Category Archives: Research Notes

Flickr for Maps

We already know that Flickr is more than just a photo-sharing platform. It is also an impressive online gallery for a growing number of the world’s prestigious institutions. You can find some truly amazing things here – like these historical maps. If you are looking for historical maps and images to support your research, take a look at the very searchable collections in Flickr Commons.

1783 Map of US Eastern Seaboard

Image taken from page 58 of ‘History of the United States of America: … to the present time by T. P. Shaffner. From the British Library’s collection at Flickr Commons.

Click the map image to view its page at Flickr and you’ll discover even more goodies – including a link back to the library where you can download a PDF copy of book containing this map and others.

Map of Drake's raid.

Baptista Boazio’s Map of Sir Francis Drake’s Raid on St. Augustine (published in 1589) via Florida Memory, on Flickr Commons.

This map is the earliest engraving of any city or territory now part of the United States. Other Flickr collections from Florida Memory include maps of the Spanish land grants in Florida at the time it became an American colony.

The number of institutions using Flickr to display collections continues to grow. The Internet Archive has posted more than 2.5 million illustrations from books in their book images collection and The British Library has more than a million images online with a good number of them maps.

Genealogy in My Pocket

Have you seen the new update to Ancestry.com’s iOS app? It’s very nice! Randy Seaver has a full review of the update at Genea-Musings if you want to learn more. There are a growing number of genealogy-related apps available for iOS, Android and even Windows devices. Some of them are simple, yet smart – like the BillionGraves Camera App that captures the location of the grave using the device’s builtin GPS services along with the photo of the headstone. And, you can add details about the grave and marker while you are standing in front of it. 

 Others, like Mobile Family Tree, are quite impressive. I’ve found I’m spending as much time in Mobile Family Tree [iOS – $14.99] as I am in its companion Mac Family Tree [Mac – $49.99]. Why? Because my iPad is always nearby when a thought or idea inspires me. The really interesting aspect of these companion apps is that both are fully-funtional alone and they keep their databases synched via iCloud. The synching is done automatically in the background. If I’m not mistaken, Mobile Family Tree is currently the only fully-functional genealogy app for mobile. I expect we’ll see more apps like this soon. 

By combining Mobile Family Tree and Evernote, I have a very functional mobile research platform. At this point I use it mostly for “spur of the moment” ideas or searches. And since my iPad is my reading platform of choice, I find I’m doing more and more record reviews and analysis here too. My big screen desktop still is my primary research platform because I can have multiple sites and programs open at the same time and easily move between them all. I don’t see that changing soon.

What I do love about my iThings is that one or both of them is always nearby when an idea strikes. The key to using them effectively is developing workflows. What is a workflow? Basically, it’s the steps involved in completing a task. The research workflows I learned in school were all paper-based. Yes, I can adapt those procedures to digital content, but it doesn’t save me any time or effort. The challenge is to develop a workflow to make my life easier. In my case it involved trading in notebooks, tabs and copied files for tags and smart searching. 

I don’t see my desktop computer going away anytime soon, but as my research transitions to a digital world I find that my mobile devices are taking on an even bigger role. 

Life is good.

Sneak Peek at Internet Archive’s New Look

Yummy!

The Internet Archive has opened up its beta site so we can get a look at the new design. It’s quite impressive.

Internet Archive beta home page

Here’s a look at the new home page.

The look is much cleaner and easier to navigate with the search box front and center. I typed in “St. Augustine, Florida” and got 151 results – all listed as cards as you see below.

Internet Archive beta search results

Search results appear as cards.

Item pages are much cleaner too. There are even embed codes for sharing content on blogs and social networks. I tried them on both WordPress and Tumblr but it appears this feature isn’t working yet. I also noticed there is a WordPress shortcode embed option but that it only works with WordPress.com. My next question is how long before that shortcode will be included in Jetpack for the rest of us WordPress users?

Think of what these new sharing and embedding features could do for genealogical and historical societies . . .

