Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.
Port Aransas, Texas
My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.
As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.
Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:
“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.
Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”
CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.”
Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.
Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.
Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”
Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”
The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers
As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.
After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time
If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):
I love her compassionate advice:
“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections
Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.
Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!
If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!
As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:
Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.
For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.
I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).
Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:
Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!
(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)
My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.
Lisa reprises a favorite research detour into vehicle forensics to identify an old family car and shares tips for creating short family history books like those she given as holiday gifts to loved ones.
Hear letters from listeners on a special adoption discovery and a 1940 census mystery that now makes more sense.
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs in with 4 reasons to take a DNA test if you haven’t taken the plunge yet.
Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton spotlights the current Genealogy Gems Book Club title, Murder in Matera.
The vehicle forensics and family book segments originally appeared in Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 18 and 13, respectively, and are being republished here for web audiences.
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is an audio excursion with Lisa on an old railroad track up to a silver mine in the Colorado Rockies, an excursion she originally shared in Episode 18 of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, not now available online, and is being republished here exclusively for your enjoyment. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 forWindows, iPhone and iPad users
Qualities of a successful short family history book, from Lisa Louise Cooke
The book conveys an overall theme.
Start by reviewing all the available material you have. That will give you a good sense of what the time period was like for your ancestor. You’ll also start to understand their goals, experiences, and emotions. Ultimately a theme should begin to surface.
In the case of A Nurse In Training, I wanted to communicate my grandmother as a young woman taking on a new adventure away from home that ultimately led to this warm, caring woman’s successful career as a nurse. I also tucked a bonus subplot in there of how she just happened to meet her husband at the same time!
You don’t need every scrap of research and every photo to get this theme across. It’s your job to be a sharp editor and to pick out the critical pieces. You want the words and photographs that clearly communicate your theme to the reader.
#2. The book can be read in one sitting.
Like it or not, if it takes too long read, they probably won’t. Strive to create a book that doesn’t look intimidating. I create books that are ten to twenty double-sided pages. People will be willing to pick up a thinner book off the coffee table. If it’s well done they’ll find that all of a sudden they’ve finished the entire book without wanting to put it down. The final goal is that they will walk away with a real sense of having gotten to know that ancestor.
#3. It contains the best of the best of what you have.
This goes back to conveying the theme and being a strict editor. My grandma had many funny stories, but there just wasn’t room for all of them. I picked the best of the best. Anyone who reads the book should hopefully come away with the fact that she had a sense of humor and could laugh at herself. So keep the content of your book focused, full of graphics and photos, and including the best of the best. If you can capture their interest in the first three pages, you’ll have them for the entire book.
#4. There are lots of photos and graphics.
A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. Since the number of words in this size book will be limited, photographs will be your best friend. If you’re lacking in family photos, many of my previous podcasts will give you countless ideas for locating associated photos. In A Nurse In Training, I included scanned images of skating rink tickets, programs and announcements from my grandma’s scrapbook, and journal pages in my grandmother’s own hand. These types of items really add texture and interest to your book, as well as help the reader to see that you’ve really done your homework.
#5. Keep it in chronological order.
This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get sidetracked and start going back and forth in time. Believe me, for the reader’s sake keep things in chronological order. You as the researcher know this information backward and forwards, but this is probably your reader’s first exposure to it. Be gentle with them and keep it straight forward and simple. Your reader will thank you.
#6. You choose only high-quality images and printing.
High-quality glossy pages, good image quality and a hardcover binding all shout to the reader “I’m worth your time, read me!” For example, I found a drawing of Dameron Hospital where my grandmother worked, but it was a low-quality image and didn’t translate well in the book. As much as I wanted to include it, I ended up leaving it out. I’m glad I did; it wasn’t critical to the book and there were other ways to communicate the hospital to the reader.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.
I used to think that economics was just a series of numbers and calculations that helped to gauge the future growth of companies and countries. In a word: boring. But that was before I discovered that you can study the economics of people and essentially use math to describe human behavior, and therefore in some ways make that behavior more predictable.
