Build an Archive on Flickr

I just stumbled onto the National Archives Citizen Archivist Research group on Flickr. The National Archives has built a group on Flickr and invited citizen archivists (that would be you and me) to share our scanned photos, documents and ephemera with the group. What a brilliant idea!

Flickr group example

Citizen Archivist group at Flickr

Flickr’s Group feature is really quite remarkable. It is a way individuals can share their photographs with others without giving up control of their stuff. You’ll find groups for events (they’re great for weddings or reunions), groups for locations and groups for just about any topic you can imagine. We genealogists will find the cemetery groups particularly fascinating.

Any Flickr user can create a group and these groups can be set up as public – open to anyone, public – by invitation only or private. When you join a group and share photos to the group, your licensing and privacy settings “go” with the photo. Sharing a photo to a group allows any member of that group to view your photo, add comments, notes and tags regardless of the privacy settings. In a private or public/invitation only group, a photo with a “private” setting will only be seen by the people who belong to that group. The sharing options will be turned off so they can’t be shared outside the group.

How can your society take advantage of this feature? First of all, Flickr is a fabulous – and affordable – way for your members to build an off-site archive of the photographs and documents they are digitizing. Every user gets one terabyte of photo storage at no cost. That’s roughly equivalent to 560,000 high resolution photographs. And, in addition to protecting their digital collections from disaster, Flickr offers a wide range of features for displaying and sharing all or parts of their collections.

Does your society offer any programs to help members digitize and archive their personal archives? If not, why not? Digitizing photos, papers and other ephemera and posting copies to an online archive such as Flickr not only provides protection, but can serve a number of other useful purposes too. The National Archives uses Flickr to learn more about certain images and collections by posting them and asking others to add comments if they know anything about them. And, the Citizen Archivist group I just stumbled onto is a great way to pull images from all across Flickr, giving the focus they so deserve. We can use the examples provided by NARA’s Citizen Archivst project to help our members digitize, protect and display their treasured photos and documents.

Attracting Distant Members

Distant members are people who are researching our geographic areas, but do not live here. They are an untapped resource offering many opportunities even for the smallest society. By taking advantage of free and low-cost online platforms, we can attract distant members and give them the ability to actively participate in the society. The tools described here offer some suggestions for making this happen.

Build a Digital Library

Digitizing  your society’s publications – especially the newsletters and quarterlies – and making them available online is a quick and easy way to attract distant members – and generate revenue by offering the digital publications for sale. Begin by creating a free account with the Scribd digital library platform. Start by posting copies of the newsletter. Scribd can be used to post digital copies of many types of publications from indexes and cemetery inventories to new member packets and how-to guides. Publications can be posted publicly or privately (requiring a direct link to access). It can also be used to offer publications for sale. Once you’ve set up a sales account with Scribd, you just upload the publication file, set a price and Scribd manages all the sale/delivery/customer service effort. There is no up-front cost, but Scribd collects a 20% commission to cover their credit card processing and sales management costs.

Use your Scribd storefront to offer digital copies of past issues of your quarterly for sale. Your more recent copies – those created as digital files (Word, In-Design or whatever format) – can easily be converted to PDF documents and uploaded to Scribd. Set a price, then start advertising them on your web site. Older copies would need to be scanned to generate a digital copy that could be uploaded.

A document collection hosted at Scribd.

A document collection hosted at Scribd.

You can also offer your members the option to choose digital or print copies of upcoming quarterlies. With the growing popularity of readers and tablet devices, a digital option is often preferred. The advantages of digital publications include full color at no extra cost, they are searchable and have functional hyperlinks. Encouraging this trend can also help reduce costs. For those who choose digital, the new version would be uploaded as a private publication on Scribd and an email providing the download link and instructions would be sent to the member. Another copy is uploaded publicly for sale and the price is set. Scribd has a document preview option and the publisher can define how much of the document – even select which pages – will be used in the preview. For quarterlies, using the table of contents for the preview gives visitors an index of sorts with minimal effort on your part.

