Plus Edition Article

(+) The Cheap and Easy Way to Find an Ancestor’s Grave

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

If you own a smartphone (Android or iPhone), you already have all the hardware needed to easily locate cemeteries and, in many cases, even go quickly to specific tombstones within each cemetery. You will need a bit of software, but that is available free of charge from several vendors. You will also need to spend a bit of time online, preparing for the trip.

(+) Is Your Genealogy Data Insane?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Are you confident of the accuracy of your genealogy data? You might be amazed at how many databases I see that include mothers giving birth at the age of three, marriages at age twelve, or deaths at the age of 135. Sometimes you even find a person with a birth date prior to those of his parents. Download almost any GEDCOM file from the Internet and I suspect you can find similar problems.

Such errors are easy to create. Sometimes selecting the wrong person in original records can cause such errors. Copying someone else’s errors can cause other errors. Mistakes also occur because you had a keystroke error when entering the data; attempting to type 1835 on the keyboard can easily result in 1845 being pressed on the keys.

(+) Is It Unverified Data and Will It Always be Unverified?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Warning: this article contains personal opinions.

I have been fascinated with the comments posted on this newsletter over the years concerning “unverified information on the Internet” and comments about linking to family trees without verification. I agree with some of the comments and disagree with some others. I thought I would add my two cents’ worth.

First of all, I believe in verification of every bit of information I obtain. I don’t care if a fact came from the Internet, from a book, or even from an original record. I still want to verify every bit of information I read. (Most original records are correct but you will find occasional errors even in the original records.) I always look to see who reported the information or who wrote the book I am reading. Even if I recognize the author as being a leading genealogy expert, I still want to verify the claim independently. I don’t believe anyone!

So you think I would be against unsourced, unverified information on the Internet? Wrong!

(+) When Your Descendants Become Curious About Their Ancestors

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

You probably have enjoyed collecting bits and pieces of information about your ancestors and their lives. Is it possible that one of your future descendants will want to do the same for you and for your present relatives? If so, should you help your future genealogist-descendant by making sure the information about your life and the lives of your relatives will be available in the future?

For years, genealogists, historians, and others have preserved information on paper. Sometimes it is in the form of books while a less formal method is to collect paper documents and keep them in a file. Paper has served us well for centuries and probably will not disappear anytime soon. However, paper isn’t as useful or expected to last as long as it once was. Perhaps we should seek alternative solutions.

From e-journals and e-books to emails, blogs and more, electronic content is proliferating fast, and organizations worldwide are racing to preserve information for next generations before technological obsolescence, or even data loss, creep in.

(+) Make Telephone Calls Back Home from Other Countries at Little or No Cost

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Anyone who has traveled overseas can tell you that placing telephone calls back home can be very expensive when calling from a hotel room or from a cell phone used in a foreign country or with almost any other method. However, there are numerous low-cost or even free alternatives for anyone who carries a smartphone or a tablet computer or a laptop computer.

I am writing this article in a hotel room in Jerusalem, Israel. Earlier today, I made several calls back to the United States. The audio quality was very good to excellent, despite the fact the hotel’s wi-fi system is rather slow. On one call, I talked for more than 45 minutes. The total cost to me? $6.95 a month for a service I use that allows 500 minutes of calls to anywhere in the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, regardless of where I am located. (I have never used anywhere near 500 minutes in one month.) It also allows for calls to any other country in the world at very low per-minute rates.

(+) Protecting Your Genealogy Work from Natural Disasters

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Now that the northern hemisphere is in mid-summer, we need to think about hurricane preparedness. A large portion of the United States is vulnerable to damage caused by these huge storms. High winds, flooding, downed trees, and more are common. After most major hurricanes, the news media reports numerous cases of homes and the contents of homes that were damaged or destroyed as is shown in the picture to the right.

The hurricanes of recent years should teach all of us many lessons. One lesson concerns preparedness; waiting until a hurricane is bearing down on you is not the time to start planning! Of course, hurricanes are not the only disasters we face. Other parts of the nation face tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, and other threats. Some years ago I remember watching a television news story from California when a reporter interviewed a woman in front of her burning home during a wild fire that leveled the entire neighborhood. The woman was obviously crying and, when asked about her losses, she moaned that she had lost years of genealogy work in the flames.

Of course, anyone can suffer from a burst water pipe that ruins documents, photographs, fabrics, and many other precious items.

(+) My Method of Filing Digital Images and Documents

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

NOTE: This is an update to an article I published last year. Questions about how to file digital pictures and documents arose recently in the comments section of this newsletter’s Plus Edition subscribers’ web site at When I looked at the earlier article, I found that it is now out of date. Some of the information has since changed. I updated the earlier article and decided to re-publish it again today.

