason sometimes.

Overseas Research:

The Jewish Records Indexing-Poland project. Talk about a dream online resource for overseas research! Unfortunately, the project was axed by the Polish government a few years ago, which saddens me greatly.

These are just some of the resources that come to mind when I think of sites that I visit again and again. What are some of your favorites?

09 January 2009

Getting Into Google Books II [Lessons]

On Monday we covered how to set up a personalized Google Books library, done with the aim of getting us to take better advantage of this digitized resource.

Today, I want to cover using the iGoogle Google Books gadget as a portal to your personalized library. If you use iGoogle as your homepage (or even if you don't) the gadget provides a handy access point for your library that is never more than a few clicks away. Let's get started.

Getting the Gadget

To get the gadget, you should be logged into your Google Account and have an iGoogle page setup. (If you don't have an iGoogle page already, you can check out my post on how to get one. The look of iGoogle pages has changed since that post, but the basics are the same). You can get the Google Books gadget here.

Once installed the gadget will look something like this (assuming you have added enough books to your library to generate recommended reads):

The Bigger The Better

Clicking on the maximize button (the little window shade in the top right corner of the gadget) will expand your gadget to full-size, taking up the full real estate of your iGoogle page, like this:

A fine, expansive palette upon which your genealogy-research masterpiece can be wrought.

Benefits and Drawbacks

First, the benefits. With the increased real estate of the gadget, you can now access your personalized library (and other books within Google Books) from within the gadget.... meaning you don't have to go to the Google Books site in order to search or browse books (the embedded API of the book is cut off a little in the pic below, but you get the idea):

Note that you can search within any given book (using the search field noted by the arrow, above) within the context of the gadget. You're deep into Google Books functionality at this point, but still on your own iGoogle page:

You can also browse all books within your library from the gadget, and preview suggested titles that are generated by Google Books' algorithms.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects where the Google Books gadget falls a little short, at least for now. Remember all those neat tags we attributed to our books in our last lesson? Well, for now, those tags are non-existent within the world of the iGoogle gadget. Add that absence to the hopeless cover view of the gadget, and your personalized library can get VERY difficult to browse once you have hundreds of titles accumulated.

On top of that, you cannot (within the gadget) refine a search to range only within the contents of your library; this is an option that is available on the Google Books site. This means that any "Search Books" term search you run through the gadget will default to searching the entire Google Books library... useless if you are trying to find something you have already placed within your own library, or if you are fishing for a term within a specific set of books you have in your library.

Despite those two problems (which I imagine will be remedied in future gadget releases), the iGoogle Google Books gadget is a great way to incorporate the world of digitized books into your research rotation. This way you can stuff your bookshelves full and still have room for more!

07 January 2009

Wordless Wednesdays: New Year's Start

One of many messy file cabinet drawers:

The "one person, one folder" method. We'll see how I like it:

I found a helper (aka "kinderhinderer")! File under "Love"!:

05 January 2009

Getting Into Google Books I [Lessons]

I know that even if you haven't been using Google Books with regularity up until now, you've made it your New Year's Resolution to be better about it. I know this, not because of my Carnac-like pyschic skills, but because I know you know how useful Google Books is for every researcher.

If you haven't delved into Google Books, this lesson should be enough to get you into the mix. In it, we'll initiate your library, then quickly learn how to add and organize the books you find of use in Google Books.

In the next post, coming this Friday (January 9th), I'll discuss using the iGoogle Google Books Gadget and what it can do for you. First things first... let's build our library!

Setting up Your Library

In order to get started, you'll need to obtain a Google ID and log in to your account. To get started, go to Google Books.

The first thing we'll need to do is add some books to your library to get you started. [If you already have books added to your library, you can skip this section and move on to the next one below.] We'll add two books of general interest for the purposes of completing this lesson.

Run the following search: "Genealogy: A Journal of American Ancestry". You should see the following at the top of your results:

Add these two books to your library using the "Add to my library" links as shown above. When you click on the first link, you'll see a box with information about the privacy settings on your library, and you'll be prompted to enter a nickname. Click "Save", then "Add" to the following prompt to save the book to your library. You will not have to repeat this process with any other books you add to your library.

After adding the second book to your library, click on the "My Library" link in the upper-right hand corner navigation to go to your library homepage.

Organizing Your Library

On your "My Library" page, you'll see the books you've added to your library. The page isn't pretty, and, to be honest, still isn't as functional as it could be, but with the recent addition of the labeling feature we are about to use, it has become EXPONENTIALLY better in terms of usability.

Here's my current example library:

What we're most interested in is the "Add labels" link beneath the books you have added to your library. Using this link, we can begin labeling and organizing the books in our libraries to make them easier to browse and use.

You can use whatever system you feel most comfortable with, and whatever system you feel will allow you to find what you're looking for in the most efficient manner. In my personal library, I've chosen to use state, county, and city names for many books. For more general books, I label them with terms such as "memoirs", "railroads" "guides" and "directories", along with a geographic term that narrows down their areas of concern.

Here's a shot of my example library with my labels in place:

Notice that the labels we've added are visible in green underneath each book, and that they are listed in alphabetical order along the left side of the page. The labels in this left-hand section serve as a keyword navigation for your library; clicking on a certain label (such as "journals") will bring up all books you have labeled with that term. Parenthetical numbers show how many books have had each label applied to them.

Get Busy

That's the very easy basics on building your Google Books library. For Friday, go ahead and spend some time on the Google Books site and add to your library books that you feel would be of use to you in your research. If you need some ideas, you can use the Google Books Index on my website, which lists full-view books of genealogical interest.

In Friday's post, we'll talk about maximizing the use of your library via the Google Books Gadget on your iGoogle page.

02 January 2009

The Lay of the Land [Quick Tip]

Happy New Year!

Did you notice, in the rush of the holidays, that Google Maps has added a new terrain feature to their site?:

Obviously, this has huge implications for genealogy researchers, for whom an awareness of natural travel barriers like mountains, rivers, etc. can be helpful in determining behaviors of ancestors.

Here's a typical street map view of Belt, Montana, a residence of my great-grandfather Peter Shannon:

Compare the information available through the street map to that available from the new terrain view, and you can see how the terrain view could influence my understanding of Peter's activities and movements around this town: