Plus Edition Article

(+) Preserving Data: Separating Facts from Fiction

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

I recently read an article in which the author claimed to describe data preservation techniques. He correctly pointed out that floppy disks, CD-ROM disks, magnetic media, flash drives, and other forms of digital storage all have limited lifespans. He then concluded by claiming that the only method of storing data for long-term preservation was to print everything on paper.

Wrong!

The article in question is an excellent example of examining the facts and drawing a wrong conclusion. In fact, if you want your genealogy information to be available 50 or 100 years from now, I’d suggest that using paper is one of the worst methods available. There are far better methods and, yes, they do involve digital media. The methods I will describe have already been used for more than 50 years by governmental agencies, corporations, and non-profits alike. These preservation methods are inexpensive and easy to accomplish, and they have worked for decades.

(+) Convert 35mm Slides to Digital

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

I have hundreds of 35-millimeter slides stored in boxes. They might as well be shoeboxes although the boxes I use are a bit different size. I collected them over the past few decades and must admit I never looked at any of them again until recently. I find that storing slides or any photos or home movies in any inconvenient location means that they are rarely viewed again. Why did you or someone else spend all the money for cameras, film, and processing if no one ever looks at the results?

I will suggest the solution is to digitize the films and slides. Once digitized, the images are easy to view at any time and very easy to share with others. Your children, grandchildren, cousins, and other relatives might like to receive digital copies of pictures taken long ago. With today’s technology, that is easy to do.

Another major advantage of digitizing pictures, slides, and movies is for preservation. That is especially true for color images. Color fades over the years. Then add in the dangers of flood, fire, mold, burst water pipes, and other in-home hazards, and you have to wonder if your films and slides will last for years and years. Converting to digital stops all deterioration. Making multiple copies of each image and then storing the images in multiple locations almost eliminates the possibility of loss or damage. Of course, you never want to throw away the originals; but wouldn’t you feel better if you had the originals PLUS four or five more copies with each copy stored in a different location from the others?

(+) Your Photos May Disappear

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

Many genealogists scan old photographs, touch them up in a photo editing program, and then print the photos on high quality ink-jet printers. Many of us also take new photographs with our digital cameras and often print some of them on paper. There is but one problem: those printed pictures may disappear within a few years.

To be sure, this isn’t a problem just with digital photographs. If your family used Polaroid cameras or the Anscochrome or early versions of Kodak’s Ektachrome slide films for their photographs in the 1960s, you probably already know that conventional color photography has not always been a model of image longevity. Anscochrome and early Ektachrome color pictures have already faded significantly. Polaroid color photos are even worse. The reds probably are already gone, and the other colors have also faded significantly. Later color photos were better, however. Color photos and slides taken in the 1980s and 1990s probably will last longer. Of course, conventional black-and-white prints, which are made up of tiny grains of silver, remain the undisputed longevity champions. They probably will last for 100 years or more.

The question arises: how to preserve the digital photographs of your family so they will be available to family members 100 years from now?

(+) Where is Genealogy Software Headed?

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

NOTE: This article contains personal opinions.

I have been using genealogy programs for 34 years. In 1984, I started with Family Ties, a program written by Neil Wagstaff. I ran it on a homemade CP/M computer with two 8-inch floppy disk drives and a huge memory capacity of 64 kilobytes. No, that is not a typo error: those were 8-inch floppy disks drives. Many of today’s computer users have never seen an 8-inch floppy disk although the later 5 1/4-inch disks became quite popular and then were replaced by 3 1/2-inch floppy disks.

Over the years, kept upgrading both the hardware and the software in use. I upgraded from the CP/M operating system to MS-DOS, then to Windows 2.0 and through a series of Windows releases: 3.0, 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000 (which I still believe is the best version of Windows ever released), Windows XP and I briefly used Windows Vista. In fact, after using Vista for a few weeks, I got rid of it and switched to Macintosh OS X. I never looked back, until recently. While I have kept both Windows and Macintosh systems but found that Macintosh was more reliable and easier to use for most tasks. However, two years ago I switched again. (More on that later.)

(+) How to Send Blog Articles, Announcements, or a Newsletter by Bulk Email

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

The following article is for anyone who needs to send a large number of identical, or nearly identical, email messages. Perhaps you need to send 1,000 messages to attendees of your society’s annual conference. Perhaps you write a blog and would like to offer email subscriptions to your articles. In either case, using a 50-year-old technology called email can greatly increase the number of readers you have.

