Create Custom Maps With National Atlas

Note: NationalAtlas will become part of the National Map site effective September 30, 2014. It looks like it will lose a lot of features once the move is complete, so take advantage of those features while you still can.

Would you like to include maps in your family history projects, but can’t find anything that isn’t copyrighted? Take a look at the National Atlas. It’s a map-making platform sponsored by the federal government that lets you build your own maps.

Once you’ve zoomed in on an area you want to map, choose from the display elements available on the right to display water elements, roads, boundaries and other features.

National Atlas example

Build your own map at National Atlas

You can print your maps, email them or save them in the Map Maker so you can return to them whenever you want. Here’s another way you screen capture app will come in handy to capture just the area you need for your project.

Sample customized map

Use screen capture to grab just the area you want for your project.

If you don’t like the color scheme, you can always do a bit of photoshopping on your copy. I took this one and reduced the saturation until it was a grayscale image then added some of my own points. I then made it a semi-transparent overlay on a background of my choosing and the result is a custom map that works with the theme of my project.

Farm Map 3

Tip: Leave off county names when you build your map. The text is too small and placement is worse (see Chattooga and Floyd in the map above). You can put them in yourself – where you want them and in a font that gives them presence.

NationalAtlas gives us a lot of flexibility for creating custom maps to use in our family history projects and it doesn’t take much effort to jazz them up to work within your on storytelling projects.

Web Fonts

Badge-BlogBytesIf you’ve been blogging for more than a couple of days, you’ve noticed the limited number of fonts available for use on your site. These are known as web-safe fonts because they are the few fonts found on almost every computer (Windows, Mac or Linux). Until recently web browsers only used the fonts installed on the local computer. If you wanted to use a fancy font, you created a graphic and inserted that graphic into your post or theme. Yes, it’s clunky and because that text is a graphic, it’s not searchable either. Bummer!

Now for the good news. These font limitations are a thing of the past. BUT! [There's always a but in there somewhere, isn't there?] It’s going to be a little messy for a while until things settle down.

The new HTML5 standard, which is quickly being implemented in most web browsers, supports the ability to include font files on the web site which are then available so the web browser can display them on the page. Does that mean you can now include any font on your site? Unfortunately, no. Not all fonts are licensed for use on the web. Fortunately, there are a growing number of services offering web font collections along with simple ways to implement them within your blog or site.

Google Fonts sample

A sample from the more than 600 font families available from Google Fonts.

Google offers the open source Google Font Directory with a beautiful collection of fonts and easy instructions to include them on your blog.

Typekit font sample

Typekit offers a subscription service for using fonts from their collection

If you still need more fonts, you might want to look at Typekit. This subscription service has a huge font library and already is incorporated into several blogging platforms including Typekit offers plans ranging from $25/year (2 sites with 5 fonts per site) to $50/year (unlimited sites and fonts). Each plan also has limits on page views per month so if you’re a high traffic site, you’ll need to chose your plan accordingly.

One of many commercial fonts offering web font options.

One of many commercial fonts offering web font options.

Font designers are beginning to realize the opportunities web fonts offer them and the selection continues to grow.

While not yet perfect, these options offer us more flexibility in our blog design. It will be a while before all browsers support all the new capabilities of HTML5 and until then we will all experience some design hiccups. Don’t let that stop you from experimenting – especially with fonts.

You’ll be amazed how something as simple as a change of font can significantly improve the look of your blog.

Digital Storytelling with MagCloud

MagCloud is Hewlett-Packard’s self-publishing platform. What is interesting about MagCloud is that it isn’t a book publishing business. Instead, its focus is on magazine-style publications. MagCloud not only supports magazines, it’s a great place to produce and publish quarterly journals, reunion souvenir booklets, brochures, flyers, catalogs and just about anything else your imagination can create. In addition, there’s a digital option where your publications can also be offered as high-quality PDFs. And, there’s even an iPad app.