Here is a copy of a message I received (slightly edited):

I’m a newcomer to genealogy and I’d like to know your suggested file naming convention for downloaded census images that pertain to more than one person. I’d like to settle on a format before my tree gets too big. I save the FamilySearch or Ancestry web page as a PDF for each person listed in the census record and a single image of the census. That way I have a “transcribed” reference for each person as well as the image. For example:

JOHNSON Daniel Joseph Family 1940 US Federal Census.jpg
JOHNSON Daniel Joseph (1940 US Federal Census).pdf
JOHNSON Ethel Blanche (1940 US Federal Census).pdf
JOHNSON Joseph Delone (1940 US Federal Census).pdf

Your thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated.

I did answer the reader in email but thought I would also share my answer here in case others might have the same questions.

(+) The Paperless Genealogist

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Too many genealogists are addicted to paper. In this day and age, that’s sad. I have no statistics about the amount of paper, ink, and toner consumed by genealogists every year, but I am sure we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing printers, paper, and supplies. That’s a huge waste of money, in my opinion. I wonder how many filing cabinets and bookshelves are sold to genealogists. I will suggest there is a better way to store personal copies of genealogy records and related information.

The “paperless office” was an early prediction made in the June 30, 1975, issue of BusinessWeek. The article quoted George E. Pake, then head of Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto (California) Research Center:

(+) Our Ancestors’ Dental Care

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

One has to wonder about dental care as practiced by our ancestors. Ready-made toothbrushes and toothpaste were not available until the mid- or even late-1800s. Prior to that, everyone had to make their own.

Throughout the Middle Ages, most people simply rubbed salt on their teeth.

Some people made up their own dentifrice and rubbed the resulting powder on their teeth with a small stick, called a “toothstick,” with a rag over one end. This was the forerunner of the toothbrush.

By the 1700s medical knowledge improved to the point that doctors began to understand the importance of proper dental care. Toothpaste, properly called dentifrice, was made at home. Here is one such recipe:

(+) Genealogy Books on CD

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

I have been reading an interesting book. In fact, it is a book about my family. The original book was published in 1901, so it has long been out of copyright. I have seen it offered for sale as a reprinted book for $150 to $250. In fact, I purchased a printed copy of the book about 30 years ago, and it now sits in a box in my basement. I ran out of bookshelf space, and I don’t open this book all that often. Therefore, it was banned to the basement years ago and, admittedly, I haven’t opened it since.

The new book that I purchased this week for $6.99 is exactly the same book. It has exactly the same words, exactly the same images, everything. Well, not quite everything: there are two major differences.

(+) Scan Photos Yourself or Use a Scanning Service?

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Scanning old family photographs is a satisfying task for almost all genealogists. The old photographs stored in a shoebox or at your cousin’s house can be digitized, stored in multiple locations for security, and optionally be shared with relatives who will appreciate having copies. Scanners are available for $50 and up. The capabilities and options of the various scanners vary widely. You might want to first consider your requirements before running out and purchasing a scanner.

The first question is: how many pictures do you wish to scan? If you have 50 old pictures, you probably can accomplish the task in one evening even with an inexpensive scanner. However, anyone with 500 or perhaps 5,000 pictures to be scanned might want to look for a higher-speed unit. How delicate are the old photographs? If they are brittle with age, you won’t want to use a sheet-feed scanner that may damage the photos when going through the rollers.

(+) OCR Documents the Easy and Free Way

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, is a powerful tool for computers. It allows you to convert text within pictures to editable word processing text. For instance, you might scan or take a picture of some pages in a genealogy book while at a library. When you get home, you find that you have pictures, not text. While you can insert the picture of a page into your notes or into a book you may be writing, that is not as useful as inserting text. Ideally, you want to have normal text inserted that you can modify that text as you wish, such as adding bold, italics, underlines, larger fonts, or anything else you normally do with a word processor.

(+) How Safe Are Your Old Documents?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

A number of us are fortunate enough to own old books, birth certificates, marriage certificates, naturalization certificates, old newspaper clippings, or other family heirloom documents that we want to preserve. What condition will they be in 20 or 50 years from now? For that matter, will the fruits of your genealogy labor be available to your descendants 200 years from now? You should take steps now to make sure the documents remain in the best possible condition. I thought I would discuss the techniques of document preservation a bit more in this newsletter.

Very old books and other paper documents are rather easy to preserve if a few basic precautions are followed. Modern day paper is made from wood pulp. The manufacturing process extracts cellulose from the wood, and then paper is manufactured from the cellulose fibers. Although pure cellulose is extremely durable, the various additives can cause deterioration, usually through acid degradation of the fibers. The life expectancy of most modern paper can be as short as 50 years. Even worse, documents you produce on your laser printer may not last that long. The toner that substitutes for ink in modern laser printers probably will not last as long as the paper it adheres to. While toner is made of carbon or plastic, which lasts a long time, it will not stick to paper forever. In fact, if rubbed occasionally, even by the expansion and contraction that occurs during temperature variations, the toner carbon will easily rub off.

(+) Use Boolean Logic to Improve Your Online Search Results

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

In 1854 self-educated English mathematician George Boole published a paper that eventually resulted in 21st century genealogists finding more information about their ancestors. Boole published The Laws of Thought that illustrated new ways of looking at mathematical data.

