Speak To Me and Use a Good Microphone!

May 10, 2011

Start Recording Yourself

Creating a slide show with narrative makes a huge difference. Getting the best sound quality is very important.  However, one of the big problems is finding the right microphone without putting it on your charge card.

Price – Not an Indicator of a Quality Microphone

Over the years I’ve tested many types of microphones with disappointing results. Price does not seem to be the discriminator unless you spend over $100 which is more than I can not justify.

In my experience, pricey technology does not seem to make any difference. In fact, the more expensive microphones provided inferior sound quality.  The least expensive USB microphone I used made me sound like I was recording in the bathroom. Not exactly the image I wanted to portray of where I make my recordings even though no one bothers you there!

Previously I recommended the GE microphone / headset sold at Target. However, you had to get the headset with a removable microphone to get the right one. Unfortunately my local Target no longer carries that model of the GE headset and requires you purchase on-line. I’m too impatient to wait so I checked out the microphones at Radio Shack.

A Great Little Secret

Excellent and Inexpensive MicI’m delighted to report that Radio Shack carries an outstanding microphone for about $15. You read correctly, fifteen bucks! It gets even better. It has a six foot cable, lapel clip and mute button. What more could you ask? Does it sound like a $15 mic? Nope! The sound quality is excellent. I’m so impressed I’ve been using it for the webinars I produce.

Go to Radio Shack and ask for the “Gigaware, Clip on Microphone.”

Good things still come in small packages.

Speaking makes you look so good so record yourself for the kids and family to treasure in the future.

Get more sound recoding tips from the Old Shoebox Newsletter.

Want more proof? Listen to me on our next Family History Webinar. Click  here to view our webinar schedule.


Driving Your Car With a Computer?

October 16, 2010

We recently make a safari across the endless Nevada desert, over foggy Donner Pass, through the freeway amazement of Sacramento and on to a very pleasant little California community aptly named Pleasanton. All this was made possible, and much easier, thanks to my GPS navigation system.

The Sacramento Thrill Ride

Picture us approaching Sacramento at 6:00 PM. We had perfectly timed the trip so we could experience the thrill of rush hour traffic while navigating the famous California freeway maze.

Our excitement was heightened by the opportunity of driving blindly into the setting sun. Pulling down the windshield visor blocked all the approaching freeway signs hindering any attempt at normal human navigation. Essentially I was driving blind with cars darting and whizzing by all around us. I felt our van had magically turned into the roller coaster at Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain.

How the Garmin Saved Me

Luckily I didn’t have to make any freeway changes for the first 10 minutes allowing me to acclimatize to whirring and workings of everyday freeway life. Soon I discovered I could use my eyes like I use my dual monitor computer system. My left eye was focused on the brake lights of the car directly in front of us while my right eye scanned the Garmin GPS on the dash. I quickly learned my old brain could still multitask while driving. I could avoid accidents and watch the Garmin so we wouldn’t get lost.

My advanced degree in defensive driving with a minor in celestial navigation was awarded after I had successfully merged from one freeway, immediately moved quickly and safely across five lanes of traffic, while slowing enough to “exit right” to a cloverleaf entrance to another freeway! I was amazed we made it through without one accident or the Garmin tactfully announcing my defeat with “Recalculating – Recalculating.”

I love technology and can’t wait until some genius marries my GPS car navigator (Garmin Nuvi) with my beloved cruise control. Now that would be worth trying to survive another 20 years!

Reasons to Get a Car GPS Navigator

I will limit myself to a few of the many reasons you really need a GPS for your car. It will also eliminate backseat driving recommendations from the passenger side windbag – Oops! I meant “Airbag.”

Family History GPS Tagging. Most GPS systems have a GPS coordinates screen. The purpose is for you to enter coordinates and then let the device direct you to the desired destination.

When I take my GPS into a cemetery, I take a photo of the grave and then take a photo of the coordinate screen. Later I can import the photos into my computer and Heritage Collector software so I can transfer the GPS coordinates to the photo of the grave. Next I use the GPS Maps module in Heritage Collector to create beautiful cemetery maps I can print or turn into a PDF for my relatives and kids. Go to this link (GPS Maps Module) for step-by-step instructions and movies about getting and using GPS coordinates to make maps.

Getting Gas. I have a tendency to gas up at larger towns along the travel route so I can save a few dollars. We all know that getting gas out in the boondocks along the freeway will cost a lot more. My Garmin has two great options. If you are really desperate, running on fumes with the little red gas pump blinking on your instrument panel, click the GPS Fuel option. It will display a list of the closest gas stations, with arrows pointing the direction and the number of miles to the gas station.

