Category Archives: Projects

Online Archives: Original Digitals

Every time I’ve joined a genealogy society, I’m asked to fill out some kind of pedigree chart. I’m given or sent paper forms to fill out and return. As the society’s collection grows, its value grows too. There are a few problems though. Not everyone has the best penmanship so some of these forms can be a challenge to decipher. And, the filing/retrieving process can be a challenge too.

Today, almost everyone is using some kind of research management system – either a desktop genealogy program or one of the online family tree platforms. All of them offer some kind of charting/reporting capability. Why not take advantage of them to ask your members to give you that pedigree chart as a digital file instead of a sheet of paper?

Online Archive: Start With Flickr

Why Flickr? Let me count the reasons . . .

  • Flickr accounts are free and provide 1,000GB of storage for each user.
  • Flickr provides tools to organize photos into albums and collections.
  • Flickr imports the metadata embedded in digital photographs and provides tools to add your own tags, descriptions, etc.
  • Flickr users control access to their photos. Users choose licensing and privacy settings on a photo-by-photo basis.
  • Uploading is a breeze. The browser-based uploader is easy to use and many photo-editing apps have Flickr bulk upload capabilities built in. There are also mobile apps which allow you to take photos and upload them in a couple of easy steps.
  • Flickr is social. Users can comment on photos and there is an in-house messaging system for members. Users can join groups and share selected photos with the group without giving up control of them. Groups also have discussion boards which can also be put to good use.
  • Flickr users can use their Roku box, Apple TV or other set-top devices to display photo slideshows on their large-screen televisions.
  • Flickr integrates with a number of other services and platforms giving users even more functionality.

First and foremost, Flickr provides your society members with an easy to use and very affordable (as in free) platform for secure off-site storage. It protects their photos from man-made and natural disasters. That’s the priority, but that’s just the beginning. With support and guidance, your members can use their Flickr collections to help their research efforts and even connect with distant relatives.

Start by building a Flickr account for your society. If you are wondering what kind of society photos are going to be stored at Flickr, the answer is probably not many. Although societies do have photo collections, most of our archives are more document-oriented. So why start with Flickr first? It’s because our members have large photo collections. Focusing on Flickr will show them how to get their own accounts set up and learn how to upload and organize their collections using their current photos (which are quite probably already digital pics). Allowing them to discover that off-site storage has a lot more to offer than just security will make things easier when it comes time to tackle scanning.

Getting Started

First, you will need someone to serve as your digital archivist. This person should have experience using social networks – Flickr experience is a definite plus. If you already have a “groupmaster” – an individual maintaining and monitoring your society’s social networks – he/she could be the perfect choice. Another option could be your communications/publicity director. If that’s the person taking all the photographs of society events, it makes good sense. Check to see if you have members who are already using Flickr and recruit them to serve as coaches and cheerleaders.

Start by creating a Flickr account for the society and use it to upload and organize society photos. Since Flickr is a Yahoo property, you will need a Yahoo account first. Try to include your society’s name in the user name you select. For example, the fictitious Moultrie Creek Genealogical Society could become MCGSarchive or something similar. Be aware that account will also generate an email account with the same username. By keeping the account as a position rather than a person, you make transferring control to another administrator much easier. All the new person will need to do is change the password and update the profile information.

Internet Archive profile screen

Internet Archive profile page in Flickr Commons.

Once your account is created, wander around a bit and see how others are using Flickr. You might start at The Commons, a section where archives, libraries and museums from around the world have made images from their collections available. Internet Archive is the newest addition to the Commons with more than 2 million images from books. Above you see Internet Archive’s profile page. Wander around their collections to see how they are organized and what metadata (titles, descriptions, tags, etc.) they have included. Visit some of the other archives and libraries to see how they organize and display their collections. These can be very useful to help you develop organizational and metadata schemes for your collections.

Take a look at Flickr’s social features too. This is where Flickr shines – and these features will allow the society and your members to enjoy the fruits of your collective archival efforts. Once the society’s site is up and running, look around to see if any of your members are already using Flickr. Make connections by friending them.

In addition to uploading society photos, you can take advantage of Flickr’s Groups and Galleries features to begin building resources that can help your members. Galleries are albums of other people’s photos. Anyone can create a gallery and collect up to 50 photos from all over Flickr to present. Any photo marked as public and safe can be added to a gallery. You might create a gallery of local historic buildings or historic figures. The Commons is a great place to start looking.

