Kindle 2 Adds Native PDF Support; New Kindle for Windows

Amazon has added native PDF support to the second-generation Kindle e-reader.

The Kindle DX, which has a larger screen (9.7 inches vs. 6 inches on the Kindle, 2nd gen) and a higher sticker price ($489 vs. $259), has had native PDF support since its launch.

The new support for PDFs on 2nd generation Kindle devices is part of software version 2.3, which does not run on the original Kindle devices. This software will be automatically downloaded over the air, but Kindle owners who are as impatient as I am, can manually download the upgrade software and install it over a USB connection to their Kindle. The software and instructions are available at: Kindle Software Updates.

The PDF reader works well. The PDFs retain all of their design and content. However, there are some limitations. Unlike the Kindle DX, the Kindle 2 does not automatically rotate the screen when you rotate the device. (Some reviewers of the Kindle DX have said that the auto-rotation is sluggish and unpredictable, but it still might be easier to deal with than the clicks required to rotate the screen manually on the DX or on the Kindle 2.) Once you rotate the screen, the image of a portrait-format PDF file fills up approximately two screens worth of scrolling on the Kindle. This works fine, and makes the PDFs readable, but it might be nice if you could zoom in on a PDF the way you can on an image in Kindle-formatted books.

For genealogists, the native PDF support makes the Kindle 2 a much more interesting device. You can now download public domain books from Google Books or take your society’s newsletter along in an instant-on portable device. No wireless access is required while reading, and the radio for WhisperNet, the free cell phone-based access, can be turned off for use on airplanes or where there is no cell phone signal.

Another recent Amazon release is a Kindle for PC, which allows you to read books you’ve bought for the Kindle on your PC. (Kindle for PC runs on Windows XP (Service Pack 2), Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Kindle for PC syncs your reading location between Kindle for PC and your Kindle. You can share Kindle books with up to six Kindle readers or Kindle for PC software packages. A Kindle for the Mac is in the works for Mac OS X users.

This beta release is admittedly not ready for general use. It is missing key features such as the ability to copy or even highlight text, and the ability to … um search! Links also do not appear to work, which is very frustrating. Amazon promises updates to address these and other gaps and requested features. There is no way to purchase books from the Kindle for PC interface. You will need to do that on your hardware Kindle or on Amazon.com using a web browser. For licensing reasons, you cannot use the Kindle for PC software to read newspapers, magazines, or blogs, only books.

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Facebook for Genealogists

Facebook, a social networking website, passed a milestone in February: it reached the five-year anniversary of its launch. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, then a sophomore at Harvard University, with the original idea of keeping in touch with his college friends. The site quickly took off, with many Harvard students joining, then students across the country. Five years later, the site has expanded its horizons beyond the youth culture of its beginnings. The company now claims that the Facebook Web site has 175 million active users globally. Zuckerberg wrote in January 2009 that “This includes people in every continent — even Antarctica. If Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia, and Nigeria.” Almost half of the active Facebook users use the site every day.

But, beyond the breathy hype of the website’s founder, of what value is Facebook to genealogists? It provides the ability to share notes, photographs, event invitations, and information of specifically genealogical interest, allowing genealogists to connect with each other, and with other family members. For many, this can provide a way to quickly and easily share information about their research with their families, especially with people who think they are “not interested” in genealogy.

Facebook is more than a simple social networking site. In addition to all of its social networking features, it functions as a framework for the creation and dissemination of information. The site has evolved to include not only programs designed by the people at Facebook, but also programs designed by others that run within Facebook and share information with other Facebook applications. This is both the power and the risk of Facebook, as I will discuss later.

People come to Facebook for a number of reasons: to connect with old friends or long-lost family, to share pictures, event invitations, jokes, Web links, and video clips with friends, old and
new; and to talk to one another, and present themselves almost as a kind of brand, sharing in their Facebook profiles their favorite books, movies, and places, their religious outlook, political affiliation, and hobbies. Lately, they are sharing answers to a series of questions about what they did in high school, what their goals are for their lives (and which of them have been achieved), and “twenty-five random things about me” which, of course, seldom seem very random. My wife has an unusual surname, and for her, Facebook has been a place where she has found potential relatives she would not have found any other way.

The fifth most popular application on Facebook is “We’re Related,” a creation of WorldVitalRecords.com. “We’re Related” allows one to see all of one’s family who are on Facebook, along with a description of the relationship with each of them (for example, “sister’s brother-in-law”). It also allows for the creation of a genealogy database (either on the site or via GEDCOM upload) to share with anyone on Facebook. (The GEDCOM import feature — which would allow you to export an entire genealogy database from your favorite soft ware package and import it into “We’re Related” in one fell swoop — has been problematic. It has worked at times, but as of this writing is not working and is under a major re-development effort.)

