Archive for November, 2011

Follow Friday: Professional genealogists websites

It is Follow Friday! This is a blogging meme in which authors recommend other blogs, websites, repositories, or anything else. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will spotlight different resources for professional and aspiring professional genealogists each week: not only genealogy-related, but also others of interest.

Today I will not recommend one site, but many.

If you are a professional genealogist or an aspiring/transitional professional genealogist, you need to have a website. Above and beyond anything else, your website will be your #1 marketing tool. I can honestly say that no less than 90% of the research clients that I have had in my career have spent at least some time on my website. How do I know this? Because their initial email to me comes through the “Contact Me” form on my website.

When you are developing a website, look at the websites of other professional genealogists, especially those with long standing careers. What do you like and what don’t you like? How much information do you want to include on your website?

One of the best ways to see other researchers’ websites is to go look to the membership directory of the Association of Professional Genealogists. The APG website allows you to search for a researcher by name, location, research specialty, or geographic specialty, and many of the entries include links to the members’ professional websites.

Take a look at researchers similar to yourself, that is, those researching in a similar location, research specialty, or geographic specialty. After all, these researchers are your direct competition–though in the genealogical community, there is rarely animosity (and often cooperation) among competitors. All the same, a potential client looking for a researcher is as likely to find their website as yours. How can you make yourself stand out? It all starts with your website.

Below are a few examples of websites belonging to professional genealogists. There are both positive and negative aspects of all of them. Some are better than others. Some have great content, but lack in design. Some have great design, but little content. I am not espousing any of these researchers over any others, and cannot vouch for any of their research skills. Not all of these professionals accept research projects. Not all of them are members of the APG.

Still, take a look:

I had to slip that last one in. ;)

If you are a professional genealogist, please feel free to add your site in the comments (but please no advertising). What do you like most about these or other websites?

Tips for a short genealogy road trip

This Saturday, 5 November 2011, I will be speaking at the “Pennsylvania Family History Day” event sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and Ancestry.com. This is a very exciting program, including the following lectures:

  • “Getting Started with Ancestry.com” with Juliana Smith
  • “Immigrant Cluster Communities” with Lisa Alzo
  • “Researching Pennsylvania Ancestors” with John Humphrey
  • “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” with Lou Szucs
  • “What Is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?” with Michael Hait, CG
  • “Formation of the Pennsylvania Counties” with Susan Koelble
  • “Finding Your US Military Heroes on Ancestry.com” with Juliana Smith
  • “Visualizing the Past: Maps and Genealogy” with Shamele Jordon
  • “Pennsylvania’s Land Records” with John Humphrey
  • “Hidden Treasures at Ancestry.com” with Lou Szucs
  • “Mining the Motherlode: Using Periodical Literature for Genealogical Research” with Curt Witcher
  • “Using the Pennsylvania State Archives and Library” with Kathleen Hale and Aaron McWilliams

This will be a great program, and I am proud to be a part of it. For more information, visit the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania’s Events Calendar.

The conference will be held in Exton, Pennsylvania. According to Google Maps, this will be 91.6 miles–a 1 hour, 48 minute drive–from my house. So I have to prepare for my trip.

Here are a few tips for others making a short trip like this:

Print your directions. I used to have a GPS device in my car, but it died. Rather than buying a new one, I just use the “old” (as in pre-2005 or so) way of not getting lost. I print out the directions from Google Maps, especially if I am going to an area where I have never been before. I learned my lesson on a few earlier trips, when I printed only one-way directions then got lost trying to get home. Now I print directions for both ways, not just how to get there.

Leave early. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, leave early. You never know when you might hit traffic. Even if you are not on a fixed schedule, you should still consider making the most of your trip. If the courthouse or archives opens at 9am, do you want to get there as soon as it opens, so that you have a full day? Or do you want to time your trip to avoid the rush hour gridlock near a major metropolitan area? You will want to find out about traffic patterns if you can. Living just outside Washington, D. C., for most of my life, I would time my research trips into the city to avoid rush hour. Rush hour traffic in the area could turn a twenty-minute trip into an ninety-minute trip very easily. And it could be far worse if there was an accident.

