Testing out my SHOTBOX

shotboxopenLast fall I blogged about SHOTBOX, a portable light studio that was part of a Kickstarter campaign. I was excited about the prospect of using it to take pictures for my blogs as well as photographing delicate documents for my genealogy research. At $149 for the studio plus the SideShot attachment that allows well-lit photography from the front, it seemed like an answer to a problem I’d had for a long time. (Just take a look at many of the photos on this blog or on my organizing blog to see what I mean. There’s room for improvement!)

My SHOTBOX arrived in December, literally at the same time my puppy, Bix, joined our family. So I haven’t had the chance to use it as much as I will. But I did set it up right away and take a few shots.

Here’s my overall impression:

  • The packaging was excellent. It arrived safe and sound from China with no damage at all.
  • The instructions are good and hardly necessary because the product is simple and intuitive.
  • I was able to get it up and running within minutes. I’ve since used it one other time and it’s remained easy to set up and use.
  • The neoprene carrying case is excellent. I paid an extra $25 for it and I’m glad I did–all the components fit securely in the case and the stored SHOTBOX takes very little room to store.
  • I’m delighted that it comes with four different colored backdrops (white, black, green and blue), which are very easy to switch out.

Here are some photos created by the SHOTBOX team that show the connectors and also how everything fits into the neoprene bag. (They also provided the photo above.)



How are the pictures I’ve taken with my SHOTBOX?

Bear in mind that I’m not much of a photographer and I have some learning to do. I intend to look for camera apps other than the one that came with my iPhone so I have a little more control. (A reviewer on the SHOTBOX website recommends camscanner app for documents and camerapro for three-dimensional objects. I’m going to check those out.) But these quick photos are so much better than what I would have taken without the SHOTBOX!

Here’s a photo of my grandmother’s autograph book, given to me by my father in December. It’s taken from above.


Here’s a photo of a small needle-felted replica of my departed poodle, Kirby. (It was created by Janet’s Needle Felting if you’re interested in having one of your own made.)


On my organizing blog, I wrote about organizing my coloring supplies recently. So I took some photos of my coloring supplies using SHOTBOX. Here are a couple of examples. The first was taken from the front, the second from above.



SHOTBOX gives me much-needed assistance in creating viable photos for my blog, with minimal effort. I love the that it gives me a blank backdrop. And, of course, I love the fact that the photos are well lit. A bonus: It takes up so little space when not in use.

I look forward to using it more!

Full disclosure: The links above are affiliate links, which means that SHOTBOX gives me a percentage of the sale, but doesn’t affect the price. And it doesn’t affect my opinion of the produt.

Taking notes at genealogy conferences

Template for taking notes at a genealogy conferenceIf you’re going to RootsTech next week (or any other genealogy conference this year) I encourage you to check out the free template I created in Transpose.

Transpose is a business platform/website that I wrote about last year. It allows you to create templates (which they now call “solutions”) to create customized forms. You can also download solutions that others have created and uploaded into the Transpose Public Library.

I’ve created a bunch of solutions for my own use and uploaded seven solutions to the Transpose Public Library. One of these is a solution called Genealogy Conference Notes. It’s designed to make it easy to take notes at a genealogy conference.

I’ve only been to one genealogy conference since I created this solution (the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois conference last August). Using the template, I created a new record for each lecture. The template allowed me to capture general notes from the lecture and also jot down which ancestors the information might apply to, along with action ideas. It worked out really well for me–I love having a structured place to take notes. When I got home, I had a list of concrete action steps.

I chose to take notes on my laptop, because I prefer a full keyboard. Transpose has an app you can use on a tablet or smartphone, but I haven’t yet tried out taking notes with my solution on a mobile platform.

If you’re interested in trying it, you’ll need a free account at Transpose. Go to the Genealogy Conference Notes solution in the library and just copy it into your account. There it will be among any other solutions you copy or download. Just click on the solution and create a new record for each lecture you attend. All the information you capture will be saved for you in Transpose, in a searchable and filterable database.

You can also use it as a basis creating your own solution that works better for your needs. The folks at Transpose work hard to make it easy for you to use the platform. Here’s a great getting started tutorial.

I can’t wait to use it for the next genealogy conference I attend!

