Saturday, January 12, 2013

Making Technology Work for Me

I have always embraced technology because I am a busy person and am always looking for an easier, faster way to do things.  Some people call me a “geek” because I work with information systems, although I work on the “people side” of the business.  I always say I know just enough to be dangerous regarding hardware, networking and gadgets.  I do not want gadgets for the sake of having them.  I only want things that are going to actually help me accomplish what I need or want to do, which is to connect with more of my ever-growing family.  Not just to put names in a chart or my software, but to really connect with them as people.
A while back I went to visit my 91-years-young cousin (first cousin, twice removed) Gus.  This visit was made possible by technology.  I found him because several years ago I posted my family tree on the Internet at and Rootsweb.  A different cousin, Howard, contacted me via email about our family connection a few years after my posting.  He lives in Atlanta.  Our common g-grandparents are from Pontiac, Illinois.  Until he saw my posting, we did not know of each other’s existence.  We have pooled our records and he now has a posting on to which we both contribute.  A different cousin, Pam, saw this posting and contacted Howard.  It turns out that she is Gus’ daughter and they live in the Chicago suburbs near me.  
I called and made arrangements to visit with Gus and Pam.  I used a cell phone to call and tell her I was running late and the GPS navigation system in my car to find the house.  I took my 3-inch ring binder for the easy viewing of all the paper documents I have collected over the years and a spiral notebook for notes.  I dragged along my laptop computer with The Master Genealogist (TMG) software installed.   I also packed a USB external hard drive loaded with all the pictures and documents I have scanned as well as images collected from various web sites (i.e. census documents, draft registration forms).   I also brought a small portable flatbed scanner that I purchased on another genealogy trip that fits in my laptop travel case and that hooks up to the laptop through the USB port.  The scanner works with legal size items and smaller.    I have also learned never to leave home without my digital camera!
When I arrived at the house, I set up my equipment on the dining room table.  It did not take much space, just a little more than a place setting.  I was able to pull up pictures of our mutual relatives on a screen that was easier to see than the original photos.  Gus was able to identify some people I did not know in the pictures.  Gus shared his pictures with me and I was able to scan them into my computer without them ever leaving his possession. Gus did not have an internet connection, but if he had, I would have shown him the family web site Howard set up.  I was able to show Gus how we were related with a relationship graph from TMG.  We were also able to immediately change his record in TMG when he told me I had his middle name wrong!  After I showed him the cemetery listing for his grandparents in Wisconsin that I found on the internet and their family group sheet, he told me, “you know more about my family than I do!” We had a great visit with a promise to have more.
On my genealogy tools wish list is a digital voice recorder.  I want to be able to record the stories and not have to take notes to decipher later.  I will transfer these files to the computer and perhaps use transcription software to “write it up”.  I am also considering a portable printer.  It would have been nice to print out the information on Gus’ family that he did not have.  I have considered an app for my phone for research trips, but I am not yet convinced that it will be better than my laptop.  I am also entertaining the suggestion Tony Burroughs made at a workshop I attended.  He suggested getting a cell phone that has GPS tagging capability built in.  Then I can take a picture of a gravestone with my phone and tag it so I know exactly where I found it without an additional piece of equipment.
My portable genealogy “office” fits into a rolling briefcase that fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in an airplane or a small space in the car.  I can take all my files and not find out that I needed a different file which was still at home.  Even five years ago, this would have seemed like a fantasy. Isn’t technology wonderful when we make it work for us!

Your Cousin Caron

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