Thursday, September 29, 2011

Picasa and Screen Captures

It’s another busy week and Mom is finally coming home from rehab after surgery. It’s wonderful that there are facilities to make sure she is ready to take care of herself safely. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers during this time.

All of this means that family history has taken a back seat to actual family but that’s how it is supposed to be. I also teach two days a week and prepare all my own materials and course content. It’s a wonderful opportunity but time consuming. The result is that I can’t blog daily – I imagine you’ve noticed. I will try to keep to three times a week, though.

Today’s post is about a program called Picasa. I have mentioned it before but most of us use it for pictures. Did you know you can use it to capture whole screen shots? If you have Windows Vista or Windows 7 or a Mac, you’ve been able to cut a piece from anywhere on your screen and do something else with it. All Windows programs have been able to capture screen shots but the next few steps to keep a copy of the screen shot are arcane.

Picasa to the rescue!

Open Picasa (a free download from  – a Google product) then minimize it. When you find a screen you want a copy of, click the “print screen” key on your computer. (Note: the “ALT-PrintScreen” key combination will capture just the active window.) You will see Picasa capture the screen and store it in a folder called “screen captures” inside the Picasa folder in the (my)Pictures folder on your computer. The best thing is that the screenshots are captured in sequence by time so they are always in the order in which you progresses through the original screens. Once they are in Picasa you can caption them, rename them, edit them, crop them, type text on them, e-mail them, or even create a slide show (with one click!!!), etc. Picasa lets you do anything to these screen shots that you can do to a picture.

OK, so why would you want to do this? It’s a slick way of creating a slide show from different source documents. It’s easy to use for teaching or demonstrating. You can add text to any slide and captions allow you to be precise with directions. Once you have a sequence of screen shots you can put them in an album in Picasa are re-arrange them in any order. You can make a gift CD or movie for someone with this free powerful piece of software. (Note: Family Tree Maker users can also run a slide show of their Family Tree Maker media files.) Picasa has so many uses that I’ll have to share more, later.

Happy Hunting!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Browsing the Internet with Internet Explorer 9

I know that this is not strictly a genealogy issue but if you spend a lot of time on the Internet you may run into these issues. So I thought I could help.

Internet Explorer (IE) 9 is the latest version of Microsoft’s Internet browser. Many people have asked me about troubles they’ve been having with this new more secure version. Some pages don’t display at all, Adobe “Flash” keeps asking to be upgraded, some .pdf files never show up, some pages only show the advertising (how nasty is that!)

The big issue with IE9 is something called “ActiveX filtering” this is supposed to make the program much more secure but it ends up being a pain particularly with embedded .pdf files. If this filtering is actually the cause of your issue there will be a little blue circle with line in it in the address bar of IE 9 or sometimes even on the upper left of the page, itself. Click the little blue circle with the line in it and then select “turn off ActiveX filtering." This is also the fix for pages that say you need a new version of “Flash” and you know you just updated it (just being in the last 2 weeks, usually.)

This can happen on many pages or even a whole site – not just pdf embedded pages. If you have robust security software like Norton and McAfee you could just turn this feature off but I don’t recommend it. In any case, Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 is a lot more secure than prior versions and I use it for teaching but at home I use the Nuance products.

Another “gotcha” is when a page has not been updated to work with IE9 and sometimes even IE 8. Then there will be a torn page icon in the address bar. If you click that tool the page will revert to a compatible IE version to display the page. The browser will also keep track of the page for future use and when it has been updated then will display it without the compatibility settings - pretty cool.

Happy Hunting!

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Family Tree Maker with Discount

 I don’t usually promote specific pieces of software since this choice is very personal but the new version of Family Tree Maker (version 2012) will have some significant improvements.

For those of us with online trees the new version offers 2-way synchronization! This is critical to those of us who have updated information on our home tree and updated different information online and now don’t know what is where. This will also help if you’ve been reluctant to store a copy of your tree online for your personal use or for sharing.

There are substantial benefits in storing your tree online, unshared, at The first one is automatic date fills on forms: you start to type a search and references your tree and fills in the rest of the pertinent data. The second one is hints about what records other members are saving to their own trees about the same people. The third one is the ability to quickly add data, records, and sources to the online tree when you are not using your home computer.

