Success! Finding Home Movies on YouTube

This genealogy researcher searched for home movies on YouTube after hearing Lisa Louise Cooke talk about the kinds of footage you can find for your family history. Check out this eye-popping discovery of a video showing her daredevil great-uncle in action…at age 82!

Awhile back, I gave a seminar at the Houston Genealogy Forum. I covered one of my favorite topics: how to find old home movies on YouTube that may feature your family’s history or even include a family member. Over the years of teaching this topic, some genealogists have responded with open skepticism to the idea–that is of course until they try it. Well, a woman named Carolyn attended that seminar and later kindly wrote me and said how much she enjoyed it. She explained how she applied what she learned with fantastic results.

I’m not surprised that she had such success. Just think of all the old film footage that people have shot over the years at parades, festivals, grand openings, school concerts or plays, races, sporting events, parties, graduations, weddings, company picnics and more. Thousands of hours of old films like these have been digitized and uploaded to YouTube! 

Here’s Carolyn’s story:

“Today I decided to try YouTube, which I have never gone to before. The first thing I put in was my Great Uncle Will Ivy Baldwin, the tightrope walker. Immediately I found a video of him walking the high wire across a canyon in Colorado at age 82 in 1948! I actually saw him perform this dare devil feat! I am still filled with the thrill of it!”

Carolyn finished by saying, “Thank you so much for all we learned from you. The only problem is that I am going to have to live to be 200 to take advantage of everything you pointed out to us. I will tell all of my friends and other societies about your wonderful speech and hope to see you again.”

Can you believe how her great-uncle walked a tightrope on his 82nd birthday with no net and no harness? Incredible! Carolyn’s got some great genes to perform fantastic feats, which we hope includes more amazing family history discoveries.

While you’re on YouTube anyway searching for old home movies, why not check out the free family history video tutorials on the Genealogy Gems You Tube channel? Click the red Subscribe button while you’re there so you won’t miss a single new genealogy video we publish. 

How-to: Finding old home movies on YouTube

Are you curious and ready to find old home movies on YouTube? Click here to read my 4 terrific tips to get you started.

For the ultimate guide to searching the hundreds of thousands–possibly millions–of old film footage clips on YouTube, consider reading my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. This book has an entire chapter devoted to searching YouTube (which is owned by Google), with examples, screenshots and step-by-step instructions. It may help you discover some family history video treasures of your own on YouTube!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Vintage NYC Street Views on Google Earth

You can now see New York City street views from the late 1800s and early 1900s as Google Earth street views. Take a virtual visit to the Big Apple as it was 100 years ago! Or travel back even further in time to an 1836 map of NYC conveniently overlaid on a modern Google Earth view. These are just two of the many ways to use Google Earth for genealogy—and for fun.

Vintage New York City Street Views on Google Earth

Over 80,000 original photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s have been mapped into Google Earth to provide what’s essentially a Google Street View map of old New York City! The site is called OldNYC, and it’s free.

As you can see from this overview map, the old photos are concentrated in the areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Lower and Upper Manhattan. Dots represents historic photos that have been overlaid on Google Earth’s modern map (satellite view is also available).

You can zoom in to click on individual dots, which will bring up one or more individual photos of certain neighborhoods or street fronts:

Select the photos that match up best with your family history interests, such as a shot of your family’s old store front or apartment building. Or choose images that represent the time period in which your relatives lived in the area, so you can get a flavor of what their neighborhood would have looked like. (Click here for some ideas about where to look for your family’s exact address during the late 1800s or early 1900s.)

These photos all come from the New York Public Library’s Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s collection, which is also free to view online. According to this article at BusinessInsider.com, a developer Dan Vanderkam worked with the New York Public Library to plot all the photos onto Google Earth. (A hat-tip to Genealogy Gems listener and reader Jennifer, who sent me this article because she knows how much I love old maps and data visualization!)

Another old NYC street view: 1836 map

While we’re on the subject, I also want to mention another cool tool for visualizing old NYC street views. At the Smithsonian.com, there’s a cool historic map overlay of an 1836 New York City map in Google Earth. Use the scrolling and zooming tools to explore the parts of NYC that were already settled–and to compare them to what’s there today. (You can also swap views to see the 1836 map with just a little round window of the modern streets.)

The accompanying article quotes famous map collector David Rumsey about the 1836 map, which is his. He describes how you can see that much of the topography of Manhattan has changed over the years—did you know Manhattan used to be hilly? And I love how he calls out artistic features on the old map, too.

