52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy Week 4: my kitbag of offline tools

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has kicked off 2012 with a new series of weekly blogging prompts themed as 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 4’s topic is Free Offline Genealogy Tools: For which free offline genealogy tool are you most grateful? How did you find this tool and how has it benefitted your genealogy? Describe to others how to access this tool and spread the genealogy love.

The (mostly) Irish migration corner of my library.

I confess that this topic confused me a little as I wavered between its meaning being a techno-tool which helped with my genealogy vs a source or repository, an equally valid interpretation. I opted to go with taking the term “tool” more literally as I’ll be addressing my offline sources and archive favourites in my Beyond the Internet series. So here is my priority offline kitbag (as you know I have trouble selecting just one):

  1.  My camera plus pen(cil) and paper.

This has been true for all the years of my research, long before digital cameras, or computers for that matter. I use my cameras (now digital) to photograph old family properties, streets where my families lived, their home towns, the cemeteries and the family’s graves, etc. In the various archives I can now mostly use my camera to photograph documents quickly and easily so I can skim-read them in situ,then transcribe and digest them at home at my leisure. I also use it to photograph images from microfilm, having been given permission to do this at the library. I truly would feel almost as bereft if I lost my camera as if I lost my computer. As to the pencil and paper, sometimes I find it easier to document information by hand – yes, regressive I know, but I do also use the laptop for specific projects.

Maps and War and a bit of Queensland

2.            My research reference library

Ever since I started family history I’ve been accumulating relevant research books (combines my love of FH + books). Since we’ve moved to Darwin this accumulation has accelerated and I now have a fairly substantial reference library of books, maps, CDs and DVDs to aid my research, not to mention my family-specific information in folders. I would be lost without having this library readily to hand when I need background to something I’m researching…but there’d be more space in my study :-)

3.                Inter-library loans

I do try to curb my enthusiasm for book-purchasing to references which I know I’ll use repeatedly or which are not available through the National Library of Australia on inter-library loan.  This is a great service and it means I can have resources sent up to Darwin from Canberra. These resources might be books but equally might be rural newspapers on microfilm which have yet to make it into Trove. Ken at the Northern Territory Library does a great job coordinating these loans at the Darwin end. (Don’t forget that if you live in Australia you can also get an NLA cardto access online resources).

Not to forget the Scots!

4.                My library and archive cards

I have a stash of these for libraries and archives from all over. Even if they have to be renewed from time to time they make for quick access when you arrive for a time-limited research trip.

5.                 Microfilms

I can’t say often enough how important microfilms from the local Family History Centre are to my research (see one post here, or search my blog). It’s not all online, so being able to research at least some parish records, shipping records, occupation documents etc is invaluable. Look at the FamilySearch catalogue for your ancestor’s home town, county or country to see which films might help your research. Order them online here, then when they arrive you’re in for tons of fun at your local family history centre, however big or small it may be.

6.                Scanners

My scanner is a vital part of my offline world. My old photos, slides, negatives and documents churn through the scanner and go into my digital records. I love the Flip-Pal for quick scanning of photos for my blog or similar. It’s the interface tool between my online and offline world. I talked about both scanners last year here.

So there you have it, some of my “can’t do without” tools.

Which tools do you use in your research and which is your favourite?

Great tech resources for Family History: Scanners: film, slide and Flip-Pal

Prompted by a friend’s request I’ve recently been on something of a mission to scan some of the slides from our family’s days in Papua New Guinea. Back in the day we used slides rather than photos and have literally thousands of both family and places.  Some time ago I had the “Top 100” travel and PNG scenery photos put onto a Kodak CD which brings its own technological warning:  I can only open these now by buying a program online which says it can read these files. I think I’ll just settle for rescanning them.

Cassmobs including cat: government house in the backgound. Goroka PNG

The current focus has been on people, trying to find evocative pictures of family and friends from PNG. While it’s all been about the people, it’s also amazing how important a role the background plays in describing the scene, so tempting as it can sometimes be, I didn’t crop the photo. The background can tell you about furniture and fittings (Oh those 70s curtains with wild geometric patterns!), and show the surroundings be it the back garden, a remote picnic, scenery etc, not to mention fashions (those “hello officer” super-short minis). But they also evoke the memories behind the film –what happened on the way, the crowds of locals sitting watching us picnicking etc, warriors passing us en route.  It can also be a vaguely depressing experience as you see family and friends who are immortalised on film but are no longer with us in the world.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Goroka in PNG in early 1974. Not a superb photo but can you imagine being allowed to get this close today?

Having discovered that my old Canon scanner’s film feature was no longer working, I thought I’d best strike while someone wanted the images from me. In the end I bought an Epson Perfection V500 after reading online reviews for its film scanning capacities. Last weekend I scanned about 1000 slides with an emphasis on people photos, especially our family. The scanning turned out well and the colours were very faithful. There are some that could do with a trip to Photoshop® but that’s because of the original photo. This is particularly good considering these slides have lived most their lives in hot humid conditions subject to mould. Scanning also meant I could also adjust the exposure for those where the flash hadn’t worked properly.

It was kind of freaky to see some photos where my grand-daughter looks just like her mother at the same age and even more so realising how much my youngest looks like me at a similar age (don’t tell her, kids hate that!).  There are still lots of photos of PNG places and scenery from overseas trips but at least I have the key family ones done – and backed up!  And before the cyclone season as well, now to send a copy out of Darwin.

The other lovely thing that’s come out of all this scanning is that this Gerehuligan[i]group, most of whom had lost touch for many years, have been swapping emails and photos which we hadn’t seen the first time round. It’s been good fun.

A decades-old baby photo has come up well with the scanner.

Another of the reasons to buy this scanner was that it could do old size negatives. I had negatives that I’d taken as a young girl as well as negatives from my own baby photos and my parents’ wedding. I’m absolutely delighted that these have come up perfectly. Despite being decades old they look as good as new and true to the original standard.  I’m absolutely delighted to have recovered these childhood photos in particular as I have very few actual photos.

I can’t say the Epson manual is much use – if you can’t use the scanner intuitively I think you’d be in for a difficult time. It has performed well despite the fact my laptop runs on Vista 64 bit which can cause other programs to have a hernia. There have been a few “fun” moments along the way as each “weird” negative size brings its own challenges, but I’ve managed to figure out how to get what I want from it. What I’ve found posting this story, is that the image sizes are too large so I may need to rescan them at lower res. Even feeding the photos from these old negatives through Photoshop® does not reduce the size sufficiently. Overall it’s a big thumbs up for the Epson scanner.

Turning briefly to the Flip-Pal scanner, which is currently not available in Australia unless you have someone in the USA willing to take delivery of it. Luckily my daughter went to the USA for work so I was able to order one through Amazon and have it sent to her hotel (letting them know first that it was coming)[ii]. It’s not too heavy or large so not onerous to carry. I love the fact that it’s so portable and I can just quickly scan something without having to go back and connect to the flatbed scanner. The results are fantastic and it’s super easy to use. I really love it and it will definitely be going with me whenever I travel for family history.

Now for all those photos!


[i] Named for where we lived.

[ii] You can’t order through the company and have an Australian billing address even if the delivery address is in the States. Using Amazon got around this as I could use my current account and just add a new address.