Category Archives: Tools

Archival Quality Writing

Software developers are constantly improving the apps we use to manage our documents and publications. These advances have given us many useful tools to make our efforts easier. However, there is still one major area of concern – how to manage our digital document archives. As word processing applications have come and gone, we are often left with documents we can no longer view. How many of us are stuck with old WordStar, WordPerfect and even Word documents? There is one format, however, that has survived since the very beginnings of the digital age – plain text. Unfortunately, plain text is exactly that – plain. There are no font choices and you can’t include even the simplest formatting functions like bold or italic text. Who wants to be stuck with that?

Fortunately, software developers have come up with an option that will allow us to have archival quality text files – and have them with style! It’s called Markdown.

Markdown is actually two things. First, it’s a standard that uses certain plain text characters – like asterisks, hashtags and hyphens – to represent format settings. Second, it’s a collection of conversion programs which read the plain text file with these formatting “codes” and convert them into other document formats like rich text, HTML, PDF or even Word.

Here is a sample plain text file with Markdown codes:

Plain text with Markdown code.

Plain text with Markdown code.


As you can see in this example, plain text with Markdown coding is still quite readable. It’s much easier to read than the same text with equivalent HTML tags. It’s the simplicity and readability of Markdown that make it so interesting. Forty years from now, even if Markdown gets forgotten over the decades, someone can open and read a plain text document that includes Markdown code much easier than we can read this WordPerfect document that’s less than 20 years old.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

No, you don’t have to dump your current apps, but now that you know what Markdown is you can start looking for apps that support it. One good example would be a journaling app and Mac/iOS users will find Day One [Mac - $9.99 & iOS - $4.99] saves your journal entries – and all your formatting – as Markdown text. Also for Mac/iOS users is Byword [Mac - $9.99 and iOS - $4.99], an elegantly simple text editor that supports both Markdown and rich text. The LightPaper [Android - $1.99] app is one of a number of text editors for Android tablets and phones providing Markdown support.

A number of note-taking apps for Mac are also getting updates to include Markdown support. VoodooPad 5 [Mac - $39.99 and iOS - $9.99] is a good example. And, because its native document format is Markdown, the app can easily convert your notes to rich text, Word, PDF, HTML and ePub formats. I found a free Windows app – MarkdownPad – which supports Markdown, and hopefully we’ll soon see more.

You may have noticed that many of the apps mentioned here are for mobile devices – phones and tablets. Mobile devices have limited memory and storage so the apps are more streamlined than their desktop cousins. Markdown editing screens takes a lot less code than traditional editors, making it a good choice for mobile apps. In addition, the screen-based keyboards can be a challenge for serious writing and formatting. Anything that can simplify the formatting process improves its usability.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This example shows what Markdown looks like while editing. As you can see the text is quite readable. Once the document is ready to publish, the program includes functions to save it in the format of your choice (rich text, HTML, PDF, etc.) – with the Markdown codes converted to the appropriate formatting. As technology moves forward, all that’s needed to update this app – or any of the older documents created using it – are new publishing functions to support converting to whatever new format has been developed.

Thanks to Markdown, the future of plain text looks quite bright. And, by supporting the efforts of developers who incorporate Markdown in their applications, we can help influence its acceptance and continued growth. Helping them will help us build an archival standard for digital documents that will insure the future of our research and publishing efforts doesn’t get left behind in the trash bin of old technology.

Working Smart: The Board Meeting

How often do your board meetings get highjacked by minutiae? Put Evernote to work and get most of those discussions out of the way before the meeting begins.

Why Evernote? First of all, it is an amazing tool for collecting and organizing information. It is so amazing that it has become one of the most popular support tools for genealogy research. As a result, many in the genealogy community are already using Evernote.

To get started, you will need a premium Evernote account set up for your society. A premium account will cost $45.00 a year, but will save everyone time, effort and grief. The account should be created using the society email address of the board member who will manage the account ( or, for example). Board members can then use their own personal Evernote account (basic or premium) to interact with the society account.

Using the society Evernote account, set up a notebook for board business and share it with each board member. Although any Evernote user can create shared notebooks, only a premium account can create a shared notebook where each invited user can create and edit notes.

