Category Archives: General

Blog Platforms:

WordPress is probably the most popular content management systems for building web sites. WordPress comes in two “flavors”:

  • an online service where you can create your site by creating an account and selecting a few setup options (
  • an application you install, configure and set up in your own web hosting account.

The hosted offers both free and premium sites. A fully-functional site can be set up in a matter of minutes. If additional features are needed (such as a custom domain name, theme customization or more storage), they can be added individually or as part of a package. Using the hosted service, most of the site management functions are performed by You can stay focused on your site content.

Setting up a self-hosted site gives the site manager more flexibility. There is a huge library of plugins that can be installed to provide additional functionality such as storefronts, editorial calendars and database backups. Along with that flexibility comes more responsibility for maintaining the WordPress application.

Note: This site is hosted at using a WordPress Premium package.

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.

Special Interest Groups

One of the challenges a genealogy society faces is the different interests and skill levels of its memberships. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, but you can offer them options. One of these is the special interest group (SIG). If there is interest in a specific research technique or more people want to learn about a new program or service, this might be best handled as a special interest group.

The beauty of special interest groups is they can be just about anything you want them to be. They could be groups that meet physically for presentations or workshops. They could also be a virtual group using social networks to share information. Today there are a number of networks supporting both open and closed (invitation only) groups with easy-to-use tools. Not only can you use them for scheduled get-togethers but they are also places were members can check in when it’s convenient for them.

Google+ Community

The DearMYRTLE community at Google+

Because Google has so many tools that support online research, it’s quite likely that many of your members already have Google accounts. This makes Google Plus a great platform for a special interest group. In Google Plus they are called Communities and you’ll find a number of interesting genealogy-related communities already there. For example, if you are interested in learning more about using Evernote, you can join the public Evernote in Genealogy community. Are you a RootsMagic user? If so, you might find the RootsMagic Users community quite useful. Then there’s DearMYRTLE’S Genealogy Community – a model community that takes advantage of a number of Google tools including Google Hangouts.

Hangouts is a Google service that is part text chat, part phone call, part video conferencing, part online meeting and part party. Any Google user can create a hangout at any time. It can be an online conversation between two people, a panel discussion or a formal presentation. And, it costs nothing to use. Combine it with a Google Plus Community site and you can have the basis for a very effective special interest group platform.


There’s always a “but”.

Even if I was an experienced and knowledgeable Google Plus/Hangouts user (which I’m not), I would still build my group slowly – starting with basic steps and later working up to online conversations and even meetings. Since many of the members I want to attract to my group have limited tech skills, I will need to provide them a simple platform that won’t overwhelm them, then slowly add in new features.

Here are some recommendations learned from the Hard Knocks SIG:

  • Keep your group’s focus on a narrow topic – like Roots Magic or Local Research Sources rather than Technology in Genealogy.
  • Recruit experienced users to help answer questions and offer their own tips.
  • Present new topics by first selling their benefits. Give your members a reason to make the effort to learn it.
  • Google Hangouts supports text, voice and video conversations for up to 10 participants. A hangout can be initiated with just a couple mouse clicks. You can put this to work to provide personal tutoring.
  • Hangouts on Air are more formal and can have unlimited participants although only 10 can be speakers. These would be more appropriate for formal presentations or online meetings. Experiment with your staff to get comfortable using Hangouts on Air before putting it to use on your SIG. It’s also a good idea to have a “moderator” in addition to the host and guest speakers. That person handles any technical issues and passes on questions and comments from the audience to the speakers.

The combination of Google+ Communities and Hangouts has already built a number of impressive special interest groups. Join a couple to see how they operate. They are a great way to get comfortable with Google+ and see how you can put it to work for your society.

While Google+ is a great option for an online special interest group. It isn’t the only one. How does your society handle special interest groups? We’d love to hear from you!

What’s Your Membership Management Plan?

How do you keep in touch with your membership?  Does your organization have a plan to let them know about meetings, projects, paying dues and other announcements?  How do you attract new members and what do you do when someone new shows up at a meeting?  You need a plan and members assigned to help carry it out.
Continue reading

Continuity Plan: Analysis

[Note: although many of these steps are applicable to anyone wanting to protect their own research and equipment, for this article and the rest of the series, I will be discussing continuity planning as it pertains to genealogical/historical societies.  At the end of the series, I will discuss how to alter a continuity plan to suit the individual researcher.]


The analysis portion is usually the first step for most genealogical societies developing a continuity plan.  And since the plan is best represented as a “life cycle,” it is normal to perform periodic analysis in order to ensure that the plan is up to date.  In my experience, analysis is the most time-consuming and detailed portion of a plan.

Take Inventory of Functions

The first step is to take inventory of all the functions of your society.  And don’t be surprised if you need to take several passes – this is why a continuity plan is set up in a life-cycle format.

