Sunday, May 1, 2011

105th COG: My Lean, Mean Genealogy Machine

I was going to write a modest little piece on the modest little set of technology that I use for genealogy. Well, I  am still going to do that. But I am writing this with a little less confidence than I had even the day before I sat down to write this.

As you will see from the post below, there was an “incident” with comments on this blog - apparently one of the blogs that appeared on my blogroll has been found by Google to have some sort of virus. And the fact that a link (now deleted) to it appeared on my blog had made my blog suspect as well.

Last week I was informed by my e-mail service that my e-mail had been hacked and that I would have to go through a process to reset my password and restore my access (not too painful, but it did involve providing a piece of information that I would preferred not to have provided).

This was my primary e-mail address, and together with my blog, it is my main form of communication; I am not super-active on Facebook nor do I tweet. That these two events happened within a week of one another was distressing.

My husband and I attempt in various ways to back up all of the computer stuff that is important to us, but these incidents have left me feeling uneasy.

Still, I love my “technology,” especially my new (well, new from Christmas, anyway) MacBook Pro.

My Baby.
(Apologies for the shady picture - I never remember to take pictures
when there is still daylight.)

Computer: And why do I call my MacBook Pro “My Lean, Mean Genealogy Machine”? Mainly because I consider its main purpose to be doing genealogy. Although I still do most of my e-mail correspondence on this machine, I do not intend to do much else here or to save anything other than genealogy-related documents to it. Exceptions would be iTunes (can’t work without music!) and uploading photos taken on trips, since I do plan to take the laptop with me when I travel (or at least on genealogy-related trips).

That means documents related to anything else I have ever used the computer for - school, Scouts, language-related stuff, and other family “business” - remain on/go to my old Mac Mini desktop setup. Most scans and new photos go to the desktop as well. The desktop is already a bit slow (probably needs a “tuneup” or housecleaning), and I want to avoid this on my laptop.

My desktop (Mac Mini) setup

Of course, there are a lot of genealogy-related things remaining on my old desktop. My husband has set up Time Machine on our household network to overcome this problem, so I can now access all of my archived genealogy documents directly or even duplicate them on the laptop through Time Machine.

Browsers and bookmark organization: That still leaves my browser bookmark system in a bit of chaos. On the desktop I have a super-extensive set of old bookmarks of all types - but especially genealogy bookmarks - on Safari, and there are quite a few on Firefox as well, not to mention the new ones I have managed to accumulate on the laptop. Although I have exported/imported bookmarks before, I don’t think I will do that in this case, because many of these bookmarks are old and need to be cleaned up. I loved the old bookmark organization system on Safari, but am not so fond of the Firefox system or the new Safari system. Therefore, as I clean up the various sets of bookmarks, I will probably copy them to the Genealogy Toolboxes on my blog and on the website I have created at Weebly.

Software: I use Reunion as my genealogy database. I am also working on trees on Ancestry and hope to eventually have a website (Weebly or something else) with trees and other information as well. So far I have not added any transcription or note-taking software or any other research “helper” applications.

For photos I have iPhoto on both computers. I am getting a bit alarmed at how many photos we have in digital form on various computers in our family. My husband and I back them up through Time Machine, but I know that our college daughter also has tons of photos on her very vulnerable laptop.

Although we have Microsoft Office on our computers at home, we also have iWork and I am becoming more and more attached to these applications. In particular, I may use Keynote for some modest digital scrapbooking.

Websites: I have subscriptions to Ancestry, Footnote, and Genealogy Bank. State archive websites (South Carolina, Texas, and Illinois, among others) are big favorites with me. I also love many of the local library websites (Greenville) or library-affiliated websites (GenFriends of Plano Libraries) as well as Findagrave and outstanding individual cemetery sites such as the one for Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Camera: I have a barebones camera - a Nikon Coolpix LI8 - and it seems to be enough for me. I can take a decent picture of a tombstone and, on the macro setting, a decent picture of a document.

Phone: Nothing genea-helpful here. It’s a Plain Jane type of phone probably will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Other hardware: There is my beloved wand scanner pictured below and described in “My New Toy” and “More on the New Toy.” To this I will most likely add a Flip-Pal Scanner; the current plan is to get one next Christmas, but I may give in and get one at the upcoming NGS Conference because I would be able to use it to scan pictures at my in-laws’ house when we visit later in the summer. Perhaps some day I will get my own flatbed scanner, but right now I am using my husband’s HP 8500 All-in-One Wireless. I noticed when I scanned some documents with fuzzy handwriting for some cousins that the digital copies were clearer than the originals, so I’m thinking this is pretty handy for my use.

Future plans: An iPad would be nice some day; it might be the ideal “take along to the library” item for me when the time comes. Some day I might get a fancier camera and the dedicated scanner that I mentioned. I’m not too keen to update my phone, yet. I see a digital scrapbooking class in my future. Maybe something on website design as well if I do not find a simple (=simple-minded) way for me to set up a family genealogy website.

Slowly, surely, by asking around and reading what my fellow genealogy bloggers have to say on the subject, I am getting a good idea of what kind of technology will work for me. It will never be terribly elaborate with all of the latest gizmos, but I think it will be pretty decent.


  1. Oh, I am so sorry about your techno-illness.

    You will love a Flip-Pal, I promise.

    Glad to see you back in the saddle with no worries.

  2. I feel a sudden urge to go change all my passwords.

    I'm sorry to hear about your recent techno-troubles. Hope all returns to normal shortly.

    As for an easy way to build a web site, I recommend and as easy DIY sitebuilders. Google Sites used to be good, but I haven't checked them out recently. Or you can just set up a static blog as a web site. (I used to teach "non-techies" how to build web sites.) Let me know if you get started and need help!

  3. I am sorry to year about your recent troubles.

    So let's get serious now - get the FlipPal. Now. Don't wait. OK? I find myself using mine more and more and more.

    Also, I agree with you regarding bookmarks. Setting up a Genealogy Toolbox(es) that you can access from anywhere is the way to go. I haven't set mine up yet but it's in the works and it'll be way better than the hodge podge of bookmarks that has evolved on all of our computers!

  4. dee - Oh, I am so thinking I won't be able to wait for that Flip-Pal!

    Elizabeth - I may be contacting you with one question I have. I did set up a website with Weebly, and most of it is pretty easy (and the videos help), but it's the Reunion web cards that are the issue. Thank you so much for your offer!

    Michelle - I definitely am considering buying the F-P at NGS - but I have to see whether or not I am able to refrain from spending a lot of money on books. Yeah, "hodge podge" is an apt description - several hodge podges, in fact!

  5. Take it from me, you need a Flip-Pal!! I'm head-over-heals in love with mine.

  6. I am sorry about your tech problems as well. That is something that occasionally gives me nightmares, too!

    I had never heard of Time Machine, but now must go check it out!

    I've learned so much from reading all of the blog posts, and am so grateful to you and all the others for sharing what you love and what you hate!

    The flip-pal is on my birthday list! (I may have to get it sooner, though!)

  7. If you get an iPad you can get the Reunion app and have all your families stored on your iPad as well.

  8. I admire the Mac users. I watch what you all have to say so I can help Mac users who come into the Family History Library. None of us have a Mac.
    Have great empathy with you on the hackers. They should be glad we don't do firing squads any more. ;P

  9. This is a great post! Lots of useful information.

    I love the wand scanner, I'll have to look into those!