Are You A Collaborator?

Are you taking advantage of the collaboration features offered by a growing number of online archives? Connecting with research cousins is a great way to share the “personal” resources that are seldom available from a genealogy archive. Instead of moaning when Ancestry’s shaky leaf leads you to another user’s family tree, take a look at that tree to see if that user is researching the same family you are and then check to see if that tree’s owner is a serious researcher or just someone collecting names. If a serious researcher, tap/click the person’s username and Ancestry will take you to a screen giving you basic information about that person. You’ll also see a Send Message icon that opens an in-house message panel so you can contact that user.

It’s surprising how much help a research cousin can be. Some time back, a shaky leaf led me to a portrait of my third great grandmother, Frances. I followed that source to the researcher to ask if I could save a copy of the portrait. We chatted for a while to determine how we were related. I descend from Frances’ youngest child, William, while she descends from Frances’ only daughter, Georgiana. Then the bomb dropped. Georgiana kept a diary most of her adult life. My new cousin not only had the diary, but she had transcribed it and published it as a Kindle book on Amazon. It was a goldmine of information about this family and explained several things that would never be found in an archive.

MyHeritage Screen

Ancestry isn’t the only service offering collaboration features. FamilySearch is collaborative by design. Your tree is not your own and you will quickly find other researchers posting information on your ancestors. There is an internal messaging system to connect and collaborate with them. When reviewing matches in MyHeritage, you will find other users sharing your ancestors. As you see in the image above, there is a contact button with each confirmed match allowing you to connect with that user. MyHeritage has also just announced a new Inbox feature on their mobile apps which works like an in-house email service making it even easier to communicate with other members.

Connecting with research cousins doesn’t just help your research effort. It gives you access to others who are just as passionate about their family research as you are. Yes, there will be sloppy researchers hoping you will do the work for them, but there are also researchers who will be delighted to find research cousins who want to learn more about their ancestors and share what they know.

You will soon find that collaboration can be a wonderful thing.

Collaboration Made Easy With Simplenote

How does a small genealogical society with limited resources make it possible for board members and staff to easily access needed information like meeting agendas, speakers lists, scheduled presentations and news releases? They use Simplenote.

Simplenote ( is exactly what its name says it is  . . . a simple way to create and share notes. Even better, it is free. Automattic, the company that created the WordPress blog platform, also created Simplenote. It can be used just about anywhere on just about any device. There are apps for Windows, Mac and Linux computers along with iOS and Android devices. Each note you create or edit is instantly updated on all your devices.

Using Simplenote to work with others is just as easy. To share a note with another Simplenote user, all you need to do is “tag” your note with that user’s email address and Simplenote will take care of the rest. Each of you can make changes and see them almost instantly.

Your notes are written in “plain text”. There are no formatting options like bold, italics, fonts, etc. If you want to format your text, you can take advantage of the Markdown feature to add a broad range of formatting. Not familiar with Markdown? Check out the Writing for the Future article to learn more.

Simplenote on an iPad

This example shows Simplenote on an iPad. Simplenote supports Markdown. Tap the Information icon in the toolbar to display the tools panel. Notice that the Markdown item is highlighted. That means it is being used to format the note’s content. Using the tools panel, you can publish the note, pin it to the top of your notes list, send it to someone, review this note’s editing history, collaborate with others or trash it.

Note formatted with Markdown

When using Markdown to format your notes, all you have to do is swipe the note to the right and you will see what the formatted note looks like. Swipe to the left and you are back into Markdown editing mode.

Organizing your notes is also quite easy. Look for Tag . . . in gray at the bottom of the screen. Tags are keywords used to describe each note. In the first example above you see two tags – todo and storytellers-studio.

Tags panel

Tap the tags icon shown at the top left corner of the screen to display a panel showing your tags. Tap a tag and all the notes with that tag will appear in the workspace. It’s a delightfully simple way to keep your notes organized.

Tags have another purpose – collaboration. When you want to share a note with another Simplenote user, enter that person’s email address as a tag. (Note: it must be the address they used to create their account at Simplenote.) Your shared note will pop up in that person’s note list. He will need to add your email address as a tag on that note so you both can work together. If you are working on iOS or Android, tap on the Info panel icon while viewing the note you are collaborating on, then tap Collaborate.

How can Simplenote be put to use in your society? Here are a few ideas:

  • While the programs chair manages the speakers and presentations scheduled for society meetings, both the webmaster and the publicity chair need access to the information in order to promote it. When all three members have access to the note containing that information, it’s a lot easier to get what they need when they need it.
  • How does your society define what is on the board meeting agenda? Create a note for the agenda and add the board members as collaborators. They can add their agenda topics and, once the president finalizes it, it’s accessible to them all.
  • Simplenote is a great place to build and maintain your society’s policy and procedures manual. It’s a lot easier to update when necessary and it’s available any time from anywhere.
  • Simplenote is so simple that even “digitally-challenged” staff will find it easy to use.

Take a look at Simplenote. You’ll soon find all kinds of uses for this delightful app.

Dropbox Paper

Not only is Dropbox Paper an easy-to-use editor for posting documents to Dropbox, it is also an impressive collaboration tool allowing your team to work together across time and space. Team members can edit and add comments right in the document and staff are notified when a document needs review or action. Paper keeps track of who does what so that everyone on the team can quickly see what is going on.

The Dropbox and Paper apps are free and available for iOS, Android and Windows. Dropbox for Teams begins with 2TB of online file storage and includes society-managed users and groups, admin console, secure storage and much more. This level costs $150 a year. The time and paper your society’s staff will save makes this service worth every penny.