COMMENT: If you have a blog, I would suggest that you absolutely need to publish your articles both online and in email. Many people will visit a blog daily or at least several times a week in order to read the news offered. However, as time goes by, many blog readers will forget to check frequently or will become distracted by other priorities in their lives. Little by little, they will check the blog less and less often. Eventually, they “drift away,” even though they may still be interested in the articles offered in your blog. The simple solution is to send each person an email message every day or every few days containing all the new articles posted since the last such message.

The advantage of sending blog articles by email is that the recipient doesn’t need to remember to check the blog frequently. All new articles arrive automatically in the recipient’s in-box without any action required by the recipient.

(+) The Web as We Knew it is Dead. Long Live the Web!

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

Are you using the latest and most convenient technology available today? Or are you using an ancient Windowsaurus (an old personal computing device, from the paleo-vista era)?

The history of the Internet began with the development of electronic computers in the 1950s. The US Department of Defense awarded contracts as early as the 1960s for packet network systems, including the development of the ARPANET (which would become the first network to use the Internet Protocol). Numerous people worked to connect computers together in a collaborative manner. Early examples include ARPANET, Mark I at NPL in the UK, CYCLADES, Merit Network, Tymnet, and Telenet. All were developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s using a variety of communications protocols.

A major revolution began, however, when Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, posted a short summary of his implementation of something he called the World Wide Web project on August 6, 1991 in the alt.hypertext newsgroup, inviting collaborators. This date also marked the debut of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet. The world was never the same again.

In fact, the World Wide Web was implemented and then has changed significantly over the years. We’ve really had 3 generations:

(+) Selecting an Appropriate Database Program for Genealogy Uses

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

I often receive e-mails asking questions about converting genealogy databases. The questions usually are more or less like this example:

My organization has been entering data for a long time in a general-purpose database program, not a genealogy program. We use Microsoft Access (or FileMaker Pro or SQL or some other general-purpose database program or Excel spreadsheets). We have thousands of entries in our database. We now want to put this information on the Web (or on CD-ROM or in a book), and we want to use the report generation capabilities of the Brand X genealogy program. Can we convert our Access (or other) database to GEDCOM and import it into the genealogy program?

The quick answer is, “Yes, if you have enough time and money. However, you will undoubtedly find that it is not practical.”

(+) Who Will Inherit Your Bitcoins or Other Digital Currency?

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

NOTE: This isn’t really a genealogy article. However, genealogists are usually very familiar with the reasons for writing a will. Whether the information in this article applies to you or to a loved one, I will suggest that all genealogists and everyone else should be aware of this information.

Do you own Bitcoins or other crypto-currencies? Do your parents or other family members own such digital assets? Even your adult children may have digital currencies and may not have considered inheritance issues in the case of their unexpected demise. If you or any relative who owns crypto-currencies should die unexpectedly, who gets the inheritance? Do the future heirs know how to claim and retrieve the crypto-currency?

(+) Why We All Need to Ignore Our Old Ideas about Filing Systems

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

I am fortunate that I get to travel a lot and I talk with genealogists most everywhere I go. The questions I am often asked is, “How should I organize my genealogy notes in the computer? What file names and folder names should I use?”

My usual answer is: “Who cares?”

Of course, many of the genealogists who asked the question look shocked when I give that reply. Yes, I am serious. I find that many genealogists do not understand the power and ease of use available in modern computerized filing systems. This article is an attempt to clear some of the mysteries.

(+) Self-Publish Your Book and Sell it on Amazon and Elsewhere

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

Many genealogists dream of publishing books about the family tree or about local history. Some want to write a book of “my ancestors,” but it may be better to write, “The Descendants of (insert ancestor’s name here)” or the “Early History of Washington County” or some other area where you have expertise. Either way, you have three tasks ahead of you: write the book, get it published, and then find buyers. I can’t offer much assistance for writing the book, but in this article I will tell you about some online services that can make it easy to self-publish and sell your new masterpiece.

