Mayday! Mayday!

When heard over a radio, it’s a call for help. The term “MayDay” generally means some kind of disaster. I find it interesting that May Day – the day – is traditionally the day that cultural institutions and archives set aside to review and adjust their disaster plans. Here in Florida, the month of May is the time to review our personal disaster plans and prepare for hurricane season which begins the first of June.

In addition to checking our disaster supplies (batteries, non-perishable food, water, etc.) I also use May to review my digital disaster plan. Here are some of the things I review:

  • Data backups. I am set up for automatic backups, but it’s time to make sure any new data folders or other content is included.
  • Blog backups. Since I use WordPress, I use their export feature and download a complete copy of my sites every quarter.
  • Image backups. I have a Flickr Pro account ($50/year) which includes auto-uploading all new images on my desktop and mobile devices. It serves as my off-site backup for photos and scanned images. Those images are also stored on my desktop and an external hard drive.
  • Security check. I use 1Password to manage passwords and other personal data. It includes a security audit to let me know it’s time to update old passwords. The new Watchtower feature identifies the sites that have known vulnerabilities so I can change the passwords at those sites.
  • Power check. We use surge protectors and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices to protect our electronics. Now’s a good time to check them and replace older ones no longer operating at full capacity.

You may not have the threat of hurricane season to worry about, but there are plenty of disasters just waiting to destroy your research and historical documents. Make May Day your call to review your own disaster plan and insure your archives are also protected.

This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated with current information.

Ewing College – Another Great Gopher Find


Thanks to the Genealogy Gophers and Internet Archive, I now have a copy of the history of Ewing College in Illinois. And, thanks to them I now have a photo of my ancestor, Robert R. Link, along with an impressive biography. He was one of the founders of the college which began as a high school in 1867 and kicked up the curriculum to college level in 1874. The biographies of the founders included in the book gave me a lot of insight into the life of this man.

What makes the Genealogy Gophers search engine so impressive? First, they are searching their own “library” of genealogy publications. As they put it, each new addition to their library is indexed using “statistical algorithms to try and associate the names, dates, and places it’s found, and recognize combinations of the data that are likely to represent real people.” There are also other statistical and machine learning tools used to support genealogy-only search results.

The details on how they do it may be way over my head, but the results I get are both amazing and delightful. Those talented gophers are quickly becoming my favorite research buddies.

The Genealogy Gophers is a free service, but you will be asked to complete a short survey each day. If you don’t want to deal with the surveys, it will cost you $19.95/year to skip them. For me that $20 has paid off in an impressive collection of articles, photos and publications providing more information about my ancestors.

Research Safely With Firefox

Genealogy is a fascinating hobby but it can also be a dangerous one. Our research requires that we spend a lot of time in many different kinds of websites. Most of them require a login name and password. Instead of creating a different password for each site, many people use the same password over and over. This can be quite dangerous. If someone manages to crack the password for one of your sites he will then try using that password to crack even more of you sites. This could include access to your bank accounts and other personal information.

The Firefox browser was designed to protect users while they browse the Web. Turn on the Private Browsing and Firefox will make sure that no trackers are following you as you visit various sites. There is also a Tracking Protection feature that stops the hidden trackers often found in advertisements.

Firefox has an experimental password management app called Firefox Lockbox. Even though it is experimental, it functions quite nicely. There are a number of affordable password managers that function very well in the Firefox browser.

Firefox also offers a mobile version for both iOS and Android devices. Create an account with Firefox and it will insure that bookmarks, passwords and Pocket items are automatically synched between your desktop and devices.

Firefox even has a feature for taking screenshots. In this example only the visible part of this page has been captured and the buttons above it give you options on what to do with this shot.

The panel on the left is my bookmarks. The panel slides open with just one click and closes just as quickly. There is also a bar just above the screen for the sites that are frequently visited.

Firefox on iPhone
Here is an example of Firefox on iOS. Tap the three bar icon at the bottom of the screen to view options.


Those options are available on the iPhone version of Firefox. Notice at the top of the panel is the Firefox account info. Because I created a Firefox account and use it on my desktop and mobile devices, all my settings, bookmarks, etc. stay synchronized.

The Firefox browser is available for Windows and Mac desktops as well as iOS and Android mobile devices. This is just the beginning. There’s a lot more browser goodness coming to make your online researching easier.


Research With Notes

Well yeah! Researchers need notes to document what they know and what they need to find. Everybody knows that.

There are all kinds of notes management services and apps with many that do amazing things to keep us organized, find what we need fast and capture new information easily. Services like Evernote and One Note are quite impressive. If you are a serious researcher, the time and money needed to get the most from these services is well worth it.

For Mac, iPad and iPhone users, there is the free Notes app. At first glance it looks rather simplistic but it won’t take long to realize how sophisticated it really is. In addition to the basic text note, you can also create checklists and tables. Use Siri to create a new note then dictate your content. You can even add attachments – photos, scanned documents and videos – to your notes.

Research notes tend to grow quickly. Fortunately Notes lets you create folders to help organize all that research goodness. You can easily move a note from one folder to another. There is a sort feature making it easy to sort by date edited, date created or title.

Sample research folder in Notes

As your research notes grow, you will find your device’s search feature very handy. Even better, just ask Siri to find it for you. As you can see in this example, I include hash tags (#Levy #Texas #military) in my notes to make searching even easier. Anytime I want to see all my notes on my Levy family, all I have to do is search for #Levy and Notes delivers. My standard hashtags include family name, location and type of record.

Going to the library to do some research? Take your iPhone or iPad with you and use Notes to scan the documents you find there. All you do is open a note in Notes then tap the plus sign icon at the top of the keyboard. Choose the Scan Document option then position your iPad over the document page. Your device will automatically capture the page and add it to the note.

If you are using iCloud for storage, your notes will automatically synch to each of your iOS devices – and your Mac desktop too. There is also a collaboration feature that takes advantage of iCloud so you can share a note and all your collaborators can view, and or change the content of that note. Your collaborators must be signed into iCloud before they can edit a note.

This is just the beginning. Notes has a lot more goodness to put to good use with your research. You will find detailed instructions for making the most of your Notes app in the iPad User Guide for iOS 12 (there is also an iPhone user guide). You can download either guide in the Books app on your device. These guides are free.