This last feature is where most of us got into trouble. I use when I’m away from home. I’ve found and attached source data to my online tree that I want on my home tree. I’ve added people to my home tree since I uploaded my online tree. If I just upload a new gedcom , then the attached records used to be orphaned. NOW – YEAH, with Family Tree Maker 2012, I can synchronize the data both ways!

I was not a beta tester and will have to wait for the software but comments from beta testers have been very positive. I mention all of this now because there is a discount from Family Tree Maker if you pre-order the software. The discount expires on Monday the 26th because the software will be shipping that week. So there is very little time left to get this discount. More information is available at

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Data is not Information

Do you think you have much of the data you need for your ancestors? Does your family tree have lots of names and dates? Mine does. In fact, when I look at a five generation chart there are very few blanks. This quick view of my ancestry gave me a false sense of my progress in pursuing my family’s history.

One way to discover where the gaps are is to turn a chart into a narrative. Think of your own life and how you answer the question posed by new friends: “So, tell me about yourself?” The basics – we usually have those – I was born in Brooklyn, New York. I have a younger brother. I was married in Dover, New Jersey. We’ve lived in New Jersey, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. I’m a technology instructor and former business owner. I have passions for photography and genealogy and also like to cook.

These simple, everyday questions and answers for our own lives are the ones we need to be able to answer for our ancestors. These are the building blocks of their lives and our history. We stand on their experiences and decisions. Take a look at one of your grandparents and see if you can “fill in the blanks.”

Hi, I’m Sophia Hoenig from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’m one of seven children. I have three sisters and three brothers. My youngest brother died when I was fifteen. His name was James. There was also a boy who only lived a week but I never knew him – that was before I was born – that was Thomas. Lewis my oldest brother went on to become an archbishop in the Episcopal Church. I remember visiting him in his home in California after he came back from missionary work in China. That’s where this vase comes from. Anyway…..

See – these are the stories of our ancestor’s lives. The births and deaths, comings and goings of their family members were events that shaped them. So even when you have the dates and names on a chart you don’t have all the information. Try putting the lives in context with a narrative. It may help you understand them better and may expose the gaps in your data. I had never thought about how old my grandmother was when she lost her “favorite” brother. I knew the chart but not the context. Just something to think about. 

Happy Hunting!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Census records hold lots of secrets

If you’ve looked at the census records since 1850 you will see a list of all the people in a residence with their ages and sex but there is a lot of inferred information that is not so direct, depending on the census year.

If there are more than 2 years between children, maybe one died. If there is a large gap between children there might have been a prior spouse or blended family. In my family, the 13 children listed with my great grandparents in the early 1930’s were not all theirs. The Great Depression was difficult for everyone and during those years the city relatives sent the children to the “farm.” This insured that there would be food for them and helped the farm because they could not afford to hire help. The parents may have split up temporarily, as my ancestors did, in order to find work or reduce expenses. So don’t assume that all children in the house are biological children.

I’ve also found that once a child reaches puberty, they are often listed as “boarders” instead of sons and daughters. I’ve also seen a 13 yr old girl listed at the bottom of a census family and she is not a daughter but a servant. Check the other households in the neighborhood for servants, also. Neighborhoods tend to be homogeneous – the old “keeping up with the Joneses.” If one family has a servant, it is likely that others on the same street will, also. So be careful when looking at these records and don’t apply 21st century family structures to 1850 households.

Happy Hunting!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Got the Picture?

If you have photos on your computer, then Picasa is for you. Picasa is a FREE small powerful program download from (another Google site). It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

With this program installed with its default settings, (just click through the install screens accepting the standard replies) your computer will become your best genealogy companion. Since Picasa is built with Google technology, the tagging and search features are spectacular and the facial recognition feature will help sort out family photos.

I teach many classes on using this great program and one of the tools I use in genealogy is the facial recognition feature. As your program indexes all of your photos it finds the faces and creates a separate thumbnail of these faces. You can use these thumbnails to populate your family trees, create slide shows with the photos, help figure out who is related to whom, and in general, have some fun with your photos.

My collection of photos includes scans that date back over 100 years. When I tweaked the Picasa facial recognition feature to be LESS sensitive, the program thought my father, brother, and uncle were the same person! This can be very handy if you don’t know who someone is – the program can help.

