A Tip for Harnessing New Technologies for Genealogy

Lisa BYU Keynote

Photo courtesy of The Ancestry Insider

New technologies don’t stay new. They keep evolving. Here’s a tip for harnessing new and emerging technologies to advance family history research and stay connected with living relatives. 

Last week, I was at the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy in Provo, Utah. What a friendly, welcoming group! (Be sure to check out the BYU Family History Library here.) All week, I taught sessions and gave a keynote address on various technologies that help our research. The week’s discussions reminded me how quickly technology moves–and how enthusiastically genealogists continue to embrace new opportunities given them by technology.

It’s part of my job to learn about these new technologies and pass the best ones–the “gems” along to you. But here’s a tip I shared during my keynote address that will help you focus on the technologies you care most about: Think about which tasks you want to accomplish with technology, rather than just learning genealogy-specific technology. Then keep up with developments in the technologies that accomplish those tasks.

For example, by now, many of us have used (or at least heard of) Google Translate. We can use it with foreign-language documents and to correspond with overseas relatives and archives. But Google Translate’s functionality keeps improving. “By the audible gasps of the audience” (during my keynote address) reported the FamilySearch blog, “most were not aware that the Google Translate app enables you to literally hold up your phone to the computer screen or typeset document, and it will translate foreign text on the fly for you—a must have free tool when dabbling in nonnative language content.”

Genealogists are really thinking about these issues. The Ancestry Insider blogged about my keynote talk, too, and my observation that genealogists haven’t been embracing digital video at the same speed at which they embrace other forms of digital media. In the comments section of that post Cathy added, “Now what we need to do is get FamilySearch to figure out a way to let us upload our URL YOUTube videos, not only for our deceased, but for our living….Our children and grandchildren don’t write letters, they email, text, instagram. They don’t write journals, they blog. They make videos of current history….We all need to look to the future and [learn] how to save the new technologies.” Cathy gets it!

A special thanks to conference organizers Stephen Young and John Best, who welcomed me and Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton all week long. They did a fantastic job of organizing a large event while retaining a warm, personal environment.

Continue reading about applying technology to your family history here.

Newsboys: Colorful Figures of the Past

Newsboys or “newsies” used to sell the news. But for a time in American history, they were the news!

Newsboy. Little Fattie. Less than 40 inches high, 6 years old. Been at it one year. May 9th, 1910. Location: St. Louis, Missouri. Wikimedia Commons image, original at Library of Congress.

Newsboy. Little Fattie. Less than 40 inches high, 6 years old. Been at it one year. May 9th, 1910. Location: St. Louis, Missouri. Wikimedia Commons image, original at Library of Congress.

You’d know them by their common call: “Read all about it!” It was their job to sell stacks of inexpensive newspapers on every street corner that would support them. The Library of Congress has posted a fascinating page about the history of newsies, including their own appearance in the papers.

In 1899, newspaper prices rose–and that cut into the profit margins of boys who had very little  profit to begin with. In New York City, many newsboys refused to sell papers published by Pulitzer and Hearst. Over the next few years, the newsboys didn’t exactly unionize, but they did organize. Eventually they formed the National Newsboys’ Association, which evolved into today’s Boys Club and Girls Club.

It’s interesting to read how the newspapers reported the doings of the boys who were essentially their salespeople. I bet it was a tricky place to be caught: a newspaper couldn’t afford to totally alienate their own best salesmen. Those salesmen were actually children, whom nobody wants to be accused of targeting. But their activities were aimed at driving down prices. In some cases, you see newspapers taking “the high road” and reporting charitable efforts to help these boys, like this story from the 1909 Washington Herald:

Newsies article

Click here to read this full story on Chronicling America. And click here to “read all about” newsboys and their role in American newspaper life.

Remember, stories like these are the kind that shaped our ancestors’ lives. Whether we find our relatives mentioned directly in the paper or we just see what life was like around them, we can learn so much from reading the same newspapers they did. Learn more from my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers–and Genealogy Gems Premium Subscribers can check out “Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers” in the Premium Videos section.

 

Find Family History with Online Newspaper Research: More Chronicling America

Have you already searched for your relatives’ names at Chronicling America, the the Library of Congress’ web collection of digitized American newspapers? Well, search again!

Recently the the Library of Congress added more than 600,000 historic newspaper pages to its enormous collection. According to a press release, these pages include “first-time contributions from Iowa, Michigan, and West Virginia. Other new additions include content from Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.” The site now has over 6.6 million searchable newspaper pages from over 1100 newspaper titles, published in 30 states and Washington, D.C. between 1836 and 1922.

