FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

More Genealogy Research Aids

Author and podcaster, Lisa Louise Cooke, posted a new vidcast on her site recently about a new ‘beta’ tool called Google News Timeline.   The timeline tool displays news, magazine, book and other documents that discuss events in history.  Enter keywords and / or dates in your search and you’ll see results presented by day, week and month of the year.  Google News Timeline is a significant resource to family history researchers.

See Lisa’s vidcast at the bottom of this post. 

The Google News Timeline is located here.


Of course, published materials decrease significantly the farther you go back in time, but don’t let that deter your timeline searches.   You may be surprised with the results from these searches.

Recently, I noted that the New York Times is now posting a lot of old articles on their site.  Search for names or events on the search box on the site.  The old articles are in .pdf format.  Most are free but some of the more lengthy articles require a subscription to the archival services at the Times.

Listening to Lisa’s vidcast, I wondered if she had ever seen the wonderful articles about the San Francisco earthquake that the USGS has posted.  They include Google Earth (free download) files that show the fault lines and ‘shake’ values of the quake during the event.  Additionally, they have added before and after photos showing the destruction down to the house level.   Even though the earthquake is called the ‘San Francisco earthquake’ it affected a significant section of California and the Google Earth files show its impact in those rarely noted locations. 

If you don’t have Google Earth installed on your computer, download it from here, then install the free program.  The files associated with the earthquake are listed as links on in the articles on the USGS site.  Browse to the links from the home page and you’ll see them under each article heading.

If you haven’t used Google Earth before, you are missing a real treat.  Not only does it let you view all locations on the earth, but it also includes the sea floor topography for all the oceans on earth and it also includes a full view and tour of all the celestial bodies.

Why am I focusing on Google Earth?  The answer is simple.  Technology has pushed through the brick and mortar walls of schools and extends knowledge, learning and research opportunities to our home computers, mobile laptops and mobile phones.  Google Earth is one of the tools that enable the spread of virtual education and knowledge. 

Mashups of various technological tools allow educators and folks like you and I to create interesting presentations of our research, stories and topics of interest in ways that exceed anything known just a few short years ago.  We are only limited by our imagination and desire to learn the use of technology.  The technological tools that most family history researchers will embrace is actually very simple to use.  We just have take the time to read the instructions and then apply the knowledge.

I know most folks think they can’t create presentations, podcasts or vidcasts, but you really can.  Believe it.  You CAN produce presentations that will help you in your ancestral quest.  They WILL draw the interest of family members and others who are researching your common lineage if you post them on a blog or on your website and tell folks about it.

Now is the time to use the tools at hand to accelerate your research efforts.  Go for it!   You are the only person saying that you can’t do it.  You know how much you love proving wrong that surprisingly older stranger that you see in the mirror every morning.

Start today by installing Google Earth.  Then use it to find the cemeteries where four or five generations of your ancestors are buried.  Mark them and create a slideshow of them to show to your family.   Change the angle of the inward zoom.  Spin the earth under you.  Label your bookmarks.  Put them in the order you want then save the file.

Once completed, you’ll be able to send the file to family members and other researchers.   Remember that sharing a file like this almost always produces information in response and it frequently is the information or clues that you are seeking.

In another blog post, I referenced a Google Earth file that takes you on a flight to all the cemeteries of my ancestors on the island of Bornholm in the North Sea.  Now that you have Google Earth installed on your machine, download my file from the link near the bottom of the posting and see how a simple file used for genealogical purposes looks on your screen.  It is very simple presentation but it only took me ten minutes to create and it graphically conveys the information I wanted others to see in a format not available before.

One last time…   Try it …  Mikey, Gina, Charles, Annette (insert your name here)….  You’ll like it!



3 May 2009 Posted by | Genealogy | , , , | 1 Comment

No Passport. No Reservations.

I stopped living on a jet nine years ago and don’t miss the constant hassle of airports, hotels and lost hours from home and family.   The only trips I really enjoyed were those that involved family history research or visiting Disney.   Why Disney didn’t build a large complex in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, I’ll never know, but it certainly would have been perfectly sited in my opinion….. at least in the summer….

When you don’t live near the location where many if not most of your ancestors lived for generations, short visits just don’t afford enough time to visit all the libraries, vital record centers, ancestral homes and cemeteries you’d like to see.

Before your research trip, you plan out everything you want to see and put a star by the things you have to see and do.

Your schedule goes exactly as planned and so there is little time required in those areas of your research again.   Right?

I suppose that there is a statistical probability that is true for someone at  sometime, but I probably wouldn’t believe it even with proof.

In my last post, I talked about losing myself in Google Books.  I didn’t mention how much time I Google Earthspend using Google Earth in my ancestral research.

It is too bad that Google doesn’t offer frequent flyer miles, because I’d never have to pay for a flight again in my lifetime.

I don’t accomplish everything on my list when I travel on family history research trips.  I always find ancestral families that lived in the area I just visited AFTER I get home.   I never find all of the cemeteries and ancestral homes that I planned to visit.

What to do?   Research trips are expensive.   Talking momma into one more ‘exciting’ week browsing through dusty archives in the basements of a government buildings with walls covered by the requisite green tile is a tall order, even though she loves genealogy too.

There is at least a partial solution to my dilemma.  I book the next flight on Google Earth and fly back to discover the cemeteries and buildings that I wish I’d found or known about when I was there in person.

Then I start creating pin markers for each of the locations with descriptive names and save them with descriptive file names.  Soon, migration patterns emerge.  They help me better plan my next research trip to the library or ancestral location.

I create multiple files that cover a variety of topics.    One is completely comprised of cemeteries pins only.   Another is comprised of the locations where my ancestors lived.  By using different colored pins for each family, I can easily separate them into my various lineal families.

One file is based entirely on occupations and historical events.  They help me understand why many of my ancestors were constantly on the move westward, often homesteading or claiming bounty land grants for military service.   Yet another file shows me where the principal ports were located on the coast of New England and the number and color of pins tell me whether the ships based there were whalers, merchant or military ships.

With these maps, I have a quick visual reference that opens new vistas of contemplation regarding my ancestral quest.  By zooming in, around and across the various pins, I see arenas of exploration that I haven’t considered before.

Animating the burial location file allows me to visually observe migration patterns that aren’t necessarily linear.   Reading the burial locations in my database doesn’t necessarily equate to envisioning the migration path moving west, then north, then south and even back east again.  Why did they do that?  Hmmmmm.   It is time to rethink my research plan yet again.

I animate some of the files to help teach our grandchildren about their ancestors.  They are young, but watching the flight from ancestral home to ancestral home around the world is second nature in their view of the world.   They expect to have tools and presentations like this and hence pick up the meaning of what they are seeing almost immediately.

Within minutes, I have to surrender the mouse so they can run the show, explore the program and as if by osmosis, learn the interface and tools in Google Earth so they can start adding additional data points that I’ve overlooked or haven’t considered.

The virtual world is theirs but I’m not ready to give up my seat in it.  Neither should you.  If you aren’t using Google Earth in your own ancestral quest, download the free application today and get with it.   It is easy to use and of course even if you get hung up a little, just ask your kids or grandkids to help and they’ll have you up and flying in short order.

While writing this posting,  Dan Lynch left a comment on my last posting about Google Books.   He has written an excellent book called “Google Your Family Tree” that would be an excellent addition to your library and research skills.   Perhaps Santa will bring you a copy if you ask for it.

Post a note and let us know how you use Google Earth in your own ancestral quest.   I’ll bet there are hundreds of ideas that you’ve found that will benefit the entire family history community.

3 December 2008 Posted by | Research Tips | , | 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