We love to save money by getting gas at Costco. So how do you find a Costco when you are driving on the freeway? Simple. Click the “Points of Interest” option and then click “Spell Name.” Type in Costco and press Done. In a few seconds the Garmin will display all the Costco locations within 150 miles. This little trick also works to find Walmart, Safeway or the closest Olive Garden restaurant.

Never Get Lost and Save Time. It’s easy to resume your journey once you navigated to the gas station, store, or restaurant. You can easily return back to the motel where you are staying or enter a new destination and let your Garmin take you there.

Accurate Arrival Time. One of the lesser known features of a Garmin GPS is the Arrival Time indicator. It’s really nice to know how long it will take to get to your destination. “Are we there yet?” I used to despise that question from my kids. Now all you have to say is, “Watch this little place and it will tell you exactly when we will get there.”

Speed Limit Signs. How many times have you glanced down at the speedometer, sucked in a lot of air, followed by a quick glance in your rear view mirror and hoped you won’t see a speed cop with flashing red and blue lights? My Garmin places a little speed limit sign to indicate the speed of the road I’m traveling. It’s great to know and actually saves time since I tend to drive slower to a avoid speed trap in a small town if I don’t know the speed limit.

Elevation. Ok, I’m a geek. I like to know the approximate elevation of my travels. I also miss about half of the little elevation signs as they sneak past if I’m not looking exactly at right spot at the right time. Garmin has a setting to let you know the elevation at any time you are interested.

Goodies. My Garmin let’s me do hands free calling and speaking via my bluetooth cell phone, plays MP3s and displays photos from my SD card.

Lane Change Indicator. Garmin places a little green box in the upper left of the display showing if your next turn will be to the right or left. This is a real help on a freeway or busy road. All the locals know the correct lane to be in far in advance. This makes it impossible for you to get into the right or left turn lane because it may be full for the next block or mile on a freeway exit. It also tells you how many miles you have before you need to turn.

Traffic Indicator. This is a “must have” feature if you live or drive in a congested area. My Garmin can actually route me around rush hour traffic or an accident because it can “see” ahead down my route. It gets local information via a built in FM receiver. I purchased a Garmin with free lifetime traffic alerts. However, you need to check for this free feature.

Garmin Gremlins

In fairness, there are a few little trolls built into every GPS. My Garmin is not perfect and has gotten us lost a few times. Sometimes it’s not Garmin’s fault. The restaurant may have closed or relocated. The city moved or changed their speed limit signs, closed a road, and didn’t update the national map database.

Be careful when setting the shortest route. This is perfect if you are the adventurous type and want to travel the back roads. We had such an unplanned adventure during our last trip to Yosemite National Park. I didn’t know I had changed to the shortest route.

As we traveled we were marveling at the beauty and vastness of the grape vineyards of Northern California. Soon I noted the road signs (Road 24)were a bit strange and not helpful.

At one point I became a bit nervous when “Garmie” (our affectionate name for the Garmin) told us to turn right on Road 23. A big yellow sign greeted us with the message, “This is not a through road.” Oh boy! We weren’t lost but I didn’t have any idea where we were or how close we were to the south gate of Yosemite. Gas gauge check – half a tank so I wasn’t stressed yet.

We were traveling a little winding back country road with exquisite scenery, a few scattered farms, and no cell phone services so were really on our own. Eventually we made contact with the real world and gassed up after checking the “Fuel” option so I could avoid the tourist trap gas stations and get cheaper gas where the locals get it.


Study and plan your travel routes on Google Maps. Get an idea of the local attractions and check some alternate routes. Roads may be closed for a variety of reasons. It would be foolish to depend entirely on your GPS so print out some maps and store them in your travel binder for a good old backup reference guide if you get really lost!

Don’t leave your GPS navigation device on your dashboard unattended. There are many people who’d love to adopt it. Put it out of site BEFORE you stop so others will not know you have a GPS in your car.

Happy GPS Travels,

Proper Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs

October 6, 2010

Saving Your Bacon”

Over the years I’ve had some ‘almost’ tragic experiences losing information and digital images. Fortunately I had multiple backups on different kinds of media and devices that saved my bacon.

I’m writing today to help save your bacon and protect you from yourself. I’m guessing you are like many people I speak with via the phone or at family history conventions. Unfortunately you may have acquired some bad habits over the years. Worst of all, you thought you were doing the right thing by protecting the reflective side of your CDs. Oops!

First of all, let’s shed some light on a few myths.

  1. There’s no perfect medium for preserving information and photos unless you can afford to write and record on gold, stainless steel or stone.

  2. All the archival media of today have trade offs. CDs, DVDs, Blu ray, hard drives, flash drives (have the lowest life time expectancy and are meant for temporary storage), tape drives etc. Each has a vulnerability for future destruction, failure or data loss. Not to mention having no access in the future to a device that can read or “play” the media. Here’s an example. Do you have any old 8-track tapes? Do you have an 8-track player? Ah haw! I got you there. So without the player you can’t play any of the tapes making your old tapes worthless and inaccessible no mater how well preserved. Do you know a friend with an 8-track player? That would be me. However, as time marches on, access to old technology will become impossible and the old device may not work anymore.