Many nationally known genealogical researchers, speakers, and writers are on Facebook. In addition, a variety of societies have set up pages there. A random sampling includes the California Genealogical Society and Library, NGS, and the North Carolina Genealogical Society (for which I admit I am the webmaster… one of the twenty-five “random” things about me). You will also find magazines, such as Digital Genealogist. In addition, many blogs and podcasts are represented, including The Genealogy Guys Podcast. Software vendors also make an appearance. Fans of The Master Genealogist have set up a page; the company RootsMagic has one as well. And, in a kind of fun-house mirror sort of duality, there are even Web sites, such as GenealogyToday.com, RootsTelevision.com, Ancestry.com, and Footnote.com.

It is important to remember that Facebook is a social, not a personal site. Genealogists should conduct themselves as if any of their Facebook communications could become public, since they could, through a variety of means (i.e., sharing by Facebook friends, system failures, or security holes). So, you don’t want to post your grandmother’s secret fried chicken recipe if you indeed want to make sure it remains a secret, even if you’re only sharing it with your closest friends.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of power in the Facebook site. I have been quite impressed by the work being done there by a group called Unclaimed Persons. (The group also has its own Web site at UnclaimedPersons.org.) It posts information about people whose bodies wait in morgues to be claimed by family members. Members of the group on Facebook do pro
bono research to try to locate the lost families of these persons, and then direct their sourced research through the Unclaimed Persons administrators, who pass the information on to the coroners’ offices. In many cases, Unclaimed Persons research has allowed coroners to contact families who have wondered if they would ever know the fate of a brother or father or sister or mother. The connection between Facebook users and the applications, pages, and groups they have joined, gives them a single Web site to log into to participate in the Unclaimed Persons eff ort, as well as many other activities.

Some might be concerned that Facebook could become a time drain, a place for genealogists to waste time they could be using to further their research. There is definitely a risk that you could end up playing more than your time budget allows. If, for example, you beat my wife at Word Challenge, you and I, and my wife, will all know you’re spending too much time playing games.

As with any tool or the Internet itself, it is up to each individual researcher to manage his or her time and focus on reaping the benefits of that tool. One could easily spend the bulk of a day on Facebook sending out virtual gift s to friends, but one can also fi nd out about events and societies and keep up-to-date with a variety of blogs. One can connect with family members who do not think of themselves as genealogists, and share successes and challenges with one’s research peers and friends.

Probably the biggest concerns voiced about Facebook over the years have been about privacy and security. Among the most serious issues is that Facebook allows applications almost unfettered access to the materials you have posted. At one point, pressing the down arrow key or entering a period in the search box would produce a list of five profiles related to the Facebook user who was currently logged in. People assumed that this was a list of the people who had most frequently visited one’s profile. The list became known as the “Stalker List.” Eventually, Facebook said that the list was only intended to be used by the Facebook soft ware to quickly navigate users to profi les that they were likely to visit. Because there was so much confusion and concern about the list, it was removed.

While many of these issues remain, especially the openness of your profile to Facebook applications that you choose to use, Facebook has made serious gains in terms of making its site more secure and private. They have given users more per-application access to control over what is shared with those applications, and what gets posted to your profi le from interactions by you or others with those applications. As the saying goes: caveat emptor. You should actually read the privacy notice on Facebook, and use the privacy settings available to control security and privacy to the extent that you can. Keep in mind that it is a social, not a strictly private site.

Keeping those issues in mind, I believe that the benefits of Facebook are compelling. Applications such as “We’re Related,” as well as genealogy focused groups and pages, bring a wealth of connections to genealogists. With 175 million users, a lot of your current relatives are on Facebook, and the ones who have been hard to find are probably easier to locate here than elsewhere.

Originally published in the NGS Newsmagazine, Volume 35, Number 1, April–June 2009. Revised and updated. Posted by permission.

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Google Wave Will Revolutionize Collaborative Genealogy

Google is going through a process of inviting 100,000 “early adopters” of to their new offering, Wave. It may be a few months before just anyone can sign up.

To see what’s in store, you could watch the 80 minute video that they admit themselves is “loooong.” Or, you could watch their 8 minute video, with a brief summary of the product.

Google Wave is a tremendously powerful platform that will change the way genealogy and family history are done. Users of Wave create “waves,” which are something between conversations, e-mail messages, collaborative authoring sessions, video and picture sharing, blog authoring, and so many more things.

