NGS 2015 – Evernote for Genealogists

I recently gave two talks on genealogy and technology at the NGS Family History Conference in St. Charles, Missouri.

One talk was Evernote for Genealogists. Here are the slides. (Please note that I wrote these in Keynote, but have to convert them to PowerPoint to publish, so there may be some conversion effects.)

A key resource for powerful searches in Evernote is this YouTube video on Evernote search syntax:

FGS 2014

I attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference in San Antonio, Texas this week.

It was a great week, with good lectures from leading genealogists, as well as an active exhibition hall.

I was honored to be asked to present two talks on the first day:

Strategic Planning for Society Leaders

And … Electronic Publishing Fundamentals for Society Leaders

Eulogy for Alice Jones

Alice May Jones (1928-2014)
Alice May Jones (1928-2014)

I think of my mother are an adventurous person. She thought nothing about packing the five of us into a VW bug and heading to British Columbia. Or, when we were more grown, into a station wagon and heading to West Virginia, or Boston.

When she wanted to revamp the kitchen cabinets, but couldn’t afford to pay a professional to do it, she took a woodworking class at the adult school, and built 18 feet of cabinet, with a Lazy Susan.

She was adventurous, and very practical about the steps required to set out on the adventure, and also a dreamer who sometimes struggled when reality did not match her dream.

I’m going to read an autobiographical sketch my mother wrote, probably some time about 1983, I’m not sure when. She conveys better than I can the blend of practical adventurer and inveterate dreamer she was. I think you’ll also see some of her sense of humor in her writing.

I was graduated from High School in 1945 in Sheridan, Wyoming a small town in northeastern Wyoming.

I thought about going to nursing school after that, but nice girls didn’t do that — they became teachers or got married and raised children. So I went away to college in Hastings, Nebraska — where I really had a ball. I think I must have majored in campustry. I took only what was interesting to me — music, French, Spanish, and literature.

I came to California in 1947 and fell in love with the warm weather — and no snow to shovel. I graduated from Glendale College in 1949, majoring in music & literature, and got married.

My husband was just out of the Navy, and between us we couldn’t have dug up bus fare out of town, but I started making plans. It was going to be a beautiful life: I would have a house, a car, a baby grand piano, and 5 children — not necessarily in that order.

My first child, a daughter, was born in 1950 and by the time she was two we had a car and a house — not bad for 24 years old.

There were 4 more children in the next 13 years, another daughter and 3 sons. I worked a little here & there but never steadily until 1961, when I started a business: Reseda Nurses Registry, and an all medical telephone answering service. I sold this business when we moved to Simi Valley in 1963 — I needed to spend more time with my family. In about 1965, I was contacted by the President of CNA Dist #5 in LA about running their Registry for them — which I did for about 8 years.

By then I had my piano and I was ready to retire. Everything according to plan. I didn’t work for several years — I took piano lessons and enjoyed being home with my children. I was fortunate in that I had beautiful gifted children — just like the plan — involved in music — playing football, drill team etc.

My oldest daughter graduated from County USC School of Nursing. My younger daughter finished high school at 16 and went to work for State Farm Insurance in T.O. She wanted to go to night school, but was a little shy, so I told her I would go with her, if she would pick something we would both enjoy — so we took conversational Spanish.

That got her started and she went on her way, and so did I — more Spanish and piano. Then I discovered the Simi Valley Adult School, where I studied oil paining and stained glass and cabinet building — all rather expensive hobbies —. So I took a part time job with Brentwood Nurses Registry — to support my habit.

By now, my youngest daughter was a full time student and always looking for a part time job. Finally, she took the nurse’s aide course at the Adult School and loved it. In fact, she talked me into taking it. I finished, but was still working at the Registry. Anyway, one day, Simi Doctors’ Hospital called her to work and she couldn’t go — but she told them she’d send her mother. And that’s how I started working in a hospital.

In 1978, my husband had open heart surgery (6 bypasses) — That wasn’t in my plan! — but he recovered nicely and was back at work in 3 weeks — so that was O.K. and I went on my merry way.