Here are some ideas for using that board business notebook to streamline your meetings:

  • Post meeting minutes from the previous meeting in the notebook several days prior to the upcoming meeting for review and comments. Set a deadline for comments so that the final minutes can be posted prior to the meeting. Now, it will just take a few seconds during the meeting for the board to accept the minutes.
  • A smart phone with Evernote installed can even be used to record the meeting as an audio note. This could help the secretary compile the meeting minutes later. The premium account supports longer recording time than standard accounts.
  • Post a note requesting agenda items for the upcoming meeting – with a deadline. Use it to create and post the actual agenda several days before the meeting.
  • For complex items, have the responsible member post a report providing details, options, costs and concerns so the board members can come to the meeting already informed.
  • Use your society’s Evernote premium account to maintain a library of your important documents. Not only will this give your board members instant access to that information from just about anywhere, it also provides an off-site backup for those documents in case of a disaster.

These few ideas can make a big difference in how your society functions. But this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more Evernote can do to support your society’s operations.

Bylaws Workbook

From the book’s description:
Bylaws Workbook cover
This workbook is designed to help societies create successful bylaws that prevent confusion, dissension, and disagreement. Whether large or small, new or established, societies can use this guide in planning, drafting, and implementing bylaws that guarantee a smooth-running organization. Whether a society realizes it or not, the most important document for its members is the bylaws. It is the only document that tells the members how the society is supposed to function. The authors draw from their extensive experience in bylaws reviews and revisions to provide step-by-step guidance on all aspects of bylaws development, including detailed examples.

You’ll find a copy of Bylaws Workbook available at Amazon for $4.60 with free shipping for Prime customers.

Genealogy 101

A primary goal for every genealogical society is to help members with their research. That can be a real challenge. Scheduling speakers who demonstrate research techniques and resources is one way, and your society’s web site can become a very useful tool for your members. It can also help you attract new members.

Begin with a section on research resources. Include information on local libraries with genealogical sections, nearby Family History Centers and even historical societies. Although most of your members may be seasoned research veterans, potential members often have very little research experience and could use some basic training.

Take advantage of your site’s blog to keep members informed when online archives offer free access to specific collections, interesting webinars are scheduled or new versions of software are released. Not only does this help your members, it shows potential members your society is actively engaged in supporting its members.


Need some inspiration? Take a look at Genealogy 101 – a Tumblr blog that points to any number of how-to resources along with information on all kinds of archives, books and information sources.

The Society Calendar

How does your society keep up with all the meetings, seminars and other events that bring us all together? Even the smallest society has any number of events and deadlines to track. It can get quite complicated.

Or not.

Put Google Calendar to work in your society and not only will you find it provides a central location for all those events and deadlines, but you can present all or part of that calendar in any number of ways. Here are some of the things you can do with Google Calendar:

  • Maintain multiple calendars with different levels of access. For example, the meetings calendar is open to the public while the board’s calendar might only be visible to board members.
  • Issue invitations and track RSVPs. Using the invite feature, you can email an invitation an event from your Google Calendar to specific individuals. They respond by accepting or declining the event and your invitation entry lists those updates. In most cases, when an invitee accepts, they will also be prompted to include your event in their personal calendar.
  • Assign multiple managers to a calendar. When you share a calendar with specific individuals, you choose what rights they will have – including the right to edit the calendar. When the staff members generating events can post them directly to the calendar, it saves time and effort.
  • Subscribers can display a shared calendar within their personal calendar. When a calendar is shared, individuals with viewing rights to that calendar can subscribe to it using any iCal-compatible calendar app so these events become part of their personal calendar.
  • Display calendar information on your web site. WordPress has a number of plugins and shortcodes to allow you to display calendar items on your site. The GeneaEvent Calendar page displays a Google Calendar for upcoming webinars, hangouts and online meetings. Google provides an embed code that can be used on just about any web/blog platform.

To create a Google Calendar, you will first need to register for a free Google account. This should be a “society” account rather than a personal account. The reason for this is to make it easier to transfer the account when there are changes to the society’s board/staff. Using my fictional Moultrie Creek Historical Society as an example, I would first try for mchsevents as a Google ID. Then, should someone else in the society take over managing the calendar, all that’s necessary to make the transfer is a change of password.