You may even want to consider adjusting the format of your publications to make them more readable on tablets and e-readers. Most devices can read digest-sized publications (5.25″ x 8.25″) in PDF format very comfortably.

As the society’s digital library grows, so does it’s value to distant members (and non-members). For library holdings and older quarterly issues, providing a digital index to your holdings – and possibly even a research/copy service – could generate even more membership revenue.

One last benefit . . . the documents you post at Scribd also serve as an off-site backup of these precious publications.

Social Networking

Take advantage of social networking platforms such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to connect with distant members. It costs nothing to create a society presence on these networks, but they will require frequent monitoring and timely responses. These can be good places to get conversations going – between users and the society, between society members and between members and visitors. You can’t control all of the activity and, except for dealing with inappropriate content, you don’t really want to. You want lots of conversation so your visitors will know your society is an active and involved group.

Florida State Genealogical Society page on Facebook

Florida State Genealogical Society page on Facebook

While Facebook is a great place for conversations, Google+ has features that make it a great platform for virtual special interest groups. One example of this is the Evernote for Genealogists community.

Online Meetings and Webinars

Google+ has another advantage that societies can put to good use – Hangouts and Hangouts on Air. Hangouts is a free and easy way to enjoy a group text conversation or video conference call with up to 10 people. Any user can initiate a Hangout at any time. Hangouts on Air is also free and allows an unlimited number of attendees, but only the first 10 can actively participate – the others can watch and post text comments/questions. And, Hangouts on Air are automatically recorded on YouTube so you’ve got a recorded copy almost immediately after its over. In addition to conversations, you can use Hangouts for collaboration (like a live document review), tutoring (with desktop sharing) and meetings.

It will require some time and effort to learn to use the platform and develop procedures for conducting online meetings and webinars, but that effort can be quite rewarding. Not only will it allow distant members to actively participate in society activities, it can increase the productivity of your board and committees.

Use your society’s blog to point members to interesting Hangouts to help them get used to the platform. Experiment with Google Hangouts and Hangouts on Air to see if there is interest (from the board and from members in general). Use it for more informal “gatherings” like user groups and workshops as well as for building a collection of webinars, instructional videos, interviews with authors and/or professional genealogists and any number of other online events.

If you would like to see a very successful implementation of Google+ and Hangouts on Air, take a look at the DearMYRTLE community.

The ideas presented here offer your society a number of ways to expand your horizons. Although the monetary costs to implement any of these ideas is minimal, they will impact the amount of time each board/committee member spends on society-related work. Fortunately, most of this effort can be done whenever and wherever it is most convenient for you.

Watch for future articles discussing these platforms and others in more detail.

Society Project Ideas: A Cemetery Blog

Have you or your society considered using blogs as part of a cemetery inventory project? The bloggers of The Association of Graveyard Rabbits have demonstrated how a blog adds much more to the story of a cemetery than just a photo and transcription of the grave marker. They’ve added histories of the cemetery itself, follow-on research about the people buried there and information about the design and symbols used on the markers. Best of all, blogs are very search-friendly and attract researchers who often leave comments that provide even more information about the people buried there.

Doesn’t that sound a lot more interesting than a data table of bare bones text?

This Huguenot Cemetery blog is hosted at Tumblr using the free Pink Touch 2 theme.

This Huguenot Cemetery blog is hosted at Tumblr using the free Pink Touch 2 theme.

While this could be done on just about any blog platform, the Tumblr platform combines free blogs, multiple author support and mobile apps into an amazingly easy platform that not only provides a good home for the stories of your cemeteries, but also offers impressive tools to post content directly from the cemetery.

The Tumblr blog platform can be a great support system for individuals and societies doing on-site cemetery inventories. With a free Tumblr blog and companion mobile app [iOS, Android & Windows Phone - free], you can turn loose an army (okay, a platoon) of volunteers who can photograph, document details and post right from their phones.