Dozens of book publishers are willing to print your book. However, if you are not a well-known author already, most will charge you for set-up and printing expenses. In the trade, this is known as the “vanity press.” In other words, the publisher is a publishing house which authors pay in advance to have their books published. In order to sell books, commercial publishers may specialize in a particular genre, such as genealogy.

(+) How to Improve Your Productivity with Two or More Monitors

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

I have been using two monitors on my desktop computers for years. I love the convenience of displaying 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.

My desk with a 27-inch iMac and a 28-inch Dell monitor

Pay no attention to the small screen to the right. That is an Amazon Echo Show, also called “Alexa,” that has nothing to do with this article. Maybe I will write about that in the future!

I especially like to display two different genealogy programs simultaneously, one on each monitor. That makes it easy to compare two different databases and even to copy-and-paste information from one program to another.

Not only can I display different programs on different monitors, I can also move any window from one monitor to the other. You know how you can click-and-drag a window from one area on your single screen to another? I can do the same with two monitors: click-and-drag any window from an area on one monitor to an area on another monitor.

(+) Another Method to Go Paperless with either Macintosh or Windows

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

New Year’s is a traditional time to make resolutions. I would suggest this is the perfect time to decide to organize your life. Specifically, it’s time to get rid of all the paper that is cluttering up your genealogy research as well as your need to keep receipts for income tax purposes, to keep copies of eyeglass prescriptions, to organize your warranties for the various items in your life, to keep copies of business cards, and for hundreds of other purposes where you might need to quickly and easily find a piece of “paper” in the future. Luckily, there are many software tools available for organizing your paper files by scanning them, saving the images to a database on your computer, and (optionally) throwing away the paper.

Remember when everyone talked about how we would someday become a paperless society? Now it seems like we use paper more than ever. Let’s face it – everyone still uses paper. We end up with piles of it – bills, receipts, financial and insurance statements, and much more. Still, the trend toward government and business entities wanting digital documents is growing. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service prefers that you file your taxes electronically. If an audit is requested, the I.R.S. strongly suggests you show up at the audit with electronic images of your receipts, not with boxes of paper. According to ruling Rev. Proc. 97-22 from the IRS, agency employees will accept digital documents. If you do insist on submitting tax forms and receipts on paper, the I.R.S. employees will simply scan all your paper and then throw that paper away! The agency doesn’t have enough file space to store paper from all the taxpayers, but it has lots of available space for digital storage. In addition, I.R.S. employees can retrieve electronic images much faster than they can retrieve paper documents. Perhaps you should do the same. After all, this is the 21st century!

(+) OCR Explained

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

Do you have a document or even a full-length book that you would like to enter into a computer’s database or word processor? You could re-type the entire thing. If your typing ability is as bad as mine, that will be a very lengthy task. Of course, you could hire a professional typist to do the same, but that is also expensive.

We all have computers, so why not use a high-quality scanner? You will also need optical character recognition (OCR) technology.

OCR is the technology long used by libraries and government agencies to make lengthy documents available electronically. As OCR technology has improved, it has been adopted by commercial firms, including Archive CD Books USA, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, Archive.org, ProQuest (producers of HeritageQuest Online), Ancestry.com, Google Books, and many other companies.

(+) Hands On with the ACEPC W5 Windows 10 Mini Desktop Computer Stick

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

Have you seen the ads for these things? The ACEPC W5 Windows 10 Mini Desktop Computer is a Windows 10 computer on what looks like an oversized flash memory stick. It literally is smaller than a pack of cigarettes. In fact, it is about the size of two packs of chewing gum. It sells for $99.99 US. OK, let’s round that up a penny and call it $100.

Is this thing really a useful or even useable PC? Can it really run all the normal Windows 10 programs? Can it run a genealogy program? Is it a practical device to use when I am traveling? Can it work from a hotel room, using the hotel’s television set as a monitor? I decided to find out and to share my findings in this newsletter. I ordered one from Amazon. Two days later, I had a new PC in my hand.

Yes, that is my hand in the above picture. I am holding the ACEPC W5 Windows 10 Mini Desktop Computer Stick. The picture was taken a minute or two after I unboxed the computer. This is called a “Pocket PC,” but that name is a bit misleading. I could put 2 or 3 of these computers into a normal-sized pocket!

(+) 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 the next generations before technological obsolescence, or even data loss, creep in.

