June 1, 2015

How to Archive Family Photos: help for managing digital overload


Do you have a digital mess on your hands? Taken hundreds or thousands of photos that have never seen light beyond a screen? Wish you knew how to manage them, and maybe actually print, share, or create something with them?

For me, the answers are yes, yes, and YES.

Thankfully, help has arrived. Denise May Levenick, aka The Family Curator, has written a wonderful new book called How to Archive Family Photos. It outlines strategies and ideas for changing the way you work with digital images to better be able to find, preserve, and enjoy them. In just a few days, it’s transformed how I manage my digital photo collection.

Lest that seem overwhelming, Levenick offers a piece of advice in the first chapter: start where you are, with your current batch of smartphone or camera photos, and go forward from there. Once you get a workflow established, it’s easier to go back and bring your older files into the fold.

The whole concept that there is a workflow to managing digital images, and that it can be streamlined for efficiency, was an eye-opener for me. Professional photographers call it Digital Asset Management (DAM). It’s a simple seven-step process that covers everything from capturing the image (taking a picture) to editing, exporting, and sharing it. Levenick provides multiple examples of how to create a customized workflow to suit your particular goals and situation.

I've needed a system like this desperately. When I bought my first digital camera, it felt liberating to be able to take hundreds of pictures on a tiny card, rather than 24 shots on a roll of film. I learned to upload them to my computer, where they routinely appeared in My Pictures folder or iPhoto. More recently, I started doing the same thing with images taken on my phone.

And there they’ve sat. Countless images, priceless memories, adrift in a sea of computer files.

Except that’s not the half of it. As a genealogist, I’ve also digitized old cabinet cards, tiny early 20th century photos, faded mid-century snapshots, and old menus and keepsakes. I’ve taken pictures of tombstones in numerous cemeteries, and made digital copies of probate packets and pension files.

How, then, do I go about creating an organized system out of this jumble of modern events and historical treasures? How do I integrate images captured on my camera, smartphone, and tablet with those imported from my scanner, in such a way that I can quickly find things I want later? And how can I make sure I don’t lose all this stuff as time goes by?

How to Archive Family Photos answers all these questions, along with some I didn't even know to ask. Here are the strategies I’ve been looking for. The book’s straightforward, encouraging approach gave me the incentive and tools to get started on this long-overdue process.

Levenick offers practical advice for every step of the way, including:
  • photo management solutions for both PC and Mac users
  • file naming and organizing strategies
  • online storage and photo sharing options
  • equipment for digitizing, preserving, and backing up images
  • keys to scanning, organizing, and safely storing heirloom prints

In the final chapters, Levenick explores methods of getting photos out of your files and into a form where they can be enjoyed and appreciated. She explains how to create a variety of simple photo projects, including cards, collages, calendars, scrapbook pages, Facebook cover photos, and home d├ęcor. She also discusses many options for creating photo books, as well as smartphone and tablet apps for sharing on the go. I've done a few of these already, and am eager to try more.


For anyone wishing to bring order to a growing digital image collection, gain peace of mind that the collection is securely preserved, and discover ways to share and enjoy favorite pictures, I highly recommend How to Archive Family Photos. It’s a bargain at roughly what I used to pay to get a couple rolls of film developed. I bought my book from Family Tree Magazine's  ShopFamilyTree, and it’s also available on Amazon. There's a Kindle version if you prefer to read electronically.

This is one of those books I know I'll be returning to again and again. It's earned a spot beside my computer, where I can use it to keep refining my workflow and playing with new projects. If you're wrestling with digital image overload, I think you'll find it indispensable, too. 

--Shelley

May 27, 2015

May's Bounty


What a month this has been! Hot on the heels of the successful Ohio Genealogical Society 2015 Conference, May ushered in a bunch of family highlights. One daughter graduated with her MBA and got engaged a week later; another daughter and her friends spent a fun-filled weekend with us; I helped my mother look for a new house in Florida; and my husband and I took a two-week trip to Ireland and Spain. Now that I’m home and have a chance to catch my breath, I can’t help but feel I’ve been incredibly blessed.

It’s one of those times in life when you can almost feel the pages turning.


Even as I’m busy catching up with mail, laundry, work, and so forth, I want to make sure to preserve the memories of these times. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures and collected a dozen new Irish civil registration records on my mother-in-law’s family. I’ve uploaded all the images to my computer and backed up with Apple’s Time Machine and Mozy, so they’re safe for the moment.

But I want to get those images off my computer and enjoy them, and I want to be able to find and access them ten years from now. Which is why I was thrilled to find the copy I’d ordered of Denise Levenick’s new book, How to Archive Family Photos, waiting in my stack of mail. (You might know Denise through her blog, The Family Curator.) Even though I’m just partway through the book, I’m already getting excited about trying her ideas. This looks like exactly the kind of system I need.

So I’m going to keep reading, and I’ll give you a full review in a few days. And I plan to tell you later about how I obtained those Irish records. I’m also headed to the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University in less than two weeks, which I’m very excited about. Stay tuned—life shows no signs of slowing down!