Newspaper Book CoverWhat are the chances your family will appear on one of those pages? Pretty good, actually. Here’s a list of the kinds of articles they may show up in from my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers:

  • Advertising: classifieds, companies your ancestor worked for or owned, grocery or dry goods stores ads (for historical context), runaway slaves search and reward, ship departures.
  • Births & deaths: birth announcements, card of thanks printed by the family, obituary and death notices, “Community Pioneer” article upon passing,  funeral notice, reporting of the event that lead to the death, or the funeral.
  • Legal notices and public announcements: auctions, bankruptcies, city council meetings, divorce filings, estate sales, executions and punishments, lawsuits, marriage licenses, probate notices tax seizures, sheriff’s sale lists.
  • Lists: disaster victims, hotel registrations, juror’s and judicial reporting, letters left in the post office, military lists, newly naturalized citizens, passenger lists (immigrants and travelers), unclaimed mail notices.
  • News articles: accidents, fires, etc. featuring your ancestor; front page (for the big picture); industry news (related to occupations); natural disasters in the area; shipping news; social history articles.
  • Community and social events like school graduations, honor rolls, sporting and theater events; social news like anniversaries, church events, clubs, engagements, family reunions, visiting relatives, parties, travel, gossip columns, illnesses, weddings and marriage announcements.

Learn more about researching family history with my book, available in both print and e-book format. And don’t forget to keep checking Chronicling America for stories and clues about your ancestors’ lives.

What To Do If a Scrapbook Gets Wet (or Photo Album or Pictures)

water damaged scrapbookWhen family scrapbooks get wet, the result is not pretty. In fact, it can be quite dire for the scrapbook and its precious contents.

“Water can cause the bleeding of inks and dyes in journal entries, digital photographs, and decorative papers, causing them to appear blurry or streaked,” says this article in Scrapbook Retailer. “When exposed to water, some prints and materials will soften and stick to adjacent surfaces. Papers that get wet can become distorted or warped and some may even dissolve completely in water.”

Even more yucky? “Dirty water from sewage leaks, floodwaters from rivers, and colored liquids like fruit juices make the clean-up process more difficult and staining of the album materials more likely.”

Preventing the damage in the first place is of course the best option, but it’s not always an option we’re given. Floods happen. Spills happen. Windows get left open.

So what to do if a scrapbook gets wet? Or a photo album or loose pictures?

First, says the Library of Congress, “Take necessary safety precautions  if the water is contaminated with sewage or other hazards or if there is active (wet or furry) mold growth.”

“In general, wet photographs should be air dried or frozen as quickly as possible,” states the Northeast Document Conservation Center website. “Once they are stabilized by either of these methods, there is time to decide what course of action to take.” But don’t delay too long, they say. “Time is of the essence: the longer the period of time between the emergency and salvage, the greater the amount of permanent damage that will occur.”

A few more tips from that same article on the Northeast Document Conservation Center website, written by Gary Albright:

  • Save prints before plastic-based films, as the latter will last longer.
  • Allow water to drain off photos first, as needed. Then air dry photographs, face up, laying flat on paper towels. Negatives should be hung to dry.
  • Separate wet photos from each other and other items (like a scrapbook page) as much as possible.
  • If photos are stuck together, freeze them as a bunch, wrapped in wax paper. Then thaw them. As they gradually thaw, peel photos off and let them air dry.
  • Don’t worry if pictures curl up while they are drying. You can flatten them once they’re totally dry.

Unfortunately, some very old photo types will not survive a water bath at all. Others may weather a quick dip but not long-term exposure to dampness. It’s SO important to preserve images digitally! You can scan entire album pages if they fit on your scanner, so you can record captions or the arrangement of pictures on a page. Or use a scanner like Flip-Pal that has stitching software to help stitch together larger images.

In a pinch, snap pictures with your mobile device: close-ups of photographs and captions, and full-page images that at least capture how it’s laid out (even if at a lower resolution). Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research by Lisa Louise Cooke has a chapter on digital imaging apps that can help you digitally preserve family albums and scrapbooks–whether they’ve gotten wet or not.

Christmas in July BackblazeLisa Louise Cooke trusts all our computer files–including images, sound files and videos that have taken thousands of hours to create–to Backblaze online backup service, the official backup of Genealogy Gems. For about $5 a month (or $50 for an entire year), you can protect your files, too. It only takes a couple of minutes to give yourself the peace of mind of knowing that, even if disaster strikes, you’ll still be able to recover your digital files quickly and easily. Go to www.Backblaze.com/Lisa to get started.

 

 

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