Then, in 1981 Jana was killed in a car accident — that wasn’t in my plan either — and it wasn’t O.K. — I met a Catholic Priest at the hospital who has influenced my life forever. Over the next few months I began to realize that I had been living in fairyland for 52 years. Things were not always going to work out the way I had planned. Life is so fragile. I may not have my husband forever, indeed, I might not have him tomorrow, and I had better prepare myself to take care of me.

She trails off there….

You see, mom was a courageous dreamer, and often, but not always, ready to take the next challenge.

Despite the fact that she disappeared from us over the last decade, I was comforted that her adventurous dreaming, her sense of humor, and her love of music were the last things to go.

Alice May Jones

Alice May Jones passed away May 26, 2014 in Scott Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

She was born March 16, 1928 in Ord, Nebraska, the only child of Ernest Melvin Hill and Helen Kjerstine Johnson. Her father was a clothier who lost his business in the Depression and returned to farming; he died when she was five. Her mother was a teacher.

She attended Sheridan High School (Wyoming), Hastings College (Nebraska), and Glendale College, where she received an AA degree. She majored in art and studied music, languages, and literature.

On September 21, 1949, she married Carl Lawrence Jones. They raised five children in the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley. She started a nurse’s registry, and later pursued arts and crafts, including painting, macramé, crochet, knitting, and woodworking. She liked to travel. On one of her trips, she fell in love with Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she retired with her husband. After Carl’s death in 2003, she lived with and near her children in California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

She was preceded in death by a daughter, Jana Jones. She is survived by four children: Jacqueline Abraham of Swissvale, Pennsylvania; Jonathan Jones of Acton; James Jones of Simi Valley; and Jordan Jones of Raleigh, North Carolina; as well as three cousins, seven grandchildren, five step grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.

A commemoration will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 4th, at the Rose Family Funeral Home, 4444 Cochran St, Simi Valley. Interment will follow at Oakwood Memorial Park, 22601 Lassen St, Chatsworth. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association at

The Demise of Readmill

The best app for reading books is being shut down. Readmill allowed for reading of DRM-free as well as Adobe and Google DRM titles on mobile apps for iOS and Android. The reading experience was crisp and clear; the app also allowed for social and shared reading and annotations.

When Amazon bought the better known GoodReads, Craig Mod wrote an interesting piece at Paid Content entitled “The deal Goodreads should’ve struck (hint: it wasn’t with Amazon)“:

“In my dream team, fantasy publishing startup league, I would have had Goodreads buy Readmill. Here are two startups with similarly overlapping problems. I understand why Amazon bought Goodreads, and why Goodreads sold itself to Amazon. But as a reader and lover of competition in the world of publishing, there is a compelling alternative universe in which a Goodreads plus Readmill combination offered us all a unique alternative to Amazon.”

Now, Readmill has come to its Epilogue. The Readmill team will be joining Dropbox, presumably to enable reading of e-books stored there, but … they are not taking the Readmill app and website.

The website is no longer allowing people to create accounts as of today, and it will shut down completely, as will the availability of the mobile apps, on July 1, 2014.

This is a sad day for independent readers. E-books are dominated by Amazon, with Apple, Google, and Adobe sweeping up most of the remainder. It was an important part of the e-book ecosystem to have a separate (and in many ways better and cleaner) app from the dominant Amazon, Apple, Google, and Adobe offerings. Hopefully, Dropbox will build the Readmill technology into Dropbox and provide a non-content company way to store and read our genealogy and history e-books.

Direct Me NYC 1940

Direct Me NYC 1940
Direct Me NYC 1940

The New York Times published an article yesterday (“Cracking the Brand-New 1940 Census“), reporting that at the New York Public Library’s Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy and the NYPL Labs have connected 1940 phone books to the 1940 census to help researchers locate New Yorkers in the 1940 US Census.

The site leverages the One-Step work of Stephen Morse and Joel Weintraub.