--Shelley

March 15, 2015

OGS Conference Early Bird Discount Ends March 18


There’s only a few days left to catch extra savings on registration for the upcoming Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) Conference. The conference, held in downtown Columbus, runs April 9-11, 2015, with workshops and events starting April 8.

In the course of three and a half days, OGS has 44 top-notch speakers offering nearly 100 presentations, workshops, luncheons, and roundtable discussions. Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist, will present a brand new keynote address, plus four additional lectures. 

I think the conference program looks flat-out amazing. Then again, I might a little partial to it. (Disclaimer: I’m serving as Program Chair, which means I’ve handled endless paperwork and emails with no pay. It also means I get to work with some of the best speakers and most dedicated volunteers in genealogy-land.) 

Whether you’re just beginning your family history search or a seasoned genealogist, or anywhere in-between, you’re sure to find something of interest. Tracks include Problem-Solving Strategies, Technology Tools, Records & Resources, DNA/Genetic Genealogy, Military Research, Sharing Family History, German Ancestors, African-American & Southern Research, Organizing & Productivity, Methods for Success, Preserving Your Heritage, Ohio Ancestors, Forensic Genealogy, and more.

Check out the schedule for yourself here. I hope you'll agree this is one you won’t want to miss. 

By registering before the March 18th early-bird deadline, you get:
  • a $40 savings on full conference registration
  • an electronic copy of the syllabus in advance, to help plan your time
  • first chance at workshops and events that might sell out 

So why wait? Visit the OGS 2015 Conference website for more information and online registration. Oh, and if you just can’t decide now, rest assured that you can still register right up to conference time, or even at the door.

Hope to see you in Columbus in April!
--Shelley   

February 2, 2015

Learning About Genetic Genealogy, Part 2

Class at SLIG 2015, front row, left to right: Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, Blaine Bettinger

Last week, I wrote about some of my experiences in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) course, Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy. My post on Learning About Genetic Genealogy, Part 1 talked about our coverage of mtDNA (direct maternal line), Y-DNA (direct paternal line), and X-DNA testing.

CeCe Moore, one of the nation’s leading genetic genealogists, took us into the intricacies of autosomal, or atDNA, testing and analysis the latter part of the week. And what a fascinating field it is.

Autosomal DNA is valuable for genealogy because it looks at chromosome segments inherited from all ancestral lines—your whole pedigree chart. The big caveat in this is random recombination. That’s the process by which bits of your mother’s genes and bits of your father’s genes randomly mix together to create an unique individual: you. It’s why sisters and brothers share a significant amount of, but not all, traits and chromosomes.

Because of recombination, you may inherit relatively large segments of chromosomes from one ancestor, and small segments from another. Each generation, the bits get smaller, and eventually some don’t make it to you at all. So in effect, some ancestors five or six generations ago drop off your genetic pedigree chart.

AtDNA analysis for genealogy, therefore, becomes a matching game. Who among other testers matches you on a specific chromosome segment, and how does that help you identify your most recent common ancestor (MRCA)?

CeCe talked about identifying close matches by centiMorgan size, chromosome mapping, and triangulation. She discussed the methodology for working with match data on Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA. We talked about the special challenges of working with endogamous (self-contained) populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews. CeCe also shared some moving stories of the successes she has had using atDNA to identify parents of adoptees and others with an unknown birth parent.

Blaine Bettinger offered tips for using third-party tools to aid in analysis, with a special focus on GEDmatch. I found this very helpful and wished we had even more time to spend on third party tools. Blaine also discussed privacy, regulation, and ethical issues, introducing the new Genetic Genealogy Standards announced just days earlier.

One of my favorite lectures of the week was Blaine’s presentation on ethnicity, admixture, and kinship analysis. Ethnicity predictions, while far from an exact science, are one of the most intriguing components of DNA testing. Everyone who has tested in my family, at least, is curious to know where their long-ago ancestors came from.

On the last morning, Debbie Parker Wayne talked about when and how to incorporate DNA testing with traditional research to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, and offered some citation models.

If this course sounds like something you might be interested in taking, I have good news for you. A similar course will be offered twice this summer at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), and again at SLIG next winter. Here are the details:

Practical Genetic Genealogy with Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, and Blaine Bettinger: at GRIP, June 28-July 3, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Registration begins WED., FEBRUARY 4, at 12:00 noon Eastern time at www.gripitt.org.

Practical Genetic Genealogy with Debbie Parker Wayne, Patti Hobbs, and Blaine Bettinger: at GRIP, July 19-24, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Registration begins WED., FEBRUARY 18, at 12:00 noon Eastern time at www.gripitt.org.

Beginning Genetic Genealogy coordinated by Blaine Bettinger: at SLIG, January 11-15, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Registration begins June 20 at 11:00 am Eastern time at www.SLIG.ugagenealogy.org.