What’s the Best Archival / Storage Method?

Let’s be very clear and realistic – there is no single, best method for archiving and preservation. My recommendation is somewhat simple.

  • Use different kinds of media.
  • Create multiple copies that are stored in different locations outside your home.

Why? A flood, fire, earthquake, theft or other natural disaster could wipe out ALL your family history in seconds. Sharing your photos and information is the BEST survival strategy.

Please refer to my newsletter for an interesting perspective on preserving and archiving. Following the simple recommendations in this newsletter will assure your photos and family history will be backed up and preserved using the latest and most sophisticated technology. Best of all, it won’t cost you a dime to utilize this preservation strategy.

You should also consider learning how to embed photo information directly into the photo file (IPTC) so information will survive with the file into the future. It’s doesn’t do much good to go to all this work to preserve photos without any identifying and associated information. See this newsletter.

CD/DVD Do’s and Don’ts

Protect the correct side of the CD. It’s NOT the reflective side. Trust me and read on. Protect the label side of the CD from scratches and abuse. Any damage to the label side may destroy the information on the CD. If you must lay the CD next to your computer, lay it down with the reflective side up!!

Don’t Write on a CD. The acid in the ink will eat through the thin layer of protective coating. The pressure applied while writing with a ballpoint pen may damage or pierce the surface coating. Always use pens that are made specifically for writing on CDs. You can find these at any office supply or stationary section of a department store.

Never Put Post-It Notes or labels on a CD. Once a I put a post-it note on a CD. A week later when I removed the post-it note and part of the reflective coating came off with the note. However, all was not lost since the CD made a nice drink coaster.

Labeling CDs? I admit it – I’m paranoid. I never put any kind of a label on a CD. One fear is it may cause the CD to wobble in the drive which makes it impossible for the drive to read the CD. This is kind of like the wheel on your car vibrating at high speed because the tire is out of balance as it spins.

Never Put a Partial Label on a CD. If you must use a paper label select from a high quality brand. I’d never put any paper labels on a CD to use for archival purposes. I prefer to create colorful jewel case insert for a CD/DVD I’m sharing.

Protect the Reflective Surface of a DVD. Just when you thought you had a one size fits all strategy for protecting CDs I throw this next curve at you.

Protecting a DVD is the opposite of CD. Unlike a CD, a DVD has two layers of plastic so you don’t need to worry about protecting the label side of a DVD. You need to protect the reflective side. Why? Because a DVD uses smaller dots to record the information which is why they hold more data than a CD. However, scratches on the reflective side of a DVD are much more serious than a CD. In other words, a few small scratches on the reflective side of a DVD may be the kiss of death when trying to access anything stored on the DVD.

Protect BOTH Sides of a CD/DVD. This is obvious. I added this so I would not be embarrassed by some sending feedback Titled – “Well Duh, you should protect both sides dummy!”

Proper Storage of CD/DVDs. Just like the old vinyl music records of past years, store your CD/DVDs in a protective plastic jewel case standing on its edge in a dark, cool dry place. The plastic and coating used may age when DVDs and CDs are left out in the sun. Even ambient room light can deteriorate the surface of CD/DVDs.

Use Archival Quality CD/DVDs. Consider purchasing “gold” archival DVDs. Why use an expensive CD? A CD holds less information. The cost of archival DVDs will be less than the cost of using archive CDs. Just because it looks like it’s gold doesn’t make it a gold archival quality CD/DVD. Read the CD/DVD specification to be sure it is an archival quality CD/DVD.

You can find more information about preservation in my book, The Digital Family History Guidebook.

Is Your Computer a Health Hazard?

October 2, 2010

As we get older many things start to change. The pages on the calendar whiz by. We seem to have less time even though our kids think we should be on call 24/7. We discover our body is no longer maintenance free. Our eyes teach us a new vocabulary word – bifocals. Watching all pharmaceutical commercials on TV is like taking a crash course called “The Side Effects of Healthy Pessimism.” This constant diet of TV commercials may lead to early onset hypochondria. Maybe we should insist on warning labels for commercials indicating they may constitute a hazard to our mental health. Besides, ignorance is bliss.

A New Computer Virus?

I recently discovered a new malady that comes with age and is similar to acid reflux. The main symptom is seeing your computer monitor when you eyes are closed. Some of the side effects are mental confusion and speaking to your computer more than a few times each day. It’s called pernicious visual indigestion.

A few days ago I started to worry about the numbness I was feeling in my little finger on my left hand. Each day it seemed to get a little more noticeable and was starting to affect the next finger and a slightly larger area of my palm.

