Archival Blogging

I love blogging! It has so many advantages for the genealogist/family historian that I can’t imagine trying to research without including a blog in the process. Not only does it allow me to write the stories of my ancestors as my research develops them, it’s also easy to update those stories when new facts come to light. And, it’s amazing how quickly that collection of family stories grows! While even the idea of tackling THE FAMILY HISTORY is overwhelming, blogging “little” stories is a joy.

Blogs are also cousin magnets. Even if your blog stats show few visitors reading your posts, the search engines are keeping a sharp eye on even the smallest blog and will deliver a research cousin in a heartbeat when their search matches your content. There’s also the commenting systems included in most blog platforms which have turned blogs into community centers where people gather to share information and inspiration.

There is one issue that has been a concern – a rather serious concern. Most blog platforms have limited backup capabilities and trying to move content from one platform to another can be a nightmare. Then there’s the dreaded shutdown notice giving users a short period of time to grab their work before the platform is taken down.

How do you protect your work from crashes, shutdowns and old technology? Here are a few ideas for developing “archival quality” blog posts.

Writing Platforms

This article was written using the Byword [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99] text editing app. It supports Markdown which makes it a lot easier to incorporate HTML code in the article for formatting and including links. It also includes an optional Publish feature – a $4.99 in-app purchase. With it you can publish your Byword files to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Evernote and Scriptogram. Byword is just one of a growing number of editing and journaling apps that support blog publishing. Not only do they make it easier to write articles, you also maintain archived copies of them on your desktop. This can also come in handy when you decide you want to turn some or all of those articles into a published book.

You can also take advantage of a number of journaling applications like WinJournal [Win – $40] and MacJournal [Mac – $40, iPad – $3.99] as well as desktop blog editors like Microsoft’s free Live Writer and Blogo [Mac – $30]. With them you save your working copy on your desktop (or device) then publish a copy to your blog when you are ready.

There’s another advantage to using a writing platform for your blog posts. As your collection of stories grows, you’ll find it very easy to reorganize and repurpose those articles into all kinds of family history publications. For example, you could pull out all the articles on family members who served in the military to create a Memorial Day memory project. Use them to commemorate a special anniversary or honor someone who has passed away. You’ve done the heavy lifting – researching and writing each story – with your blog posts. Now you can enjoy the fun part of family publishing – turning those stories into beautiful treasures.

Building Link Libraries

I’ve been working to build a research resources section on my society’s website. Fortunately there is an impressive WordPress plugin which makes managing and displaying links a breeze. With Link Library, you can build an impressive directory with links organized into categories. The plugin comes with shortcodes for displaying all the links in your directory or just the links from specific categories. There’s even a shortcode to display a list of the categories – with links to display the links associated with that category.

Shortcodes in Editor

Link Library shortcodes in the page editor.

Here you see the page editor screen showing how the Link Library shortcodes appear within the page’s text. Note the Add Link Library Shortcode button above the editor toolbar. This helps you configure the shortcode for your purpose. In this example, I’ve added  the shortcode to display a search box and another to display the links associated with a single category. Below, you see how this page appears on the live site.

Sample links list screen.

This is the screen created with the example shortcodes.

But that’s not all! There’s a bookmarklet that allows you to build the link right at the site you are linking to. As you can see below, you have access to all the data entry fields available in the WordPress work area. This makes it so easy to add links to your collection.

Link Library Bookmarklet

The data entry screen displayed when the bookmarklet is used to capture a link.

You also have amazing control over the way your links are displayed. Below is a look at one of the configuration screens in the plugin’s comprehensive settings section. The default appearance setting is as an unordered (bullet) list, but you can manipulate it into just about anything you want. It will take some HTML experience, however.

Plugin Settings Panel

One panel of the plugin’s highly-customizable settings section.

The examples shown here use the default settings, but I’ve recently accepted a request to build a comprehensive directory so I’m digging into the support material to learn more about this very useful plugin. I’ll keep you posted . . .