One tip: to get the most out of an intensive study opportunity like this, it’s helpful to come in with some experience under your belt. Read about genetic genealogy, test yourself and some family members at the major testing companies, and attend any webinars, conference lectures, or local seminars on DNA you can find. That will help you catch onto the concepts more quickly, and recognize how you can apply various processes to your own research. You might start by exploring Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

Just like regular genealogy, DNA research can be both time-consuming and addicting. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some matches to investigate…

-Shelley

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January 29, 2015

Learning About Genetic Genealogy, Part 1


Earlier this month, I spent an exciting (and exhausting!) week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). My brain is full of new information about genetic genealogy, and my flash drive is full of new records about my ancestors. I enjoyed reconnecting with friends who share my passion for family history, as well as meeting new people.

I took the course “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy,” coordinated by Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL. Blaine Bettinger, PhD, JD, and CeCe Moore also instructed significant sections. The three of them made a good team, and we covered a lot of ground. The binder of handouts we received will make a great resource going forward.

Many people have asked me what the course was like, and whether I’d recommend it. The answer to the latter is definitely yes. First of all, SLIG is an incredibly well-organized institute, the new hotel facilities are good, and the people couldn’t be nicer. Still, the true test of a course is in its content and instructors, and I’m happy to say this one delivered on both counts.

We started out with an overview of DNA testing and basic genetics, talking about the different tests and the “big three” companies: Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA, as well as specialty testers. We spent some time the first day learning some scientific vocabulary. I now understand terms like centiMorgans, alleles, recombination, pseudo-segments, and endogamous populations, not to mention MCRA, CRS, IBD and IBS. Not sure of the difference between a SNP and a STR? Neither was I before this course.

Debbie Parker Wayne covered mitochondrial (mtDNA) testing, and what it can reveal about your direct maternal ancestry far back into history. Crucial to this is understanding that a mother passes her mtDNA to all her children, but only daughters can then pass it on to the next generation.

While using mtDNA to solve genealogical problems for recent generations can be challenging, we talked about ways of approaching it. For one thing, mtDNA can often be used to either support or refute a supposed relationship. It also can be used to prove questions of Native American ancestry through the mother’s line. For me, a key point in our mtDNA discussion was understanding more about haplogroups, which indicate where your maternal ancestors originated many hundreds of years ago.

Y-DNA also deals with deep ancestry, but on the opposite side of the pedigree chart. Only males inherit a Y chromosome, so Y-DNA passes from father to son through many generations, with occasional small changes. These changes, or mutations, can provide big clues for families. Blaine Bettinger presented an excellent discussion of the advantages and limitations of Y testing, using Y-DNA results, finding Y-DNA cousins, surname projects, STR markers, haplotypes and haplogroups. He told us about some third-party databases and tools for analyzing results, and showed how Y-DNA can be used to identify whether two males share a common paternal ancestor.


We also learned about X-DNA, which is tied to the sex chromosomes. A female inherits one X chromosome from her mother and one from her father. A male inherits an X chromosome from his mother but none from his father (he gets a Y instead). Because of its more complicated inheritance pattern and the fact that it hasn’t been studied as much, X-DNA often gets overlooked. In the right situations, though, it can be used to narrow down the ancestral lines you should focus on.

In addition to lectures, we did in-class projects designed to identify individuals on a pedigree chart who could be tested for a common ancestor. One takeaway from this was that when you start to work with DNA, those collateral relatives—your grandfather’s brother’s kids, your grandmother’s aunt’s kids, and cousins of every stripe—become vitally important. I have a renewed sense of how valuable it is to include these collaterals in my traditional genealogical research.

That's a quick overview of our first two days. I'll talk about what we covered the rest of the week in my next post, and tell you about opportunities to take a similar course at GRIP and SLIG. There was just too much happening to fit it all into one!

--Shelley

DNA image: "DNA methylation" by Christoph Bock (Max Planck Institute for Informatics) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DNA_methylation.jpg#mediaviewer/File:DNA_methylation.jpg

January 11, 2015

Attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy


For the next week, I’ll be participating in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) and researching at the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah. I think SLIG offers a great environment for developing better research skills and getting to know other genealogists. It’s not easy to leave home at this time of the year, right after the holidays, but I’m already glad I came.

SLIG offers twelve tracks or courses for intermediate and advanced genealogists, presented by top-notch instructors. I had a hard time choosing a course, because they all sound so good. In the end I elected to enroll in Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy. I want to learn how to interpret and use the results from the DNA tests that I’ve asked family members to take, and how to integrate genetic matches with traditional research to find common ancestors.

The course instructors—Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, and Blaine Bettinger—are three of the leading experts in the field of genetic genealogy. I’m looking forward to learning from them and my fellow classmates.

In addition to the course I’m taking, I’m loaded with research goals for the FHL, including one particularly vexing problem that I hope to make some progress on. I created a detailed list of films and books to consult, using the strategy I outlined earlier in Tips for Planning Your Visit to the Family History Library. Since I’ll be in class all day, my time in the library will be limited, and I want to make the most of it. Fortunately, I’ll have all day Saturday to spend at the FHL.

Here’s hoping it will be a good week for new discoveries, both in the classroom and the library. 

--Shelley

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