Keep cash on hand. I know, for example, that I will hit at least one toll while driving from Harrington, Delaware, to Exton, Pennsylvania. Three weeks ago, driving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, I had to pay at three tolls each way. You may also need cash for parking fees, public transportation (if you can’t or don’t want to drive all the way to the building), entry fees for some repositories, or pay lockers. Many repositories now allow you to pay with a credit card, but there are still many that use coin-operated photocopiers. You might need cash for these as well.

Turn driving time into learning time. I will be driving for nearly two hours each way. This is four hours of my day not doing anything. Why not take advantage of that time? I can’t read or research while driving, because of course I need to keep my eyes on the road. But I can still use the time to learn. Most of the lectures presented at the national conferences, and some local conferences, have been recorded over the last few years. You can purchase these lectures on CD from JAMB, Inc. Pop a CD into your car’s CD player, and learn from expert genealogists like Elizabeth Shown Mills, Helen F. M. Leary, Thomas Jones, Craig Scott, Barbara Vines Little, J. Mark Lowe, or any number of the other nationally-recognized speakers.

Go before you leave. You don’t want to have to stop halfway through a two-hour drive. ‘Nuff said.

Do you understand source citations?

Carol Saller is the chief editor of the Chicago Manual of Style. In a recent post on the Lingua Franca blog, she described a conversation with a group of university librarians:

The group unanimously perceived a lack of skills among its clientele: Students are routinely flummoxed as to how to search for or evaluate the sources they need in their work. … The extent to which college students are unprepared to conduct research may be surprising to those who assume that young adults are automatically proficient at any computer-related task. “Many students don’t actually know how to interpret the citations that they find in print or online, and as a result, they don’t understand what to search for,” says Georgiana McReynolds, management and social-sciences librarian at MIT. “They search for book chapters in Google because they don’t recognize a book citation compared to an article citation. Or they don’t know which is the title of the article as opposed to the title of the journal. Or they can’t decipher all the numbers that define the volume, issue,  and date.”[1]

This is precisely the reason that I have espoused the use of a consistent source citation format in my series of blog posts on “Source Citations–Why Form Matters.”

Without a consistent source citation format, how can a reader–even if that reader is only your future self–be expected to make sense of your citations? How will you be able to determine which is the title of a journal article, and which is the chapter of a book? Do you know how to read a source citation, or are you like these poor young college students, who never learned how to interpret a citation, and find themselves in trouble when they are required to find a source?

The worst part is that the citations for published material that cause such trouble for university students are relatively simple compared to some of the original unpublished sources commonly used by genealogists. When you read a citation in a genealogy journal, can you determine which element is which ?

Take the following citation, for example. I examined this record as part of a recent client research project:

N. Wilson to Col. Andrew Hynes, letter, dated 9 August 1825; Series I., Correspondence and Other Papers, 1797–1938, Box 2: 1823–1827; Edward J. Gay and Family Papers, Mss. 1295; Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

If you came across this reference in a genealogical society journal, and this related to your family, would you know how to find the record? Any researcher that had taken the time to learn the basics of the accepted source citation format would have no problem. They would understand, for example, that the standard citation format for state and federal archives begins with the specific item in a collection and proceeds from the most specific element to the most general element, as opposed to local records that begin with the most general element and proceed to the most specific.[2] They would know that commas separate elements on the same level of organization, while semicolons separate elements on different levels.[3]

Understanding the basic rules of this citation format allows you to easily discern that the letter cited above is at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The University has a group of manuscript collections called “Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections,” of which the “Edward J. Gay and Family Papers,” manuscript collection no. 1295, is one. Within this manuscript collection, the letter can be found in Box 2 of Series I.

All of the information necessary to locate this record can be clearly conveyed through the use of a consistent citation format. Any reader who understands the format can find this letter. Readers who do not understand the format–like those students mentioned by Saller in her blog post–will be confused.

Can those genealogists who say that a consistent format is unnecessary provide an example that supports this position? Can you come up with a way to cite an original manuscript that is as easily understood, either by another reader or even by yourself 15 or 20 years later, when you have no remaining memory of where you found the information?

SOURCES:

[1] Carol Saller, “Getting the Most out of Academic Libraries—and Librarians,” in Lingua Franca blog, posted 18 October 2011 (http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca : accessed 29 October 2011).

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, 1st ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 434.

[3] Mills, Evidence Explained, 77.