The pessimistic, gloom and doom part of my brain started whispering “Numbness in the left arm is a symptom of an impending heat attack.” I’m an older guy so that means I don’t ask for driving directions when I get lost and seeing a doctor only occurs at the emergency room. Besides I now have a GPS device so I don’t NEED driving directions unless I the exit the freeway too soon. My GPS makes me feel more normal when it gets lost.

After three days, no heart attack but my hand was still getting more numb and I noticed it more during the day.

A few years ago I was having pain in my right hand and wrist. The cause turned out to be using my mouse with an unsupported wrist and arm. Getting a wrist rest for the mouse and extending my desk to support my whole arm solved the problem without the need for surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

I also remembered having some pain in my feet last year and wondered what else was past my bumper to bumper body warranty. It took about a week to determine my computer was becoming a hazard to my health. I get so preoccupied while using my computer I become oblivious to the physical contortions and stress I’m putting on the rest of my body.

Here’s what I discovered about my computer related foot discomfort. I like to work with my shoes off. I even have the holes in my socks to prove it. As I’m working at my computer my legs become like spaghetti wrapped around the bottom of the chair. I stress my feet by putting pressure on them while placing them on the roller part of the chair. It’s amazing the amount of foot pain a week of foot abuse can cause. I solved the problem by using proper posture while at my computer. One day I actually tested this hypothesis by wearing my shoes all day. The shoes helped but I accomplish the same thing if I keep my feet off the rollers and in front of the chair.

So the remembrance of my foot discomfort provided a clue to the cause of my numb fingers. I decided to monitor my computer posture again. I’ve been spending some very long days in front of my personal confuser (PC). I get tired of proof reading so I rest my head in the palm of my hand and put my elbow on the edge of the desk. What a personal epiphany! As I looked down, I noticed the edge of the desk was putting pressure right on the area of my elbow where the nerves pass to my little finger. Could it be that simple? Yes. Why? Because I’ve been resting my elbow there for long periods and for many days.

As I write this blog I’m happy to report my fingers are slowly returning to normal and I don’t have to spend the big bucks on an EKG or trip to the circular sleep center (Cat Scan) where my claustrophobia would be worse than a nightmare in a dark and noisy cave.

Had my memory been better I should have recalled a phone conversation with my married daughter a few months ago about the numbness in her hand. We talked about spinal tumors and other delightful diseases. I gave her the same advice about watching her computer posture. A few days later she laughed about the revelation of her bad computer posture. Her hand has returned to normal.

So What Do We Learn?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Please give your aging body a break when you make it sit in front of a computer for countless hours. Get a good chair with lumbar support and a high back for those little impromptu cat naps we need to keep us sharp. The chair should be adjustable (up and down). Don’t eat in front of your computer like I do or you might ingest a computer virus from your keyboard. Take a break and go for a short walk each day or visit your back yard.

Remember, pain is the way your jealous body is getting even with you for spending some much time contorting yourself as you flirt and chat with your computer.

Just Love Those Passwords!

October 1, 2010

Password or Painword?

Selecting a password is about like choosing a name for a baby. When you finally have conjured up a password you can remember you’re informed someone else already has that password. So you try again and are rewarded by a red message indicating your password is “too weak.” So you try again, and again, and again. At some point I usually give up and decide the web site isn’t worth any more of my time or frustration trying to create a password like “yellowsparrow21.” I wonder, could there be a password like, “Ihate2UsePasswords.” You didn’t see that since I’m going to start using that password.

Password Paranoia

I’m paranoid about privacy so I don’t have the page “Remember Me.” That means I have to remember all my passwords. Since I now have a zillion passwords it can be a real test for me to associate which passwords goes with the web site I want to enter.

Forgot Password?

I’m an expert on the sign in option “forgot password?” I use this option all the time since it’s easier to do this than to keep a password list or use one of those password management programs. I also don’t want a list of passwords on my computer for a hacker to find.

Password Not Recognized – Please Try Again.

This morning I shot myself in the foot real good! I wanted to log into one of my e-mail management accounts to check some statistics. It was one of e-mails I allowed to remember my password. However, for some weird reason it wanted me to enter my password to get to the management section.

You guessed it. I couldn’t remember the password. So I tried about 20 of my recent passwords. Zing what a feeling – all the passwords were incorrect. So what’s a guy to do? A little dim light turned on in the foggy part of my with a newsflash. Use the “Forgot Password?” option.

I felt a little smug thinking I didn’t really need to keep a well organized password list, I’d just get a new password and then write it down where I could find it. So I smiled as I requested a new password for the e-mail account.

I became a little impatient as I checked my e-mail several times for the new password. So I closed the e-mail and restarted it so it would check for new mail more quickly. BIG MISTAKE!!! It wanted my new password. Earth to e-mail program – I DON’T HAVE A NEW PASSWORD YET!

