Tag: Technology

Education Hangout: Family Photo Editing

Learn all about digitally preserving and editing your old family photographs from Education Co-Coordinators Shannon Combs Bennett and Eric Wells in their latest Education Hangout:

Don’t forget to bookmark our YouTube Channel and listen in for fantastic, friendly advice on a variety of topics relevant to the young genealogist!


Exploring the Obsolete: The Need for Adaptation in Genealogy

To be a young and savvy genealogist means to embrace change. These are the stories that motivate and excite us in our own histories: the exact moments when new paths begin, when the ships set sail, when boots touch down on soil for the first time. Because we try to become catalysts for our own possibilities in our personal and professional lives, these are the stories we most want to discover in our families.

Adaptation—fearlessness in the face of change—is inseparable to who we are as the rising generation of family historians, researchers, and archivists. It’s the commodity our generation has to offer in abundance, an asset that is frequently underutilized and unappreciated. And at no point is that more apparent than when something in the genealogical community goes obsolete.

So in order to help all of us in our journey to discovery, I want to talk about what it means for something to be obsolete, and how we can recognize and embrace these changes when they come.

What makes something in genealogy obsolete?
As I’ve reflected on my own experiences in adaptation, these are some examples that come to mind as a working definition:

  • When the number of users of a product, project, or service has demonstrably been in decline for a prolonged period of time. Especially true when the majority of its users no longer use the service.
  • The product, project, or service in question has been replaced by one of equal or superior functionality, or one that is free or reduces costs to the user.
  • The product, project, or service is no longer financially sustainable without significant reduction or expansion to its implementation.
  • The technology on which the product, project, or service depends is obsolete. Especially true when more effort must be exerted in adapting the old systems to new technology than would be exerted in replacing it.
  • The needs of new/current users are not being met by the current design of a product, project, or service.

Obsolescence: The Death of PAF
When I first began getting serious about genealogy early in my teenage years, I used Personal Ancestral File, or PAF. At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of citing sources or collaboration with other researchers. I wasn’t trying to wrestle with DNA related questions, or categorize a large collection of photos or original documents. For me, research was using as many free resources as possible—no matter how poor or questionably accurate they may have been. For my lack of experience, I didn’t know any better. For my needs at the time, PAF was ideal because it was free and easy to use.

If you’ve never heard of PAF or seen it in action, that’s because it’s obsolete now. All support for it was discontinued several years ago, for many of the reasons listed above. PAF software has been replaced—twice—in favor of websites superior in functionality. With the significant advances in technology and digitization, the needs of users had expanded to such a degree that PAF could no longer keep up. As computer operating systems continued to progress beyond Windows XP, the program could only be run in compatibility mode by those who insisted upon using it. With the introduction of Windows 8, compatibility mode for many programs disappeared. The problem was compounded further with Windows 8.1, and the technology on which PAF was based was gone.

How do we cope with the obsolete?
Why was PAF’s disappearance not the end of my world? Because I had long since outgrown the software. I moved on to RootsMagic Essentials 4 and 5, and embraced all of the features they had to offer. Many of the features they provided, including one of the earliest alliances with FamilySearch, made their software invaluable to me.

As I learned what it meant to do quality research with source citations, and became increasingly transient as a college student, my needs changed again. For someone like me who has lived in five states and gone through six computers (and at least as many phones) in the past ten years, anything less than seamless cross-platform synchronization does not meet my needs. As a result, I’ve since done away with desktop genealogy software altogether, in favor of the website/app combination provided by Ancestry.

Reaching a place where obsolete technologies no longer affect me has been an exercise of continual experimentation. Rather than being dragged into a new experience, I am willing try most of the tools available on the market. I develop a keen sense of what I require, and use anything and everything to accomplish the task. When something no longer functions according to my needs, I dump it without hesitation or sentimentality. I live under the assumption that there is always something better coming, or may already exist, that will ultimately make what I do easier and more enjoyable.

The Best is Yet to Come

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that some of the best work that has ever happened in the genealogical community is happening right now. Digitization and greater records access demand to make better researchers of us all. DNA analysis presents us with unprecedented answers to burning questions—not to mention more honest connections with family members than we’ve ever had before, at a time when those connections are more important than ever.

But we cannot fully take advantage of these opportunities without adapting to changing online presences, redefinitions of organizational goals, an increased need and reliance on volunteerism, and the disposal of obsolete technologies.

To refuse to adapt, to give up on outgrowing our current approaches, is to sacrifice our own potential for the sake of comfort. And what we stand to lose, now and going forward, is of too great a value to pass up.


Heather Collins scribbled her first pedigree chart in the back of her journal at fourteen. Her research has since taken her deep into the American South, Canada, and the Caribbean. She blogs at Of Trees & Ink, and is a founder/contributor at Young & Savvy Genealogists. A native of Maryland, she now lives in Idaho with her husband and very spoiled cat.


Facebook Groups for Genealogists

Facebook is one of the leading social media platforms that genealogists use to research their family history and find living relatives. In this post, we’re going to discuss some key ways to leverage Facebook for genealogy with a focus on Facebook Groups, including how to use them to your advantage and how to create your own.