For family organizations and genealogical societies, MagCloud will not only print your publication for you, but they can even send them directly to your members. And, by offering a digital edition in addition to the print one, you may be surprised to see how many members choose it – reducing your costs even more. You can also generate additional revenue by selling back issues through your MagCloud storefront without the expense and effort of storing and shipping them yourself.

There are a growing number of templates available including 8.5 x 11 standard, 8.5 x 8.5 square, 5.5 x 8.5 digest and 8.5 x 5.5 digest. The two digest options would work well for digital editions to be read on an e-reader or tablet. Prices for full-color printed publications start at 16¢/page for the digest format publications. The saddle-stitch binding option costs nothing, but the perfect binding is an additional $1.00. Check the price calculator to see what the actual cost of your publication will be. You have several options with the digital edition: free, free with print edition or paid. If you set a price for your digital publications, 30% goes to MagCloud and you keep 70% of it. There are no upfront costs and no cost to maintain your online storefront.

Creating a MagCloud publication is really quite simple. There are template packages with instructions for each size publication and several different apps. Apps include Microsoft Word [Win & Mac], Microsoft Publisher, Apple’s Pages and Adobe’s InDesign. Download the package and start creating your own publication.

MagCloud is a good solution when you want to create a more graphical publication. And, by choosing one of the digest options as your template, you’ll only need to create your publication once to offer it as both print and digital editions. The smaller size of the digest makes it much easier to read the resulting PDF on tablets and e-readers. And, with the digital edition, your hyperlinks will function so you can include links to outside sources like your society’s web site, the article author’s site or even back to your MagCloud storefront to grab another publication.

If you have a storytelling project full of photos, fonts and fixed layouts, MagCloud offers the flexibility to do just about anything you want and you don’t need to learn a new app just to build your story project.

DIGITAL Storytelling

DIGITAL Storytelling collects how-to articles, creative ideas and inspiration for the family history publisher.

Flickr Groups – a delightful research tool

Historic Florida group at Flickr

Historic Florida group at Flickr

One of the many things I love about Flickr is Groups. There are groups for just about any subject imaginable. My favorite is the Historic Florida group. Not only are the photographs fabulous, but often the photographers will include information on the subject of the photo too. Then there’s the discussion section of the group where not only the photos are discussed but often the conversation moves into details about the place itself. If you would like to learn more about a particular area, look for a group sharing photos of that area and you’ll not only see the sites but you’ll have a chance to connect with the photographers who may well be locals with lots of useful information to help you in your research.

Flickr offers three kinds of groups: public open to all, public by invitation only and private. Any Flickr user can create groups. When you join a group, you can share individual photos with the group. You still control your photos, you’re just making them visible via the group.

Groups are great ways to share photos of a special family event – like a wedding or reunion. Create a group and invite all the photographers in the family to join it and share the photos they take at the event. If you can get attendees with camera phones to post their photos “live”, then family members who can’t attend the event for whatever reason would be able to enjoy some of the activity as it happens. Oh, did I mention that Flickr supports video uploads too?

The Genealogy Pool at Flickr

The Genealogy Pool at Flickr

Groups can also be used to attract cousins. There are over 500 groups related to genealogy including The Genealogy Pool with almost 900 members and more than 11,000 photos. Look for a surname group or create your own and post your old photos. Include the information you have about each photo in the description area and take advantage of the group’s discussion to start conversations. Want to learn more about some of your photos? Post them in your group and start a discussion asking for help.

TIP: You can subscribe to any Flickr group in Feedly by entering the group’s URL in the Add Content field. That way you can have new photos delivered to your newsreader as they are added to the group. You can do the same with the group’s discussion too.

Photos are a fascinating and Flickr is a great place to enjoy them. And, thanks to Groups, it’s also a very useful research tool.

Is your blog accessible?