5 Ways to Manage Your Blog (or Blogs)

Since this is National Blog Posting Month, I thought it might be a good time to discuss managing a blog.

As a full-time professional genealogist, time for my blog is often limited. I do not always have the ability to write every day. Occasionally I do have a great idea, or an issue arises, that I simply feel compelled to write, right at that moment.

More often, though, I find myself without the time to write. Or worse, I have an hour or so to write, but my mind draws a blank. What should I write about?

This month, I have challenged myself to post a new article every day. To three separate blogs. That comes to 90 articles that I will have to write and post over the next 30 days. I tried this in 2009 with one column, and managed to post about 2/3 of the required 30 articles. I tried again in 2010 with two columns, and only managed to post about 1/2 of the required 60 articles. So what makes me think I will succeed this year, with 90 articles needed?

This year, I am managing my blogs a little better. For me, the most difficult part of managing a blog is coming up with fresh and interesting content every day. Here are a few ideas that might help you:

1. Brainstorm post ideas. In an earlier post I mentioned one of my favorite blogs, Litemind. One of the posts on this site describes the “List of 100″ brainstorming method. I have done this quite a few times, for numerous brainstorming sessions: potential articles, potential books, potential lectures, etc. Generally speaking, in a list of 100 you will find a bunch of ho-hum ideas, a bunch of repeats, a few ridiculous ideas, and several gems. By creating such a long list, you force your brain to move outside the box–past the everyday, ho-hum ideas; past the just plain silly; and into the best ideas. You may find only 15 great ideas in that list of 100. With 90 articles needed, I will probably have to post a few ho-hum ideas, but hopefully there will be some great ones too!

2. Read other blogs. What are other bloggers talking about? Many of my blog ideas start as responses, or “my perspective,” on things that other bloggers have said. Sometimes it is a response to a blog post as a whole–sometimes it’s just a single sentence that inspires an entire post. Sometimes just the act of reading gets your creative juices flowing enough that you come up with an idea of your own. If you want to see the best genealogy blogs, I would recommend Randy Seaver’s weekly “Best of the Genea-Blogs” posts, posted every Sunday on his Genea-Musings blog. Randy reads a lot of blogs, and manages to find the best of the best every week. Read these, and you will be forced to kick it up a notch.

3. Keep a list of blog ideas. Many of the best ideas come when you are busy with something else. For example, I often come up with an idea for a blog post while I am working on a client report. There is simply no way that I should stop what I am doing to write that blog post at that time. I could wait–and risk forgetting about the idea before I do find the time to write it. Or I could keep a list of ideas, so that when I have time to write, all I have to do is look at my list, pick a topic, and write. I keep two lists: one on paper for those times when I am not near a computer, the other as a text file on my desktop. That list is definitely going to come in handy this month.

4. Create a blog calendar. Once you have a list of ideas–from brainstorming, reading other blogs, and recording ideas when they come to you–you should schedule out your posts in advance. Since I am scheduling ideas for three separate blogs/columns, I created a table with four columns. The first column is for the days, 1 through 30. Each one of the other three columns is for one of my blogs. Then I just write the topics for each day into the calendar.

5. Participate in a few memes (but not all of them). There are several blogging memes available every day for genealogy bloggers. If you wanted to, you could easily post every day just by following a different meme every day. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Before I ever started writing a blog, I was a blog reader. Memes lose their attraction pretty quickly. If you are not providing good, quality content every day, you may lose some readers. And if you don’t have any readers, is there really any reason to write? Instead, pick one or two of your favorite memes, but no more than one or two days a week. Personally, I love “Follow Friday” and “A Friend of Friends Friday.” Both of these are on Friday, so I have to alternate or use different blogs to participate. In my blog calendar, I can mark off every Friday to participate in one (or both) of these memes. This saves a little time in trying to come up with a unique topic for these days. But it still leaves me with six days of content that is not attached to a meme.

And here’s a bonus tip:

6. Write your posts in advance. Some blogging platforms, like WordPress, allow you to draft your posts in advance and schedule them for publication later. Take advantage of this when you have time to write. Instead of just writing one post and publishing it immediately, write two or three (or however many you have time to write), and schedule them for later publication.

Do you have any other ideas for managing multiple blogs?

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