Using Twitter for genealogy

Using Twitter for genealogyI love Twitter and have been on it since 2008. I primarily use it for marketing my organizing business and reading interesting things posted by the people I follow. But recently, I’ve been searching on the #genealogy hashtag and it’s been a revelation!

I find keeping up with genealogy blogs a bit overwhelming. (I tried using Feedly, but found I just wasn’t reading blogs with regularity.) What’s great about the #genealogy hashtag is that I see tweets about individual posts, resources, news bites or lectures in progress–all of them genealogy related–and I can click on the link and go directly to the post or resource. Tweets are only 140 characters long, so I can get a teeny bite-sized synopsis of the link. I can dip in when I’m looking for inspiration. It’s a really interesting way to go about finding current genealogy-related things to read about.

If you’re not on Twitter, you could join today (at no cost) and immediately start searching the #genealogy hashtag. You could also start tweeting and build relationships with people and grow your followers.  I hear from a lot of people that they just don’t “get” Twitter, which is fine. For the genealogist, using it as a gateway to genealogy information is reason enough to join Twitter, in my opinion. Follow a few a few genealogy luminaries and you’ll have a timeline full of interesting stuff. (But again, if you search on #genealogy you don’t even need to worry about following anyone or reading your timeline.)

Here’s a brief primer on joining Twitter and using it for genealogy:

  • Go to www.twitter.com and create an account. You’ll need to choose a username, which will be your handle. It’s smart to keep it as short as possible, because of the 140-character limit in Twitter. (For example, I’m @janinea.)
  • Upload a picture of yourself into your profile (otherwise, Twitter will use an egg for your picture, which tells the world you’re a newbie)
  • Enter #genealogy in the Search Twitter box and see what’s going on at that moment in the world of genealogy
  • If you want, follow some genealogy folks. To get you started, here are some that I follow:
    • @geneabloggers (Thomas MacEntee)
    • @legalgen (Judy Russell)
    • @genealogyisfun (Jana Last)
    • @ancestry (Ancestry.com)
    • @amyjohnsoncrow (Amy Johnson Crow)
    • @megansmolenyak (Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak)
    • @familytreemagazine (Family Tree Magazine)
    • @vhughesauthor (Valerie Hughes)
    • @familysearch (Family Search)
    • @crestleaf (Crestleaf)
  • Feel free to create a Tweet, but don’t feel like you have to.
  • If you have your own genealogy blog, tweet your posts. If you don’t have your own blog, feel free to tweet links to great genealogy posts you read. (Most blogs have a Share on Twitter icon.)

If you’re already on Twitter, how do you use it for genealogy?

8 reasons not to print

8 reasons not to print genealogy documentsWhen I started this blog in 2012, I printed everything. I did a lot of research online, but I would print out the documents I found online and read the printed version. Then I would  file them in my paper filing system after recording the information into my family tree software. Gradually, I’ve stopped that practice. I think the turning point was when I created an electronic filing system that I was confident in. Before that, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the document on my hard drive.

Now, the only paper that goes into file folders are documents that came to me in hard copy form. And even some of those are scanned and discarded.

In an effort to encourage others to consider giving up printing, I’ve come up with a list of eight advantages to going paperless:

  1. It’s less expensive. When you print, you’re using paper, toner (or ink) and electricity. And you’re creating wear and tear on your printer.
  2. It takes up less space. As your paper files (or binders) grow, they take up more space. (And certainly piles of unfiled paper take up a lot of space!)
  3. It’s easier to file. More effort goes into filing a piece of paper into a physical file folder or binder than into an electronic folder.
  4. Electronic documents are easier to find. If you misfile a paper file or leave it in a pile, it can take a lot of effort to find it.
  5. Electronic documents are searchable (usually). With a few keystrokes you can find all your electronic documents that share certain attributes (like a surname).
  6. Electronic files are easier to read. You can zoom, adjust contrast, brighten and do all sorts of things to electronic documents that make them easier to read. And that makes your research easier on your eyes. (I can’t remember the last time I used my lighted magnifier!)
  7. Electronic documents are easily backed up. I recommend using both an external hard drive and a cloud backup.
  8. Electronic files are easier to share. No photocopying or mailing necessary!

Do you have any reasons to add? I’m convinced, but I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to make a case for keeping paper copies of everything!

Photo of printer by Sir Adavis via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License. (Red X added using PicMonkey.)