research


kindle

Usually I like to write new original blog posts, but I came across a great post on Susan Petersen’s “Long Lost Relatives” blog on how you might use your Kindle ebook reader to good genealogy use besides reading your favorite books. For example:

“The Kindle actually functions as a high capacity USB drive that can be connected to the USB port on your computer. Adobe PDF files are one of the many file formats that are compatible with the Kindle. That means that any file that can be converted to PDF can be transferred to your Kindle.”

It’s the kind of intersection of genealogy and technology that I like to write about, so take a peek at Susan’s blog for the full story.

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Your Past Homes Can Live On

If you work at family history research long enough you soon realize that there’s a lot more to it than just recording the plain facts of names, births, marriages and deaths. At some point we need to become more informed about the times in which these people lived — what their lives were really like — and one of the biggest things influencing our ancestors’ lives were the places in which they lived. So many of life’s events took place within the walls of the family home — good and bad — and we want to know not only where they resided, but what did the place look like then? What does it look like now? Does it even still exist? Understanding and cataloging our ancestral homes is critical since every day new development destroys the old to put up the new.

Now there are a few places on the Web where you can preserve and share the memories of these homes as they were. Three I’ve become aware of recently are History of Homes, That’s My Old House and Archiplanet.

History of Homes

http://www.historyofhomes.net/
Despite a rather dry sounding name, this one is actually my favorite of the group — very slick, yet approachable and seemingly (I haven’t signed up yet) easy to use. You can catalog the details and images of the places your ancestors lived and connect to a network of others doing the same thing. It’s like social networking with drywall and doorknobs. It’s like FindaGrave.com, only for houses!

That’s My Old House

http://thatsmyoldhouse.com/
This site sports a more interesting moniker, has lots to read about, and the ability to submit stories about your own ancestral homes. However, to some extent this works against the site with the home page feeling a bit jumbled. I was overwhelmed with everything going on there.

Archiplanet

http://www.archiplanet.org/wiki/Main_Page
If you’ve ever used Wikipedia, this one will be familiar to you, in fact it runs on the same software. You can search and view thousands of buildings and architecture firms around the world, so as a resource for learning about the history of architecture this site could be a great help. Maybe not so much for the humble abode of your forebear, though.

This is far from an exhaustive list and all three sites have their merits. For my money though (actually all three are free), History of Homes edges out the others for its community building tools that don’t rely on submitting information for someone else to post on your behalf. The gratification is instant and the site’s technology fades into the background letting you easily connect and share with others. To me that’s what the social media revolution is all about.

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Nearly everything these days is mobile and less and less people are using their mobile phones just for the mundane purpose of making voice calls (imagine!). So why not make the most of your mobile doo-dad and take care of some genealogy where ever you happen to be? Of course the iPhone and to a lesser degree its sibling the iPod Touch continue to be the rage, so I set out to see what kinds of applications (apps) are out there to make mobile genealogy possible.

iPhone Therefore I Am

Put that Apple device to use as a portable tool for researching your ancestors. There are actually plenty of genealogy applications for iPhone/iPod Touch and most are free or low cost from the iTunes Store:

Genealogy Apps

GEDCOM Viewers

Photo Sharing

  • FamCam share family photos with this app by Family Link.

Black Eye for the BlackBerry?

For those who love their Blackberry devices, sadly, I could not find any Blackberry applications specifically for genealogy, but one person on a message board claimed the Bolt Browser for smartphones could, among other webby things, access Ancestry.com family trees. Give it a try and keep your fingers crossed.

Are you An Android?

Next to iPhone users, users of phones with Google’s Android operating system have it a little better, genealogically speaking. A free program called AGeneDB is available, though it seems a bit rough around the edges in its “Alpha” development stage. For something more polished you might try Family Bee, which costs $10 and allows importing GEDCOM files. Its also been tested reliably with over 30,000 name databases.