Technology has given us all some great tools to both publish and consume information. Our blogs allow us to connect with distant cousins and others researching the same people and places we are. Technology has also given people with disabilities access to most of the same information. But, with just a bit of effort on our part, we can help improve that – especially when they are visiting our blog sites.

There are special devices and software that help make life easier for the disabled. We’re already familiar with closed-captioning for television programs which provide people with hearing issues the ability to keep up with what’s happening on-screen. Did you know that you can add captioning when you build your own movies?

Blind people use a special program called a screen reader to browse the web. It reads the content to them and offers special commands for navigating a page or site. People with physical disabilities – especially our wounded service men and women – use voice recognition software like Dragon Dictate to dictate content and perform commands.

All of these tools are amazing, but they work even better when we do our part. Here are a few suggestions. . .
WordPress attachment details panel
Provide a text description for every image you include in your blog post. Screen reader software will read the information found in the “alt” attribute included with the image code, giving your blind visitor an idea of what is displayed here. Here you see the Attachment Details panel from the Add Media screen in WordPress. Notice the simple description included in the Alt Text field. It doesn’t appear anywhere in your post, but is part of the HTML code that is read to blind visitors using their screen reader. It doesn’t have to be a long description – just enough to let the reader know what’s there. Alt text has another use too. It describes the content of the image to search engines – just in case you’re trying to attract anyone’s attention . . .

If you’re using CAPTCHA features on your comments to prevent spammers, make sure your CAPTCHA capability offers an alternative for people with visual impairments.

Do you ever tell your readers to click the red box or the green text? How will your blind readers find it? It’s good practice to define your links with a description of what they will find at the other end. (Example: Download the family tree file.)

Notice there’s also an entry in the Title field. You’ll find title fields for media (images, photos, attached documents) and for links. Ever wondered what it does? It is used by various assistive apps and devices to allow disabled people to move from one hyperlink to another within your text. A voice command like “click family tree file” is a lot easier than having to verbally “tab” through every previous link on the page to get to this one.

These are just a couple of suggestions that take very little effort on your part but they make your blog site and posts much more accessible to people with disabilities. There’s a whole section on accessibility in the Yahoo! Style Guide. You can visit the online edition or you can keep a print or Kindle copy nearby at all times.

A Markdown Primer

Markdown is a simple way to include formatting options in plain text files. If you’re wondering why this is useful or even important, take a look at this article on Markdown as an archival standard. For me, Markdown has been fun to play with, but I’m finally seeing some very practical solutions. First, there’s the new Day One blogging feature that let’s me quickly and easily send a journal entry to my Day One blog. A few days ago, Dick Eastman mentioned a new Dropbox collaboration feature developed using a service called Sitedrop. When I checked it out, I noticed there were a number of files using the .md file extension meaning they were Markdown files. When I opened one, I was presented with a “web” page.


Although I’m getting pretty good at writing (typing) on my iPad, trying to include even the simplest HTML tags in a blog post is a nightmare. supports Markdown for both posts and comments. You’ll find checkboxes in Settings (Writing and Discussion panels) to turn on Markdown. Once activated, you can use it when posting from the WordPress mobile app as well as your desktop browser.

To get started, go find a good Markdown reference (or two) and add them to your Help Desk notebook in Evernote. A quick look shows you how easy it is to use – it’s just a matter of getting in the habit.

WordPress Markdown reference:
Day One Markdown reference:

Here’s a look at Markdown in a Day One journal entry. In the editor screen you can see the Markdown code hardly impacts the readability of the text (remember it’s still just plain text), but in the reading screen Day One has done the conversion to display formatted text. The journal entry is saved as marked up plain text and converted on the fly for whichever purpose you’ve selected – view, export to PDF or publish to blog. You’ll note that the hashtag in front of the Experiments heading didn’t convert. That’s because I didn’t put a space between it and the text. My bad.

