Category Archives: Projects

Joys of Geneablogging

This week I’m celebrating 11 years of blogging. Blogging has changed a lot over the years, but one thing hasn’t changed – the ability to make connections. Thanks to blogging I’ve met a number of cousins who also share a passion for genealogy. Many of them have generously shared their research. I also have personal relationships with experts in all areas of genealogical research who are always ready with a helping hand. And I can walk into a genealogy conference just about anywhere and be surrounded by old friends – even if I’m seeing them for the first time.

Blogging is easy and affordable – many blog platforms are free. Two things make them effective cousin-bait. First, they are very search-friendly. Search engines can find even the most obscure blog post, especially if they include tags (keywords) for surnames, events and locations related to the story. Second, just about every blog platform includes a commenting system allowing readers to leave notes. Comments are often where connections are made.

From a society perspective, encouraging members to become bloggers also builds an online community for your membership. The combination of writing, reading and commenting helps build relationships and expands your research support system beyond your monthly meetings – even beyond your local area since your distant members can easily participate.

The problem with the commenting systems built into blogs is that each is different. Because comments are also spam magnets, most bloggers require commenters to log in before posting a comment. This can be a frustrating experience and can discourage commenters. However, there’s a new commenting system called Disqus that can solve many of these issues and provide a platform that both bloggers and commenters can enjoy.

Disqus comments on Tumblr.

Disqus comments on a Tumblr blog.

Here you see Disqus comments on a Tumblr blog. Tumblr doesn’t have its own commenting system so Disqus makes this delightful blog platform even more fun. As you see here, comments can quickly become conversations. Not only that, but Disqus supports rich media as well as text. You can include an image, video, Soundcloud audio and even tweets in your comments.

Comment with image

A Disqus comment with included image.

It gets better! Disqus commenters have their own profile at the Disqus site and can view, reply and manage conversations at multiple blogs from one location. Disqus will even notify you when your comments generate replies or others join a conversation. You don’t have to wander from blog to blog to see if anyone has added a comment. It’s all collected and delivered to you. You can even follow other Disqus users if you wish.

Disqus user profile

A Disqus user profile

The combination of a Tumblr blog connected to Disqus gives your members a mini social network where they can document their research, share family photos and stories and connect with others for support. The primary advantage of these platforms over social networks is that the user enjoys more control and has fewer distractions.

How can your society benefit from all of this? First of all, you are helping your members take advantage of the many benefits of geneablogging. You are also building a network of bloggers who can help you get the word out about your society and upcoming events while demonstrating that you have an active and involved membership.

Coming soon – a society guide to geneablogging with Tumblr and Disqus.

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.

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 publications.menu 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 WordPress.com 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.