The key technology involved in Wave, though, that makes it better than every other available product for collaborative authoring is that it allows for near real-time communication. If I send you an e-mail, I have to wait for you to read it. If I write a blog entry, and I’m collaborating with another author, I have to save my draft, then tell them to take a look. Even if I’m “instant messaging,” I still spend a good portion of the time waiting for a response and staring at a message that say something like, “So-and-so is typing.” But with Google Wave, I can see my correspondant type at the same time that I’m typing. The conversation is not serial, but parallel — we are both talking at the same time. It’s more like an actual conversation. When we work together on a document, we can each make edits wherever in the document we need to, and this can happen simultaneously as fast as we can type.

So why will this matter to genealogists? If you are working with a distant cousin on a difficult problem in the family history, you can put together your evidence and be able to evaluate it, and each of you edit it at any time. You can also roll back the conversation to any point in the history of it. You can capture the conversation at a specific point and export it to another Wave. You can add other members of the Wave, and they can see the whole history of the evolution of the conversation or document. Images can be added through drag and drop. The system can perform simultaneous word-by-word translations into a number of languages. The contextual spell checker knows that “icland is and icland” should probably read “Iceland is an island.”

For genealogists, this will be a powerful environment for working together on common research, for working on the bylaws and standing rules of the local genealogical society, and for authoring real-time collaborative blogs. Don’t be surprised if the 2010 or 2011 NGS Conference Blogs are written in Google Wave and then posted using the Bloggy robot in a standard blog format.

Google Wave will also be a way for professional genealogists to share the notes they make on the way to their reports with their clients.

And don’t be surprised if, when working with a researcher searching for Grahams in the same county in Southern West Virginia you are, you find yourself not bothering with e-mail, but instead invite them to discuss it over Google Wave.

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Graham, et. al. v. Graham, et. al.

My most intractable genealogical brickwall is the parentage of Rebecca Martha Graham (1831-1880).

Rebecca’s mother Jane Graham (1811-1854) is dismissed by her brother David Graham (1821-1914) in his “History of Graham Family” (1899) with the following sentence: “Jane, the second daughter of Joseph Graham, died unmarried” (80).

On Google Books, however, I have found documentation for a case that might lead to the missing father of Rebecca Martha Graham. The case is “Graham, et. al. v. Graham, et. al., Decided May 1, 1880, The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”

As I mentioned, Rebecca was the daughter of Jane Graham and some unknown paramour. On 1 Nov 1853, Rebecca married Henry Lake Miller (1817-1900). Around the time of this marriage, Rebecca inherited $3,000 from her father (I presume this was mainly land) who died in Missouri.

in 1854, Jane died a violent death, for which her brother James Graham (1813-1889) was put on trial and acquitted.

Litigation on the Graham v. Graham chancery case began in 1859, and the case did not make its way completely through to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals until 1879, being decided in 1880. Unfortunately, Rebecca died one month and 11 days after winning her judgment. She died of dysentery.

But what was the case about? Rebecca Martha Graham’s grandmother, Rebecca Graham (1786-1876) had received “property” (land and a slave named Dinah) in the will of her father, James Graham (1741-1813). The relevant portion of the will reads:

I give unto my Daughter Rebeckah Graham and her children, that plantation where she now lives known by the name of Stephensons Cabbin [sic] also I give unto her and her children my Negro girl named Dinah, the Land and Negro never to be disposed of out of the Family nor the increase of the Negro if any she has.

Because the elder Rebecca Graham was married, her husband Joseph Graham had “ownership” of this property. After he died, his widow sold the two children of Dinah (Ira and Stuart), and the bulk of the remaining children sued for a portion of the proceeds.

Whether or not this case yields the name and any particulars about Rebecca Martha Graham’s father, I’m sure it will be a case that reveals a great deal about rural antebellum West Virginia.

The main reminder here, however, is not to forget key sources, such as court cases. While not as often used as some other sources, such as vital records or census records, the records of court cases can be quite revealing.

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Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper
Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

— Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

At the NGS Family History Conference on Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the Wake County luncheon.

The conference includes several opportunities to hear speakers over lunch for a fee. The fee includes the price of the lunch and also serves as a fund raiser for the organization that has put together the event. These are almost always lectures, and while the lectures are more entertaining and light than those offered at the rest of the conference, they are lectures.

The Wake County Genealogical Society (of which I am a not-very-active member) chose to do this differently. Instead of having one speaker, they had a troup of actors performing a play tailored for the occasion. The play was based on the lives of historical personages of Wake County. While there were some rough edges to the performance, with some dropped lines, it was a very powerful performance. Especially of note were the portrayals of Joel Lane, founder of Raleigh and Dr. Anna Julia Cooper. Of these, the presentation of Dr. Cooper was the most affecting.

