Flickr 411

Are you using Flickr to encourage your membership to digitize their photo collections and post copies online for safe-keeping? [See The Flickr Archive.] If so, there are a number of Flickr-related projects the society can sponsor that will help your members learn more about their family history. My favorite is something I call Flickr 411 and it was inspired by Flickr Commons.

Flickr Commons Florida page

The Florida State Archives at Flickr Commons

The Library of Congress kicked things off Flickr Commons in January 2008 with a pilot project to collect more information about the photographs in their collection. They posted a number of photos on Flickr and invited the public to come view them and, if they knew anything about a photo, they were asked to add tags, comments and notes using the tools built into the Flickr platform. A report on the program released in October included these statistics:

As of October 23, 2008, there have been:

  • 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
  • 79% of the 4,615 photos have been made a “favorite” (i.e., are incorporated into personal Flickr collections).
  • More than 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
  • 7,166 comments were left on 2,873 photos by 2,562 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
  • Less than 25 instances of user-generated content were removed as inappropriate.
  • More than 500 Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) records have been enhanced with new information provided by the Flickr Community.

Today, more than 90 institutions from around the world share their collections in The Commons. The British Library has posted more than a million photos and graphic images – most of them as public domain images.

How can you do something similar? Easy – just build a Flickr group, invite your members to add photos they would like to learn more about to that group, then start advertising the group publicly to attract visitors. Encourage those visitors to add any information they may have about individual photos. You’ll be surprised at the results.

Using a Flickr group for this project offers several benefits. First of all, your members maintain full control over their photographs. They decide which photos they want to share and can move them in or out of the group at any time. Plus, in addition to the standard comments feature found on all Flickr photo pages, groups also offer a discussion forum. This is a great way to get a conversation going.

The key to this project is promotion. Give your group(s) prominent visibility on the society web site – with links – along with articles describing the project and success stories as they happen. Include information about the project in your newsletters and on your social media sites. Remind members about it at meetings too.

This project will only cost you some time, but the benefits – to both the society and your members – can be tremendous. Your members will discover that Flickr offers more than just an affordable way to protect their photo archives while the society expands the benefits of membership to potential online members researching ancestors in your area.

Creative Commons: Some Rights Reserved

If you look at the bottom of this blog’s sidebar, you will see the Creative Commons graphic and license text. Follow the link to the license information and you will be pleasantly surprised that the license text is written in plain language. There is also a legal version of the license at the Creative Commons site and machine readable version (so search engines and web apps can identify licensed work).

While I do want credit for the works I create, I don’t mind if others use my works in their own creations. This is especially true in my family history projects. That doesn’t mean you have unlimited rights to my publications or postings or that you can claim them as your own. Creative Commons offers the flexibility to create a license that suits my needs. For example, the short name for my license is “attribution-share alike” which means you can use my stuff if your work includes credit to me and the work you create using my stuff will also be licensed to share to others. I don’t limit the number of copies you can have, keep you from giving my work to someone else or make you ask my permission to use my stuff. All I want is credit for my efforts and that you don’t try to lock my work up by including it in an “all rights reserved” copyrighted publication.

The beauty of Creative Commons is that it gives you the flexibility to determine how your work can be distributed. There are several different options you can incorporate into the license you use. Will you allow commercial use? modifications of your work? How will others attribute the work to you? At all times you retain copyright to your work.

Whether you are building an original work and including family treasures or offering scanned copies of existing photos and documents, Creative Commons gives you the opportunity to choose how those works can be used by others. Visit the Creative Commons site to learn more.

Quick and Easy Signs

Do you need a sign or placard to announce an upcoming event? You don’t need to hire a graphics designer or spend a lot of money on fancy software. Put your presentation graphics software (PowerPoint for Windows or Keynote for Mac) to work instead.

Creating a sign in Keynote.

Creating a sign in Keynote.

Here you see a graphic call for articles sign that was created using Keynote. The photograph was sized to cover then entire slide, then the text was layered on top. Anyone familiar with digital scrapbooking apps will be right at home using either Keynote or PowerPoint to combine text, photos and embellishments to build the sign. You also have the ability to “draw” boxes and other shapes, add shadows, frames and other design elements.