Unfortunately, the old map doesn’t show much in the way of residents’ property lines or buildings. But you can clearly see the street layouts and where the parks and hills were. Comparing these areas with Google Earth’s street view today can help you better understand what things looked like in a much older version of one of the world’s great cities.

Use Google Earth for your genealogy

There are so many ways to use Google Earth for genealogy! My free video class will get you started. After a quick tutorial on downloading and navigating Google Earth, see how to utilize its powerful tools to identify an old family photo, map out addresses that may have changed and even plot an old ancestral homestead. Click here to enjoy this free video!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Passport Applications for Genealogy: A Birth Mom’s Life

Using passport applications in genealogy can lead to family history discoveries! See how this intrepid researcher tracked down passport applications that weren’t online. And then see what he learned about the life of a birth mother after she gave up her child in the 1920s.

A longtime Genealogy Gems Podcast listener named Tom wrote in a while back, asking about finding U.S. passport applications for the 1930s. He was trying to learn more about the life of his wife’s biological grandmother. What happened after she surrendered her child? Tom could tell from other sources that she traveled the world. But big databases of passport applications online only go through 1925. He wanted to find any passport applications she filed in later years.

We directed him to the US State Department webpage for ordering copies of passport records issued after 1925, for which you need to do a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Tom recently reported back to us with the full story….

Using passport applications for genealogy: Finally—success!

“Finally got copies of the passport application request I made to the Department of State in April of 2016. Took all this time plus a nudge from my Congressional office to make it happen!

My wife’s mother, Bonnie Jean Head, was adopted into the Frank Mathews family in 1927 when Bonnie was about 19 months old. We have the court adoption papers from the White Pine County Superior Court issued in 1927. The court documents included an affidavit signed by Kathleen Head affirming she was the biological mother and that she relinquishes any and all parental rights to Bonnie Jean. And that the father was unknown.

Doing an Ancestry.com search on Kathleen Head resulted in many documents including ship manifests that seem to show Kathleen (who never married) and her roommate (who never married) were crew members on a number of ocean liners in the early 1930s. They also traveled together to South America and we found their passport photos [from before the 1930s] on Ancestry.com.

I sent a FOIA request to the Dept of State for copies of their original passport applications according to the State Department’s on-line instructions (I had their passport numbers from [earlier applications]). That was in April 2016. Hearing nothing by September-ish 2016, I stopped into my Congressional Representative’s local office and asked them if they may have a better contact source than was posted on the website. They, in turn, sent an official Congressional inquiry to the State Department, which resulted in a contact from them and a note saying they had boxes of applications to search, which might take up to six weeks.

Twelve months later, October 2017, I got the copies of Kathleen Head’s passport applications. The records were very informative and included physical, mental and family information as well as a current photo. She was a single, white woman about 41 years old traveling from Yokohama, Japan to the US on a Japanese-flagged ocean liner in 1935. (Brave or very lucky woman at that time just before Japan’s invasion of China and start of WWII.) She died at age 83 in Long Beach, CA. She and her roommate of forty plus years were school teachers in the Long Beach area.”

I admire Tom’s tenacity! It’s a good reminder that a lack of response doesn’t necessarily mean “no”, and it also doesn’t mean there isn’t another avenue that can be taken. It’s brilliant that he turned to his Congressional office for help. It’s a strategy the rest of us can keep in mind when making difficult Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. (Click here to learn more about the FOIA.)

Click through the images below to take a closer look at the copy of Kathleen’s passport applications and renewal from the State Department, which Tom kindly sent in. These documents are bursting with valuable genealogical information. They even include an affidavit attesting to Kathleen’s birth information, signed by a cousin, who provided her own name and address. The passport applications themselves, along with the other documents themselves, sketch a story of her lifelong companionship and work that took her around the world during the years before World War II. Many thanks to Tom for allowing us to share your story.

Learn even more about passport applications for genealogy

Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning members can learn even more about U.S. passport applications in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #124. Phil Goldfarb, author of A Page of History: Passport Applicationsshares the history of passports, why you should look for renewal applications periodically and strategies for using them. (Guess what? Premium eLearning membership recently got even better! Click here to learn more.)

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Inspiring Family History Video Ideas Sent In By YOU

These family history video ideas and comments/questions sent in by Genealogy Gems listeners can inspire your own short videos. See how they script their stories, find royalty-free music soundtracks and more. Then visualize yourself in the director’s chair—what kind of family history video do YOU want to make?

