FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Google Docs Comments and Discussions in Genealogy

Genealogy research teams should seriously consider using the collaborative features in Google Docs to share and document their assignments and progress in collaborative research.

A research plan using Docs is available to your team members any time and in any place that they have Internet access and no special services are required other than a Google account.

There are two collaborative tools you’ll want to use with a research document: 

Comments and Discussions.

A comment has been commonly used by most of us for years when we insert a comment into a shared document.  Discussions associated with a document are new.  The discussions stream can obviously trace its lineage back to Google Wave. While it does not include all of the features of Wave, its usefulness in collaborative research documents is undeniable.

Team members will find these tools simple to use: 

Create a research document in a Google Documents and then share it with everyone on the research team giving them edit rights.   They can be notified of document creation and updates using any email or other contact address, but  they will need a Google account to view and participate in collaborative additions to the document.  Login by going to https://docs.google.com  The document will automatically show in the document list for anyone who has view or edit rights.

Comments can be added to the document by anyone on the team.  The comment entries list both a time stamp and username of the person creating them.  Insert > Comment


A Discussion is an ongoing separate dialog that is linked to the document.  They are created by clicking on the “Discussions” button at the top of the page.


The Discussion is viewable in a floating frame over the document.


Other team members viewing the document are announced when they open the document.


Teams can create a never-ending research document for a common ancestor, a family, history of an ancestral home town, etc.  Add photos, movies, links, drawings, or any other discoveries found during the research process. 

Comments stay with the document unless they are deleted. They will print with the document, so you may need to copy the document to a new doc or delete the comments if you don’t want them on a printed document.

If team members don’t want to receive email notes when changes are made to the document, they can turn them off in the Discussions > Discussion Notification Settings.  Sharing settings are found in the Sharing > Sharing Settings.

Collaborative research plans and results tracking are extremely useful and productive tools for research teams.  Active teams invariably produce far greater research results than the success of any single member of the team. 

Create a plan and give it a try for your research teams.  It works .. very well.



Using Discussions in Google Docs

16 March 2011 Posted by | Genealogy, Research | , , , | Leave a comment

Zoom. Write and Learn

Google Earth never ceases to delight me. I use it frequently in my family history research to find cities and towns associated with my ancestors. It can be used to search the surrounding areas for cemeteries, towns and probable migration paths. In many cases, the image quality is so good that you can see the headstones in cemeteries and if you know which stones belong to your family, you’ll quickly locate them.

A couple of years ago I enjoyed touring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the USGS website using Google Earth. You’ll enjoy seeing the fault lines, before and after photos and the areas that will be impacted by a similar quake today.

I use Google Earth on one of my websites to track the events in the lives of my ancestors and extended family. Additionally, I have most of the cemeteries they are buried in marked in a Google Earth file that takes me on a visual flight around the world, zooming in to a cemetery and then hopping to the next and then the next This is very useful to me in helping me visualize the migration path of my ancestors.

Microsoft’s Live Search Maps is equally wonderful and in some locations offers higher quality images than Google Earth. This isn’t a definitive statement, because both of companies are constantly adding new images, features and ‘whiz bangs’ to their sites and applications.

Download either or both of these free applications and take them for a spin. You’ll quickly discover the downside of having them installed on your computer though. Several hours after you launch them, you’ll look up and realize that your entire household has gone to bed while you toured the pyramids of Egypt, flew up the canals of Holland and followed the trails that you ‘ve hiked over the years.

Addictive? No, they aren’t addictive, but during these cold winter months here in the northern hemisphere, they let you vacation on Bondi Beach in OZ or hike Table Mountain in Cape Town and enjoy, at least in your mind, their warm weather.

If you use PAF but don’t think you are utilizing all of the tools in it, take the free and excellent tutorial offered by BYU by clicking here.

I’ve mentioned several free online Office type programs in earlier postings, but they need to be mentioned again. I use them all of the time as I’m working and researching on the go. I don’t carry a laptop with me most of the time but rather use the Internet connected computers at my destinations. My documents go with me because I keep a copy of them online.

If you haven’t given these applications a try yet, here are two that I use and recommend. ZOHO and Google Docs

Write your documents and save a copy of them on line. They will be there when you need them and can be saved locally as a Word document or in other formats.

Lastly, if you aren’t searching for information on your ancestors in Google Books, quit reading this and start searching for them now. I have used the numerous Vital Records of Massachusetts cities and towns frequent over the past year for additional primary sources for my records. Additionally, I’ve found gold in many of the family genealogical and town history books on the site.

Our research quivers continue to fill with these free but excellent web-based tools that allow us to stretch our family history budgets.

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3 February 2008 Posted by | Research Tips | , , , | Leave a comment