Google for Nonprofits

Google offers many tools for genealogy research, but there are also a number of tools that can improve society operations and support your membership. Even better, Google offers non-profit organizations an amazing array of tools for free or at highly-discounted rates. Plus, they have an impressive support system to help you take advantage of those tools to support your organization and membership. Google for Nonprofits offers tools for fund-raising, website management, online collaboration and social media. Tools available to you as part of this program include:

  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Drive
  • Google Ad Grants
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Earth Outreach
  • YouTube Nonprofit Program
  • Google+ (including Hangouts)

You must hold current 501( c)(3) status and agree to the application’s required certifications regarding nondiscrimination and donation receipt and use to qualify for the program. For more information and to join the program, visit the Google for Nonprofits site.

Improve Security With Two-Step Authentication

Two-step authentication offers additional login security when you are accessing online resources. When two-step authentication is available, you will still log into the site with your user name and password, but that will kick off the second step which is usually a text message containing a PIN (personal identification number) sent to your mobile phone. That PIN must then be entered on the login screen to get access to the site. The PIN is only operational for a short period of time – usually less than a minute – and changes each time you log into the site.

Why is two-step authentication worth the effort? Even if a hacker is able to get your user name and password, they still can’t get into your account without the PIN – which is only sent to the mobile number you specified when you set up your account. If your phone’s charging stand is next to your computer, it’s really not that much of an inconvenience.

What accounts should be set up with two-step authentication? Obviously, financial, medical and commercial sites where you are sharing personal, financial and credit card information are priorities but so are social networks and especially email accounts. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn now support it as do Yahoo! Mail, Google/Gmail, PayPal, Dropbox and Evernote. Even blog platforms – including WordPress.com – support it. For society sites – especially those with multiple contributors – this is very useful.

You can learn more about tow-step verification along with a more complete list of sites supporting it at Wikipedia.

Society Evernote – Board Meetings

Evernote’s collaboration features make it a great tool to streamline a lot of board functions. By posting minutes, reports and proposals as notes then taking advantage of the new Work Chat function, board members can review, edit, ask questions and suggest changes well before the meeting begins. Then, during the meeting, all that’s needed is a quick motion/approval of the various items. The toughest part will be making the transition to the new workflow.

Every board has its own quirks and personalities so developing a workflow that best suits your board may require some experimentation and adjustments. Here are some suggestions for using Evernote in board meetings:

  • Have minutes and reports posted as notes and set a deadline for posting them which gives each board member time to review, ask questions and recommend changes before the meeting. Once the minutes/report is approved by the board, that note can then be moved from the board’s notebook to the archive notebook for safe-keeping. Print paper copies for filing, if necessary.
  • Require new proposals and requests be presented in writing as a note. These notes should include all the details about the proposals, estimated costs, etc.
  • When developing the meeting agenda, include links to the appropriate report/proposal so that board members can review them prior to the meeting. Post the agenda far enough ahead so that everyone has time to review the items before the meeting.
  • Develop procedures for posting proposals, setting the agenda and reviewing items prior to the meeting. These procedures are especially useful to help “handle” the board member who has something to say about everything.
  • As proposals and projects are approved, use the agenda note to document task assignments and proposed deadlines.
  • Copies of proposal notes, the meeting agenda and other associated notes can be attached to the meeting’s minutes note. Then, once the minutes are approved, the entire package is moved to the archive notebook.
  • When you use Evernote’s Work Chat feature to review documents and discuss proposals, those conversations are saved with the associated notes. This can offer future board and staff members a better understanding of things that happened before their time.

With a growing number of board and staff using portable devices such as tablets and smart phones, many will find it easier to use those devices to access Evernote during meetings. Encourage that whenever possible. Yes, you may still need to provide print copies to accommodate those who don’t use computers.

Making the adjustment from paper to digital workflows takes time and experimentation. Set goals and work with your staff to find workable solutions. Evernote will help make it happen.

Society Evernote – Organizing the Board

Evernote offers a number of features that can make life easier for your society’s board and staff. From streamlining board meetings to facilitating document reviews to providing an accessible information center, Evernote can help.

To get started, you will need at least one Evernote premium account ($5/month) for the board. A premium account has larger upload limits, additional sharing features and expanded search capabilities. Each member of the board and staff needing access to the content will also need an account. In most cases, a basic (free) account will work fine. Since many people are already using Evernote for their genealogical research, using their personal accounts is often easier than trying to manage multiple accounts.