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If you’re a “touch typist” you may even find it easier to use Markdown to format text since you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard to do it. It’s a whole lot easier to add two asterisks before and after text you want bolded than it is to stop, grab the mouse, select the text, click on the bold button then click again to put the cursor back where you left off. However, there is one thing I’ll still do the “standard” way – especially in WordPress – inserting images. I’m still going to have to go through the process of uploading the image so clicking a few options and the insert button is just as easy.

Markdown may not make a big difference here at the Gazette – especially on articles full of examples and other techy things – but I do see it becoming very useful on my personal blogs and in my journaling. Here I’m capturing moments and writing personal stories. Quite often I’m doing this on a mobile device – either my iPhone or iPad. Until now, I would often just add some quick notes and wait until I got to my desktop to write a “proper” story. I still don’t see myself “typing” a thousand-word missive on my iPhone, but that could happen on my iPad – especially with a bluetooth keyboard.

I’m using WordPress and Day One as examples because these platforms are where I spend a lot of my time. There are a growing number of apps and platforms supporting Markdown so this is a topic that won’t be going away anytime soon.


A Scrivener/Evernote Collaboration

PDF to ScrivenerI’m in the research stage for an update to my Researcher’s Digital Toolbox book and have been putting Evernote to work to help me capture interesting tidbits I find here and there. I especially appreciate Evernote’s simplified article capture which just gives me the article content minus all the surrounding site design, ads, etc. But, while it makes good sense to capture and organize those notes in Evernote, I’ll want to have many of them in my Scrivener workspace for easy reference as I work on the manuscript.

I discovered that if I have a project open in Scrivener, I can use Evernote’s print note command and choose the PDF option (in my Mac’s print options panel) which then opens a panel of service options  - including PDF to Scrivener. I select that option and that note is dumped right into the Research section of my open Scrivener project.

Love it!

Day One – Have Your Journal and Publish It Too

I hope you’re as interested in capturing your current family history as you are in tracking down your ancestors. If so, Day One is an amazing app for doing just that. And, every time I think Day One can’t get any better . . . it does.

This suite of Mac/iOS apps offers an easy way to capture your current family history. With the iOS app [$4.99], you’re ready to capture any moment – large or small. Not only can you include photos, Day One will automatically capture your location and even the weather conditions at the time of your entry. For those entries that need more explanation, the Mac app [$9.99] makes a great command center. You can sync your journal entries between devices using either iCloud or Dropbox.

Capturing your world is just one element in Day One’s growing list of features. If you wish to share a moment, individual entries can be emailed, texted and forwarded to Facebook or Twitter. You can use tags to organize each entry and later put those tags to use to select all the entries associated with a person or event. Now, export those items and you’ve got a beautiful PDF document. Create tags for family members, trips or special events and you can quickly create a travel journal or baby book based on the entries you’ve included in Day One.

And now for that even better part. Day One recently introduced Day One Publish – a personal blogging service. You can use Publish to post the entries you wish to share to your personal blog at Day One. You can also connect your Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts to this blog so you can use them to invite others to view the post. Here’s where things get interesting. Whether you use the social networks or send a link by email, you’re only giving people access to that particular post.

A Day One journal entry displayed in the Day One blog.

A Day One journal entry displayed in the Day One blog.

Clicking on the owner’s name (Moultrie Creek in blue at top left) will present the owner’s profile information as a panel on the left.

Day One entry with profile panel displayed.

Day One entry with profile panel displayed.

Only the owner can see his/her complete list of postings – by logging into the account.

Notice the very tiny gray note at the bottom of this screen. It says 1 VIEW. Day One Publish even tracks stats! And, if I had also announced this post at Facebook, Twitter and/or Foursquare, it would collect those stats for me and display them here too. Stats include views, likes and shares.

Right now Day One Publish is only available on the iThings. Setting up your free Publish account is simple. Just go to the Settings screen in the app and tap Day One Account. Now, when you create a journal entry, you’ll also see the Publish icon at the bottom of the screen. Tap it, choose your publishing options, then tap Publish.

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To learn more, watch this video from Day One.