Once your sign is ready, use the program’s export feature to export it as a photo file. Both Keynote and PowerPoint support exporting a single slide from a presentation file. If you look at the sidebar on the left, you’ll see it contains several other slides. These are signs created for other purposes. This one file can also serve as an archive of graphic elements.

The signs you see in this example were all created for use on my society’s web site. I created each sign at a print-level resolution but reduced it to web resolution as part of the export process. If I should later need to print a sign or placard, I can go back to my original and print directly from the presentation file. I’ve also had success sending a presentation file to a print service (our local office supply store) to print my signs in larger sizes. The text scaled up beautifully and the photo quality was quite acceptable.

Look for affordable royalty-free or commercial use graphics and fonts to support your efforts. For example, there’s a Premium Fonts package of more than 1,500 commercial use fonts available in the Mac App Store for $30. Another great font resource is

Test drive your presentations software to see how you can combine photos, text and graphic elements to build your own signs. Dig around in the formatting and image-editing commands to discover how versatile these apps can be. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Blog Platforms: Tumblr

Tumblr is part blog and part social network. Owned by Yahoo, it is a free and easy way to connect with your membership and keep them informed.  Tumblr favors short-form posts over the longer ones found on platforms such as WordPress. As you can see in the video below, it makes sharing photos, videos, links and other media easy to do – from home or on the go.

How can a society put Tumblr to use? Yes, it can be your society’s home page, but it can be a lot more. Here are some examples:

  • News center. It’s easy to post links to other content on the web, making it a great news platform. Use it to keep your members updated on the latest deals at the subscription archives, upcoming webinars, free resources, interesting books and tips.
  • Special Interest Group. Tumblr supports multiple contributors so it can be used to support special interest groups within your society. Combine it with the Disqus commenting system and you have your own mini social network.
  • Social Network. Tumblr is a great platform for beginning bloggers and the built-in reader makes it easy for members to follow each other’s blogs. Once again, adding Disqus to the mix kicks the conversation into high gear.

Tumblr supports mobile blogging with apps for both iOS and Android phones/tablets and offers features like multiple contributors, private sites and custom themes. Your account supports multiple blogs too. It’s all free except that there’s a growing body of custom themes you can purchase for use on your Tumblr. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of free themes too.

Check out the sidebar here at the Society Journal and you’ll find a feed of the latest posts from my Genealogy 101 Tumblr. Click any link and you’ll be taken to the site.

Want to learn more? This guide has everything you need to get started. And you can’t beat the $1.99 price tag either. Click on the cover to get your copy.

Make History Personal

How often I have wished I had asked Aunt Mary about that handsome young Sailor hugging her in that photograph … We all regret the missed opportunities and unasked questions. Then, almost in the same breath, we complain about the lack of interest our young relatives have about their own history.

Why is it the younger generation’s responsibility to know what questions to ask – let alone ask them? Aren’t the older generations responsible for their children’s education? Family history should be a priority in that effort. By including family history, those extraordinary ordinary people who were our ancestors will make learning history a personal experience and encourage them to learn more.

My history books taught me that the Civil War battles at Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee, were the death knells for the Confederacy. At the time my main interest was passing the test. Then I learned that my great grandfather fought and was captured at Franklin, spent the rest of the war as a POW at Camp Douglas, Illinois, and then walked home to Georgia. Once I had a family connection to the war, I wanted to understand how it affected their lives. It then became personal.

Although my mother, aunts and grandmother made sure we kids knew this great grandfather fought in the war, it would have been easy to expand our knowledge and interest. We spent many summers on the family farm in Georgia just a few miles from the Chickamauga battlefield. My great grandfather’s unit fought there too. It would have been a great adventure to wander around the battlefield, discover the many monuments honoring his unit and learn about his unit’s actions during the battle. With a little more encouragement, we may have gone on to learn about the other battles and his capture.

My point here is that it is our responsibility to share our family history and make history personal for the generations following us.