For a while now, I’ve been encouraging everyone to produce their own short family history videos. You don’t need a big budget, lots of fancy equipment or even a director’s chair (although I wouldn’t mind having one of those!). A few simple online tools, like Animoto’s do-it-yourself video platform, can help you create family history videos that are oh-so-shareable with relatives on social media. I’ve heard some great family history video ideas from you—along with an important question about finding royalty-free music.

Family history video ideas: Celebrate special birthdays

Muffy in Seattle, WA sent in the following email:

“Finally got around to listening to Episode #213 and the great story about the video y’all made to go with Tom’s poem [watch it below]. What a great idea to have him read his poem and then add pictures. Something to think about for my future videos!

This inspired me to share a video I created this past Christmas for my Dad. Trying to find out where our branch of Walkers comes from was my inspiration for starting into the very addicting world of genealogy. Unfortunately, it remains the only direct line I cannot trace across the pond. Gotta retire! Here is a link to my first video I wanted to share. Great hit with my Dad, uncle, and cousins. Maybe it will be inspiration for others to take the leap into the video world.”

Family history video question: What about music?

Melissa sent this important question about creating a soundtrack for your family history videos:

“Hello Lisa,

I have made a video using a basic subscription to Animoto and am very pleased with it. I do have a question about using music. While there are some choices on my basic subscription, I seem to have my own idea of the music I would like. In your video you mentioned to make sure the music we download is permissible.

I searched for public domain music and came up with nothing useful. Even looked on the Library of Congress Jukebox collection but it is only streamed and I think using that would not be permissible. How do I find more available and permissible music to use for the videos? My videos are just for family members and not for profit but I want to do the right thing.

I look forward to your podcasts and videos. You continue to educate me!”

Here are some tips for Melissa (and the rest of you) about finding music. First, I do use music that comes with two video-creating tools I use: Animoto (you can purchase personal subscription plans for 10% off with promocode PER10OFF) and Camtasia, which video software I use all the time (it’s a special favorite for screen-capturing my Google Earth Family History Tours).

Unfortunately, I have found free royalty-free music sites few and far between. You’re smart to be cautious because if you were to put your video on YouTube they have the technology to identify any song that is used that is a violation of copyright.

The good news is that YouTube does make free music available to you. Sign in to YouTube with your Google account, click on your picture in the upper right corner, and go to your Creator Studio. Upload your video (you can keep it private if you wish) and then on the video page click “Audio” (above the video title). There are many music tracks to choose from. Once you’ve added a track and saved it, you should be able to download the video with the music included.

An easy way to browse royalty-free music on YouTube is to filter your YouTube search results by those marked with a Creative Commons license, like this:

(Just be sure to read up on using Creative Commons material. There are still rules to follow about how to use it and how to properly credit it.)

Melissa sent this answer: “Thank you, Lisa, for your response. I did go to YouTube and found the music I wanted, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” with a Creative Commons license. My mother sang that when I was a child and she heard it from her aunt, who raised her when she was a child. It was the perfect song for the Animoto video of my mother’s memories of her mother and aunt. It was wonderful to find that song in public domain! I had no idea to look there before your response.”

Family history video ideas: Put your memories to music

Not long ago, I helped Genealogy Gems listener Tom Boyer put his own memories to music. He’d actually written his thoughts in poem form, inspired by the “Where I’m From” family history poetry initiative we shared with listeners in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 185. It took Tom a while to write his own poem, but he finally sent it in. I found it so inspiring I created a video with his pictures and an audio track of him reading it. You can listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 213, mentioned above, to hear more about how that collaboration with Tom went. Watch the video here–I think it turned out beautifully:

More family history video ideas

The Genealogy Gems website is packed with resources for helping you create beautiful family history videos and books for sharing your family history with loved ones. Try these ones:

6 tips to create family history books they can’t put down

Step-by-step: Create a short family history video

A video interview: Remembering Dad

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

RootsTech questions: Tips for attending world’s biggest genealogy event

Your RootsTech questions answered here! Attending RootsTech 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah for the largest genealogy conference in the world can be a bit overwhelming. First-time attendees have questions and we have answers. Learn what to expect, where to go, and other must-know details to make the most of this extraordinary family history event.