The sensitivity setting is in the Tools menu and then select Options and then click on the Name Tags setting. As you slide the sliders to a higher number the program becomes more discerning and will help you separate siblings who the program thinks are the same person. As you slide the sliders to a lower number the program is less able to separate people giving you family groups. This facial recognition feature was able to find pictures of my nephews from age 18 months to 21 and figure out it was the same person! OK, I admit, that’s a little freaky but amazing none-the-less.

When you first install the software it will take some time for the face tagging to index the people so don’t close the program for a few hours. You can still use other programs during that time. Each time you open the program it will continue the indexing of the photos and people.

I use Picasa for so much more than photos and I’ll be sharing some of the best tips with you. Thank you for your time.

Happy Hunting.
9-11 Never Forget!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Be a Joiner

Sorry for the multi-day gap in posts. My Mom is in the hospital and I've been distracted to say the least.

I did receive an e-mail today that reminds me how much I value my local genealogy club. Through this club I've found other people who are researching not only in the same geographical areas but even the same surnames that I am.

Our club is not affiliated with any larger associations like the state or national societies but has some wonder, sharing, talented genealogists. We meet monthly at a local library. Our partnership with the library helps maintain there online subscriptions and supports genealogy book acquisition.

Our group donates materials to the library for genealogy research and now, when they are adding materials they ask for our input, too. Definitely a win-win.

So - join a local genealogy group and support your local library. Ours has online free on site access to and Heritage Quest; maybe yours does, too.

Happy Hunting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tired of Typing?

Tired of typing? Is your typing too slow or inaccurate? Have lots of information to enter into the computer but dread the thought of typing it or scanning it in?

Speech recognition has come of age. It's in our voicemail, it's on our phones and it's even in our cars. Isn't it time to use it on our computers?

How long do you think usable speech recognition has been part of Microsoft products, I think you'd be surprised to know that it's been part of Microsoft Office since 1996. Microsoft Office '97 had speech recognition built in: most of us it turned off. 

Microsoft Vista had speech recognition built into the operating system in 2006 and most of us never turned it on. Speech recognition is also part of Windows 7. It's easy to use. It's already there and, best of all, it's free. It works inside programs. It works on the Internet. It does not require much training, although works better with it. It works with your built-in microphone but it works better with a headset microphone. Isn't it time that your computer started listening to you?

There are many ways to activate speech recognition in Windows Vista and Windows 7. For those of you who like to click on a lot of menu entries – Click the Start Button, then click “all programs,” then click “accessories,” then click “ease of use,” then click “speech recognition.”

For those of you who just want to get there … Click the Start Button and type speech into the search window that is right above the start button. This will bring up a mini-menu with the speech recognition menu options. You want the one that says "Windows speech recognition." The help screens will guide you through the process of using a microphone with your computer to enter typed data without having to type.

This technology is remarkably accurate and most of this document was created with this process.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Searching – Let’s Get Wild

There is so much information available online and more coming. Being a genealogist today can help even the casual genealogist look like a research expert with the proper search tools. For those of us that spend time hunting for our ancestors online; I have a few hints.

Many websites let you use wildcards in your searches. Wildcards are symbols that take the place of one or more letters in a surname or given name. Since the spelling of these names is arbitrary and indexing is not perfect, wildcards can make the difference between finding your ancestors and not finding them. It’s really handy to use wildcards in two specific cases.

The first place wildcards are handy is when a database does not automatically use soundex in its searches. The second place is when searching through records that use the “old” typeface that makes the letter “s” look like an “f” and “ss” look like “ff”.

The wildcard “?” replaces a single letter: Priscilla becomes Pri?cilla and Jessica can be  Je??ica. The asterisk replaces multiple letters: Jessica becomes Je*ica. The asterisk is on the “8” key or on the numeric key pad. You may use either one.

The “*” wildcard is very handy at the end of surnames when you’ve seen letter combinations like: ski, sky, sk, ick, etc. I was able to use this wildcard when searching for my Gottschall ancestors. I was surprised at some of the variations of this surname even in the same newspaper article!

Many databases require at least three letters in a word before you can use the “*” and some databases require that you have the first three letters. So check the database you are using for its rules first before you get frustrated with errors.

Just a reminder – don’t put these symbols in your data files, though. Gedcom files need to have letters (except for the special symbols discussed in my earlier entry on Getting Specific with Family Tree Maker.)

Happy Hunting!