Windows Mobile

If your mobile device is of the Windows Mobile variety, you might try My Roots. The program allows you to view and modify data and can import/export GEDCOM data. It even runs on some older Windows mobile systems such as any handheld running Microsoft® Pocket PC 2003, Windows Mobile™ 2003, Windows Mobile 5, or Windows Mobile 6 or later.

That’s pretty much the short list, though there are probably some I’ve missed. Most I have never tried personally, so use at your own risk and enjoy!

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As I sit and write this it is 11 pm on March 13. The rain is pouring and the wind is howling outside. A single candle flickers next to me on the table and all is silent. Yes, the power was knocked out by the storm. My MacBook battery gave out 3 hours ago and the Internet is kaput. No message board posting or Ancestry.com tonight, and with a few weeks until Apple’s iPad release, the only tablet computer I’ve got right now is the one powered by 50 sheets of 90% recycled post-consumer waste fibers and a pen. This is old tech.

But even though I’m a son of the digital age, temporarily forsaken by my gadgets and databases, all is not lost — I still have my family group sheets and pedigree charts, folders of printed records neatly arranged in manila folders and labeled by surname. Even by candlelight the search for the past can continue tonight. So it is time to sign off — literally — and flip through my notebooks for leads. Time for some genealogy “old school” — at least until the power comes back. So my advice to digital natives and novices alike: make sure you have your stuff printed out for a rainy day (or night)!

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The New York Times ran an article this morning on how two research teams have independently decoded the entire genome of patients to find the exact genetic cause of their diseases. Despite the full human genome being sequenced a decade ago in the $10 Billion Human Genome Project, this is apparently the first time the genome for a sick patient has been recorded — and all for the “reasonable” cost of $50,000.

A new, more cost-effective process is planned to capture the genetic blueprint of 100 sick patients next year, is great news for those with rare genetic diseases and may help researchers understand more common ones like cancer but what does it mean for genealogy? Well the company using the new method, Complete Genomics in Mountainview, CA is expected to be able to do it for $25,000 each and is scaling up to be able to get the price down to $10,000 soon. The company’s chief exec Richard Reid even said “We are on our way to the $5,000 genome.” Five-thousand dollars is no chump change, but begins to be within reach for a lot more family historians who would like to look at their ancestral DNA in the way shown recently on the PBS program “Faces of America” with Henry Louis Gates. Using a full sequencing of his father’s genome and his own, geneticists (from 23andMe*) were able to “subtract” one from the other and show Dr. Gates the genes he inherited only from his mother. Very exciting stuff indeed!

Notes & Sources:
*Note: 23andMe does not seem to offer full genome sequencing but rather mDNA, yDNA and sequencing of 600,000 gene positions, apparently enough for the analysis shown in Faces of America

Nicholas Wade. “Disease Cause is Pinpointed with Genome.” New York Times. March 10, 2010
Image “Human Genome” via Wikimedia Commons. Revised from “Human Genome to Genes” by Webridge 3 August 2007 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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008-ephIf you do genealogical research long enough, its easy to fall into a rut of using the same research resources. Maybe it’s time to make a (slightly late) New Year’s resolution to try some new ones. To that end, here’s a resource you might not have considered: photo sharing site Flickr.com. Flickr (owned by Yahoo!) is one of the most popular and, in my opinion, powerful photo sharing sites out there. With lots of tools for describing, taging and sharing photos its a great place for the genealogically-minded to store their scanned family photos (privacy options are available). I recently moved my entire family photo library from Shutterfly.com over to Flickr.

But beyond just hosting your photos, Flickr has a Groups feature that lets you subscribe to any number of special interest image-related groups. I searched in groups with the tag/keyword “genealogy” and a huge number of Flickr Groups came up. Their focus runs the gamut from cemetery photography to general genealogical interest and even to scanned newspaper clippings. I found some devoted to images on surnames I’m researching (will investigate those eventually to see if there is a connection).

To get you started, here are a few Flickr Groups I checked out and subscribed to myself:

General Genealogy

Cemetery

Photography

Newspapers

And of course I created my own set of public images to share:

Enjoy!

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