If you have a family history that you want to publish, there are several ways you can do this.

Let’s assume for the moment that you want to publish the book in print format, but you don’t want to become a publisher or maintain a lot of inventory. You want to make the book available to family members, but you are not making a career change!

A number of print-on-demand vendors can help you, but I am just going to list three:

  • CreateSpace – An Amazon company – will allow you to upload book interiors and covers in PDF format. Additionally, they can design the covers for you. The books get an ISBN, basically for free. You have to pay for the printing and shipping of a hardcopy proof, so that you can verify that what they will produce meets your expectations. Once you have approved the proof, the book can be made available on, Amazon, and even to libraries and physical bookstores.
  • CafePress – This is one of the first companies in the space. They started off with t-shirts and mugs, and eventually expanded to CDs, DVDs, and books. As with CreateSpace, you upload  PDFs of your content and cover, and they print books when someone orders one. The downside is that the books are only available from CafePress, and do not have an opportunity for wider distribution, but the initial cost is lower, as you are not required to buy a proof if you are confident that what you sent will work.
  • Lulu – This company is a favorite among genealogy circles. Book titles are only salable through their site, though, as with CafePress, you can order a handful (and a discount) to sell. Lulu also ships for free if the order is more than $20. One thing that sets Lulu apart is that if you sell a print book at Lulu, as well as an e-book (which they distribute through Apple’s iBookstore), the e-book is linked from the listing for the paper book.

I recommend that you get a proof of any print-on-demand title that you create. While each of these is interesting, for me, CreateSpace is the most interesting option, because of the range of distribution options open to me from CreateSpace.

I will post more on this topic, as well as on how to turn your family history into an e-book that you can either give away for free or sell.

Books in Browsers: Brewster Kahle and E-Books

There is a lot of discussion in the genealogy world about e-books.

Of course, there are large book digitization projects: Google Books and Internet Archive being the two best known. (In 2008, Microsoft cancelled a book digitization project that had scanned more than 750,000 books.) While Google has gotten into some legal hot water by making books that are under copyright available under an agreement with the Writers’ Guild, which has not held up in court, the vast majority of books are in the public domain.

A great summary of where we are in terms of e-books is the keynote speech (text and slides | see above for the video) that Brewster Kahle, founder of Internet Archive gave at the Books in Browsers conference in October 2010. Kahle talks about the transformation from a paper book orientation, through a device orientation (the Kindle, for example), to a device-independent (browser) orientation. His goal is to make books available to all. He does this via digitizing books and making them available as follows:

  • Public Domain – Free – The Internet Archive now has over 2.8 million titles available for free
  • Under copyright (but out of print) – Borrow
  • In Print – Buy

One thing that sets the Internet Archive apart from Google Books, is that most of the titles (at least most that I have seen) are available in multiple formats. There’s PDF, of course, but also .epub (works in the Apple iBooks and Barnes and Noble reader software and the Nook and other dedicated readers), .mobi (works in the Kindle reader software, the Kindle portable device, and other readers), black and white PDFs, HTML, and several other formats.

E-books have transformed genealogical research. If you haven’t used one, I encourage you, the next time you are looking for a local history, to consider using Google Books or Internet Archive. If the book was published in the US prior to 1923, it should in the public domain, and you may find it for free on Google Books or the Internet Archive now or in the future.

Dreaming of Clouds

“Cloud Computing,”Sam Johnston, 2009. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

If anything, the rush to provide content in the cloud is beginning to speed up.

On March 29th, Amazon announced its Cloud Drive service, focusing on storage of MP3 audio files, which can be streamed from the web with Amazon’s Cloud Player. Cloud Drive is able to store any digital files.

On May 10th, Google released a similar product: Google Music.

The blogosphere is full of speculation about when Apple will release iCloud, it’s much expected, audio streaming service. Many Apple reporters think that iCloud will be rolled out during the Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, starting on June 6th.

As the performance of wireless networks increases, the cloud becomes more attractive. More and more people are using portable devices (iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets). These devices often combine minimal storage with built-in internet connections, and that adds up to a compelling argument for file storage in the cloud, with access to anything, but minimal local storage requirements.

Apple’s reported goal with iCloud is to allow people to play their songs without first having to upload them. Apple’s service would replicate your list of songs on its servers, and stream them from a common source when you wanted them. (Both Google and Amazon require you to spend hours and hours, or days, uploading your music library.)

Unfortunately, in the  genealogy realm, there is no massive media conglomerate who owns archival electronic records of your data.