Here is a partial list of items, both tangible and non-tangible:


  • Furniture (desks, chairs, bookshelves, tables, lighting)
  • Office space or meeting space (rented or owned)


  • Fax
  • Telephone
  • Internet Connectivity (modem, DSL, T1, T3, broadband wireless)


  • Computers
  • Copiers
  • Projectors
  • Readers (microfilm microfiche)
  • Scanners
  • Television


  • Books
  • Digital media
  • Original source material
  • Maps
  • Periodicals


  • Mailing lists
  • Membership data
  • Name recognition
  • Web presence
  • Website/Blog data


  • Administration data
  • Board of Directors documents (resolutions, minutes)
  • Contacts (other societies, vendors, etc.)
  • Email (server, mailboxes, archives)
  • History (archives of former board members, minutes, etc.)
  • Non-profit status information (state and federal tax status, etc.)
  • Office supplies


  • Banking information
  • Membership dues
  • Revenue stream

Critical vs. Non-Critical Functions

Once the functions have initially been identified, the next step is to designate them as being critical to the continued operation and survival of the society or non-critical.  Some factors to consider when making this determination:

  • Are certain functions mandated by law or practice? E.g., annual board meetings, non-profit/tax status, certification, etc.  Realize that a society can forfeit its status with certain organizations if minimum requirements are not met.
  • The lack of which functions would damage the society and in what way? Could these function impact how the society is perceived by members, donors, etc.,?
  • If an interruption of one of these functions were acceptable, at what point would the interruption become unacceptable?  Is it a matter of length of time? Is it a matter of cost and/or maintenance?

Recovery Requirements

Once the functions are identified and classified as critical or non-critical, the next step is to determine what is needed to recover or restore these functions.  For each function, you should list:

  • the time frame for restoration of the function
  • the business requirements for restoration of the function
  • the technical requirements (if applicable) for restoration of the function

Interruption Scenarios

While you can’t cover all scenarios, you can cover those that are likely to happen.  A society located in Florida would probably focus on a hurricane while a California society would focus on an earthquake.  Both societies could include flooding since such a scenario may occur due to a water main break, sprinkler system malfunction, etc.

Some common scenarios include:

  • bomb
  • cyber attack
  • data loss
  • earthquake
  • fire
  • flood
  • power outage
  • theft
  • vandalism

Only list scenarios which require unique solutions for restoration of a function.  Example:  a power outage (either planned, caused by a natural disaster or due to provider malfunction) would not affect functions such as finances (directly – indirectly it would prevent use of computers to update data).  A power outage caused by a simple interruption of service (blackout, etc.) would affect a society minimally (short period of outage) whereas an earthquake or hurricane where surround areas are affected and there is possible infrastructure damage would affect a society quite a bit.

So How Do I Track All This? 

A perfectly valid question.  In reviewing the components of the analysis phase above, most societies will need some tracking mechanism which lists functions, whether they are critical or non-critical, recovery requirements, and which scenario(s) would impact them.

To get a jump start on the process, use this spreadsheet on Google Docs.  While it may not cover all of the items, you are invited to make a copy and customize it for your own use.

Do You Have a Continuity Plan?

Whether you are concerned about the assets of your genealogical/historical society or your own personal family history research, you should consider developing and implementing a Continuity Plan.  While all of us are easily the victims of procrastination, not having a plan ready can mean the difference between being up and running within hours/days or having to spend weeks, months and years recreating data and re-acquiring assets.

What Is Continuity Planning?

Based upon the Business Continuity Plan concept currently utilized in many organizations which can be applied to both societies and individuals as “caretakers” of data, Continuity Planning consists of five separate components arranged in a life-cycle format:

Continuity Plan

Over the course of the next six posts on the topic of Continuity Planning, I’ll be discussing each component in detail as well as a comparison of what should be included within a plan for societies and within a plan for individuals.

Does Continuity Planning Only Involve Technology and Data?

When discussing a plan for “recovery,” be it on a business, non-profit, or personal level, almost everyone first thinks of “intangible assets” such as data.  The next thought involves “tangible assets” such as computers, microfiche/film readers, prints, etc.  But a comprehensive Continuity Plan includes other non-technology related tangible assets often forgotten:

  • books
  • photographs
  • furniture
  • rental or office space
  • supplies, etc.

And don’t forget some frequently overlooked intangible assets such as:

  • web/Internet presence
  • revenue stream
  • name recognition, etc.

Does Continuity Planning Only Involve Disasters?

I wish it were so.  My first encounter with a disaster involving data was in the mid-1980s when I worked for a financial company.  A fire on a lower floor of the large building did not cause water or smoke damage, but it did cause release of asbestos through the entire building.  I lost several personal items, for which I was reimbursed by my employer’s insurance company.  But I was out of work for several days before an alternate workspace location could be secured.  And then we had to recreate data based on outdated backups.  Not much fun.

And in speaking with Kathryn Doyle at the California Genealogical Society and Library, I asked if the society lost any materials during the Great Quake of 1906, and if so, how they dealt with getting back into an “up and running” mode, as it were.  “We lost our collection of 300 books (housed with the secretary of the society at the California Hotel which went up in smoke) in the 1906 earthquake and later advertised for donations across the country.  The Newberry sent several boxes that had belonged to the governor of Pennsylvania which they already owned.”

Kathryn also described how the society dealt with the loss of physical space in a city with a severe shortage of space: “The Fairmont Hotel, which was just weeks from opening on April 18, 1906, was totally gutted. The hotel opened a year later in 1907 after being totally re-done and we rented a space there.”

But there are many other events which a society or a person might encounter that could easily be characterized as disasters:

  • theft of a laptop, computer, USB memory stick or flash drive
  • loss of a research notebook at a library or on an airplane
  • a hard-drive failure
  • vandalism of books, photographs or other related items
  • database file corruption, etc.

The next post in this series will discuss the differences between a continuity plan for historical/genealogical societies and one for an individual pursuing genealogy research.  Stay tuned!