Google Calendar Help

Once your account is set up, log in and take a look around the Calendar app. You’ll find the Help center in the Settings menu (click the gear icon). It offers step-by-step instructions for all the calendar’s features. First get comfortable adding and editing calendar items. Take a look at some of the events listed on the GeneaEvents page to see what kind of information they have included in their listings. Notice that many include links to external sites for more information.

Do you need more than one calendar – say one for general membership and another just for the board? No problem. You can create multiple calendars and assign different sharing levels to each. Speaking of sharing, not only can you share who sees a calendar, you can assign specific individuals with permission levels that will allow them to update calendar items.

Once you’ve got your public calendar up and full of events, you’re ready to push that content to your web site. Google Calendar supports the iCal standard which allows calendars to be shared with other people, apps and platforms that also support the iCal standard. For example, I can subscribe to a public Google calendar from the Calendar app on my Mac desktop and those events are displayed right along with my own appointments and events. As long as the application or platform supports the iCal standard, these functions work very well. has both a shortcode and a sidebar widget to display iCal-formatted events in posts, pages and/or the sidebar. All I need is the iCal link to that calendar which can be found by clicking the menu link next to your calendar’s name in the sidebar and choosing the Calendar Settings item.

GoogleCalendarShareOn that calendar setting page, you’ll also be able to customize and copy the code to present the calendar as an embed on your site. That is how the calendar has been presented on the GeneaEvents page.  The Support Center has complete instructions for embedding Google Calendars on your site. Self-Hosted WordPress users can choose from a number of plugins but in my experience embedding your calendar using the embed code discussed here performs best (quickest display and update times). Plus, it allows you to put the calendar on a post or a page – giving it much more viewing space than a sidebar widget provides.

It costs nothing to use Google Calendar and the benefits are many. You’ll find it both easy to use and a great timesaver. Your members will love it too!

Painless fund-raising

Genealogy bloggers discovered the joys of affiliate marketing years ago. None of us are getting rich, but the revenue generated by posting ads on our blogs or linking to specific products within an online storefront has helped support our genealogy and/or blogging habits. The really nice part about all of this is that while we get a small commission every time someone purchases something from a link posted on our blog, it doesn’t add anything to the purchaser’s cost.

For the genealogy society, affiliate marketing can be an effective fund-raising tool. Here’s how it works . . .

Find a retailer that offers an affiliate marketing program. You’ll be surprised how many there are. Amazon is one of the biggest, but there’s also Ancestry, eBay, Flip-Pal and many more. Look for their affiliate program and it will explain how the program works and what you must do to become an affiliate. Once your application has been accepted, you’ll be given access to the tools you’ll need to market their goods. For example, Amazon’s Associates Central web site is full of news about special promotions, code for banner ads you can add to your site and a toolbar that helps you build an affiliate link to just about any page or product found at Amazon.

Amazon Associates

One of the easiest things you can do is copy/paste the code for a banner ad offering a product, service or campaign on your society’s web site. Then anytime a visitor clicks that ad and makes a purchase at the online store, you’ll get a commission. In the case of Amazon, if a visitor follows your link to an Amazon project and purchases several things, you’ll get commission on all those items.

While Amazon is large enough to maintain their own affiliate marketing program, smaller companies use a service to manage their programs. In this instance you will need to apply with the service first. Once accepted by the service, you then have to apply to the individual companies separately. That effort is much simpler. After your applications have been accepted, you’ll be connected to their affiliate support center where you can choose ads and build affiliate links to post on your society’s site.

A surprising number of genealogy-related platforms have affiliate programs. does along with most of its partners. Other genealogy-related products and services also offer affiliate programs. Once your affiliate accounts are active, when you mention one of them on the society’s blog you link to that site using your affiliate link. Then, should a visitor follow that link and decide to purchase something, your commission is posted to your affiliate account.

Let your members know that these ads and links are supporting the society and encourage them to use them when making purchases. Remind them regularly that it doesn’t cost them anything extra and their purchases bring additional revenue into the society.

If you would like to learn more about affiliate marketing, there are a number of books available at Amazon.  And, yes, that is an affiliate link. Should you follow that link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission.