4 Great Local History Apps for Genealogists

In Lisa Louise Cooke’s new video interview with Amy Crow, Amy shares 4 of her favorite free local history apps and websites for genealogists.

At RootsTech 2016, Lisa Louise Cooke chatted with Amy Johnson Crow about Amy’s class, “Best Websites and Apps for Finding Local History.” In the video below, Amy shares four of her favorite (and FREE) local history apps and websites, along with tips for using them. Click the video player below to watch, and then below the video, see a summary with links to those sites.

When searching the following FREE local history apps and sites, Amy recommends searching for a place rather than an ancestor’s name.

History Pin. This website is like Pinterest for history, says Amy. It’s especially strong for local history in England, Ireland, Scotland, but also wonderful for the U.S. A lot of organizations have added photos and curated them into collections, like Pinterest boards.

Instagram. It’s not just for the kids and pictures of your food! Follow libraries, archives and historical societies that are in towns where your ancestors lived. They may post historic photos from their collections. Instagram now has a feature where you can share photos with those you follow on Instagram. Use it to share a cool old picture that relates to your family history with a young relative.

The Clio. This website and local history app (available buy malaria medication online through Google Play and on iTunes for iPhone/iPad) shows you historic sites around you when you turn on your location services. The resources, descriptions and bibliographic entries on this site are great to follow up with for your research.

What Was There. At this site (or with the iPhone app) you can view historic photos plotted on a map near your current location. Use it to look around and ask the question, “What happened here?” if you’re on a walk or visiting somewhere. The site is integrated with Google Street View. You can also upload your own old photos if you know where they were taken and do an overlay in Google Maps, in much the same way Lisa teaches about doing in Google Earth.

 

“We focus so much on the people, and we search for names. I really believe that if we have any hope of understanding the ancestors, we have to understand where they lived…what was impacting their lives.”  -Amy Johnson Crow

 

Looking for more mobile genealogy tips? Turn to Lisa Louise Cooke’s brand new book, Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research. In addition to apps specifically for genealogy, you’ll also find recommendations for free and inexpensive apps for all those related tasks: note-taking, recording interviews, taking pictures, reading, collaborating, traveling, learning and sharing genealogy with loved ones.

Illuminating Time-Lapse Videos Show Our Changing World

Visualize with time lapse videos for genealogy

Time-lapse videos first intrigued me as a child when I watched a little seed grow into a beautiful flower in a matter of seconds. Now, illuminating time-lapse videos and tools are helping genealogists visualize our changing world.

Last month, animator Max Galka published a time-lapse map of the history of urbanization over nearly 6,000 years in just three minutes.

Mr. Galka mentions on his blog that tracking urbanization occuring before the mid-20th century was a difficult task – until recently. A team of Yale researchers published a collection of urban population data dating back to ancient times which helped Galka create his video. Their collection was quoted to be a “clean, accessible dataset of cities, their locations, and their populations over time.”

I was surprised how quickly things changed and found it amazing still how many places in the world are yet to be “urbanized.”

 

Time-lapse Video Covering Immigration to the U.S. Since 1820

Again, Max Galka presented an amazing animation of immigration to the United States. This creation shows the countries that sent the most people to the U.S. since 1820.

The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, says Galka. As each dot flies across the page, it represents 10,000 people who immigrated to the U.S. In the bottom left corner, Mr. Galka lists the three top countries where immigrants are coming from at any given time. I was stunned as the map lit up in Russia and Africa only fairly recently. It is clearly shown that the U.S. is indeed a nation of immigrants in this colorful time-lapse video.

 

Time-lapse Tools for Genealogy

As a genealogist, I am constantly in search of county records. So many times, county lines or boundaries changed. I even have one family that lived on the same farm, but technically resided in three different counties over a period of about 50 years. We can’t possibly know when each county of any given state was formed or created, until now that is.

One of my favorite tools for discovering county changes over time is the Map of US.org website. You can find a map of each of the 50 states and run the interactive formation sequence. For example, I can find the Ohio map.

Time lapse video

The Ohio map begins in 1788. It indicates the one county in the Northwest Territory (today’s Ohio) at that time. Washington County was formed as the original county of the Northwest Territory and was created from part of Illinois County, Virginia. That’s another reason I love these interactive maps. With the creation of each county, the map indicates from which parent county or counties it was formed. This is a great help for genealogy research. When I can’t find my targeted ancestor in the county I thought they should be in, I can determine when the county was formed and from what parent county or counties it was formed from. Then, I can quickly determine the other locations that may have records I need.