This is of course especially intriguing to my current situation as the parent of a teenager, a pre-teen, and a daughter. Teenagers especially are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcom Gladwell, one of these interesting people-economists, describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” For my kids it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything that is humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11 year old).
In DNA testing in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed. Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it! But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!
This got me thinking though, who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test are those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.” To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP to your invitation to DNA test.
Record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history, and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.
Second Cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.
Verify. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart, to a story and a life worth preserving.
Philanthropy. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.
So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: A FAMILY HISTORY MURDER MYSTERY!
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagicfamily history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more athttp://www.backblaze.com/lisa.
GEM: VEHICULAR FORENSICS: Updated links, tips and resources
Here’s the original photo of my grandma next to her father’s car:
The original zoomed in image of the license plate:
The license plate with the “alternative light source” applied:
Since I first published this episode, iGoogle has gone away.
FromItStillRuns.com: “Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”
We’ve all got genealogy brick walls in our research: family mysteries we have so far found unsolvable. In the new issue of Family Tree Magazine (May/June 2014), Lisa’s got a great article packed with 14 strategies for SOLVING those perplexing questions.
The article is “Warming Up a Cold Case,” and it’s got a fun criminal investigator theme. I won’t give all 14 of her tips away, but some of my favorites include re-examining old evidence, finding new witnesses and going on a genealogical stakeout. And one that made me laugh out loud: “Post wanted posters.” And then I just had to put my ancestor’s face on a wanted poster (right).
How do you really create a wanted poster for your ancestor? Lisa shares these ideas in the article:
1. Post their names on genealogy online message boards (like at Ancestry.com). But fill in those “wanted” details. Instead of height, weight and hair color, add what you know about their births, marriages, deaths, family relationships and residences.
2. Post your family tree online at any number of sites for free. Sites organize their trees in one of two ways. Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and others can i buy medication without insurance offer the individual tree model. You upload (or build on the site) and maintain your own tree. FamilySearch.org, WikiTree, Geni.com and WeRelate.org are community tree sites. You may work from a view of your own tree, but the site is merging your tree with others behind the scenes to create a single world family tree (each does this a slightly different way).
3. Start your own family history blog. Write keyword-rich blog posts that make it easy for Google searchers to find your ancestors there. Check out Lisa’s free four-part series on how to create a genealogy blog at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. This link will take you to the 4 part video playlist.
Find the entire article in the May/June issue Family Tree Magazine. Even better: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can also watch Lisa’s one hour video class Brick Walls: Cold Case Investigative Techniques. Not a Premium Member yet? You’re missing out on 24/7 access for a year to some of her most popular classes on Google, Google Earth, organization, Evernote, newspaper research and more. Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership here.
Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Might these collections include your ancestors? This week: Civil War stereographs, Dublin workhouse registers, Illinois naturalizations, a Jersey digital archive and Oregon motor registrations and offenses. Don’t miss our Google tip at the end!
CIVIL WAR STEREOGRAPHS. “The Library of Congress has acquired 540 rare and historic Civil War stereographs from the Robin G. Stanford Collection,” says a press release. “The first 77 images are now online, including 12 stereographs of President Lincoln’s funeral procession through several cities and 65 images by Southern photographers showing South Carolina in 1860-61. The images can be viewed in this gallery within the Library’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. More images will be added each month, until all are online.”
DUBLIN WORKHOUSE REGISTERS. More than 1.5 million Dublin workhouse registers, 1840-1919 are now searchable for FindMyPast subscribers. Records include both images and transcripts, and may contain names, marital status, occupation, religion, age, birth year, admission year, name of workhouse and (on images) details about family, condition upon admitttance and date left workhouse or died.
JERSEY HERITAGE DIGITAL ARCHIVE. Over 300,000 items are now searchable at the subscription website Jersey Heritage Archives & Collections Online. Featured collections include registration cards of 30,000+ Channel Islanders who were there during the WWII German occupation. You’ll also find Jersey parish records dating to 1842 and (under Superintendent Registrar) parish registers from 1540-1842 and post-1842 civil marriage records.