Put Your Computer to Work

The first computer I worked on required as much floor space as a basketball court and did some truly amazing things – scary but amazing. Today, my mobile phone has exponentially more processing power than that monster and fits in the palm of my hand. I’ve seen a lot of changes in those 40-plus years. Not only did computers get smaller and more powerful, they’ve become a whole lot easier to use and a new generation of software engineers have developed some absolutely amazing tools giving us more time to do the things we love. Unfortunately, the human side of the the equation is still lost in the 20th century. Instead of creating new workflows to take advantage of the capabilities of today’s apps and services, we are doing everything we can to make those apps conform to our old, paper-based workflows. Yes, it’s better, but not exponentially better.

When I first started using Evernote, I was creating notebooks for each surname and copying notes and clippings into multiple notebooks when they related to multiple families. No wonder I didn’t find Evernote as amazing as the (much) younger techies did. Then, after spending time digging into how the app worked and experimenting with its features, I came up with a few basic workflows that not only make it easier to capture and organize notes and clippings, but to quickly collect them when I need them. Now, I have one Family Research notebook and a number of saved searches to make it easier to find my information when I need it. Instead of wondering in which notebook(s) I will save a note, I just start adding tags. Evernote does the rest. Is it exponentially better than my old paper system? Yes.

In reality, it wasn’t a light-bulb moment but rather an evolution. I was first exposed to the concept of tags when I started using Flickr back in 2005. Then I found tags in WordPress, my photo managing app (iPhoto), document management app (Yep) and even the Mac’s Finder (file management component). Next came saved searches and “smart” folders – which are basically the same thing. My digital world kept getting easier to manage, but my “Evernote epiphany” was when it all came together. Now this same basic workflow supports just about everything I do on my computer.

There is one down side to these technology-based workflows. They keep changing. Yes, I spend time learning the new features each software update brings and reviewing if/how my workflows will change, but I enjoy finding easier ways of doing things. Those who don’t handle change well may be better off with their existing workflows. Fortunately, now we all have options.

 

Celebrating Independence Day

Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Building Libraries

Have you noticed the revolution in data management taking place right under our noses? The rigid systems of folders and sub-folders that kicked off the digital age are being replaced with libraries and metadata. First there were apps like iTunes and iPhoto which dumped everything into a library and used tags, dates, locations and saved searches to organize them. Photos and music could now be in multiple places at the same time without filling up our hard drives with duplicate copies of the same file.

At first I thought libraries was just a Mac thing. iTunes builds a library for your music and iPhoto does the same for your photos. Now I’m finding more and more content management apps are following that trend and the more I work with these applications, the more I appreciate the concept. Then Evernote came along. It took me a while to appreciate its value – mostly because I initially tried to create notebooks for every little thing. Once I realized that Evernote could keep track of my things better than I could, the number of notebooks dropped and I started treating it as another library. That’s when I really began to appreciate Evernote’s abilities.

Yes, I still have the remnants of the multi-level filing system I brought with me in my transition from Windows to Mac, but I have found these libraries better support my organizational style (or lack thereof). I probably should remodel my file folders, but these apps don’t seem to mind working within my antiquated system so I see no rush to change.

In addition to the iTunes, iPhoto and Evernote libraries already mentioned, I have a document library to manage personal, household and research documents and a library of electronic books and publications. There’s still a lot of other stuff filling up my storage system, but most of those are project-related – works in progress and their associated files. I manage my documents with Ironic Software’s Yep [$19.99 – Mac]. It works in a number of ways. First, I use it with my scanner to quickly index each scanned item using tags and other metadata before it’s saved in my document library. It provides fields to input the metadata I want to include with the document then stores the document in the library with the metadata firmly embedded. I also have it set up to “monitor” certain folders. When a new file is added to a monitored folder, Yep will include it in the library. It takes advantage of the Mac’s new file tagging system as it updates the library.

Once cataloged, I can easily find that item again either with Yep or with my Mac’s built-in Spotlight search feature. And, because of their metadata support, when a document is related to multiple topics or surnames I no longer need to stash multiple copies in different folders. I just keep adding tags and let the library handle the rest.