In addition to the interactive time-lapse maps, each state has a list of other helpful maps that may be of interest to you. For example, the map links for Oregon include the Historical Maps of Oregon, a set of beautiful old maps that can be viewed or downloaded.

Maps can give us a bigger picture of our county, our state, our country, and even the world. These tools help us picture our ever-changing world. What impacted you the most while watching these videos? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

If you feel inspired to learn more about map visualization, you will enjoy Lisa’s Google Earth video. Lisa was an early pioneer of genealogical data visualization and has been teaching genealogists how to use the free software for the last several years. You can watch the free Google Earth for Genealogy video here or check out her revised and updated e-book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox 2nd Edition to learn even more tips and tricks for Google genealogy research.

More Gems on Videos for Genealogists

Genealogy Tech Tips with Lisa Louise Cookegenealogy videos on YouTube

How to Create Captivating Family History Videos

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel

 

Family History at Home – Find it, identify it, share it!

Family history can, and should be found around our own homes. Your house is a great place to look for clues as well as the ideal place to display what you’ve already found! In this free genealogy live webinar Lisa Louise Cooke will show you how. 

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 65

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 65 Lisa Louise Cooke will:

  • explore our homes for family history
  • see if we can’t unlock some mysteries, and
  • look at some fun and creative ways to incorporate family history into our homes!

Episode 65 Show Notes

family history around your house

Watch episode 65

Home is where the heart is and it’s certainly where the family history is. If you’ve found an interesting piece of family history around your home tell us about in the Comments section below so we can all get more ideas of what to look for.

What To Do with the Family China Nobody Wants

Author Robbie Shell wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal called The Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don’t Want Lifelong possessions look very different when we start trying to pass them on.

She wrote about being retired and becoming a grandmother. “The new baby (my first grandchild) and new house ignited one of my long-awaited projects—excavating crawl spaces and basement corners on a hunt for possessions to pass on to the next two generations. It’s easy to predict how this played out. My son and his wife turned down many more items than they accepted. Much of what I had hoped to “upsize” to them stayed in my basement and attic. What wasn’t easy to predict, however, was how complicated this seemingly simple transaction could be. It involved multiple perspectives, across multiple generations. It showed how possessions, when held up to the light, often lose the very qualities that prompted us to set them aside. And, in my case, it offered a glimpse of a future that I’ve thought about—and looked forward to—for years.”

She proceeds to describe how she went through items in the house, offering them up to her son and daughter-in-law. She got replies like:

  • Too ornate
  • No Shelf space now, maybe later,

“They did give thumbs-up to desk lamps, guest sheets and towels, a few kitchen items and one folding chair, among other things—utilitarian items with no stories or expectations attached.”

It’s an interesting dilemma I hadn’t thought about when I was carefully collecting and saving things over the past few decades: that being attached to the story behind the item was key to valuing it. We’re attached. They aren’t.

Then of course if enough years and even generations go by, we develop an interest in family history and can’t believe our good fortune to unearth such a treasure.

“Then there was the collection of unrelated items I now saw in a different light—those whose stories matter only to me: the child’s battered wooden rocking chair from the porch of my grandparents’ summer house; a faded, inscribed photograph of my father as a young man standing next to his own father, whom I never met; and the small tarnished music box with a twirling ballerina on top that was a gift from my godfather when I was young enough to still dream about being a dancer.

These things will stay with me here in the home where I have lived for decades.

Unless…

One day a young girl visiting her grandparents comes upon the music box. She picks it up and turns the key that starts the music playing. “Grandma,” she says, “what’s this? Can I have it?” “It’s yours,” I say, my heart skipping a beat. “It always has been. You had only to ask.”

I’ve inherited a lot of sets of dishes, and I have three grown daughters, and so far there aren’t any takers. My friend Kim recently proposed the idea of taking a class to learn how to make mosaic stepping stones for the garden. I can’t think of a better way to downsize some of this china!

what to do with old china plates

making mosaic tile stepping stones with my besties

So during last week’s live show (and you’ll find the link to the video replay here on YouTube in the video description below or go to genealogygems.com and click Elevenses in the menu to go to episode 64) I asked if any of you have family china:

  • Ann Baker​: Inherited? No, but we have some wedding china from our wedding 52 years ago that our kids absolutely don’t want. I’m putting it in the will that they must keep them. Or I’ll haunt them.
  • Barbara Dawes: ​Wedding gift from my grandmother was my set of sterling silver – do I take it with me?
  • Anne Renwick​: And yes, I have LOADS of old china!
  • Karen de Bruyne: ​had to give lots of grandparents old china away earlier this year, I kept one cup and saucer
  • Louise Booth:  3 or 4 sets — I’ve lost track!
mosaic tile stepping stone

mosaic tile stepping stone

China Plate Mosaic Stepping Stone Supply List (the links below are affiliate links. We will be compensated if you make a purchase. Thank you for using them and supporting this free show):