Tumblr supports multiple contributors (called members) on all secondary Tumblr blogs. [NOTE: A user's first blog is the primary blog and only that user can post to it.] If you’re inventorying multiple cemeteries, it would probably be best to create a separate Tumblr blog for each. The site administrator invites each volunteer as a member of that cemetery’s blog. All it takes is to go to the Member screen and enter the email address for a volunteer, then click the Invite button. That volunteer will receive an email with instructions to join the blog – and register an account on Tumblr if he doesn’t already have one. The volunteer will be able to publish posts on the blog, but can’t perform any of the blog management functions. Once the volunteer has joined the blog, he installs the appropriate app on his smartphone and uses that login to connect to the blog through his device.

Now it’s time to do some field work.

At the cemetery, capturing details about each grave is as simple as creating a photo post, taking one (or more) photos of the grave/marker, adding whatever text information is required, then publishing the post. At this stage of the process, content is more important than style. You may want to have a volunteer sitting at home on a desktop computer reviewing the posts as they are published. This volunteer – who has a full-size screen and a standard keyboard – can review the photographs, clean up any typos and call field workers when a photo needs to be retaken or there’s a question about the post.

Although Tumblr doesn’t have the organizational features found in more sophisticated blog platforms, a good system of tags can make it easier to access any of your posts. Tags can be added at any time – as part of the original posting from the field and/or during any of the reviews or updates performed by your staff. The key is to build a taxonomy (standard) for the tags you’ll use to define your posts. Surname is one obvious tag, but you might want to include tags for marker styles or to define a mausoleum. There’s no limit to the number of tags you can use, but consistency is important.

On of the things that makes a blog so much more useful that a basic inventory is that Individual posts can be edited at any time to add additional information. If your team wants to research individuals, you can add the information you’ve discovered to the existing post or create a new one. Some creative tagging on your part will allow visitors to pull together all the posts associated with a particular surname or topic by just clicking a displayed tag.

In the example shown below, you’re looking at part of an individual post in the Huguenot Cemetery blog. Notice the tags at the bottom of the post. When a visitor clicks any of those tags, Tumblr displays all posts containing that tag.


Did you notice the menu across the top of the page in the first screenshot? Tumblr supports pages although they are a bit clunky to create. This blog uses the page feature to provide the history of this cemetery and a page of links to research resources. You can add pages for whatever information you want to provide.

Using a blog to inventory a cemetery can add value to your society archives. A blog platform such as Tumblr can help simplify the process. Want to learn more about Tumblr? Tackling Tumblr is a good place to start.

Document Review with Evernote

Document reviews are a necessity in the society world. From meeting minutes to policy and procedures, there’s always something that needs to be reviewed and updated. Sure you can forward your document to everyone who needs to look at it, but you’ll quickly find that not everyone has Microsoft Word on their computer. Others may be using a tablet instead of a computer.

Make everyone’s life easier by putting Evernote to work as the central location for all your society documents. There’s an Evernote app for just about every device and operating system – plus the online version when all else fails. Put shared notebooks to use to create, review and edit all kinds of documents.

Annotation Example

First of all, you’ll need a shared notebook with each invited person being given edit rights. This example is a shared notebook for my fictional Moultrie Creek Online Historical Society’s board. In it you’ll find a copy of the January board meeting’s minutes for review. Note there’s two reminders at the top of the notes list pane with deadline dates for this document and another that has been posted for review.  They were created by setting the alarm clock icon in the note’s toolbar. Any authorized user can open the note and begin editing it. Click on the annotation icon (just to the right of the alarm clock) to open the annotation panel.

More Tools

Here’s a look at the annotation panel. The toolbar appears on the left – just click a tool to activate it, then place it where you want it on the document. You can draw arrows, boxes and circles around text, add text comments of your own and add stamps like the exclamation point you see here. Once you add a stamp, click on it again and you can add text to it and adjust the arrow.

When you’re finished, click the exit icon (the small “x” in the circle at the top left corner of the panel) and your edits are saved, a summary of your edits is added at the top of the note and the  edited note is saved as an annotated version of the original.

