Category Archives: Technology

Do You Really Need Paper Files?

Recently, I saw a question in The Organized Genealogist Facebook Group that caught my eye: “How does everyone organize paper files? …Are paper files even needed anymore?”

If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you know that I am a big believer in going digital with your research.  I love having my files at my fingertips on any device, at anytime.  I love that my tree is backed up on my computer, various cloud storage sites, and flash dries.  And?  It only takes up the space of my laptop.  That’s important, because in my tiny studio, I don’t have the space for a file cabinet or large bookshelves.  It just isn’t feasible for my space.

But can you go complete paperless?  The short answer: Mostly.

The key word is mostly.  With technology, you no longer need to have print outs and photocopies and handwritten notes sprawled out on random Post-Its and napkins.  In all honesty, you don’t really need to print much out to begin with.  When you find a record online, then just save it digitally.  When you need to take notes, add it to your family tree program or note-taking program like OneNote.

Of course, there are instances where you will need to order records from courthouses or archives.  The first thing I do is scan the document so I have a digital copy of the file.  Then I store the record in file folders (preferably legal sized) and then in boxes.  I am not going to throw away a document I just paid for, even if it is in paper.

There are also times when I will write or print something out to see a research problem clearer.  Sometimes, the act of taking a pen to paper can draw out new ideas that typing on a keyboard just can’t.  Or sometimes, if I print a problem out and leave it on my bulletin board, I will randomly get inspired with a new idea to try or something I forgot to consider.  But once I am done with the paper, I will scan it using my phone and either stick it into OneNote (my note-taking program of choice) or save it in my digital filing system.

So can I go paperless in genealogy?  Mostly.

What about you?



Lisa Louise Cooke Releases Volume II of Google Earth for Genealogy

Most of you know Lisa Louise Cooke – as the host of The Genealogy Gems and Family Tree Magazine Podcast, as a brilliant genealogy lecturer, a teacher for Family Tree University, and as an author for genealogy magazines  (is there anything she doesn’t do?!).  Her enthusiasm and passion for genealogy is infectious.  Her ideas, tips, and suggestions are innovative.  She’s energetic, bubbly, and 100% approachable.  Oh – and did I mention she has the most adorable grandson ever?  Because she does.

Well Lisa has released Google Earth for Genealogy Volume II DVD.  This is the second installment of her video series on using Google Earth for genealogy.  Want to learn more?  Below is the press release and a short video preview of the DVD.

Phone: (925) 272-4021
The Google Earth for Genealogy Video Series Expands with Brand New Volume
Second Installment by Genealogy Gems Podcast Host Lisa Louise Cooke
SAN RAMON, CA, September 29, 2010 – Genealogy Gems announced today that the second installment of the Google Earth for Genealogy video series has been released at
“Google Earth has the power to geographically document and tell the stories of our ancestors’ lives, and in this new video I show you how to do just that,” said Lisa Louise Cooke, Genealogy Gems owner and producer and host of the popular Genealogy Gems Podcast at and in iTunes. “I’m excited to be expanding on the concepts covered in the first DVD, and in Volume II we take Google Earth from family history research tool to compelling genealogical storyteller.”
In the brand new step-by-step tutorial DVD Google Earth for Genealogy Volume II Cooke shows you how to:
• Pinpoint your ancestors’ property using land patent records
• Locate original land surveys
• Customize Google Earth place marks with photos and documents
• Add video to your Google Earth maps
• Incorporate custom and ready-made 3D models to your maps to add
a new dimension
• Add focus with polygons and paths
• Pull it all together to tell your ancestors’ stories in riveting ways by
creating and sharing Family History Tours
In addition to the seven videos, the DVD (for PC use only) includes an introduction video, a menu with convenient links to the websites mentioned in the tutorials to help you quickly get started, and a bonus podcast interview.
Watch the video at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel to see it in
About the Author:
Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the internationally popular
Genealogy Gems Podcast <>, an online
genealogy audio show. A national speaker, video producer, author and
online instructor, Lisa’s passion for geographic genealogy is out of this
Contact: Lisa Louise Cooke at

Online Family Trees: A Genealogist’s Dream or Nightmare?

The topic of online family trees has been a debate on the blogosphere recently with posts by Lynn of The Armchair Genealogist and Jennifer of Rainy Day Genealogy Readings (I realize that I am a bit late to add to the conversation, but I’m putting my two cents in anyway).


I remember when I started researching my ancestors.  I was 12 and exclusively used the internet to find my information.  I never even considered sending away for records or visiting an archive.  I was allowed to use my aunt’s subscription and my mom would sneak some manila file folders from work for all of my papers.  I used the census records found on and the names I added to my family tree all came from other people’s trees.  I would read the various stories and family legends that people wrote on message boards or their family websites.  I believed every word – whether a source was written or not.

I bragged about the over 1,000 names I had in my database.  Since I spent the afternoons with my mom while she was at work, I would print page after page of information and charts.  My mom and I lived in a motel room at the time and I would cover the wall above my bed with my pedigree chart.  I was so proud of how far back my pedigree went.