I made several attempts to remember and enter the pesky little password. After about ten minutes I gave up and started going through my “organized” stack of papers. You probably have one just like it. It’s standard equipment to have a big stack of papers sitting right next to your computer chronologically organized for quick and easy access.

Take a Deep Breath But Don’t PASS(word) Out!

So I took a deep breath and decided it was time to organize and file each sheet of paper in the list. Each time I came across a post it note with a password, I tried it and it failed. I then realized the password would probably be toward the bottom of the list since it had been a while since I created this e-mail account.

Twenty minutes into my search, I finally found the paper with the right password. I got back in and checked my e-mail. Still no new password. By then I didn’t need another new password.

Later I checked my e-mail on my other computer and guess what? It had sent the new password stuff to that computer. Da! If I had used my brain I would have realized I’d been smart enough to set up the e-mail to send information to another e-mail account.

I opened the new password e-mail and luckily it had an option to cancel changing the password. Interesting. They must have put that option in for all those other dummies that can’t manage their passwords.

So What’s My Punishment?

I now have to file all those little stacks of paper I created sorting the big stack of papers.

What Did I Learn?

To be more organized and keep a printed and updated list of passwords in my “Password” notebook.


Oops! I used a password instead of my name! I guess I’ll have to change that password!

Click “Start” to “Stop” – – – Huh?

April 13, 2010

Turn off your computer with ONE click.

As a former speech pathologist and a human communication expert I’ve always been interested in word derivations and our inability to communicate simple things. The more we attempt to explain, the more complicated the answer. It’s no different trying to understand the logic and derivation behind computer processes, and the slang of the computer world – geek speak. For guys like me, ‘eek” speak would be more appropriate.

Here’s a fun technology flashback. Remember when the computer keyboard had a “Return” key? That was a throwback to the teletype machine and electric typewriter keyboard. “Return” was short for “Carriage Return.” It’s amusing that the first computer keyboards had a “Return” key. After several years the key was renamed “Enter.” However the key still has an icon that looks like the old “Return” icon.

 Another baffling computer mystery is why we have to click the “Start” button to “Stop” or turn off a computer. This sounds like contradiction of terms or the perfect example on an oxymoron. The term oxymoron comes from a man named Oxy who we all thought was a moron for making us click “Start” to “Stop” – a real Oxymoron. (just kidding).

 I hoped that Windows 7 would give me a “Stop” button and eliminate this oxymoron. They managed to come half way by removing the “Start” text from the button at the lower left of our displays. However, someone at Microsoft still can’t let “Start” die in dignity. If you put your mouse on the button “Start” still appears! So we could make a new word called Quazimoron for a process that has hidden contradictory terms by a man named Quasi that still works at Microsoft.

 How many the extra mouse clicks have I made in the fifteen year of shutting down Windows? Eventually some petty things really get under my skin! Today I decided I’ve had enough with the “Start” to “Stop” scenario.

 Please Note: If all this is a little over your head, trying pressing and releasing the power button on the first of your computer. Some computers are setup to automatically start the shutdown process if you click and release the button. Do not try this with the power button on the back your computer.

 I did a Google search for “Create shutdown shortcut.” I knew I was on the right track after typing “Create Shut” because Google filled in the rest – “Create shutdown Shortcut.”

 I did not test the following process on XP or Vista. This process is for Windows 7. However, I’m assuming the process will be very similar for Vista and XP.

 Here’s what I learned to do and it was easy. 

  1. Right Click on your desktop anywhere there are no icons.
  2. Click New > Shortcut
  3. Type in shutdown -S -t 0
  4. Click Next.
  5. Type in Shutdown or another word you like better such as Don’t Bug Me – Turn off!
  6. Click Finish.

 Congratulations! You now have a one button click Shutdown icon.

 The shortcut doesn’t look like something you’d click to shutdown. Here’s how to change the icon image:

  1.  Right on the Shutdown shortcut.
  2. Click Change Icon – I received an error message from Windows 7 telling me it contains no icons – do I really care? What else can I do but click OK. Duh – so click OK.
  3. Click on one of the icons you like.
  4. I selected the orange square with a white “I” ’cause it looks important (see image at the top of this blog)
  5. Click OK.
  6. Click Apply.
  7. Click OK.

 Caution: You should save your work and close down all your programs before using this shutdown process. Your computer will close down in about 1 minute and will not ask you to close programs that are still up and running. Translation – all the work and stuff you are doing in other programs will be lost unless you save your work and close the programs before clicking your new Shutdown Icon.

 I have not had any problems using this shutdown process. I cannot guarantee what will happen if you create and run the process outlined above. I’m sure that makes us both feel much better!

