Category Archives: Projects

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.

CemeteryBlog2

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?

The Future of Family History

During RootsTech 2013 there was lots of talk about the future of genealogy. Most of it 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. Continue reading