  • Concrete stepping stone from the local garden or hardware store
  • At least 2-3 large dinner plates or several smaller sizes. Strive for flatter plates.
  • Masonry cutters – ABN Glass & Ceramic Tile Nippers, Premium Carbide Cutting Wheels and Comfort Grip Handle 
  • Gryphon Gryphette Glass Grinder (optional)
  • Thin set
  • Tile Grout
  • Grout Sealer (about 1/3 cup applied to the grout with a small paintbrush.)
  • 2-3 popsicle sticks
  • Small cheap paint brush
  • Toothpick
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic gloves

China Plate Mosaic Stepping Stone Instructions:

  • Cut the plates up into piece 1-2” in size. Toss the pieces that aren’t fairly flat (like the raised rim that the plate sits on.)
  • Arrange them as desired on the concrete stepping stone. Place them as close as possible while leaving room for the grout. You don’t want large grout lines that might crack later.
  • Using the popsicle stick, apply a coat of mastic to the back of each piece. Cover the entire back evenly and press the piece back in place.
  • Clean up the grout lines so that no mastic sits higher than the plate pieces or clogs the grout line spaces.
  • Let drive 24 hours.
  • Mix the grout – use water sparingly and leave extra grout in case it gets too wet.
  • Let the grout stand or slake for 5 minutes.
  • Wearing the gloves and using a popsicle stick, fill all the grout lines completely and smoothly.
  • Follow package directions for set-up time and then buff it clean.
  • Allow to dry 24 hours.
  • With a small paintbrush apply the sealer to the grout lines and let dry.

Grandma’s Kitchen Utensils Wall Display

Do you remember spending time in your grandmother’s kitchen? I sure do. My maternal Grandma would take us out to the fields to pick fruits and vegetables and she canned a lot of it to preserve it for winter, keeping it in an old wooden pie safe in her garage.

I inherited many of her trusty kitchen utensils. I’ve hung on to them for years in a cardboard box, dragging them with me as we moved around the country. I’ve always wanted to display them but shelf and counter space is always so limited and precious. I needed a way to get them up on the wall and I finally found it.

When I was out shopping at an antique store I came across an old wire basket. It caught my eye because it wasn’t round. It’s rectangular shape turns into a hand display shelf when it’s turned on it’s side. Being wire, it’s not only easy to hand (place the bottom of the basket against the way and secure over a few good nails or hooks), but it’s the perfect canvas for displaying your utensils. Items can be placed on the “shelf” portion, and wired onto it from all directions. The nearly invisible wire means all you see is the beautiful patina of these old kitchen work horses – flour sifters, peelers, mashers, blenders, funnels and more!

Let’s hear from you: In the comments section tell us what your favorite family kitchen utensil is and who it originally belong to.

Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 27 on using Google Lens for genealogy. 

Music Box: Name that Tune!

Now we’re going to start off with a little family history mystery that Sharon emailed me about

She writes: “I’m a long time listener and I’m loving Elevenses with Lisa! After watching Beginning German Genealogy, I remembered that my friend, Tera Fey, had shared a unique music box with me, hoping I could identify the tune. Tera had been given the music box by her grandmother, Cora (Cornelia?) DeWein, who had been given the music box by her grandmother from Germany. Tera remembers that the top used to have a crest attached to it but doesn’t remember what it looked like. I was hoping you could share the tune with your many listeners and perhaps someone could “Name That Tune”. Many thanks for the work you do and that you share with us.”

How fun! OK we’ve had success playing Name that Tune before on my Genealogy Gems Podcast so you’ve come to the right place Sharon!

So, here’s my research plan on Tera’s music box. The first thing I did after receiving her email was to put it out on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page asking for help a few months ago.

While I waited for an answer I ran a Google search on the audio, and if you ever need to identify music you can do this too.

How to search for music using the Google search app:

  • Open the app and tap the microphone
  • Say “what’s this song?” or tap the “Search a song” button. 
  • Hum or sing the song for about 10-15 seconds.
  • This works in English on iOS, and in more than 20 languages on Android, as well as Google Assistant.
  • You’ll get suggested matching results or the response “Try Again”

In this case, we didn’t get a match.

Back on the Facebook post front, my daughter Lacey actually was the  one who identified it as a Thorens Music Box, which are Swiss made. She said “Looks like 30-36 note? There would have been a card attached to the inside with the list of tunes. Looking at others for sale on eBay show similar boxes with their songs listed. Could listen to those songs to see if they match?” This is a good strategy. 

