tips


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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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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Genealogy research has changed dramatically in the last 16 or so years since the Web was born: we’re now able to search more records from our home computers, create electronic trees and post them to web sites, scan and post old photos to share with family members and more. But this has come at a price. Instead of our work becoming more durable, our increasing reliance on digitized documents has made everything more ephemeral than ever. This was never more clear to me than when I came back from a vacation last summer after working on some family history research. As I prepared to boot up my laptop to back everything up, nothing happened. After a week of attempting to wrest my data from a damaged hard drive I was forced to give it all up for lost and had to restore everything from a two-week-old backup. If it hasn’t happened to you yet you might be tempted to think “not me” but here are a few sobering statistics:

  • Computer hard drives are rated for 3-5 years MTBF (that’s Mean Time Before Failure). Unless you’re buying a new computer every 2-3 years and barring any rough treatment, sooner or later your drive WILL fail.
  • 6% of all PCs will suffer an episode of data loss in any given year. Given the number of PCs used in US businesses in 1998, that translates to approximately 4.6 million data loss episodes. The number is probably even higher today. [1]
  • 31% of PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control (fire, flood, lightning, etc.) [2]
  • Simple drive recovery can cost upwards of $7,500 and success is not guaranteed.[2]

But you can take measures to protect your precious research. USB Flash Memory “thumb drives” are easy and portable, but impractical for large amounts of files. For relatively recent computers with a CD or DVD drive that can write (“burn”) as well as read disks, regularly writing a backup disk of your precious files is a must. This method is great for having an instant snapshot of your data that you can easily restore or move to another computer, but it can become tiresome.

I tried to stick to a schedule of backing things up every 2 weeks, or when I made a major addition to my genealogy files. In the case of my post-vacation disaster, it turned out that two weeks was not frequent enough — I lost everything I did while on vacation! It can also become an issue of space. Making backups on standard “write-once” optical disks like CD-R or DVD-R is relatively cheap, but even if you only fill one CD or DVD each time and back up once a week, where are you going to put 52 disks after a year? Or 104 disks after 2 years? My needs require at least 3 DVDs per complete backup cycle — 156 DVDs per year!!

Instead, I chose to use rewriteable optical disks. I now rotate between 2 backup sets with these DVD rewriteables: each time I back up I overwrite the oldest set and this ensures that if something happens to the most recent backup, I at least have another no more than 2 weeks old. It also puts less “wear and tear” on the rewriteable media since these do have a limited number of rewrites before they will need to be replaced.

So CD/DVDs are a good, solid backup plan, even if a little cumbersome depending on how often you back up and how large your file storage needs are. After my computer crash, and wanting something to supplement my disk media backups, to be a little more frequent, and less work for me, I began to ask myself “what else is there?” It turns out there are a surprising number of online services (both free and for a monthly fee) that will remotely back up your computer for you. Leave your computer on, log into the service with a password and it will back up the files you designate via your Internet connection. The beauty of this is the potential for much more frequent incremental backups which you can restore to any computer wherever you can access the Internet. Here’s a sampling of some of the major online backup services out there:

iBackup www.ibackup.com 5 GB, 15-day free trial
Mozy www.mozy.com 2 GB FREE, subscription plans for more capacity available
iDrive www.idrive.com 2 GB FREE, subscription plans for more capacity available

Check out this PC Magazine review of various services: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2288745,00.asp or just Google “online backup” and you’ll see lots of options.

After some research and assessment of my storage needs, not the least of which was the desire for a 100% FREE solution, I settled on iDrive. It supports both Macintosh and PCs and provides handy software for connecting to the service and restoring your files should you need to. You can also easily set up automatic backups on a schedule. And best of all if you refer 10 of your friends to iDrive, they will bump up your free storage allotment from 2 Gigabytes to 12 Gigabytes. (Note: Your friends don’t need to join, you just enter their email addresses and iDrive sends them an invitation.) Once you use up your storage allotment either purchase more storage space or erase the online backup completely and start fresh. It is a good idea to permanently back up files that never change to CD/DVD and only use the online backup for files that change regularly.

If you share files with others regularly another service I’ve become fond of is DropBox. For free you can get 2 GB of live storage that behaves like another drive on your computer. Once installed, drop files into the Dropbox folder and it also copies them to the Dropbox server where they are backed up. You can also designate a shared folder and invite others to access it, creating a virtual shared hard drive you can access in real time. Very handy.

Ultimately you must decide for yourself how often and by what methods you back up those precious genealogy files, but for me maintaining a 1-2 week CD/DVD backup cycle along with a remote backup service every other night in case I slack off on the CD backups or they become damaged seemed about right. If none of this sounds workable for you however, there’s always the original low-tech backup method: paper. Just start saving up for that climate controlled, fireproof warehouse!

Sources:
[1] “The Cost Of Lost Data,” David M. Smith. Graziadio School of Business & Management, Pepperdine University. Accessed 3/29/2010.
[2] “Data Loss Statistics.” Boston Computing Network. Accessed 3/29/2010

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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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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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