OREGON MOTOR VEHICLE REGISTRATIONS AND CONVICTIONS for 1911-1946 are now searchable by Ancestry subscribers. Registrations include license number, name and address of the vehicle owner (including county in parentheses), make of car, motor number, model or year of manufacture and type of body. Records of convictions name the offender, date, offense, license number, court, county and the amount of any fines.
Tip of the week: Whenever you look at any record of an ancestor, ask what additional documents, images, video footage or historical material this record points you toward. For example, you might learn from an above record that Grandpa drove a 1935 Auburn Speedster or that a relative suffered from the German occupation on Jersey. Google searches on these niche topics can lead you to a Speedster photograph or historical materials (including footage) on the occupation, like this interview with a survivor of the German occupation. Learn how to search for gems like these in Lisa’s totally-revised, updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
How to name sources in RootsMagic 7 is a matter of personal preference. My preference? Simply and consistently!
Helen recently transitioned from Mac Family Tree 7 to RootsMagic 7. She sent me this question about how to name sources in RootsMagic:
“I stripped out all sources from my old file before exporting the GEDCOM because I wanted to start fresh with a consistent system in RootsMagic 7. I have watched their webinars for sourcing and understand the basic how-to. I’d love to hear your strategy for naming your sources… say census records. If the names are too general, then you have a lot of data entry for each incident. But if the name is too specific, your source list gets very long very quickly. Do you add ID numbers to your sources?
Thanks to Helen for the question! Naming your sources in RootsMagic is really a personal preference, so the first rule of thumb is not so much about what you call them, but rather that you do so consistently. If you have a naming convention that you follow that works, having a very long list won’t be as intimidating.
I used to number my sources long ago in my old database software. Actually that software did it automatically which I really liked, mainly because I put that number in the name of the digital file for the corresponding record image. RootsMagic 7 allows us to attach our images, so that is no longer an issue.
Here’s an example of my simple approach to naming sources:
Record type > Year > Surname > First name (head of household)
Example: Census 1940 Moore Jay Bee
This way, all census records are grouped together in the source list. The date gives me a time frame of reference (i.e. it is Jay Bee Moore my grandfather rather than his grandfather), Surname, then head of households first name.
If the source is about Jay Bee himself, it works. The source may also mention his wife Pauline, and his son Ronald, but I don’t need to take up space including all of those name in the file name. I know that if I need a source for where Pauline was in 1940, I would find her under her husband Jay Bee. This mirrors my hard drive organization methodology, which I teach in my Genealogy Gems Premium videos.
What if there’s another related family on the same page of that census? This is where personal preference comes in. I save that same census page to the other family’s surname folder on my computer as well. Yes, it is a duplication (and I rarely duplicate effort), but in this case it works for me and I’m consistent. I find it fits better with my hard drive organization, and saves me time down the road when I’m working with a particular family. I could have named the source “Census 1940 Kings Co CA ED16-20 p6,” which is indeed one single unique page of that census but that just isn’t as helpful to me later for retrieval.
Remember, these are your sources, and you can do with them as you please. You are the only one who will be working with them. Again, I’m sharing a process that works well for me. And I always keep my eyes open for new and better ways to do things like this, but even when I find them, I weigh them against the question, “Do I really want to invest the time in changing this that I would have invested in research?” Usually the answer is “No!” unless my way has a proven flaw that will cause me more grief in the end.
There are lots of other ways to do it out there. You know me, I often turn to Google for answers. If you have a question, chances are someone out there has had it too. Google can help you quickly tap into answers. A Google search of how to name sources in Rootsmagic leads to a web page called Organizing Source Names in RM5. It’s a discussion forum where someone posted a similar question. There are a couple of very viable options offered and great discussion about how to decide what works for you. This is one reason I like and recommend RootsMagic, which is a sponsor of the free Genealogy Gems podcast–because they provide so many helpful tutorials with their software. Another great resource is a blog series by Randy Seaver (click the label “RootsMagic”) on how to enter a new source and create a citation.