 Close your other programs and then test your new “One button click shutdown.”

 You can also drag and “Pin” the new icon to your taskbar in Windows 7.

 Start to Stop – not on my computer!!

Free Family History Tips and Suggestions


Are Your Photos Overwhelming You?

April 12, 2010

Photo Management Suggestions

During the past fifteen years I’ve struggled with many strategies to preserve, organize and manage photos. I have many different types and sizes of photos including slides and newspaper clippings.

The photo at the left is one of many photos in my Olsen family photo collection. This photo represents an avoidable tragedy. The photo was taken about 1900 in Norway. These two beautiful young ladies are probably relatives. Unfortunately we may never know their names, where they lived and how they were related, No one took the time to write any information on the back of the photo. Hopefully I may find a relative who has the same photo with information.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about working with photos:

  1. Scan and save only the best quality photos. No one will be interested in looking at poor quality photos unless a photo is ‘one of kind.’ Refer to my blog about scanning recommendations so you don’t waste time creating poor quality scans. More scanning information can be accessed by clicking this link.
  2. Eliminate duplicate photos. Pick and save the best photo when you have several similar photos.
  3. Photos without descriptive information are worthless. Sorry to be so blunt. Few people enjoy looking at meaningless photos. Click this link for more information.
  4. DO NOT copy photos into your computer without a plan. You will discover it’s easier to find photos in boxes than disorganized folders on your computer. See the next suggestion.
  5. Avoid organizing photos by names and dates. Maintain the context in which photos were taken when copying photos into folders. Use topical names for folder or collection names such as the occasion when photos were taken. For example, you take photos on a picnic or hike. Put all the photos taken during the picnic or hike into a folder named “Dry Canyon Hike” because that is the location where the hike occurred. For a graduation you might name the photo folder “Nathan Graduation 2009.” Photos of my great grandfather’s rock home are in a collection called, “Carl Steen’s Rock Home.” More information may be found by clicking this link.
  6. Do not break up photo albums. Scan photos into categories (folders) similar to the pages in the album. This will maintain the organization that was used to create the album. For example, you may discover the photos on an album page were all cousins. Studying the photo grouping of album pages and sections may reveal other hidden information.
  7. Add oral narrative and stories to photos. Next time you visit your grandparents ask to see their photo album. Be prepared to hear fascinating stories of their history that you’ve never heard. Don’t forget to ask about how they met, courted, and married. Old photos were expensive and usually taken for a reason, Your challenge is to discover the story hidden in each photo. Record the stories and information with a tape recorder or digital voice recorder. Associating oral narrative with a photo is priceless, enhances meaning and really brings a photo back to life. 
  8. Keep Information within the photo file. Use a computer software program to embed (store) descriptive text information and dates in the computer photo file. Learn more about “Photo & Information Survivability by clicking this newsletter link.
  9. Improve your digital camera skills. Learn to take better quality photos. For more information, click this newsletter link. Digital Photography in Family History.
  10. Avoid scanning promotions. If someone comes to your door and offers to scan and preserve all your photos – Smile and then RUN! All you will end up with is several DVDs and a big bill. Your photos will be preserved but without any of the descriptive information that makes the photo meaningful and valuable. There is still hope if you copy the images from the DVDs and use another program such as Heritage Collector to add photo captions and identify the people in the photos. Make new DVD archives of the photos and information. Note: Having someone scan and enhance your photos maybe helpful and save time if you do not want to scan your photos. Sort photos into groups so you will have some general photo organization when you receive the DVD photo collections.

More information links about photos

Old Shoebox Newsletter 

Photo Identification Suggestions

Scanning Tutorial

Photo Management Software

Writing a History – Tips and Mistakes

April 10, 2010

Start Simple!

Over the years I’ve helped many people compile, format, print and bind a Family History. The process can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience or it can be a costly and frustrating nightmare. This blog will focus on a few things to make it positive and rewarding experience. I will discuss mistakes and things to avoid and offer a few tips from “Create a History.”


Mistakes and Things to Avoid and What to Do (Tips)

Mistake: Save time by trying to do it all at once. (Causes a lot of stress and frustration).

Tip: Relax and start writing your history. Write the most important and humorous stories first. Don’t worry about formatting or inserting photos. Do that later. Creating small chapters (documents) will make it easier to manage.

Mistake: Trying to stretch or enlarge a photo when inserting it into the document. (Photos will look awful – blocky and pixelated).

Tip: Scan ALL photos resizing them to 8”x10” @ 150 – 350 DPI. Resize (shrink) photos later when inserting them into the document.

Mistake: Most of the popular word processing programs do not really lock or anchor photos in the document. Photos just appear to be locked or anchored in the document. Later you may find some photos have moved around in the final PDF. The problem with moving photos continues to be a serious and frustrating limitation in most programs.You may not discover this maddening inconsistency until AFTER you make a PDF. A Portable Document File (PDF) is required for printing. You can find more information about a PDF by doing a Google search on “PDF.”

