Historical Maps of Major U.S. Cities and More in New Online Tool

1836 map of New York City compared to modern satellite image, shown with each map in "spyglass" format. Image from David Rumsey Map Collection blog at DavidRumsey.com.

1836 map of New York City compared to modern satellite image, shown with each map in “spyglass” format. Image from David Rumsey Map Collection blog at DavidRumsey.com.

I love showing people how to use online tools to compare historical maps to modern ones. You can map out your ancestor’s address, check out their neighborhoods “then and now,” map their route to work, see if their old home still exists and more.

Well, the online Smithsonian magazine has created an exciting new interface for six American cities. Now you can compare modern satellite imagery with bird’s-eye views of:

You’ll see great city layouts before the fire that claimed much of old Chicago, the San Francisco earthquake, the Lincoln memorial and more. The historical map of New York City is the oldest, but the other maps capture each city at a critical point in their growth. For each city you can look at a historical map with a “spyglass” mouse-over of a modern satellite image, or vice-versa, as shown in the New York City map on the right. Each map is accompanied by a fantastic Smithsonian article; the historical maps come from the amazing David Rumsey Map Collection.

As many of you know, it’s possible to do something similar (or even better) with Google’s amazing mapping tools. Learn how to do that with these three Genealogy Gems resources:

1. My FREE Google Earth Video, which teaches you how to unlock mysteries in your research, from unidentified photographs to pinpointing homesteads;

2. My Google Earth 2-Disk Bundle, with detailed demonstrations and examples so you can SEE for yourself how to use Google’s mapping tools;

3. My new Time Travel with Google Earth video, in which you’ll see old maps, genealogical records, images, and videos come together to create stunning time travel experiences in Google Earth. This is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members (learn more membership here).

 

 

 

 

Switch to Inbox by Gmail App or Improve Your Existing Gmail: It’s Your Choice

 

Switch to Inbox by Gmail App or Improve Your Existing Gmail: It's Your Choice

 

Inbox by Gmail app has some great features and if you’re willing to go all-in and are up for a big change, go for it. If not, here are some ideas for improving your regular Gmail experience. 

About a year ago, Google announced the new Inbox by Gmail app. I didn’t cover it then because they had bugs to work out. But, I’ve been keeping an eye on it. It’s a bit overwhelming, however, if you are up for the change here’s a quick video summary of what it does.

As a recap, the Inbox by Gmail app can:

  • Bundle similar messages for you, like offers and promos;
  • Recognize emails about travel reservations and bundle those together; and lastly,
  • It allows you to browse photos in emails without opening the message.

You can also do a lot of housekeeping and organizing tasks yourself. For example, you can:

  • Pin messages that you want to come back to, then click on a thumbtack icon to show all pinned messages;
  • Snooze an email message by marking it to pop back up to the top of your list at the time and date you indicate;
  • Create easy reminder messages for things you need to do; and
  • Keyword-search your emails just like you do in Google. Sometimes, the search function is even smart enough to answer questions for you. Like when I type in “flight Indianapolis” for my upcoming trip to the Midwestern Roots conference in July, I get an email with my flight reservation in my search results. At the top, I will also see a nice summary of my flight information that Google extracted from that email and puts right in front of me.

These are pretty slick features, but they come with a price: Inbox by Gmail is a dramatic change from Gmail which some might find a difficult transition.

Improve Your Regular Gmail Experience without Using the Inbox by Gmail App

If you’re not quite ready to switch to Inbox by Gmail, there are ways to enhance and improve your experience using regular Gmail. I don’t know about you, but I don’t use the “Chat” feature on Gmail very often. However, that little chat box pops up right below the labels, and that means that when you select a label lower down on the list, it’s easy to accidentally open the chat box. Frustrating indeed!

Make your life just a little bit easier by changing the location of your chat box. Go to Settings, then click on Labs. Click to Enable the Right-side chat feature. Chat moves out of the way over to the right and the problem is solved.

For those of you who don’t use the Chat feature at all, you can completely turn it off. Simply go to Settings, Click the Labs tab, click to select Chat Off, and then click Save Changes.  Ah, this gives you a cleaner, less cluttered, Gmail to work with. Nice!

Inbox by gmail 1

An important thing to remember about changing any of your Gmail settings is that you must click the Save button on the page to apply the changes.
Switch to the new Inbox by Gmail app or just improve your existing email with this little tip, the choice is yours. Thanks for sharing this tip with your friends…it’s nice to share, isn’t it?

More Genealogy Gems on Apps for Genealogy

4 Great Local History Apps for Genealogists

Best Genealogy Apps Under the Big Topshare

The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast 134: Tips and Apps for Oral History Interviews on Your Mobile Device (The Premium subscription required)

 

Cold-Calling Your Kin: How to Contact Distant Relatives

Need to contact distant relatives? Got cold feet? Follow these steps and you’ll warm right up–and hopefully, so will those you contact!

Cold Calling

Today, online trees, social media, and email make it easier than ever to find relatives you don’t know well (or at all). And there are SO many reasons to contact them: to collaborate on research, swap photos or stories, or even request a DNA sample.

In these cases, you may need to make what salespeople refer to as a “cold call,” or an unexpected contact to someone you don’t know. I’ve done it successfully many times myself, so I can tell you this: it does get easier. Follow these steps to make it a smoother experience.