(+) Why a Search Engine Cannot Find All Online Genealogy Information

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

Internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo and Bing are great inventions for genealogists. We can go to a search engine and enter a name of an ancestor or other relative. The search engine will then provide us with a “hit” list—a list of web pages that contain that name. If the name is an uncommon one, we often can find the information we seek within seconds. The more common names may be a bit more difficult as the search engines return too many “hits” for us to read quickly. In these cases we can narrow the search by entering the person’s place of residence, occupation, family members’ names, and other facts from the person’s life, hoping to find web pages that contain those facts in addition to the person’s name.

However, search engines never return information about certain records, even though we know that those records are already available online. In fact, the search engines typically cannot find information contained in some of the largest genealogy web sites: MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and others. Perhaps you saw information about your ancestor online last week in one of the larger genealogy sites. Today, you want to look at that information again for further research, but you don’t remember which site had the info. Most genealogists will go to Google.com to search for the person and then click on Google’s link to the web site where the information is stored. However, Google and the other search engines typically will not find information stored on the larger genealogy web sites. The question arises, “Why not?” The answer is easy, but it does require a bit of explanation.

(+) Why Cloud Computing Makes Sense for Genealogy

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

Note: This is an update to an article I published several years ago. The technology of cloud computing has grown rapidly and changed significantly since the article was first published. I decided to update the article to make it more relevant to today’s cloud computing environment.

One of the current buzzwords in the online world is “cloud computing.” You can probably find dozens of definitions of this new technology, but I think the simplest is that cloud computing refers to a computer application running on a distant computer or, more often, in a cluster of computers. Those multiple computers, or servers, often are installed in different data centers around the world, and yet they work in harmony as if they were one very big and very powerful computer.

In fact, if your present computer is showing its age and is slowing down a bit, switching to cloud computing applications is an excellent method of obtaining several more years of productive use from your aging hardware.

(+) The True Expense of Genealogy Research

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

The world has changed for genealogists in the past two or three decades. Anyone with a computer can now obtain more genealogy information online that what any public library in a town or a small city can provide. The online information is available quickly and conveniently, is usually faster to search, and (in many cases) is available for less money.

I hear many genealogists moan and groan because a particular online genealogy service costs money. The claim often is made that “It should be free!” Comparisons often are made that traveling to a nearby library or archive is free so we shouldn’t pay for the online databases.

I will suggest that such claims are the result of “fuzzy thinking.”

(+) Dutch Tulip Mania of 1636-1637

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

We often think of speculation in stock market, real estate, oil futures, or dot-com companies to be modern ventures for risk-taking entrepreneurs. Not so. Our ancestors were known to take perhaps even greater risks in a largely unregulated business atmosphere. Perhaps the most famous was the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1636-1637. However, it was not confined to the Dutch; many of our ancestors in other countries also joined in the frenzy. Many of them lost fortunes, large and small.

Pamphlet from the Dutch tulipomania, printed in 1637

When we think of tulips, most of us automatically think of Holland. However, it is not a native plant of that country. The first tulip appeared in the United Provinces (now called the Netherlands) in 1593, when Charles de L’Ecluse (or Carolus Clusius) first bred tulips that could tolerate the harsh conditions of the Low Countries. Charles’ bulbs were sent to him from Turkey by his friend, Ogier de Busbecq.

(+) FREE PDF Tools in The Cloud (and One Non-Cloud Tool as Well)

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

Portable Document Format files are amongst the best things available in your computer. The biggest advantage of the Portable Document Format is that it can be used across all devices. You can read PDF files on an iPhone, an iPad, Android devices, Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Chromebooks, and probably some other operating systems you never heard of. Indeed, it is a PORTABLE Document Format, usually referred to as a “PDF file.” The word “portable” is appropriate because PDF files may easily be moved from one operating system to another, such as from Windows to Macintosh or Android.

PDF files are very popular with genealogists. There is a host of ways that they find these capabilities useful. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  • Convert files to share with family members who may not have the programs you use
  • Make PDF files found online searchable to find information on ancestors
  • Convert PDF files found online to a format that lets you extract facts about an ancestor to paste into your genealogy program
  • Convert PDF files found online to a format that lets you extract images of ancestral people and places
  • Convert PDF files of genealogy books into other formats, such as Word files or ebook reader formats