Here’s a look at some of my research docs as they appear in Yep. Although I do have the ability to manually place each item into a specific folder, I generally let Yep stash them in its document library. If you look at the status bar at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see that the selected document is buried within my own filing system. It’s one of the migratory files left over from my Windows days and I’m happy to leave it right where it is. Yep knows where it is and can find it for me in an instant.

Yep isn’t the only document manager out there. Mariner Software offers a very nice app called Paperless [$49.95 – Win and Mac] and the folks at Nuance have been managing documents for years with PaperPort [$37.49 – Win]. They all do much the same thing so it’s just a matter of style – how the application’s interface and workflow fit with the way you work.

My last library is the growing number of electronic publications – ebooks, magazines, journals, user guides and more – that reside on my network storage. I use calibre [open source – Win, Mac and Linux]  to not only organize and manage these publications but to send them to my reading device of choice when I want to take something with me. It can convert HTML, rich text or plain text files to either Kindle or ePub format so I can package research files onto my e-reader for easy reference while on a research trip. I’ve found it especially useful for managing my collection of public domain books related to local and family history topics. I can use tags and notes to document what topics are contained in the book and where that information is located within the publication.

These four apps are always nearby. When I plug in my camera, iPhoto opens to accept and manage my latest photos. Scan a document and Yep is there to quickly tag and index it properly. Both iTunes and iPhoto provide media support in my other Mac apps – like the iWork suite – when I want to include an image in a document or add a soundtrack to a slideshow. These tools give me more time to concentrate on my research and storytelling as they reduce the time spent maintaining my collected files.

 

Stars and Stripes Begins Rollout of WWII Archive

UPDATE: You’ll find an amazing interactive Return to Normandy presentation at the Stars and Stripes web site.

Great news!

Stars and Stripes first launched its digital archive in 2008 with over 1.0 million newspaper pages spanning 1948 through 1999. Fittingly, the World War II editions will begin to become available on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Originally established in London in 1942 for American military service members, the newspaper staff arrived on the Normandy beaches as part of the D-Day landing. Beginning June 6, editions from London (1942-1945) and Northern Ireland (1943-1945) will be available at Stars and Stripes Newspaper Archives, created in partnership with NewspaperArchive.com.

The newspaper followed the Allies’ success up from Africa and across Europe into Germany, where its European headquarters is now in Kaiserslautern. Over 30 different editions were produced during the World War II. The Africa and Mediterranean editions (including the invasion of Italy) are planned for release in September 2014, followed by the editions through the end of the war, which are expected to release in December, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Stars and Stripes has published a newspaper for the American military community stationed in Europe — without interruption — since 1942. Today content may also be found on its premier website, stripes.com. A special multimedia section “Return to Normandy” is now available to pay tribute to the many sacrifices made in the course of that 50-mile-long coastal assault designed to drive the Nazis out of France and back to Germany.

They expect to have all the WWII content online by the end of the year.

Thanks to Tara Calishain at ResearchBuzz for passing this on.

Getting Ready for Hurricane Season

In my part of the world, May means it’s time to prepare for hurricane season. That includes stocking the pantry with non-perishable staples, bottled water, fresh batteries and other necessities needed to survive for days should the worse happen. It also means reviewing evacuation routes, updating contact information and making sure that the “bug-out” bag has everything we’ll need if we have to evacuate.

In my lifetime, we’ve only evacuated twice and two other times we’ve been without power for more than a day – actually a full week both times. We’ve been lucky. We also know it only takes one storm to change everything. So, each May we get ready.

There are a lot of things about hurricane season that have changed significantly since I was a child. First, instead of a static-prone transistor radio, we now have a NOAA Weather Alert radio that also has a light and can be used to recharge mobile devices. Ours has a hand crank for charging the radio – the option of last resort in our house. I also keep Hurricane Tracker for iPad on my iPad throughout the season although I don’t need a special app to receive storm updates. The National Hurricane Center distributes their scheduled forecast information via RSS and they have several Twitter accounts (@NHC_Atlantic, @NHC_Pacific and @NHC_Surge) for immediate updates.