Create the society account using a society email address rather a personal one (groupmaster@mysociety.org, for example). This will make it easier to pass account management on to a different manager when board changes require it. This account will manage all the society content maintained in Evernote. Board members and staff will be assigned access rights – using their personal Evernote accounts – to the notebook(s) they need to use. The manager will be responsible for building notebooks and assigning sharing rights to them.

Once the account is up and running, it’s time to build a few notebooks. Here are some basic recommendations. Future articles will look at specific projects and functions.

  • A Help Desk notebook. Use this notebook to hold PDF copies of all your equipment manuals (scanners, printers, copy machines, microfiche readers, coffee pots). If you don’t have copies handy, look at the manufacturer’s web site for a downloadable copy. This is also a good place to keep checklists and worksheets used in the society’s daily operations.
  • A General Information notebook. Here’s where the contact directory for board and staff members along with things like a copy of the tax exempt form, potential speaker list, affiliate information and other frequently used information is kept. Other possibilities include templates for documenting volunteer hours, research requests or form letters.
  • An Archive notebook. This notebook serves two purposes. It’s where completed business is kept. Yes, there will probably also be paper copies filed somewhere, but it also serves as both off-site backup and an easily-accessed location for historical information.

Each of these notebooks should set up for sharing. It’s easy to do and only takes a few minutes. The example below shows the share feature in the web-based version of Evernote. It can be done using both the desktop and mobile app versions too.

Open the notebook you wish to share – the Archive notebook in this example. Click the Share link to display the share panel you see here. Enter the email addresses of the people who need access in the To: field at the top of the panel. Assign the access rights and enter any message you want to include, then click the Send button.

The access rights options are: Can edit and invite, Can edit, Can view. In most cases, Can edit will be the preferable option.

Each invitee will receive an email with instructions for connecting to the shared notebook. Once the connections are made from their side, your board is ready to put Evernote to work.

There are a number of additional notebooks that will be discussed individually in future articles. Next up is using Evernote to manage board meetings.

 

Socializing on a Smaller Scale

One of the main reasons people join genealogical societies is to meet others who share their passion. As the digital world developed so did online social networks. The genealogical community has used them to expand our reach – quite literally – to the far corners of the earth. This is a wonderful thing, but it also comes with some concerns. Today I’m finding these huge networks somewhat overpowering and claustrophobic. So I started looking for the digital equivalent of the Shop Around the Corner.

What I found was tumblr.

To say tumblr is a blog platform doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s part blog, part social network. It’s more like Twitter on steroids. Although tumblr is a “player” in the social networking arena (it is owned by Yahoo) it has its own quirky style. It costs you nothing to create a tumblr blog and you can have multiple blogs if you would like. It’s quite easy to use and there are mobile apps so your blog(s) are accessible wherever you go. It does not have a formal commenting system. Instead, it operates more like Twitter with reblogging and favoriting features. You follow other tumblrs and they follow you. The builtin reader displays your followers latest posts and is where you interact with others.

tumblr dashboard

A look at the tumblr dashboard.

Here’s a look at the reader in the tumblr dashboard. From here I can create new posts, read the latest posts from the people I follow and network with them by sharing, reblogging or favoriting their posts.

How can a society use tumblr to build their own social network? Here are some suggestions . . .

  • Create special interest blogs – genealogy basics, digital toolbox, Evernote tips, etc. – to point readers to useful articles, video tutorials and other material already online.
  • Encourage members to create their own tumblr blogs to document their research efforts and the stories they discover in the process. This member network not only becomes its own support group, but their blogging can also attract research cousins – one of the best benefits of geneablogging.
  • Host online events to share family history stories and memorabilia. You might have a call for wedding photos in June, share special holiday traditions for Christmas or contests for the best organizational tips.

tumblr is free, easy to use and fun. Yahoo will add the occasional sponsored post (otherwise known as advertising) to your reading list, but I’ve found Yahoo less intrusive than other social platforms. If you are looking for a way to network with your members, take a look at tumblr. You might start by visiting my Genealogy 101 tumblr. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.