RootsTech questions from a first-time attendee

I recently received some RootsTech questions via Facebook from a Genealogy Gems listener in Melbourne, Australia. Lesley-Anne has decided to make the overseas trip to attend RootsTech 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. How exciting–and a little daunting! She says:

Morning Lisa, As a result of the many years of listening [to your podcast], my husband and I have decided to attend the Rootstech conference this year. I am wondering if you can advise this first time-attendee on any tips on how to get the most out of this conference? I have been trying to find a list of keynote and breakout sessions available but haven’t had much luck. I know there are huge numbers that attend the Rootstech conference so would prefer not to be queuing on the day for sessions. I’m hoping there will be pre-booking for the sessions?? Keep up your great work. I don’t know how you do all the work that you do plus be a Nanna, mother and wife and also research your own tree. Kind regards, Lesley-Anne

I’m sure Lesley-Anne and her husband won’t be the only newbies at RootsTech 2018. And they’ll all have similar questions on their minds. Here we answer FAQs for her and other first-time RootsTech attendees.

RootsTech 2018 Answers from Lisa Louise Cooke

What’s happening this year at RootsTech?

RootsTech 2018 offers four jam-packed days of fun and learning: Wednesday, February 28 to Saturday, March 3, 2018. Don’t miss the first day! Wednesday is all about technology. There will be classes for all audiences, whether you’re a tech expert or newbie or (like most people) somewhere in-between. At 4:30 pm, FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwoodl will give a keynote, followed by a new event called Innovation Showcase. Prepare for a high-tech “show and tell” of what’s new–and what’s coming–in genealogy technology.

As soon as that’s over, the Expo Hall opens (6:00 – 8:00 pm) for a special Preview, and then remains open all week. At the Expo Hall, meet the biggest names in the genealogy industry and hundreds of other vendors, societies, and services. It’s a stunning, not-to-miss experience, whether you love the energy of the crowd, the glamorous displays, or the chance to talk one-on-one with people from your favorite genealogy companies and services.

The Genealogy Gems booth is known for hosting the ultimate Expo Hall experience! We have our own free class lineup all week long from your favorite presenters. We host great giveaways with valuable prizes you can put right to work for your family history. Click here for the latest updates on our classes, book signings and giveaways. And come by our booth to take advantage of RootsTech specials on our most popular products, including the Genealogy Gems Premium membership (our on-demand Premium video lineup is like having a year’s access to your very own private RootsTech event!).

Throughout the rest of the week, you can expect:

  • World-class keynote speakers: Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton; famed scholar and PBS family history documentary host Henry Louis Gates, Jr; “Humans of New York” writer Brandon Stanton and Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Natalia Lafourcade. (Click here to watch a 2017 keynote by LaVar Burton.)
  • Over 300 RootsTech classes: Classes at all skill levels are offered on traditional family history research skills, DNA, tech tools for genealogy, photos, stories, organizing and more. (Click here to view a fantastic class you missed from 2017: Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s “Genealogy Giants” class comparing Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.
  • Free things to do at night, from dazzling entertainment sponsored by RootsTech to late-night research sessions at the Family History Library—the world’s biggest genealogy library is just down the street. (On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during RootsTech, the library will stay open until 9:00 pm.)

What are the RootsTech 2018 registration details?

You have lots of registration options–from a free Family Discovery Day experience on Saturday to a budget-friendly “Getting Started” four-day pass ($69 promotional price) to the full RootsTech Pass ($199). Click here for a description of all your options.

How do I get the most out of my RootsTech experience?

Best tip from a conference veteran: plan ahead! If you haven’t made your hotel reservation yet, do it right away. The official RootsTech hotels have all sold out, so you’ll need to look a little further afield. Salt Lake City offers excellent public transportation to the downtown RootsTech location at the Salt Palace.

The Salt Palace does have a concession area with several affordable meal options. There are also a few small vendors with sandwiches, coffee, and candy, just outside the hall. You might also like to know that there are several nice restaurants just across the street or within minimal walking distance. The lines are a bit long at times; consider eating a little early or late, so you’re not caught in a “rush hour” for your meal.

Once your basic needs are met, plan your genealogy learning and fun! An online master schedule makes it easy to browse all the official RootsTech sessions and plan the ones you most want to attend. Classes are typically one hour, with a 30-minute break in-between. Don’t forget to include the Genealogy Gems Expo Hall classes in your lineup. An important tip for newbies: at some point, your brain will need a little rest from all the learning. Give yourself breaks to walk around the Expo Hall and visit with new friends you meet.

What about pre-registering for classes?

Lesley-Anne asked about pre-registering for specific classes to avoid long lines and disappointment for filled-up sessions. You must pre-register for any labs you want to take when you register for RootsTech. These are smaller, hands-on classes. If this is your first year, I think you will be more than busy (and happy) with all the sessions included in the regular registration and the exhibit hall. Personally, I would save the extra cost of labs for a return visit. One exception: I definitely recommend Diahan Southard’s lab: “From Click to DNA Connection” (Fri 1:30 pm, taught with Angie Bush).