There are thousands of Facebook Groups that include nearly every topic imaginable. In the genealogy community in particular, there are five primary types of groups that you can join to further your research:

  1. General Genealogy Groups: Ask questions about your research problems, request assistance finding a specific record, and share your discoveries.
  2. Location Specific Genealogy Groups: These are directed towards those focusing on research in a specific geographic area, perhaps a country, a state/province, or even down to a county level.
  3. Surname Registry Groups: These are centered around locating relatives who share the same surname within a region in hopes of connecting with other living descendants. Maybe you’ll find those elusive fourth cousins!
  4. Genetic Genealogy Groups: Come here if you are interested in the nitty-gritty of your DNA results, including using DNA to locate living relatives. Users are often encouraged to upload their DNA results on GEDmatch and to share kit numbers in the group to help connect members with each other.
  5. Organization/Society Groups: These allow an existing organization or genealogical society to keep in touch with members and offer a place for virtual discussion. Did you know that the NextGen Genealogy Network has a Facebook Group?

If you have pored through the wide variety of genealogy groups on Facebook and haven’t found one that suits your needs, consider starting your own. For example, if your ancestor’s county doesn’t have it’s own genealogy group, or if you want to start a small group for your extended relatives to share family photographs and stories, read on.

Facebook Groups for Genealogists (1)

Creating your own Facebook Group is simple:

  1. At the top of your Facebook homepage you will see a padlock. Click the arrow next to it and select “Create Group.”
  2. Give your new Facebook Group a name, keeping in mind it should be something descriptive to make it easy for people to find (if you want it to be open to receiving new members).
  3. Add new members, whether this may be your genealogy best friend or your cousins who are interested in participating. I recommend that you check with any prospective members first before sending an invitation to your group to ensure that your invitation is not an annoyance or simply ignored.
  4. Be aware of privacy settings that determine who can see the group and who can join the group.
    1. Public: Anyone can join and anyone can see the group’s posts (even if they’re not members). Use with caution.
    2. Closed: Members must request to join. This helps to screen out trolls, group collectors, self-promoters, etc. Depending on the volume of member requests, you may want to have a backup admin to assist you with this process. Only members can see posts.
    3. Secret: Not open to the public. Only members can see posts and refer new members to join the group by invitation.
  5. Add your Facebook Group to your favorites. This will put your group on the toolbar on the left side of your Facebook homepage so you can easily access the group to monitor posts, pose discussion questions, or approve new members. Make an effort to keep your group active and engaged for the greatest genealogical success!

How are you using Facebook Groups to further your research?

Melanie McComb, a software product analyst, volunteers as the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Social Media Assistant. She is also the creator and co-administrator of the English Surname Registry Facebook Group. She has been researching her family history for over five years and can often be found online on Facebook assisting others with their research.


Twitter for Genealogists

Twitter. To many in the genealogical community, this leading social media platform is confusing, overwhelming, and just plain frustrating. What can we possibly share about our ancestors in 140 characters or less?

Not very much.

But don’t let your imagination be stifled by character count. Our research endeavors require a lot of imagination, do they not? No one should stop short of giving Twitter a fair shake just because of character count, just as no one should stop their research when vital records get dicey.

Twitter is, to me, the coffee house of family history. You walk into a coffee shop with friends, and as you converse, the topics change, the conversation flows. That’s what Twitter is. A 24/7 conversation that we get to jump into whenever we’re ready.


Getting Started

Creating an account on Twitter is easy, and the setup process will guide you through finding topics and people you might be interested in following. Look for leaders in the field, like FamilySearch, the National Archives, and your local or state genealogy society.

The more people and organizations you add right from the beginning, the more Twitter will be able to adjust its recommendations to you. Adding genealogy television – like PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, as well as co-host D. Joshua Taylor – will ensure that the behind-the-scenes algorithms will work in your favor. From there, it will be easy to identity Kenyatta Barry and Mary Tedesco.


Use hashtags on Twitter to follow certain subjects. You can search by a hashtag like you would a search term on any search engine. Also be sure to include an appropriate hashtag in your own messages, so people will see what you want to share, too. Remember that these count in your 140 characters, so make sure to leave yourself some room. It’s one of the many reasons why users of Twitter tend to include abbreviations and shortened words – just enough for people to interpret without taking all of the space in the message itself.

The most commonly used hashtags in family history are listed below:


Note that there are no spaces in any of these hashtags, nor is there any punctuation. You can create any hashtag you want; for example, I use #fraternalgenealogy when I share something based on fraternal societies and their role in history.

Twitter Chats

Chats are common on Twitter, and there are currently two that are specific to family history: #genchat and #AncestryHour. Both are excellent for sharing information, ideas, suggestions, and generally being a part of the genealogy community. #genchat is hosted every two weeks and each chat is focused on a specific topic. #AncestryHour is more of an “open mic” style, and allows people to ask specific research questions and gain advice. If you would like to take part in a Twitter chat, consider using a platform such as Tweetdeck or Twubs to keep up with the flow of conversation.

Let’s review. A 24/7 online resource where fellow researchers gather to exchange ideas, sympathize with struggles and dead ends, and serve as an excellent resource when you get “stuck,” offering suggestions and tips? A great place to go when you realize it’s 3 a.m. and you’ve been falling down the rabbit hole for hours…?

Where do I sign up?

Oh, wait. I already did. You can find me on Twitter @ancestryjourney – pop in, say hello, and feel free to ask questions. And don’t forget to follow @NextGenNetwrk!

Jen_BaldwinJen Baldwin is the North America Data Licensing Manager at Findmypast and the NextGen Genealogy Network’s Outreach Coordinator. She writes and lectures on technology, social media, the Colorado gold rush, and fraternal societies, and volunteers with Preserve the Pensions. Jen is also the host of #genchat, a biweekly genealogy chat held on Twitter.