A great place to listen to the songs available with a particular brand of music box is YouTube. I listened to several and although I didn’t hear a matching tune, there are many videos available naming the songs this box played, so it might be worth a more comprehensive search of Thorens Music Box. 

Now it’s your turn. Let’s see if anyone out there knows the name of this song.

If you do, and you’re here watching live, post the title in the Live Chat. If you’re watching the video replay, go down to the Comments section and leave a comment. Let’s see if we can help Sharon  and Tera out!

Help Send the Madden Family Tablecloth Back Home

I bought this tablecloth about 5 years ago on ebay.com. It’s covered in embroidered handprints with names and birthdates. Since it’s the “Madden Family Branch” I would guess that those listed without last names are Maddens. Associated surnames are Egge and Arrants. Although a color key to the generations sewn into the corner of the tablecloth, there were other colors in the embroidery, so the “generation” distinctions aren’t hard and fast. I’ve also grouped families together where they appear to be a unit.  If you think you know which family this is and have a contact for them today, email here. 

1st Generation (pink)

  • Bill Arrants June 6, 1899
  • Het Jan. 19, 1915
  • Aileen Sept 1, 1910

Possible Family Unit:

  • Jim Martin Sept. 26, 1934
  • Joanie (?) Martin May 17, 1934
  • Julie (?) Kay Martin March(?) 1969 (Yellow)
  • Orval July 14, 1919
  • Sig March 8, 1909
  • Melba Feb 26, 1905
  • Bob Sept 21, 1919
  • Tom July 27, 1910 or 1918
  • Edwin Egge May 5, 1910
  • Francie Sept 22, 1905

2nd Generation (blue)

  • Diann “Cookie” Aug 24, 1944
  • Dennis W. July 13, 1949
  • Jack August 12, 1925

Possible Family Unit:

  • Gene Oct. 23, 1936
  • Joann Egge (?) Jan. 22, 1938
  • Gerry Egge March 5, 1965
  • Bob (?) Suh 10, 1942
  • Jo March 15, 1925 (?)
  • Bobbie Sue March 26, 1949

Possible Family Unit:

  • Ed March 31, 1947
  • Marsha (?) Oct. 18, 1946
  • Sarah March 26, 1969
  • Edwin Egge May 5, 1910
  • Sheridan L Nov 4, 1943
  • Larry H May 12, 1956
  • Darin Egge Feb. 13, 1962
  • Bob Jr. July 22, 1953
  • Patty July 17, 1934
  • Harry March 20, 1928

3rd Generation (red)

Possible Family Unit:

  • Loretta K Sept 28, 1941
  • Bob K March 12, 1940
  • LeAnna K June 9, 1962
  • Johnny K. Sept. 24, 1959
  • Wayne Feb 11, 1907
  • Edward (?) Aug 13, 1903

4th Generation (Yellow)

Madden family tablecloth

Can you help find the family?

Learn more about how to find family history on ebay. Listen to Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 16 – Tips for Finding Family History Related Items on eBay

Resources

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Photo Editing Apps and Software for Family History

Every where we go, we are snapping pictures. Whether you are interested in capturing your current family history or want to preserve the past through pictures, photo editing apps and software are a must! Read more to learn what software and apps are out there for the active genealogist who loves to take pictures.

A Gems reader recently asked if we have any suggestions on photo editing software and apps for family history. Our Genealogy Gems team members are each active in their personal family history and are quite savvy when it comes to some of the best photo editing apps and software out there.

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Favorite Photo Editing Software and Apps

Lisa shares:
I think one of the best photo editing software programs out there is Adobe Photoshop Elements, the consumer version of the high-powered Photoshop CS/CC software. On my mobile device, Photoshop Express is my go-to photo editing app which I discuss in Chapter 8 of my book Mobile Genealogy. In fact, I use the app far more for the photos I’m actively taking with my iPhone 6 Plus than the software on my computer.
 
With our link you can get Adobe Photoshop Elements & Premiere Elements 14 (the video editing software) bundled and on sale, and support our free podcast at the same time.
 

Adobe Photoshop Elements is an ideal editor for entry-level photographers, image editors and hobbyists. You’ll find most of the features of the more expensive professional version, but with fewer and simpler options. It allows you to create, edit, organize, and share your images to social media sites. Use the built-in Guides to quickly accomplish your goals.

Adobe’s Photoshop Express app can be downloaded to your mobile device for free from Google Play (for Android) or the Apple Store (for iPhones.)