Groups are more structured. Anyone can create a group. Groups can be public or private, by invitation only. Members of a group can share photos with the group and there is also a discussion area. You’ll find groups already exist for just about every topic you can imagine. Genealogy societies should find the cemetery groups interesting along with local area and historic photo groups.

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The beauty of groups is it allows individuals to share their photos without giving away their rights to them. Your society can use them to build topic-based groups so members to share their related images. Groups can also support events like conferences, reunions and socials where many attendees are taking pictures. Just have them share their pics to the group. External groups – like the Civil War graves shown above – can also be great research resources allowing members to connect with people who have knowledge of an area, event or topic.

As you can see, Flickr offers a lot more than free off-site storage. It will take some time and effort to develop a strategy and build your society’s presence, but that effort will be returned with dividends in the protection, research and collaboration opportunities you and your members will enjoy.

Build an Online Archive

Even the smallest society has an archive. From quarterly journals to member-contributed pedigree charts, we all have records, photographs and publications that are unique to our society. What are you doing to protect this precious information and make it available to researchers?

Have you considered building an online digital archive? Even if your society has its own library or maintains a collection at a local public library, that collection is irreplaceable should a disaster strike. By scanning and storing your collection online, you are not only protecting your society against loss but you can also use this digital archive to give your members easy access to that information. And, using the equipment and skills developed by digitizing the society’s collection, you can then offer a scanning service to your members that will help generate revenue for the society. Who knows . . . it might even generate some personal records donations.

The cost of online storage has dropped dramatically. Right now Dropbox offers 1 terabyte of storage for $99 a year ( that 1,000 GB or approximately 560,000 high-resolution digital photographs). There is also a free account offering 2 GB of storage. Flickr, the online photo-sharing platform, also offers each member 1 terabyte and it’s free. These platforms and others support multiple levels of access, organizational tools and other features making it easy to post and manage your digital content.

Storage is just one part of the equation. Scanners will be needed to scan and save these documents and photos so they can be stored online. In addition, the society will need to develop standards, workflows and procedures as well as train personnel to do the work.

This is the first in a series of articles that will describe the resources you will need to tackle a project such as this. We’ll look at all how to develop those standards, workflows and procedures along with other related issues. I hope that throughout the series, those of you who have already done this will add your comments and recommendations.

Stay tuned . . . there’s lots more to come.

How to Build a Virtual Research Library

One of the most exciting technologies to impact our research efforts is digitization – especially digitizing books. Every day, more books are digitized and posted online for anyone to read and/or download. Although books still protected by copyright have limited access, there are millions of books in the public domain that are freely available. How do these “old” books help us as a society? They give us the ability to build an impressive library of local histories and other historical publications that can support our members’ research efforts. Here are a few examples:

  • Military history. After the Civil War, many units – Union and Confederate – published histories of their regiments. These included descriptions of their campaigns along with personnel rosters and other useful information.
  • Journals. It wasn’t just noted naturalists like William Bartram, John James Audubon or John Muir who documented their work.
  • Tour guides. Magazines from the 19th century are full of articles describing all kinds of destinations. Find one of your area and you’ve got a snapshot in time.
  • Family history. You’ll be amazed at the number of genealogies that have been published.
  • Periodicals go back more than 150 years with publications like The Atlantic Monthly (still published as The Atlantic), Harper’s Weekly, Niles’ Weekly Register and more. Topics include news, travel, politics and more.

So, how does your society take advantage of all this research goodness? You build a resource page – or two or three – linking to the digital publications that relate to your area and/or your members research interests. Building the resource page is the easy part. Finding specific resources can be a challenge. We’ll start with Internet Archive. It costs nothing to use and contains collections of text, music, video, audio and software files from a growing number of partners including the Library of Congress, Boston Public Library, the University of Edinburgh, Library and Archives Canada and Project Gutenberg. Sure, you could just point your members in the direction of Internet Archive, but their eyes would probably glaze over just at the magnitude of stuff to be found here. Do some searching on your own to find what local resources you can discover and begin building your resource page. I did a search for “Florida history” in the American Libraries section and got 823 results. One of them was the Volusia County marriage licenses from 1856 to 1889 which you see below. Text items are available in a number of formats including PDF, ePub and Kindle along with the embeddable online reader you see here.