Wait … what about Ancestry and FamilySearch? These folks have archival quality digital images of original records. When I log into Ancestry, it knows which documents I have put in my shoebox. It has all the metadata about the 1930 census record for my father and his family. Yes, I can download it, and yes, I can navigate to it in the context of an Ancestry Family Tree, or in the context of a software package where I have attached this image….

But why can’t I easily tag this image with my own personal metadata (as on, and see the tags other people use (as on, and why can’t I search my “personal document collection” for text (delivered via Optical Character Recognition, or in the context of a textual document) or for metadata?

Why can’t I search through my entire genealogical image collection, without having it on my local system, with the search running in the cloud?

Why indeed!

Behind the Scenes at NGS 2011: Blog Talk Radio

Thomas MacEntee did a BlogTalkRadio interview with Jan Alpert, NGS 2011 Conference Chair and Immediate Past President of NGS and Julie Miller, CG, NGS 2012 Conference Chair and Vice President of the NGS. This was a rare behind-the-scenes interview with two leaders who have organized and led conferences.

It’s a rare look behind the scenes at what goes into choosing a conference location, how patronizing the conference hotel and luncheon and banquet events keeps overall prices low, and your society fiscally healthy.

This is the fourth installment of the weekly FGS MySociety talk radio show. It’s a great program. You should listen. I know that I’m adding it to iTunes to listen in, even when I cannot make it “live.”

Here are some links:


Read it Later vs. Instapaper

Read It Later logoI have become a fan of two competing products, Instapaper and Read it Later.

These applications sit in your browser, and allow you to quickly archive a webpage for later reading. They clean up the webpage, removing ads and complicated scripting, so you just have the text you want to read.

Instapaper logoYou can then read the content in your browser at their sites, on a mobile phone, or on a tablet. Instapaper will also allow you to configure content collections to show up on your Kindle. Both are integrated with a great site full of longer articles,, allowing you to quickly choose some reading before you catch that plane and lose your internet connection.

In terms of genealogy, I use these tools to gather historical pieces, such as the articles the New York Times is doing on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, “Disunion,” as well as more topical items, such as John McPhee’s 1987 New Yorker piece about the Army Corps of Engineers and its attempts to control the Mississippi River, Atchafalaya: The Control of Nature. (That was topical then, and is topical now; I found it on

Instapaper allows you to format the stories for printing; Read it Later has a great (and not too expensive) iPad app that automatically categorizes the content. I find Read it Later’s web interface to be more attractive, but some of the features of Instapaper to be more compelling, including Readability integration and Kindle auto-delivery.

I’m not sure which one of these I will choose yet, but I know I will have a lot of reading at hand….

Another site to note is Readability, which is free for simple cleanup of pages you come across, but costs $5 (or more if you decide to make a donation) if you want to save them for later. 70% of the proceeds are provided to the authors and publishers of the content.

NGS 2011 Conference in Charleston, South Carolina

I attended the 2011 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference held in Charleston, South Carolina this past week.

I was pleased to have been asked to give three talks: The inaugural Birdie Monk Holsclaw Memorial Lecture (slides), a lecture on Google and search methodologies (slides), and the NGS GenTech Luncheon talk (slides), which was on the topic of social media.

It was a good conference, with more knowledgeable and voluble speakers than one could possibly see. I especially liked Buzzy Jackson’s general session talk about how she became a genealogist, and how it’s our job to make our descendants think of us as the ones who saved the stories for them. Additionally, I enjoyed the talk given by Glenn F. McConnell, President pro tempore of the South Carolina State Senate about the history, discovery, and raising of the H. L. Hunley.

I was also pleased that my own talks seem to have been well received.

The next major excursion is to the Virginia Genealogical Society conference next weekend. The summer is simply full of these events.

150 Years Ago Today: Fort Sumter

Bombardment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Currier & Ives (1837–1885)
Bombardment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Currier & Ives (1837–1885)

150 years ago today, 12 April 1861, the Civil War started in earnest with a Confederate attack on the Federal position at Fort Sumter, in advance of supply ships arriving with food to resupply the fort.

For American genealogists and historians of the United States, the Civil War is the central event, even more calamitous than the Revolution, and affecting the lives of a wider percentage of what had become, since the Revolution, a more populous country. (In the 1790 census, the population was recorded to be 3,929,214. In the 1860 census, the population was 31,443,321, or eight times larger.)

Somewhere between 618,000 and 700,000 soldiers died in the conflict, making it more deadly than all the other wars the US participated in from the Revolution to the Vietnam War, combined. And, of course, the war, fought mainly (despite revisionist protests to the contrary) to maintain a way of life founded on enslaving a race of people, ended by granting freedom, first to blacks in states which had seceded, and then to all blacks in all states and territories of the US.