1. Identify the person you want to call.
Common ways to identify a new relative include:

  • Another relative tells you about them
  • Family artifact, such as an old greeting card, address book, captioned photograph, letter, etc.
  • On a genealogy message board
  • In an online family tree (with enough information showing to identify them)
  • As the author of a book, article, or blog post with information about your family

2. Locate the person’s phone number, address, and/or email address. 

cold calling step 2 Google SearchHere are some great websites for locating people you don’t know, or at least learning more about them (as you can on LinkedIn):

TIP: When looking through a geographically-based directory, don’t forget to search the entire metro area, not just one city. Try just searching their first name, particularly if it’s not a really common first name. Try and track down their number through other relatives or researchers.

3. Prepare ahead for making the call.
Every tough job gets just a little easier when you do your homework first!

  • Take into account a possible difference in time zones.
  • Choose a time when you are not too rushed
  • Set yourself up in a quiet place, where there will be minimal background noise or disruptions
  • Do a brief review of the family you are researching so it’s fresh in your mind
  • Make note of specific questions you would like to ask.
  • Have your genealogy software program open or your written notes at your fingertips

4. Adopt a positive mindset.
It’s natural to feel some apprehension when calling someone you don’t know. Before you pick up the phone, give yourself a little pep talk. Remind yourself how valuable this person’s information could be to your research. If he or she is quite elderly, remember that none of us will be around here forever so you need to make the call today! Say to yourself, “I can do this. This is important!” Be positive and remember, all they can do is say, “No thank you.”

5. Introduce yourself.
Give your first and last name and tell them the town and state where you live. Then tell them the family connection that you share. Tell them who referred them to you or how you located them. Cover these basics before launching into why you’re calling or what you want.

6. Overcome reluctant relatives.
Be ready to share what you’ve learned, and to share your own memories of a relative that you have in common. Mention something of particular interest in the family tree that might pique their interest. If they are very hesitant or caught off-guard, offer to mail them information and call back once they’ve had a chance to look at it. That way they can get their bearings, too.

do this during the call - Note taking7. Do these things during the call:

  • Take notes: try a headset or use speakerphone, which will help to free up your hands for writing.
  • Ask for new information and confirm what you already have.

If you have a way to record the call, then you won’t have to take notes and you can focus all your attention on the conversation. You can then transcribe the recording later. However, in some places, it’s illegal to record a conversation without telling them first and/or getting a person’s permission (not to mention discourteous). It can be very off-putting to start the first call by asking if you can record them. So, establish a connection first, make your request to record, and then press the record button.

Read more: How to Record a Conversation on your Smartphone or Skype

8. Leave a detailed voice mail message if there’s no answer.
State your name clearly, and that you would like to talk with them about the family history. Leave your phone number and tell them that you will call them back. Consider leaving your email address and suggesting they email you with a convenient time to call back. These days many people are more comfortable with email for the first contact.

9. Ask questions like these:

  • “Do you or anyone else in the family have any old family photographs or a family Bible that I could arrange to get copies of? (Reassure them that you are happy to pay for copies and shipping.)
  • “Do you know anyone else in the family who has been doing family research?”
  • “May I have your permission to cite you as a source in print in the future?”
  • “Is it OK with you if I keep in touch from time to time? What is your preferred method of contact?”

10. Wrap up the call.
Offer to give them your address, phone number, and email address. Ask for their mailing address and email address. Repeat or state your desire to share information you have, and tell them how you’ll send it. Let them know you would be pleased to hear from them if they come across any other information, pictures, etc.

 11. Document the call.
Keep track in your genealogy database of each time you call someone and the outcome (“left a message” or summary of conversation). Having a log of calls and voice mail messages you’ve left will help you know when it’s time to follow-up with whom—and who wasn’t so interested in chatting again.

After a conversation, sit down at the computer or your notepad right away and make detailed notes about the phone conversation while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the person’s name, address, phone number, and date of the conversation. Make notes regarding any items you think may be questionable to remind you to go back and do more research on those points. Enter their contact information into your genealogy database as well as your email contact list.

12. Enter new information into your genealogy database. 

This is a must. Do it right away while it’s on your mind. Cite the conversation as the source of the information.

Remember to respect the privacy of those who prefer to remain “off-the-record” by not naming them in sources you post on public online trees.

 

13. Create an action item list.
Create action items based on what you learned.  Ask yourself “What are the logical next steps to take considering what you’ve learned through this interview?” The call is not the end goal. It’s a step in the research process, and it can really help to make this list now, and while it’s fresh in your mind.

Cold Calling:
“The call is not the end goal.”

Lisa Louise Cooke

14. Follow up.
Send the person a written thank-you note or email. Remind them of your willingness to share your information, and acknowledge any willingness they expressed to share theirs (restate your willingness to help with copying expenses, postage etc. and consider including a few dollars). You never know: they might catch the genealogy bug and become your new research partner!

Next, put their birthday on your calendar and send them a card on their next birthday. Try this service: Birthday Alarm. If you don’t know their birthday but do have an address or email, send a greeting card for the next major holiday or on your shared ancestor’s anniversary or birth date. It’s another way of keeping the connection alive and expressing that you really do appreciate their help.

Occasionally make a follow-up call. See how they are doing, share any new family items you’ve come across recently, and ask whether they have they heard or found anything else.

Resource: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn strategies for finding living relatives with their exclusive access to my video class, “Unleash your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives.” Class includes:

  • a handout summarizing 9 strategies and resources
  • a resource guide for online public records (U.S.)
  • a downloadable Living Relatives worksheet you can print (or open in Word) that will help you capture and organize what you learn about them

Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.

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