Saturday, January 5, 2008

Head Shots

Over the years I've gathered a number of pictures of my ancestors. While I'll never get tired of looking at them, I've also found another very interesting way to use photos -- You can crop head shots out of your pictures and do some great things with them.

First, get digital scans of all your family history pictures. I prefer .jpg format unless I am going to be printing and framing them for my wall -- then I'll use a .tif format. If you have Windows, you will probably have the Microsoft Office Picture Manager utility. Open a photo in the utility, select "Edit Pictures" and "Crop". After positioning the borders where you want them, click "Ok" and save the head shot. I like to give it the name of the person, and append their age at the time of the photo. place the headshot in the documents folder you've designated for that family.

After you've saved the headshot, select "Edit" and "Undo Crop". Then repeat for the other people in the picture.

Here's where the fun starts. You can now make a slide show for an individual, progressively showing how they looked throughout their life. You can also add the head shots to your family history software, and they'll display in reports and summaries.

It's also neat to open a folder and see all the faces of the people you're researching.

Friday, January 4, 2008

One Family at a Time

It is easy to let your efforts become scattered and unfocused when you have so many exciting leads to follow. You'll work on one family, receive an email from a relative from another line, get tied up in both of them and then drop those projects for a third. Not only do you forget where you are going, you will forget what is going into your files.

In general, it is a good practice to pick one family at a time: that means a set of parents, their children and the spouses of those children. Gather all the records you have on that family, piece together a timeline of the family members' lives, learn about the localities, and then search for more records. The whole process is easier if you are doing it for one family group at a time. Imagine being buried in different steps of that process with ten families at once.

With that said, it is almost inevitable, once you begin corresponding with other historians, to move around a little bit; but to collaborate with others you must have something yourself, which means you've completed the first steps of that process previously and now you are just looking for more records. So go through the preliminary research steps before you think about branching out to extensions of the family group you are working on.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Using Google Earth

There are two very important, but often neglected aspects of family history. One is becoming acquainted with the localities your ancestors lived in. If all you have is dates and places, you will feel much less connection than if you had a few pictures, a map and a brief history of the area. Another important aspect is going beyond the superficial dates by piecing together a timeline of their lives.

These are fairly disparate aspects of research, but you can make good progress toward both of them by creating a Google Earth file for the life of an ancestor. I'll explain:

In case you've never used it, Google Earth is a free software package that allows you to view a satellite map of the Earth. You can zoom in on your house, rotate for a bird's eye view and even view others' photos of the scenery on the map. One very useful utility is the ability to add place markers. If you have a fair amount of information on the life of an individual, you can create a trail of markers on a map that show where the person lived.

To make a file, first open Google Earth. You want to make a progressive trail of place markers, so find the birth place in the map. When it is centered in the map, click the button that looks like a pushpin (it's along the top) and a marker will appear in the center of the map. You can drag it around to the correct location. An information box will open up, and this is where you type a title for the marker and give some information.

Create a marker for each location in that person's life, and write a short description of what they did there. Then you need to organize the labels chronologically. Right click the "My Places" command in the "Places" tab on the left side, and create a new folder. Give the folder the name of the person you are researching, and then drag the place markers into that folder in the order you want them displayed.

You don't want to lose all your work, so right click the folder again and save it.

Here is an example to give you an idea.