Tip: Use OpenOffice.org (OOo) to format and prepare your book for printing. OpenOffice.org is registered trademark of OpenOffice.org and a freeware program.

Mistake: Editing your drafts starting with the first page is a big mistake. (All the text will ‘bump’ down through the entire document causing you to proofread the entire document again to make edits.

Tip: Edit your draft starting at the last page and work toward the first page.

 Mistake: Cramming too much text onto a page trying to reduce the number of pages. Small margins look even worse when the book is trimmed. Top, bottom and side pages are cut down before a book is bound.

Tip: Use the standard ‘Mirror’ margins settings recommended in OOo. A mirror margin formats the text for printing on both sides of the page. It also prevents the text from going too far down into binding (middle of the book) making it difficult to read the beginning or end of a sentence.

Mistake: Trying to get a “ballpark” printing cost estimate before knowing how many pages the book will contain and the number of copies to be printed. Your printer is not a mind reader and cannot divine cost without a page and book count.

Circulate your first draft among a few relatives to get their response. Take your first complete draft to your printer to get your first cost estimate. Survey relatives and friends to see if they are interested paying for a copy. You can then get a final cost estimate. Collect money BEFORE having the book printed.

 Mistake: Thinking your book can be printed from the documents you create using your word processing program. Printers require books to come to them in PDF format. You may also have a problem if you have used special fonts in your book. It’s impossible for a printer to have all the millions of fonts. Typically the fonts the printer does not have are substituted with the ugly Currier font which is very noticeable and appears unprofessional.

OOo will automatically create a PDF of your book. Use the setting to embed fonts in the PDF. Embedding the fonts will save (embed) the special fonts you’ve used in your book in the PDF so the correct fonts will be used to print your book.

Mistake: Your book will never be perfect. You will miss a few errors and misspelled names in the final draft no matter how many times it is proofed – trust me.

Create a preface or forward indicating you have tried to make the book as perfect as possible but you know there may be a few inadvertent mistakes. Consider using the following poem.


No book is entirely perfect

For errors will creep in;

Sometimes wrong information sent

Is what commits the sin.

And even printers make mistakes

For which they tear their hair;

Sometimes two people disagree

On who or when or where.

It might have been the person

Who wrote the history.

It might have been the typist,

Or blame can fall on me.

So, if you’re dead before you’re born,

Or married when you’re three,

Or I’ve omitted anyone

Who sent themselves to me,

Or your last name is not your own,

You’re picture’s not too good;

I ask you, “Please forgive the crime!

I did the best I could!”

 Author Unknown

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Start writing, even with a pen or pencil or record your narrative. Get the important parts of your history documented so your children and grandchildren will have the chance to know you better and benefit from your experience and wisdom.

Unfortunately there is not enough space in a blog to offer more detailed information. Please refer to my new “Create a History” for additional help and information.

Finding a Needle in the Haystack

February 19, 2010

Is a Cemetery Really a Big Haystack?

The following definition of finding a needle in a haystack summarizes my recent trip to a cemetery.   

 “If trying to find something is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it means that it is very difficult, if not impossible to find among everything around it.” from UsingEnglish.com   

Last September my cousin passed away. I attended the funeral and graveside service. I returned to the cemetery in November to get a photo of the marker and the exact GPS coordinates. I knew his grave would be easy to find because it was located between the road and a fence in the north corner of the cemetery. There was a large tree not far from the grave to use as reference point. Unfortunately I was not successful finding his grave and assumed the headstone still needed to be placed.   

In January I decided to try again but a foot of snow now covered all the graves. This cemetery requires all markers to be flat and flush with the ground so I’d have to wait until the snow melted.   

Most of the snow was gone in February so I made another trip to the cemetery. I took my oldest son along so I’d have a second pair of eyes to make it easier to find the grave. We stopped near the big tree and walked about fifty feet toward the fence which should have put us right over the grave.   

I didn’t see the grave nearby so I enlarged my search to about a fifteen foot radius. Still no grave. I verified I was in line with the big tree near the road so I should be in the right area. I wondered if they were waiting for the ground to settle before placing the stone.   

Which tree?

I used the wrong tree as a reference point.


I decided not to give up but to widen my search area. A cold wind was blowing as I searched causing the hand holding my big camera to start hurting. I looked back at the tree and decided I was aligned with the wrong tree! I walked about another fifty feet down and started reading more markers. Still no success and my hand was almost numb.   

Finally I had success. I told my son it was frustrating it took so long to find the grave since I was there for the burial only a few months ago.   