How can we do this? Here are some ideas:

  • Visit battlefields, home towns and places where your ancestors lived. During a recent visit to the Chickamauga battlefield, a ranger looked up my great grandfather’s unit and then provided us with a map showing where each monument and marker was located. We spent a delightful afternoon tracking down those markers. It would have been even more fun if the grandkids had been with us.
  • We did have the grandkids with us on a day trip to Spaceport at Cape Canaveral. I told them about watching Apollo 11 launch from the beach in St. Augustine and their mother told them about coming to the Cape to watch a shuttle launch. Now those exhibits became much more real to them.
  • Do your kids like to read? Historical novels are even more fascinating when there’s a connection to an ancestor. The same is true for movies. All it takes is a little comment mentioning the connection to spark an interest.
  • Blog the stories your research discovers. My nephew never met his paternal grandparents so he enjoys the photos and stories I’ve posted about them.
  • Create photo/scrap books with lots of captions, ephemera and short stories. It’s quite easy and affordable these days to “publish” small, customized histories as gifts.
  • Develop research challenges/contests to encourage the kids to learn on their own.

It doesn’t have to be a momentous event to add a personal perspective. Something as simple as watching History Detectives and commenting on how you found one of your ancestors through research could inspire them to discover how fascinating family history can be.

Got some suggestions to add to the list? Tell us about them in the comments. We’d love to hear them!

Manage Projects with Wunderlist

Wunderlist is a deceptively simple and easy-to-use task management platform for both personal and collaborative use. You can create any number of lists – grocery list, to-do list, packing list, project list, etc. – which can be private or shared with other Wunderlist users. Lists contain tasks and sub-tasks, each of which can be assigned a deadline date and even assigned to a specific individual. There’s also a notification system which will remind you that a task is due.

When you share a list with other Wunderlist users, it’s then easy to assign individual tasks and sub-tasks to others with access to this list. There’s even a commenting system to keep all members of the team updated on issues related to the list. A just-announced feature allows you to attach files stored in Dropbox to a task, making it possible to perform document reviews and other collaborative tasks. Since the document physically resides at Dropbox, each time a user updates that file, the Wunderlist link is synched with the latest revision.

Wunderlist workspace

Share specific lists with team members so all can see/update tasks, post files and add comments.

Here you see the list for managing an upcoming seminar. Tasks and sub-tasks have been added to the list and now other project team members are being invited to share the list. Once they accept the invitation, their copy of Wunderlist will include this list and automatically update whenever any team member makes changes, adds files or comments. Each team member controls how they receive notifications when the list is updated, plus the members can use the “More” option in the command bar (at bottom of center panel) to email the entire list or just specific items to others.

Use the comments area to ask questions, discuss options or request changes. By keeping everything within the list, you make it easy for each team member to stay up-to-date on all project activity.

How can a society put Wunderlist to work? In addition to planning society events, the publications staff can manage all the tasks and deadlines for newsletters, quarterlies and special publications. It can make keeping up with all the details involved with fund-raising campaigns, membership drives and even special projects much easier by keeping everything in one place. Use a task in the Board list to post the agenda for each board meeting then add subtasks and assign them to the appropriate individual during the meeting. Board members can then set their notifications to send status updates as they are posted. Reminders can be sent if necessary.

Wunderlist offers free, pro and business accounts. The free account limits the number of assigned tasks (25 per list), subtasks (25 per to-do) and background designs (20). Although you attach any number of Dropbox files to your lists, you are limited on the number and size of files attached directly in Wunderlist. In my opinion, using Dropbox is a better option – especially if the attached files will be edited by multiple people. A pro account costs $4.99/month or $49.99/year. Business accounts are also $4.99/month or $49.99/year per user but Wunderlist provides centralized billing along with team management options. Users can access Wunderlist via the Web, desktop apps (Mac, Windows 8 and Chromebook) and mobile apps (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows Phone). All apps are free.

It’s quite possible that free accounts would work well for most societies although having at least one pro account would be even better. You can begin with just free accounts to see how well the tools support your society’s need. I recommend setting the accounts up using the email addresses for each of your society’s positions rather than using personal email accounts. This will make it easier to pass on an account when officers and staff changes take place.