This is a wickedly intelligent way to concatenate available data.

The database allows you to start with a name and a borough, find the person in the telephone directory, use that to find the address, then use the address to find the 1940 US Census enumeration district. The site guides you through the process, including sending you over to FamilySearch to information on the Enumeration District you have discovered.

This will provide quite a bit of help for researchers who still have not found family members in the 1940 US Census, either because the names are indexed incorrectly, or because there are “too many hits.”

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StoryCorps Covered Survivors of Another School Massacre

The national tragedy of Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut has shocked the country. The incredible loss makes me almost speechless.NPR’s StoryCorps covered a Michigan school bombing, interviewing survivors of the May 18, 1927 attack on a school in rural Bath, Michigan.

Forty-five died in that bombing. What you hear in the StoryCorps recording, is how people’s lives were affected. How, even 70 years later, the memories of a family and a community can center on a single horrific moment when so much changed for so many.

Witness to the Lincoln Assassination Appeared on TV

Seymour Winston, he last living witness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln appeared on the TV show “I’ve Got a Secret” on 9 February 1956. As made sense at the time, they offered him a carton of cigarettes, but he requested pipe tobacco….

The show’s producers knew of Mr. Winston because of an article that had appeared in The American Weekly.

Samuel J. Seymour, as told to Frances Spatz Leighton, “I Saw Lincoln Shot,” (Milwaukee:  The Milwaukee Sentinel, 7 February 1954), p. 11. Google News.

Georgia Archives to Be Closed to the Public

Update: It seems that the Governor of Georgia has found a way to return funding to the Georgia Archives.

Georgia Archives PetitionIn a move intended to save money, the Georgia Archives will be closed to the public, starting 1 November 2012. You can read a copy of the Georgia Secretary of State’s letter about the closing at the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) website. (RPAC is a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society [of which I am the President-Elect], and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS)).

The archives has be on restricted hours as it is, being open only 17 hours per week (Friday and Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.), but closing down completely, is a blow that will be hard to recover from for family history researchers and other historians. Under this scenario, there would be a limited availability for the public to schedule access to the archives, but, since these archives are Georgia state public property, many Georgians are making their opinions known in a Facebook group (Georgians Against Closing the State Archives) and via a petition: “The Governor of GA: Leave our state archives open to the public.”

Read more about this in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Supporters Rally Against Georgia Archives Closure.”

Access to records of historical and genealogical importance is currently under siege in many states and federally. There have been several attempts to limit access to what have been and should remain public records. Many of these attempts are well-intentioned, but misinformed.

As an example, public access to SSDI (the Social Security Death Index) is under threat because it was used to by criminals to claim as dependents recently deceased children. This was a reprehensible act that caused the families of those children to go through IRS scrutiny, as well as having endured the loss of a child. However, the point of these records being public is to avert fraud. Had the IRS been validating against these records, they would have discovered the fraud immediately, and without contacting families.

It may seem easy to misconstrue genealogy as a simple hobby with no real necessity, but closing records not only affects hobbyists, but also professionals, many of whom are acting on behalf of courts as forensic genealogists, or attempting to find next of kin of fallen soldiers. Professional quality research can also be valuable to understand a family’s medical history, which can improve the value of health care and reduce its cost.

Genealogists are just as concerned about identity theft as anyone, and have strict standards designed to promote professional conduct even of amateur researchers, and these include standards for maintaining the privacy for living persons.

For example, NGS has NGS Standards for Sharing Information with Others, which state, in part: “responsible family historians consistently … convey personal identifying information about living people — like age, home address, occupation or activities — only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to.” Additionally, the Board for Certification of Genealogists has a Code of Ethics, to which all Certified Genealogists must adhere. It states: “I will keep confidential any personal or genealogical information given to me, unless I receive written consent to the contrary.”