Dr. Cooper was an educator and writer. She was the fourth African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree, and did so at the age of 65, shattering barriers of race, gender and age. She was born in slavery and lived to the age of 105, dying in 1964. She lived American history from the Civil War to Civil Rights.

To read more about Dr. Cooper, see the Wikipedia article on her life, or read her most famous book, A Voice from the South on the University of North Carolina’s DocSouth website.

Image © University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. Cooper, Anna J., 1892, A Voice from the South, Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2000, http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/cooper/.

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Kindle DX E-Book Reader

Last week, Amazon announced the impending release of their third generation e-book reader, the Kindle DX. (See the New York Times article on the announcement.)

The Amazon Kindle has created somewhat of a sensation with what are thought to be “iPod-like” sales numbers. (Amazon has so far succeeded in keeping the actual sales numbers private.) Amazon does say a couple of interesting things, however, about the number of books that Kindle readers buy. According to Amazon’s figures, purchasers of Kindle e-book readers buy as many traditional books as they did before, and are supplementing their purchases of books on paper with purchases of e-books.

Stepping away from the hype, the Kindle comes in for considerable criticism, mainly around the issue of digital rights management. Just as with early versions of the Apple iPod, the Amazon Kindle has been created with very tight digital rights management, which limits customers from sharing their books with other Kindle owners, giving their books away after they have read them, donating them to a library, and so on, which are standard ways people think about books. Not only is a Kindle owner prevented from downloading and reading a Kindle book on any Kindle they do not personally own, if Amazon ever stopped supporting the Kindle, there is no clear method to allow anyone to read the books they have “invested” in.

There was also some misguided flak from the Authors Guild about the computer voice that can “read” books to you on a Kindle. The novelist, e-book proponent, and Kindle critic, Cory Doctorow wrote an illuminating piece in The Guardian about how wrong-headed the Guild was in opposing the “read-to-me” feature of the Kindle (which also exists on every computer with a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader).

“But why should genealogists care?” you might ask. While there are 275,000 titles available, very few of those are specifically genealogical in nature. The main market for the Kindle and its readers is contemporary best-selling fiction and non-fiction. While there’s some overlap there, with some novels illustrating the time periods of our ancestors’ lives, and some non-fiction best sellers being excellent volumes of history, the connection seems tenuous.

The real benefit for genealogists in the Kindle is that its platform is not entirely closed. In addition to reading books formatted for the Kindle itself, it can also read books from the public domain converted into Mobipocket format. Tens of thousands of these books are available on several sites including Gutenberg.org, Manybooks.net and Feedbooks.com. But, since these books are also mainly not of interest to genealogists, a more compelling feature of the Kindle is that (in its first two versions) it can convert PDF and Word documents to Kindle format. The conversion is not perfect, though, and some files simply don’t work.

Kindle DX and Genealogy: Here’s where the Kindle DX comes in. The Kindle DX reads PDF files natively. This means that genealogists will be able to download any PDF file they have access to, whether it’s a public domain PDF of a local history from the 1890s downloaded from Google Books or their genealogical society’s newsletter, and take it with them in a device that is about the size of a piece of paper and 1/3 of an inch thick. Since the device has 3.3 GB of storage, there’s plenty of room for books. The Kindle is nearly instant-on (try that with your Vista laptop!), and less of a strain on the eyes than a computer monitor because it’s not backlit. The Kindle also allows for easy bookmarking, highlighting and copying of portions of text. It keeps track of where you were the last time you opened any document.

So, you heard it here first, the Kindle DX will be an attractive addition to the genealogist’s gadget bag, limited only by its $489 list price.

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Top 10 Genealogy Websites

Today, Randy Seaver posted to his blog Genea-Musings his list of top 10 favorite genealogy websites.He mentions that he’s taking off from a trend we’ve seen on Facebook, of the “5 items I have” known, seen, met, and so on. And, of course, list making is a long and honored tradition.

Without too much further rambling, I’ll share my own top 10 list of genealogy sites.