In her book Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research, Lisa explains how the Blemish tool can be used to restore old family photos.

Using the Photo Express Photo Editing App for Photo Restoration

If you want to restore old family photos, this app is now also capable of doing a lovely job with the new Blemish Removal tool. The app allows you to access your photos straight from Dropbox, as well as Adobe Creative Cloud, and Facebook. You can copy the old photos you want to edit to a dedicated folder in Dropbox. Remember, always leave your master digital photos where they are on your computer, and make sure your computer is backed up. (The Genealogy Gems Podcast uses and recommends Backblaze.)

How to add photos to Adobe Photoshop Express:

  1. On the computer where your photos are stored, go into Dropbox (either your Dropbox desktop application, or sign in to your account at www.dropbox.com)
  2. Create a folder called “Photos for Editing”
  3. Save copies of the photos you want to edit into the folder you created, leaving the originals where they are on your hard drive
  4. On your tablet, tap the Adobe Photoshop Express app
  5. Tap Dropbox. (See the chapter on File Sharing and Storage for more information on Dropbox)
  6. Tap the “Photos for Editing” folder
  7. Tap the photo you want to edit
  8. The photo is now on your screen and ready to edit and embellish
  9. When editing is complete, tap Close, then Save

Photo Editing Apps

Above is a photo of Lisa’s great-grandfather. On the left is the original scan, and on the right is restoration with the Blemish Removal tool (the icon looks like a band-aid.) After the touch up, Lisa applied the Dream filter which provided a bit more clarity and softened the rough spots in the background. Dream is one of the many free “Looks” available in the app, in addition to “Premium Looks” filters that you can purchase. She loves the fact that if she finds a certain combination of filters is working well, she can save it under “My Looks.” This saves time in the future because with one tap, you can apply your own special mix.

Amie’s Favorite Photo Editing Software and Apps

Amie says:

“One of my favorite photo editing tools is Pixlr Express. It is easy to use without having to read through the ‘instructions.’ It is a web-based tool or a mobile app. It makes correcting and enhancing my old photos a breeze.”

Using Pixlr Express

Pixlr Express is a web-based tool and a mobile app. Resize, rotate, filter, correct, and even add borders and text. Pixlr Express is free to use, which is always a plus. On your laptop, simply go to www.pixlr.com/express. Click on Browse.

photo_editing_pixlr

Choose the photo you wish to edit. The example below is a cute little picture of Amie’s dad in the fourth grade.

photo_editing_before_1

It could use some more color definition, maybe a new border to clean up the edges, and a caption on the front so that when shared, others will know who it is. To begin doing these edits, first click Adjustment.

photo_editing_before_2

From the icons that pop-up, choose Auto Fix. It really looks great with just the click of one button! Add a fun border if you wish and click Type to add the text you want. Here’s the finished product in less than 3 minutes:

photo_editing_before_3Don’t you just love it!

Enlisting the Help of Others

In some cases, our old photos are in seriously bad shape. We could pay to have a professional doctor it up, but I enlist the help of others at one of my favorite Facebook groups. Photo Restoration Free Service group on Facebook is dedicated to fixing images for free. Many of the people offering their talents are truly amazing. One man in particular caught my attention and gave me permission to use a before and after shot of his work. Thank you to Balazs and others who gave their permission for the before and after screenshot you see here.

photo_editing_

What are your favorite photo editing apps? Do you use a different app for your mobile device? We’d love to hear from you and what you are doing to make the most of your treasured family photos. Please leave a comment in the comment section below.

Sunny’s Tips for Restoration of Digital Documents

It’s not only the pictures of ancestors we sometimes need to restore, but it can also be those hard-to-read images of documents. When dealing with this problem, Sunny says:

“I do most editing on my laptop. This is where the nearest free software is and the default photo editor for Microsoft 2010. Most of the time, I just want to tweak the lighting: brighten up a scanned image or heighten the contrast in the image. To do this quickly, I open the image, then click Edit Pictures > Brightness and Contrast. In the Before/After images shown here, I just adjusted the midtones (+22) to make the gray areas lighter, then upped the contrast (+43).”

photo editing apps for documents

With so many photo editing apps available, it is hard to know what is going to work best for your needs. We hope that our experiences might help you to decide! We would love to see some of your before and after photos of a remarkable restoration. Will you share with us on our Facebook page? We’d love to hear from you!

More Gems on Photo Restoration and Preserving

“I Lost My Photos on My Phone!!” Here’s What You Need to Do

Tips for Digitizing Old Home Movies and Photographs

How to Use Google Image Search to Identify Old Photos on Smartphones and Tablets – Free Video

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