Putting your ancestors’ lives in context

HistoryLines can help you create a timeline for your ancestorsOne of the ways I want to explore my ancestors as I try to dig deeper into their lives (learning more about my ancestors, rather than learning about more ancestors) is to put their lives in social context. I’d like to learn more about how they lived and what life was like for them.

At RootsTech, I learned about a new service, HistoryLines, that helps me do just that. I think it’s pretty exciting. You enter in an ancestor name or link a Family Search tree or upload a GEDCOM and you’re presented with a timeline of information about what was going on around your ancestor at the time he or she lived.

The service is in Beta now, but I signed up as a Beta user (as can you) and have had a good time exploring it.

Here’s a video they debuted at RootsTech.

The timeline that HistoryLines produces includes historical events that may have had an impact on the ancestor’s life, as well as more personal information, like how childbirth might have been for the ancestor’s mother, and what education, hygiene, clothing, medicine and entertainment were like at the time. (That’s just the tip of the iceberg of available information.) There’s also an interactive map, so that you can see their migration patterns. You can edit the timeline, which allows you to quite easily create a meaningful story to share with others.

My ancestors are all from the U.S. and the U.S.-related information on HistoryLines is plentiful. They also have information from Germany and Denmark and data for Canada and France are in process. I’m sure they will be adding data from more countries.

Timelines can be a great organizing aid. Adding social to the context makes this a really fun, and potentially very meaningful, tool.

Digging out after a conference

Diggin out after a conferenceI love going to conferences. Between organizing and genealogy conferences, I attend at least three a year.

Conferences are wonderful learning and networking opportunities, but they can present an organizing challenge. When I return home from a conference, I’m usually behind in my work and it’s so easy to leave everything I learned on a back burner. The biggest challenge is probably dealing with the literature I bring home from conferences. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, in the past, items I picked up at trade shows have stayed in the bag untouched until they’re thrown away months or even years later.

Last month, I attended RootsTech. It had a gigantic trade show and I learned about so many new resources I wanted to explore. I was bound and determined that the information I bought home with me would not languish. Here’s how I handled it this year. (Spoiler alert: I’m feeling pretty good about it!)

  • I minimized what I brought home by carefully going through all the paper before packing my bag at the hotel room in Salt Lake City.
  • Once I got home to St. Louis, I put all the literature together until I could process it.
  • I spread it out and scanned it for the photo to go with this post (something non-bloggers wouldn’t have to consider!).
  • Then I gathered it into a pile and went through it piece by piece. I looked up the websites for each of the flyers I brought home. If the product or service still interested me, I added it to a note I created in Evernote called “Interesting resources from RootsTech 2015″ that I placed in my Evernote “Genealogy Resources” notebook.
  • For a couple of the resources, I created a follow up task in Things, the task management application I use.  I can assign a due date, so these tasks will pop up on my Today page next year  (helpful for reminders about conferences I might want to attend in 2016).
  • I jotted down some blog post ideas sparked by the literature and put them in my Blog Post Ideas notebook in Evernote.
  • I recycled all the paper, except two items I decided to file

The whole process took me about 30 minutes. It feels great! There were some resources I’d forgotten about already, but now they’re safe inside Evernote. I took action on a couple of items, signing up for newsletters and other services and making one inquiry about working with someone. And, perhaps best of all, I got rid of a pile of paper.

Taking 30 to 60 minutes to process this information really adds value to what I brought home from RootsTech. It’s an amazing return on the investment of time spent! I’m grateful for Evernote and Things which help me free up my memory so I can find this information when I need it.

I can’t wait to do it again after next month’s National Association of Professional Organizers conference.

Do you have a better (or different) way of digging out after a conference?

RootsTech early bird deadline extended

RootsTech 2015 registration is openIf you’ve been on the fence about attending RootsTech 2015, to be held in Salt Lake City February 12 to 14, now’s the time to commit. They’ve just extended the early bird price of $159 for the three-day conference. You can grab it until Monday, January 26.

To get more information and to register, go to the RootsTech website.

I attended last year and loved it and will be attending again this year. I think $159 for the level of education you get there is a gigantic bargain. (By contrast, I pay about $600 for registration for my organizers’ professional conferences.)

If you decide to go, please let me know in the comments. Perhaps we can meet!

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness has returned!

RAOGK is back!Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK), the website where frustrated family history researchers could request (and receive) help from strangers, has returned after a three-year hiatus. In its heyday, the website, which was started in 1999, had over 4,000 volunteers. Due to the illness and subsequent death of one of its founder, Bridgett Schneider, it ceased operations in 2011. (Thanks to Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter for the background.)

The website is trying to build itself back to its former glory and is looking for volunteers to do courthouse lookups, tombstone photos, and similar local tasks. Volunteers are reimbursed for expenses, but not time, and are expected to do at least one free genealogy research task (an Act of Kindness) monthly.

This is a great example of the genealogical generosity I learned about last year at Roots Tech. I love how genealogists help one another–and I love that RAOGK will make it so easy to help. If you’re so inclined, I urge you to go to the website and register as a volunteer in your local area. (And, of course, if you’re in a fix with your research look to see if there are volunteers in the area where you need help.)