Category Archives: Projects

Turn Tumblr Into A Virtual Special Interest Group

Genealogy today is more than ancestral charts and family group sheets – much more. Today’s researcher needs to know how to craft the perfect search query, develop naming conventions for digital files and import a GEDCOM. And that’s just the beginning.

The online age has allowed us to connect with researchers in every corner of the world. Publishing is easy and affordable. Our computers can do much of the organizational grunt work for us. We just need to learn how all these things work.

That’s where special interest groups come in. They aren’t new, but taking them virtual is. Why bother? Because they are a whole lot less bother than trying to organize and manage a physical group. That’s one reason. Another is that distant members can participate in virtual groups just as easily as local members. There are no rooms to reserve or travel time. In fact, virtual special interest groups can operate 24/7!

Sample Tumblr

Tumblr is a free blog platform that’s also quite easy to use. It has been designed to make it easy for bloggers to share content they find from all over the web. By combining Tumblr with the Disqus commenting system, you have an almost instant social network. The beauty of it is that it’s always open and people can participate when they want, from wherever they are. Here’s how it works.

Tumblr Tag Cloud

This is a screen shot of the Genealogy 101 Tumblr that supports my local study group. You are looking at one of the static pages on this site – the tag cloud. It serves as an index to the articles posted on this site. Each article has a number of keywords – called tags – attached to it to describe the topics discussed. The tag cloud collects all those keywords and presents them here in alphabetical order. The larger the tag is in this list, the more articles there are associated with this topic. To view all the articles associated with a tag, all you have to do is click on it.

Tumblr Conversation

Here you see a Tumblr post and the conversation getting started based on the topic of this post. The Disqus commenting platform operates across a number of blog sites and platforms. This means readers only need one Disqus account to comment at a growing number of sites. And, their Disqus profile page keeps track of all their conversations in one place, making it easy to keep up and respond.

Group participants should be encouraged to subscribe to the group site via their newsreader so new postings will be delivered to their desktop. If you aren’t familiar with newsreaders and their use in genealogy research, stop by the Genealogy Toolbox Tumblr to learn more. When a topic appears that interests them, they can easily follow it back to the original site and add their own comments and experiences using Disqus. And, if your society develops more than one virtual SIG, Disqus makes it easy to keep up with all those conversations.

To get started, you first need to get comfortable with Tumblr. It’s free to use and you can have a blog up and running in a matter of minutes. Blog Platforms – Tumblr offers a quick video overview and links to a very useful (and short) guide to using Tumblr.

You are also welcome to take advantage of several existing special interest groups. They are open to all.

  • Genealogy 10 introduces beginning researchers to techniques and resources
  • Genealogy Toolbox discusses the digital tools needed for online research
  • Personal Publishing looks at digital storytelling with ideas, apps and platforms to help tell your family’s story
  • The Personal Archivist offers tips, resources and ideas for organizing, managing and digitizing family treasures

Take a look, try some experiments on your own and see if Tumblr and Disqus work for you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Society Evernote: Policy and Procedures Manual

My society’s policy and procedures are maintained in a three-ring binder. Each board member and staff position gets one. I’m estimating that they cost approximately $120 to produce.

This could explain why the policy and procedures manual hasn’t been updated in years.

Unfortunately, reality (and technology) have changed significantly and many of those policies and procedures are now useless. When viewed in the sense of updating the existing manual, the update would be a significant effort. Fortunately, there’s a better, cheaper and easier way.

Move the policies and procedures to Evernote.

At the time the existing manual was created, membership applications were paper forms included in each quarterly journal. The applicant completed the form, attached a check and sent it to the society. The form requested name, address and phone number, but there was no mention of an email address or social network connections. Today there’s both an online application and a downloadable form in addition to the – updated – one in the quarterly. Thanks to PayPal, there are also more payment options. The society now has an email mailing list along with the address and phone lists. A lot has changed, but the workflow for handling applications has not.

Why waste the time and effort of forming a committee, researching and writing the entire manual? Instead, create an Evernote notebook for Policies and Procedures and turn loose the people who are doing these jobs to develop the procedures themselves. Give everyone involved access and use Evernote’s WorkChat feature to discuss options, recommendations and updates. With WorkChat, the entire conversation is visible to all.

Evernote offers a number of advantages. Because each note is easily edited, procedures can be quickly updated when new technology or environmental changes make it necessary. And, with more “eyes” on each workflow, you may well discover even more efficient or economical ways of doing something. Each note has its own history showing who edited it and when.

Another advantage is that an Evernote notebook (on a tablet or smart phone) is a whole lot lighter than a paper notebook and can go with you anywhere. If you still have board members who don’t own a mobile device, they can print copies of the notes from their desktop.

Your society’s board and staff can have easy access to the information they need whenever and wherever they are at a fraction of the cost and effort of a paper manual. It’s definitely worth a look!

The Future of Family History

Sometime back I sat in on a panel discussion of the future of genealogy. Most of the discussion revolved around technical advances and digital content being added at the large database sites. I was surprised that little was said about the impact of personal archives. While the large databases are a treasure trove of vital records, probate records, immigration records and such, personal archives are where the letters, journals, photographs, portraits and artifacts reside that add life and personality to our ancestors. I don’t know about you, but these items are the life blood of my research and storytelling efforts.

My family has been knocking around an idea to photograph many of the family heirlooms to create a book that would allow each of us to “share the heritage”. In researching what it would take to pull such a project together, I realized this could easily become a massive effort. In addition to lighting and photography equipment, wouldn’t it also be wonderful to have conservators and appraisers available to offer expert advice? Wonderful? Yes! Affordable? Not so much.

It was at that point that it dawned on me this would be a perfect project for a local historical or genealogical society. Societies have the expertise and connections for both digitizing and documenting family heirlooms. Putting on such an event could also give them access to personal archives which would expand their knowledge base. And, they could ask for digital copies with appropriate releases as a part of the digitizing/documentation service. Then, there’s also the possibility for negotiating loans of artwork and other artifacts for special exhibits in local museums. Individuals get digital copies of their artifacts along with conservation tips and some idea of their history. And, hopefully, everyone has some fun in the process.

Our mobile society means a small local genealogy society needs the support of distant members to survive and prosper. This is increasingly difficult when their record collections are only available in print format. Projects to digitize both the society’s collection and their members’ personal archives can go a long way to attract new members and create a vibrant community where both local and distant members can actively participate.

And, by attracting more people to the joys of genealogy, they will help the commercial side of our community too.

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.