Annotation Tools

You are looking at a draft meeting minutes note that has been marked up by one of the board members. At the top of the note is the markup summary which identifies who did the markup and what annotations were added.

Now, look at the list of notes in the left pane. Notice that this note is a copy of the original draft minutes note and is identified as “Annotated” in its title.

Evernote Doc Management

Each reviewer creates their own annotated copy. The original draft is untouched. The document manager – and each reviewer – can see at a glance who has reviewed the document and the changes and comments they have made. Once the review is complete, these summaries are used to finalize the document.

If you have been struggling through multiple editions of round-robin emails to get a document finalized, you will find Evernote’s shared notebook/document annotation solution a welcome relief. It sure will make the process of group edits a lot easier.

Building a Digital Library

Even the smallest genealogical or historical society can afford an impressive library – if they build it digitally. Space and costs are not the only reasons to consider digital. There are a number of other advantages too:

  • information is easily accessible to both local and distant members
  • digital publications and records are searchable and can have functional hyperlinks
  • also serves as off-site backup for society records collections
  • color doesn’t cost extra when publishing digitally.

The easiest way to build your library is to take advantage of an existing platform such as Scribd. A free Scribd account allows you to upload and present all the documents and publications you want. These publications are created using tools you already have such as your word-processing or layout software. Once uploaded, they can be read online or downloaded as PDF documents. When you upload a file, you decide whether it will be a public document – visible to all – or a private document that is only visible to those who have a direct link to the publication.

You can set a price for your publications and sell them via the Scribd store. Scribd will handle all the presentation, sales transaction and customer support efforts for a 20% commission.

Scribd also supports revisions. Go to the edit document screen for that document and follow the steps to upload a revision which will replace the existing version. Scribd even keeps track of your revision history allowing you to revert to a previous one if you wish. And, if it’s a publication being sold, those who have already purchased it can download the revision at no charge.

What to publish?

Your society’s quarterly journals are a good place to start.  Begin with the current issue. Upload the finished publication and make the members’ edition available as a private document. Upload a second version as the public edition and put a price on it. When you post a publication for sale, you can define which pages will appear in the “preview” displayed in your Scribd profile. Include the table of contents for that edition along with a page describing your society and how to join.

Don’t stop with just the current quarterlies. Collect the digital files for any back issues that were created using computers and begin adding them to your Scribd library. Again, set a price and use the preview to display the contents of each edition. Include links on your society web site to your Scribd profile and individual publications.

What about those quarterlies that were published before the days of desktop computers? It will take time and effort to scan and prepare them to include in your library at Scribd. Even if sales of your recent publications aren’t breaking records, it might still be worth the effort. Why? Because once they are digitized and posted on Scribd, you’ve also got an off-site backup of these publications protecting your society from disaster.

Don’t stop with just the quarterlies either. What about the transcribed records your members have spent hours collecting, the cemetery inventories and other publications created with society support? Scribd will not only protect them from disaster, but also make it easier for distant members to access them.

You aren’t restricted to for sale publications only. This is also a good place to post your bylaws, newsletters, new member packages, forms and fact sheets.

One last Scribd goodie you might find interesting . . . You can embed a publication on a web page in much the same way you embed a YouTube video. Below you’ll find a family history I’ve been working on for some time. Since this is a free publication, you can view it in its entirety. Publications for sale will only display the designated preview pages until the reader purchases it.


Bylaws Workbook

From the book’s description:
Bylaws Workbook cover
This workbook is designed to help societies create successful bylaws that prevent confusion, dissension, and disagreement. Whether large or small, new or established, societies can use this guide in planning, drafting, and implementing bylaws that guarantee a smooth-running organization. Whether a society realizes it or not, the most important document for its members is the bylaws. It is the only document that tells the members how the society is supposed to function. The authors draw from their extensive experience in bylaws reviews and revisions to provide step-by-step guidance on all aspects of bylaws development, including detailed examples.

You’ll find a copy of Bylaws Workbook available at Amazon for $4.60 with free shipping for Prime customers.