Resources101 How do you document links like this on your site? The easiest way is to use blog posts. If you’re using WordPress, start by creating a post category called Resources. Set categories panel Now you can create a post for the found publication that includes its title, source information, description and other pertinent information. Assign the post to the Resources category and add appropriate tags. Publish the post. Next, create a menu just for your library items.  You can use the menu’s ability to search for a specific tag or category to organize your collected page example In this example, I’m using the basic link option to create a menu item listing every post tagged with “Florida” and “history”. I’ve also created tag-based menu items for Florida Guides, Memoirs & Journals, and Records. Since I anticipate adding Georgia publications at some point, I’ve got these items listed as sub-menu items under Florida. Later I can add a Georgia menu item with appropriate sub-menu items under it too.

Notice that I’ve created Historical Publications as a separate menu. Large menus can become very difficult to manage and my archive section is steadily growing. I’m giving the various sections of my archive (library catalog, cemetery inventories, publications, etc.) their own page and using the Widgets on Pages plugin to display the appropriate menu for that category. Here’s what Historical Publications looks like so far. archive category page Although users can’t use plugins, you can take advantage of the visibility feature in the Custom Menu widget to just display that widget in the sidebar on the Historical Publications page. The theme on my site has the main menu across the top of screen so the sidebar has plenty of room to display custom menus.

If you are using the WordPress email subscription feature, each new resource post will be forwarded to subscribers. I take advantage of the posts scheduling feature to spread out the amount of emails getting sent. You could also take advantage of your site’s commenting feature to encourage members to discuss the various publications included as resources.

By blogging found resources, not only are you making your society’s site a valuable research support system, you are also showing members and potential members that your society offers them much more than just monthly meetings.

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.

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.

The Flickr Archive

Finally, personal archives are getting the attention they deserve! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the commercial archives and a number of other institutions are busy trying to take advantage of the growing number of personal collections being digitized. After looking at a few of their terms of service, I have concerns about posting anything on their sites.

This is a area where local societies can shine. Our members are looking for help in organizing, managing and protecting their family treasures. We can do this! And, we can do this without taking control of their rights to their collections.

That’s where Flickr comes in. Flickr is an online photo-sharing platform owned by Yahoo! It just celebrated its 10th anniversary so it is well established. It is also home to The Commons – a place where public institutions from around the world are displaying some of their collections. Flickr is free to use and offers each user a 1TB storage limit for photos, images and video. This equates to more than 560,000 high-resolution photos. That alone makes Flickr a great option as an off-site backup storage location. But there’s more!

  • Flickr does not reduce the size or resolution of images uploaded to the service.
  • Metadata like geotags and camera information are also maintained.
  • Flickr users control the privacy settings for each image – making them private, public or visible only to selected users.
  • Each image has it’s own “photo page” and has facilities for adding titles, descriptions and additional metadata. Depending on the privacy settings, other users can add their own comments too.
  • There are a number of editing and organizational tools available to Flickr users as well as desktop and mobile apps to facilitate uploading images – even bulk uploads.
  • Users set the licensing policy for their images which will determine what – if any – sharing options will be available for that image.
  • There is an internal messaging system so Flickr users can communicate with each other.
  • The descriptions and metadata make Flickr a very search-friendly platform.
  • There are a number of social features available within the Flickr platform.

Using one of those social features – Groups – your society can both support your members and benefit from their archival effort without forcing them to give up any of their rights to their collections.

Flickr’s group feature offers users an easy way to share their photos without giving up control. A user joins a group and then adds one or more photos to the group. You will find thousands of groups on Flickr, ranging from locations to topics and all kinds of things in between. Flickr offers three kinds of groups: public, anyone can join; public, by invitation only; and private. Once a member of a group, adding photos is as simple as clicking the Add to a Group command from the More actions menu on a photo page. The privacy settings of the photo will impact its view in a group. For example, a photo set as private will only be visible to its owner and members of the group where it is shared.

By encouraging members to take advantage of Flickr’s off-site storage, societies can use groups to help them share selected images in a controlled environment without giving up any rights to their collection. The society builds and administers groups allowing members to spotlight and share. These groups can be part of the society’s “permanent” collection or you can schedule special “exhibits” focused on a specific topic. Groups can be used to help members gain additional knowledge about their old photos by inviting the Flickr community to add comments to a selected group of photos. The Library of Congress has done this on Flickr with great success.

How does this serve the society and its membership?

  • It generates interest in digital preservation.
  • It demonstrates the value of personal archives.
  • It provides access to personal archives with minimal cost and effort.
  • It adds value to society membership.

The features available on Flickr make it easy for a society to add focus to the importance of personal archives, offer members support in their digitization, organization and management efforts and help them share the results of their efforts. Why wouldn’t you be interested?