This list, like any “best of” list will change from day to day. What it looks like today will certainly not be identical to how it would look tomorrow or would have looked last week. All the relevant list caveats apply. So, here goes:

  1. Ancestry.com ($, portions free) (including rootsweb.ancestry.com ) — The amount of data here is vast. As are the tools, from their genealogy software, FamilyTreeMaker, to DNA research.
  2. Footnote.com ($, portions free) — The folks at Footnote simply understand Web 2.0 and provide something between Ancestry, Flickr, and Facebook. Meanwhile, their partnership with the National Archives continues to reap rewards for users of the site.
  3. FindAGrave.com (free, with a donation model) — This site is weirdly compelling. It’s a powerful way to gather data, with the vast majority of information contributed by “caretakers” of the family records, and yet these adding up to virutal graveyards.
  4. FamilySearch.org (free) — An amazing and ambitious portal into LDS records and genealogy tools.
  5. Steve Morse’s One-Step Website (free) — I find the search algorithms here very helpful to break through problems where I don’t know enough to search a site directly (or don’t know what particular misspelling is in my way). Steve’s site runs multiple searches behind the scenes so that you don’t have to do them all in a manual fashion.
  6. EOGN — Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter ($, portions free) — Dick Eastman inhabits the center of the space where genealogy and technology intersect. If you’re interested in that overlap, and you happen not to have seen this blog, you really ought to take a look. Eastman keeps me up-to-date on technology I can use in genealogy.
  7. GNIS (free) — The USGS Geographical Names Information System. This is very handy for finding out the location of streams, churches, and so on. If it was ever listed on a US Geological Survey map as a feature or place, it’s in this database.
  8. Linkpendium.com (free) — This is a locale-based listing of available sites. I find it helpful to look here when I start working in a new county or state. The site helps me find location-specific online resources I might not find any other way.
  9. WorldVitalRecords.com — Like Ancestry, this is a great site, full of powerful databases.
  10. GenealogyBank.com ($, portions free) — I’m really impressed with how the folks at GenealogyBank do simple things. For example, their free Security Death Index results you the birth and death dates, just as many other sites do, but they also calculate the age at death. Additionally, they use the “Last Residence” zip code to provide lat/long data you can use to quickly map the location.

But I’d be interested in knowing what’s on your list, and learning about new sites that will end up being on my list next time I compile one.

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ScanCafe

Carl and Alice Jones, 1949. Photograph partially eaten by the family dog.

I recently used a service from a website called ScanCafe, and have to say I was impressed by the quality, speed and valueScanCafe is an image scanning and digitization service. You submit an order, then ship them a box of your photographs, negatives, and/or slides. ScanCafe then scans your images by hand and at a high-resolution. When they are done, you receive an e-mail and can go online to review the scanned images and choose which keep. You pay only for the images you keep, then they send back all of your originals as well as a DVD of the scans.

What I found impressive about the service was the care with which they deal with the photographs. White glove treatment is standard. Additionally, you can send them images in carousels and albums, and they will remove your images from the carousels and albums, scan them at their standard rates, and replace them, in order, before shipping the carousels or albums back to you.

Carl and Alice Jones, 1949. After ScanCafe

They guarantee your originals, and will pay $1,000 if your images or lost or destroyed while they have them. While our images are irreplaceable and invaluable, it’s still good to know that ScanCafe will feel some financial pain if they do lose your images.

ScanCafe’s process is perhaps a little unorthodox. You send your photographs to an office in the San Francisco Bay Area. In turn, they forward them to their offices in Bangalore (Bengaluru) India, where the actual scanning and restoration is done.

There are three key benefits I see in ScanCafe’s service:

  1. They only make you pay for the scans you keep. This came in handy for me, as there were some duplicates in the bunches of photos I sent. I found the images among them scanned best, and didn’t have to pay for the others.
  2. They provide best-in-class restoration services at a reasonable price. When your images appear on the customer area of the ScanCafe website, you can see their selection of images they think they can improve with their restoration service.
  3. Their commitment to quality and customer service is high and demonstrable. Take a look at the restoration they did of the snapshot of my parents at their wedding. The original was almost too painful to look at, having been underexposed, the partially eaten by a family pet, and finally, crimped and folded. ScanCafe removed all of these issues and got me the image pretty much as I always should have had it. (My only issue with this particular image is that I think that it’s now a little overexposed.)
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Lifehacker

Lifehacker, a website devoted to simplifying work aligned with the “Getting Things Done” methodology of author David Allen, points to a time management tool called TimeEdition. I have tried the application out, and it’s as they describe it: Amazingly simple to use, and with a handy integration with the Google Calendar allowing you to see your status from any browser.

It will no doubt be a very handy tool for tracking my professional genealogy projects. I could also see some amateurs, who want to see where they’re spending their time, using this tool on a more temporary or periodic basis.

Their full article is on the Lifehacker website. TimeEdition is available for the Mac OS and Windows.

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