We use Vonage as our phone service and they have a very nice roll-over feature that we put to good use. Go to your Vonage settings online and set up your mobile phone number as an alternative should your Vonage connection be cut. When that happens, calls will automatically be re-routed to your alternate mobile phone. In addition, because thunderstorms are an almost daily occurrence during the summer, we have two uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices that protect the computer equipment from power surges and outages. In case of a lengthy power outage, everything is shut down except the modem and router and we use our mobile devices to keep up with the news and connect to family. The router and modem use a lot less energy than our other equipment and can last quite a while on the UPS’s batteries.

The last time we had a serious power outage was from Frances in 2004. We were one of the last neighborhoods brought back online so we went a week without power. It was then that I learned our disaster plan was missing one important component – entertainment. We didn’t even have a deck of cards in the house. Now there are cards, dominos and a travel Scrabble game plus the Kindle readers – with 3G for easy access to additional books.

Speaking of books, several months after that last storm, I stumbled upon The Storm Gourmet: A Guide to Creating Extraordinary Meals Without Electricity. You’d be surprised what you can do with a can of chicken! It’s made me re-think my list of pantry staples.

Severe weather in some form or another is a fact of life wherever you live. Being prepared can help make dealing with it a lot easier. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, your preparations for disaster can help save your life. And, when the unthinkable happens, there are a lot of “neighbors” who offer their time and money to help.

>> The Salvation Army
>> Team Rubicon
>> The American Red Cross

 

What’s your plan?

It’s been a rough winter for many of us and the spring storms are just getting started. From floods to tornadoes to fires, the wild weather and other disasters can happen at any time. In my part of the world, hurricane season is little over a month away. It’s second nature for me to keep the pantry stocked with canned foods and bottled water, but that’s just one part of my disaster plan.

  • How will you contact family and friends immediately after a disaster?
  • How do you protect your family treasures – photos, letters, heirlooms, artwork, etc.?
  • Do you live in an evacuation area? If so, do you know your evacuation routes?
  • Is your important financial and insurance information somewhere you can get to it after the disaster?
  • Does everyone in your family know what they need to do before, during and after a disaster?
  • Are you prepared to deal with a long-term power outage?

Most disasters don’t give us time to prepare. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place even when you think there’s little chance you’ll need it. At Ready.gov, you’ll find help for building your disaster plan. Family Tree Magazine has several good articles for family historians on disaster planning and recovery. If you haven’t double-checked your data backup system, now would be a good time. And, an off-site backup system (Mozy or Carbonite) or storage service (Dropbox, MobileMe, Flickr, etc.) can insure those precious photos and documents you’ve digitized aren’t lost in the rubble.

Because it’s always with you, your smartphone could be a good place to keep important contact and account information. Look for an app like 1Password, SplashID or RoboForm that encrypts your data in case your phone is lost or stolen and, make sure you lock down your phone with a secure password if you’re keeping this kind of information on it.

During and after a disaster, communications systems are often damaged or overwhelmed with traffic. If you can’t get a voice call through, try texting. Is your phone set up to post to Twitter? One text message can tell all your followers (your family is following you, right?) that you’re okay. Make plans with your family on who to contact and how during emergencies.

Speaking of Twitter . . . Do your local emergency management agencies use Twitter for updates? If so, follow them. Check to see which local news organizations post weather alerts and other useful information and follow them too. On the Mobile tab in your Twitter settings you can set your phone up to receive tweets only from selected users. Just click the little phone icon on a user’s profile page or your followers page to activate that user. Get familiar with the Twitter commands for use in texting. They could come in handy during an emergency.

Finally, while you’re reviewing and updating your emergency plan, take a minute and hit the donation button at the Salvation Army, Red Cross or your favorite charity to help them help those caught up in this year’s disasters.