This transformative time is full of records for genealogists. There are military and pension records, which are some of the best known military records from this period. But there are also the final payment vouchers, reports of camps, forts, and prisons, numerous manuscripts, the papers of the Southern Claims Commission, which “was an organization of the executive branch of the United States government from 1871-1873 under President Grant. Its purpose was to allow Union sympathizers who had lived in the Southern states during the American Civil War, 1861–1865, to apply for reimbursements for property losses due to U.S. Army confiscations during the war” (Wikipedia. “Southern Claims Commission,” Accessed : 13 April 2011).

If you have not started looking for your Civil War ancestor, you could do much worse than start with the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System: This site includes a searchable database of over 6.3 million names of combattants from the North and the South, representing 44 states and territories. There are also many sailors, though this part of the project is not complete. The site provides limited information, but usually includes enough information to find out more about your soldier. For example, my 3rd great grandfather, Thomas D. Via, has this entry:

Thomas D. Via (First_Last)
Regiment Name 7 Virginia Infantry
Side Confederate
Soldier’s Rank_In
Soldier’s Rank_Out
Alternate Name
Film Number M382 roll 57










And also, this:

Thomas D. Via (First_Last)
Regiment Name 7 Virginia Infantry
Side Confederate
Soldier’s Rank_In
Soldier’s Rank_Out
Alternate Name
Film Number M382 roll 57










(He served in the Confederate army, was captured, and joined the Union army, most likely as a way out of the prison camp he was in at Point Lookout, Maryland. For more information see, Surname Saturday: Via.

As the sesquicentennial continues, I will provide other sites and tips for Civil War research.

US Census Bureau – Data Access Tools

US Census Bureau Data Access Tools

The United States Census Bureau has a page outlining its data access tools. While the data being made available is statistical data, not personally identifiable genealogical data, it should be of interest to genealogists to understand trends and the population trends and geography of the United States.

The site provides large datasets for analysis, but also allows you to navigate into population demographics for any county, state, or municipality in the United States.

Here are some of the resources available on the page:

  • Censtats – Applications available include: Census Tract Street Locator, County Business Patterns, Zip Business Patterns, International Trade Data, and more.
  • QuickFacts – State and County QuickFacts provides frequently requested Census Bureau information at the national, state, county, and city level.
  • Online Mapping Tools – using TIGER and the American FactFinder
  • US Gazetteer – Place name, and ZIP code search engine.

I am looking forward to having the opportunity to look at these resources.

WDYTYA Episode 208: Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd
Ashley Judd

Tonight, Ashley Judd was the celebrity on the season finale of Who Do You Think You Are?

Her family story is compelling, and includes a Union Civil War veteran from Kentucky, who was captured twice by the Confederates, and was a battlefield amputee.

Additionally, her line goes back to the earliest days of the Plymouth Bay Colony in Massachusetts.

The show presented her as doing some of the research with her father. This wasn’t an entirely believable portion of the show.

At one point, a researcher indicated that the Civil War ancestor’s age of 18 at the mustering in and 18 at mustering out might have indicated that he lied about his age on mustering in. That is certainly possible. But the age being the same on mustering in and out is common throughout US military records, and is simply reflective of a practice that lists the age at mustering in instead of the soldier’s current age throughout the records about that soldier.

However, despite that glitch, it was a compelling, dramatic, and emotional season finale. The video will be available for a limited time on demand at:

WDYTYA Episode 207: Gwyneth Paltrow

This week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? returns to a more traditional research methodology, starting from what is known, and moving backward to illuminate the unknown.

While many critics will note that the star did not engage with much of the research, and was being handed hours of research in a moment, I appreciated the use of family lore (a Barbados background on the mother’s side; a line of rabbis on the father’s side). Instead of making assumptions that this lore was genuinely true, the researchers took it as clues to what they might find. There was an acknowledgement that the lore could be true or false, mis-remembered, misunderstood, or very very close.

In addition to the lore about the line of rabbis and the ancestor from Barbados, the third interest for Ms. Paltrow was finding out if there was any way to understand what had happened in her paternal grandfather’s youth to make him reticent to talk about it other than to say that he did not live in a home like she did. She discovered details about her great grandmother, the losses that she endured, which helped her put it in perspective. This would have been a perfect opportunity to discuss the change, historically, in life expectancies. Someone in the middle class losing a child today is more rare than it was 100 years ago.

The episode was entertaining, and provided an opportunity to see spectacular vistas of Barbados as well as consider how varied American families are. Ms. Paltrow was visibly moved by some of the discoveries. This was a solid episode, which would still have been improved with a brief statement of the amount of research done to get to these discoveries; however, I know that contradicts with the marketing message, which can be boiled down to: “This is so easy, even you could do it!”