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) advocates for privacy and access issues on behalf of the genealogical community. To keep up to date on records access issues, follow the RPAC RSS feed, or visit the RPAC website.

iBooks Author and iTunes U

iBooks Author
iBooks Author

Apple announced on Thursday their latest play to dominate the education market. From its inception, Apple has been focused on education as a market. They have consistently provided special discounts to educators and students, and they have developed a series of education-friendly applications and products.

Within iTunes, Apple has long had iTunes U, a collection of free audio and video of instructional materials from colleges and universities around the world, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. On Thursday, they announced that iTunes U was separating from the rest of iTunes, and being given its own app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Additionally, Apple is allowing K-12 school districts the ability to provide content through the app. (How they will help those school districts or their students afford the devices required to view this content is not made clear, though many have speculated that Apple will offer deep discounts for large purchases. Even so, this seems to be an offer for another day, but perhaps as prices come down and the economy recovers, some opportunities for this will open up.)

The most impressive part of the iTunes U app is how closely it mirrors the best aspects of a good learning management system. It’s easy to navigate and to find content, as you would suspect, but it’s no longer only a collection of podcasts. Now, iTunes U uses a binder motif, where the tabs include:

  • Info – defining the course in a paragraph or two.
  • Posts – usually having a brief summary of a class, along with check boxes allowing you to keep track of the progress you have made, and links to the lecture on video or audio and the readings
  • Notes – where all the notes you take on the materials or in related books are available
  • Materials – where you can get to all the video, audio, books (sometimes from the iBookstore, sometimes in print-only copies from Amazon, sometimes via links to external repositories such as Jstor.

What Apple is doing here is remarkable. They are creating an infrastructure where you can learn, with a minimum of departure from Apple’s ecosystem of hardware and its content vending services. The benefit to the consumer is convergence: notes taken in the e-book you bought from the iBookstore as part of your class are next to your notes about the lecture. The benefits to Apple are in keeping people locked into buying their hardware, and also their content. Genealogy education is going to be moving in this direction, though it remains to see how quickly.

Another thing that Apple announced on Thursday is iBooks 2 for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app can now display a new type of multimedia book. While this could be used for any content, Apple is focusing on the textbook market. See their advertisement if you want to hear their pitch about this. They tout the cost savings (most are priced at $14.95), the weight difference (we have all seen the massive books children labor to carry back and forth to school), and the possibilities of engaging students. I’m not sure how the pricing model will work for these publishers, though I do think some kind of subscription model could flatten out purchases that with physical books cover a 5 year period, into some kind of annual fee for updating electronic text books with no shipping and warehouse expenses.

The launch included 8 books by McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who together account for 90% of the K-12 textbooks in the United States. These books, as shown by a free copy of E. O. Wilson’s Life on Earth: An Introduction, are completely different from books you have seen before. They include video, audio voice overs, images that readers can interact with, charts that can be re-spun to display information from a different perspective….

Finally, Apple has released a free product that will help get content into their iBookstore. The app, which runs on the Mac OS, is called iBooks Author. It is easy to create high-presentation quality multimedia books using iBooks Author. It’s as easy to use as Apple’s other content creation tools in iWork. The catch with the product is the End-User License Agreement (EULA). Most EULAs are designed to limit the liability of a software company to anything that might happen to you if the software stops functioning or loses your data. However, this EULA includes the following (as section 1B, highlights are mine):

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:

(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;

(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

So, if you sell works created with iBooks Author, you can only do so through Apple, and you can only do so if they agree to distribute it. If they turn your content down for any reason, you not only cannot sell it with them, you also still are not allowed to sell it with anyone else. If you are absolutely sure that you are going to give your work away, I say, by all means, use iBooks Author. You will likely have a lot of fun putting the book together, and end up with a very good product. If, however, you are investing time creating content you hope to sell, even to distribute as a perk for membership in a non-profit genealogical society, then I would say, wait a bit, and see if Apple is pressured by the outrage of the community to soften this. (I cannot say that I have a lot of hope, because Apple has several draconian aspects to their content distribution model already that people are closing their nose and swallowing, so … they may not change this either.

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