NOTE: You can read The Laws of Thought at However, you won’t find any mention of computers or of searching on Google in this 1854 publication!

Boolean algebra emerged in the 1860s and went on to become a standard method of analyzing all sorts of data. In the last half of the twentieth century, computer scientists and programmers found many applications for Boolean logic. Now Google and many other search engines and quite a few genealogy sites also use Boolean logic extensively. If you understand a few of the simpler Boolean search methods, you can greatly increase the probability of finding the information you seek.

(+) How to Become an Accredited Genealogist

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

In this newsletter you frequently see letters appended after the names of individuals, such as CG, CGL or AG. This means that the individual has received a genealogy accreditation of some level. This week I thought I would describe the various certifications and tell why perhaps you might be interested in obtaining accreditation.

Accreditation is valuable in many fields. We have CPA ratings for accountants and similar ratings for many other professions. When you hire an accountant, a lawyer, a financial planner, a surgeon, or almost any other professional, you want some assurance that he or she has passed an examination by a certifying board which ensures that its members measure up to proper standards. The same is true in genealogy: you want to hire someone who is qualified and has passed a rigorous examination that results in certification that the person is a certified expert in his or her field.

(+) How to Use the GPS You May Already Own but Didn’t Know You Had

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

GPS (Global Positioning System) devices are very useful tools for genealogists. These devices can be used to find locations easily and are often accurate plus or minus ten feet or so. Genealogists typically use GPS receivers to find or to document cemetery tombstone locations as well as to find old homesteads, courthouses, libraries, or even fast-food restaurants when traveling on research trips.

I have frequently used the U.S. Government’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) at to locate old cemeteries, even small ones of only a dozen graves or even less. The information provided in the GNIS includes the exact latitude and longitude of each named feature, including cemeteries. GNIS provides the exact location of the entrance to each cemetery although not the location of individual tombstones within the cemetery. The GNIS data is “read only.” That is, you read the information in a web browser and then manually copy the displayed latitude and longitude into a GPS receiver of your choice. More sophisticated and easier-to-use systems are now available.

(+) Rescue Old Photos and Documents: Make a Humidification Chamber

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Old documents, newspapers, and photographs are often improperly stored. They may have been rolled or folded for years. By the time that you, the family historian, find these items and wish to view them, the documents may be damaged if forced open. Old paper, especially that manufactured after 1885, becomes brittle with age. This will be doubly true if the document has been stored in a very low-humidity environment, such as an attic. Old or fragile items may even crack and crumble if not handled properly.

The primary problem is that old paper and photographs that have not been stored properly will become dried out over the years. Dryness creates brittleness, which then causes damage when the item is not handled properly. Have you ever seen someone tenderly – but wrongly – try to uncurl an old photo or unfold an old news clipping, only to see it crumble in their hands? It’s a sad sight.

Do not attempt to open brittle documents!

(+) How to Use Two Monitors on One Laptop Computer and Why You Might Want To

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

I have been using two 27-inch monitors on my desktop computers for years. Using two monitors at once is surprisingly easy to do. I love the convenience of my email program, a web browser, iTunes, and RSS newsreader displayed on the monitor to the left side of my desk while my word processor and my favorite genealogy programs are running in separate windows on the monitor to the right. Doing so is a time saver, and I believe it improves productivity significantly. I wrote about the use of two monitors in a Plus Edition article earlier this year at

A picture taken in my hotel room a few minutes ago.

When traveling, I always have felt constrained by being limited to one small screen on the laptop computer. It certainly would be nice to also use two monitors at once on the laptop, especially as I already do so on the desktop at home. A few months ago, I found an easy, lightweight, and not very expensive solution: purchase a second monitor designed only for laptop use. Best of all, it is very is easily packed; it easily fits into any laptop bag or backpack designed for carrying a 16-inch computer, along with the laptop computer itself. My backpack has a pocket for carrying a laptop, and I find I can easily slide both the laptop computer and the external monitor into the one pocket.

(+) Finding Unmarked Graves with Ground Penetrating Radar

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

One of the vexing problems with old cemeteries and historical sites is the difficulty of finding the locations of unmarked graves. In many cases, the desire is to locate the graves so that they may be identified and left undisturbed by new construction. To be sure, the locations may have been marked at one time with wooden or even stone markers. However, the ravages of time, weather, animals, vandals, and acid rain over the years may have removed all traces of those markers. Locating unmarked graves is also vitally important in solving murder cases.

Historically, the only method of finding unmarked graves has been to start digging – not a very practical solution. However, modern technology now allows cemetery associations, historical societies, family societies, genealogists, archaeologists, police departments, and others to identify the locations of buried bodies and other objects with no digging required.

(+) One Week with the Apple Watch

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Last week I wrote about the Apple Watch that I had just received. That article is available at Now that I have been using the Apple Watch for the past seven days, I thought I should write an update.

The new watch undoubtedly is Apple’s most personal product ever. As such, opinions about it will be highly subjective. Some people love the idea of a powerful communications device on the wrist while others will hate it. I suspect the average person is ambivalent.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,749 other followers