There was only one problem: I was a name collector and not a genealogist.

The Difference

A name collector is someone who collects every name that could possibly fit into their family tree.  They don’t consider the sources – just cause it is on the internet makes it so.  They don’t think twice when a woman has a child at age 14 or when a man lives to be 120 years old.  Sources don’t matter unless you want to be polite and list the tree you got the information from.  In fact, many name collectors are more impressed with the large number of names in their database and not the number of stories to go with the names.

A genealogist however is someone who collects evidence in the form of vital, census, military, land, court, church, and every other record they can get their hands on.  Other evidence such as diaries, journals, newspapers, and letters are also collected.  Each piece of evidence is carefully examined, studied, and analyzed for information.  Genealogists also understand that while more and more records are being put on the internet, not everything is on the internet – sometimes you will have to get your hands dusty in an archive, courthouse, or repository.  Maps and history books are used to help understand the time period and place.  Conclusions are formed based on the evidence available and every source used is listed.  When one question is answered, five more are asked.  Genealogists are constantly trying to improve their skills by collaborating, connecting, networking, debating, and sharing with each other.

…Back To The Family Trees

Online family trees don’t have to be a bad thing.  An important part of being a genealogist is the ability to share, collaborate, and connect with other genealogists.  If I found an online family tree with one of my ancestors in it, and I have different information about that ancestor, then I want to talk to that researcher to figure out why our information is different.  What does that researcher have that I don’t or vice versa?  Is there something that was overlooked?  Together, we can figure it out.

I wouldn’t be able to find that researcher unless that researcher had an online family tree.

At the same time, if I post a family tree online, I wouldn’t want someone to just “copy” that information.  I would want them to contact me and understand how I came to the conclusions that I have.  My family tree consists of a lot of research work and I don’t want someone to just “take” it without understanding it.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Posting a family tree online is a personal choice.  Deciding what to do with the information found in family trees is also a choice – will you be a name collector or a genealogist?

Update (As of 8 Sept 2010): I am not saying that being a name collector is a bad thing (as long as the person realizes the difference between a name collector as a genealogist).  Using the information like names, dates, and places that you find in someone else’s online family tree as a GUIDE or a CLUE only is not a bad thing – on the contrary, I encourage it.  Sometimes you need to see what another researcher thinks about a particular family in order to get inspired or have an epiphany of where to look for the next record.  It is normal to get stuck somewhere and need the extra push that can come from using someone else’s information as a GUIDE or CLUE.  This does not mean the information you find in someone else’s tree is FACT – it might be – but you have to PROVE it using real records, documents, and sources.
I understand that there are people in the genealogy community who don’t see a need for their research to be at an academic standard.  I’m not saying it has to be like that anyway.  But why not try to make your genealogy as factual/proven/sourced/correct as possible?
Besides, I have the most fun in genealogy when I find the record that I have searched forever for.  The record holds more information that helps me understand my ancestor as not a name on a chart, but as a living, breathing person with a story waiting to be discovered.

Brand New Laptop

Hey Everyone – I’m back!

Sorry for the delay in posts, but I have been having some technical difficulties. My old laptop, Ole Clunky, finally died about two weeks ago. She was old and I knew it was coming. I am only grateful that it came right before I got my grant check and that I backed up all of my genealogy.

So I’d like to introduce you to my brand new laptop. It is a Toshiba and I love it. It isn’t top of the line, but it is a technological upgrade for me nonetheless. It has Windows 7 on it, and I am still getting used to it. But I love it.

But with this new laptop comes a few recommendations and some lessons learned:

  1. This laptop was my first big purchase. Even though the laptop I bought was cheap compared to many of the laptops on the market, it still hurt my bank account. After I swiped my card to pay the $500 bill, I got a rush. I know that sounds silly, but this is a BIG purchase for me. However, it was worth it.
  2. While my GEDCOM files, documents, and picture files were all backed up and safe, my podcasts were not. This isn’t such a big deal, since I can just redownload the podcasts. But this is a huge pain to do and takes time.
  3. I need to be more organized when it comes to saving my registration keys for programs. While it isn’t a big deal because I was able to email the companies for them, it is still a pain. I would’ve had my RootsMagic 4 already downloaded, but I had to wait for the company to reply to my email (In all fairness and honesty was pretty darn fast considering I emailed them on the weekend – but when it comes to genealogy, I am impatient).
  4. Setting up a computer just the way you like it takes time – especially when you are dealing with a new operating system. But during that time, you get to play around with new programs and sometimes find even more things that you like.
  5. I can now play Second Life! I still don’t really “get” it, but I am hoping that will come with time. I am really looking forward to the chats.

I just want to also let everyone know that the blog might be quiet for the next couple of weeks. Between school, my family get-togethers, my boyfriend’s family get-togethers, and all of the regular life stuff, I am swamped. But just know that I am planning on some awesome stuff for the month of January (and the second half of December if I can fit it in). So stay tuned!