Unfortunately, you can’t pre-register for the general sessions (keynotes) or regular classes. Seating is first-come, first-served. Classes that are expected to have high demand generally have hundreds of seats available. But if there’s a class or presenter you must see, get to the classroom as early as possible, go right to a seat and stay in it. Since some classes will fill up, have a back-up plan for each hour.

Another helpful tip when deciding what to do: you will receive a digital syllabus with your RootsTech registration. It has all the handouts for the classes that are part of your registration package. So even if the class you want is full—or you’re ready to take a break and tour the Expo Hall—you can still learn from RootsTech presenters. You may wish to print your desired class handouts before coming so that you can take notes on them. Come by the Genealogy Gems booth (#1203) to get the handouts for all our lectures, too!

As Lesley-Anne mentioned, the RootsTech venue is huge. It’s easy to get lost. They do post tons of signs. As the event draws nearer, we will post a map of the Expo Hall to help you navigate to your favorite vendors and societies. Additionally, you will have a map provided to you when you pick up your things at registration.

We hope this has given Lesley-Anne (and you) a better picture of what it will be like to attend RootsTech 2018. It really is an amazing experience! For even more information about RootsTech, view their website and our Genealogy Gems RootsTech page. While you wait, here’s a link to several video interviews I have done over the years at RootsTech. See you there, friends!

About the Author

About the Author

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

“I Found 130 Letters by My Ancestor!” Why Use Google Books for Genealogy

Betty has at least 130 good reasons to use Google Books for genealogy! She used this powerful Google tool to find her ancestor’s name in a book–which led to a treasure trove of his original letters in an archive. Here’s what happened–and how to try this with your own family history research. 

You’ve heard me say that Google Books is the tool I turn to every day. Now, you may be thinking, “But my ancestors wouldn’t be in history books!” Resist the temptation to make assumptions about sources, and about your ancestors. With over 25 million books, Google Books is more likely to have something pertinent to your genealogy research than you think. And as I often tell my audiences, those books can include source citations, providing a trail to even more treasures.

Why to Use Google Books for Genealogy: Success Story!

At the National Genealogical Society conference this past spring, Betty attended my class and then stopped by the Genealogy Gems booth to share her story. I recorded it, and here’s a transcription:

Betty: I was stuck on my Duncan Mackenzie ancestor, so I put his name in Google Books, because when you’re stuck, that’s what you do!

Lisa: Yes, I do!

Betty: So, up popped this history of Mississippi, it was sort of a specific history, and it said Duncan Mackenzie had written a letter to his brother-in-law in North Carolina from Covington County, Mississippi. And of course I already had my tax records and my census records that placed him in Covington County. This was in the 1840s. I thought, this just couldn’t be him! Why would any of my relatives be in a book? [Sound familiar?]

So, finally, weeks later, it occurred to me to go back and look at the footnotes in the book, and I found that the letters could be found in the Duncan McLarin papers at Duke University. So, I didn’t even think to even borrow the microfilm. I just told my husband, “next time you go East for work, we need to go by Duke University.” So I set up a time, and I went, and it WAS my great-great-grandfather who wrote those letters! I have now transcribed 130 letters from that collection. They let me scan them all, and I’ve been back again to scan the rest of the legal papers.

Lisa: So, an online search into Google Books not only help you find something online, but it led you to the offline gems!

Betty: And it just changed my life! Because I spend all my time on these letters. It’s distracted me from other lines! [LOL! I get that!]

How to Use Google Books for Genealogy

Are you ready to put Google Books to work in your own research and discover some genealogy gems of your own? Here, I re-create Betty’s search for you, so you can see how to get started:

1. Go to Google Books (books.google.com). Enter search terms that would pertain to your ancestor, like a name and a place.

2. Browse the search results. The first three that show up here all look promising. Click on the first one.

3. Review the text that comes up in the text screen. As you can see here, Duncan McKenzie of Covington County is mentioned–and the source note at the bottom of the page tells you that the original letter cited in the book is at Duke University.

Learn More about Using Google Books for Genealogy

Learn more by watching my free Google Books video series at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. Click the video below to watch the first one. (And be sure to subscribe while you’re there, because there are more videos to come!)

Then, watch the video below for a quick preview of my full one hour video class (and downloadable handout) called Google Books: The Tool You Need Every Day!, available to all Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

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