The times they are a changin'

I am so excited to be attending Rootstech 2013 next week, courtesy of a drawing held at Nancy Shively's blog, Gathering Stories. Thanks again, Nancy!!! 

This conference comes at a perfect time for me, because I've been rethinking how I manage my genealogy research in the era of the cloud. Two issues have been particularly on my mind: first, do I even put my family data out there on the internet, and second, how do I manage the storage and citation of all the original data that I find online?

Do I even put my family tree online in the first place?

The answer to the first question has been a resounding no until just recently, when FamilySearch  opened their world family tree project to the public. I have been hesitant to join sites such as and make my family tree public because of the appalling lack of citations in so many of their trees, not to mention that I would hate to have someone appropriate my work and add it to their tree without attribution. Still, I've been intrigued with the idea of crowd-sourcing ancestors, and I've read enough about the citation, discussion, and arbitration modules built into Family Search's global family tree project to think that this time someone might actually have addressed my concerns and gotten it right.  

Quite frankly, I would be embarrassed to upload my own Gedcom to a public site in its current state -- it's a mess.  I've been researching my family since I was ten, and over the years have progressed from paper files and family group sheets written out in long hand, through several different iterations of software programs.  All this took place in fits and starts while I was studying, working, and later raising a family, so consistency is not its strong suit.  I've learned quite a lot about research methodology since I was ten, but my files reflect everything I've ever done, not just the careful scholarship of more recent years.  My children are now in college and I can devote much more time to my family history, so the first thing on the agenda is a grand overhaul of my files.  If I have to clean house and start over, I'd rather do it in a way that contributes something to general knowledge rather than keep my research hidden in a file on my computer that only I can see.

That's not to say I will use the FamilySearch project for every person in my family tree.  I'm inclined to use it for the low-hanging fruit -- in other words, when the evidence is unambiguous, and there is no question about the identity of the person, my research will go out into the world wide web.  I will continue to use my Bento templates to record my research and store evidence for those situations where it is necessary to build a case to establish ancestral identities.

How do I manage digital image files from the web?

The second question, how to manage the digital image files that are proliferating on my computer, has also been hard for me to resolve until fairly recently. As more and more original records are made available online, the process of managing them on my computer was getting awkward:  I would download a file, rename it, make sure I had the correct citation attached to each file, and only then add it to my Bento research management system (and forget about adding it to Reunion... it just wasn't happening).  

Capturing and citing sources has to be fast and easy. I've recently started using two clipping apps, which allow me to save and annotate images on a web page together with their URL. 

 "Tree Connect" is an app that saves online data as a source in FamilySearch. You can drag the bookmark button to your toolbar, surf the web, and when you find a website with data on an ancestor, click the button and that page is automatically saved in FamilySearch. You can then go in later and attach the source to the appropriate individuals in your tree.  

Obviously, the tricky part of research -- and the one area that traditional family tree software does not handle well -- are all those bits of data you find that may or may not relate to your ancestors. You can't attach them to someone in your tree, but you still need to keep track of them for building a case later.  You can certainly save such information as unattached sources in FamilySearch, but that's kind of like putting it in a shoebox under your bed -- you can't easily access the material when you need it.  I use  Evernote together with my Bento templates for research on these "potential ancestors." Evernote's webclipper, which resides on my toolbar and lets me clip data from the web, annotate it, and send it to Evernote, is the other app I'm turning to more and more as part of my online research routine.  Once in Evernote, I can then migrate the data to Bento.

Technology is changing everything in genealogy these days, so you can see that I am really excited to head out to Salt Lake City for Rootstech 2013!  I'm curious, though -- do any of you use these tools for your research?  I'd love to hear about your experiences. Anyway, if you will be at Rootstech, look me up and say hi.  Send me an email, or you can find me on Twitter as @100h2ofan.