This personal experience reinforces the importance of having GPS coordinates for burial sites. Using trees and other landmarks is not dependable since cemetery topography changes our memory fades of the exact location. It would have been more difficult if my cousin had been buried in another part of the cemetery where there are fewer trees and his grave would been partially covered by snow.  

Take photo of GPS device and the grave

Take photo of GPS device and the grave


Take Photos and Get GPS Coordinates

Use a Garmin Nuvi, car GPS navigator, cell phone or a dedicated GPS device to display and record coordinates at the cemetery. 


How to Save GPS Coordinates For a Grave

  1. Take a photo of the grave marker.
  2. Display the coordinates screen on your GPS device. To get coordinates on a Garmin Nuvi: Touch “Where To?” → press the down arrow on the right side of the screen → select “Coordinates.” The coordinates display will appear showing your location.
  3. Place your GPS directly on the marker or hold your GPS and stand near the grave.
  4. Position the GPS device (place it near your body and turn your back to the sun to eliminate glare).
  5. Take photo of GPS device.
  6. Preview the photo to make certain you can read the GPS coordinates.
  7. Import photos of graves and GPS coordinate photos into your computer.

Saving Photos and GPS Coordinates for Future Reference

I returned home and imported my cemetery photos into Heritage Collector. Next I displayed the photo of the Garmin coordinate screen, typed in coordinates and then used the cut/paste option to put the GPS coordinates into the photo of the grave.   

I was concerned the GPS coordinates and photo of the grave may be lost or become unassociated with the photo of the grave. I used the new Embed Information option to put the photo caption, date, and GPS coordinates into the IPTC portion of each image file. That way the important information will always remain with the photo file for future reference. Now it’s possible for ALL information to stay embedded in the IPTC portion of the image file.   

Printing a Cemetery Map With GPS Coordinates

The last step was to go into the Heritage Collector’s GPS Track module and create screen captures of the cemetery map at different satellite magnifications (elevations) to make it easier for family members to find my cousin’s grave – even if the cemetery is covered by snow and the old trees are gone. 

A GPS Map makes it easier to find the cemetery and grave

A Family Reunion Treasure Hunt – “A Fun For All”

February 5, 2010

Searching For Treasure and Sharing Stories – A Perfect Combination

An adventure guaranteed  to capture the attention and the imagination of ALL ages.

Many years ago (more than I care to count) when I was in high school, we’d take turns hosting a Friday night party. We’d divide up into teams and write some fun clues. Next we would spend an hour hiding the clues around town. We’d spend a couple of hours engaged in the challenge of a timed treasure hunt.

I remember our team getting one very difficult clue that was almost impossible to retrieve. The clue had been secured to the minute hand of a large lighted clock on a billboard facing a very busy highway. Climbing up the ladder to the clock face was easy but embarrassing because everyone traveling on the busy highway could see us standing there waving a broom around in front of the clock.  We hoped we’d be able get the clue down before the cops arrived. 

The problem was the clue was placed on the minute hand at about 8:30 PM. We arrived at 9:00 PM when the hand was straight up. So we had to wait until 9:15 PM and had to acquire the assistance of a broom to “wipe” off the clue from the minute hand.  Our treasure hunts were some of our favorite party activities.

Let’s morph the key elements of  my high school treasure hunt into a family history treasure hunt. Here are a few of the positive things you will accomplish with the tried and proven activity from our past:

  • Divide up into teams – a great way to mix everyone up so they have to get to know each other.
  • Provide a challenging competition to keep things interesting and motivating.
  • Each clue leads to a family history site – farm, home, country store, swimin’ pond, grandpa’s secret fishing hole, or other locations with a historical significance to the family.
  • Continue the challenge by hiding clues at the desired location in an old can or other rustic hiding place.
  • Station one of the older relatives at each clue site to share a “live” rendition of a family history event or story that occurred there.
  • Honor older relatives by allowing them to participate and get to know the younger generation as they share stories and experiences at each clue site.
  • Make family history real and tangible by visiting actual locations.
  • Encrypt each clue so it incorporates an aspect of family history that adds some interest, mystery, intrigue or humor.
  • Use old maps, GPS coordinates and /or car navigation systems to add a challenge that involves the assistance of the technology geeks (teenagers).
  • Provide some nice prizes since everyone should win something with a “reunion” significance.

I can’t think of a better way to help everyone become better acquainted with their past family heritage and living relatives.

Please make sure the captain of each team is an adult and/or  responsible driver.

Refer to my free newsletters for more information about using a global Positioning System (GPS).

You can do this! There’s no need to stress if you are not technology savvy. Enlist the help of the younger generation. Their involvement and support will assure the success of this fun activity for all ages.

Do a Google search of the word “Geocache” for more information about high technology treasure hunts.  

Heritage Collector Pro software can assist you with the printing of maps and help with GPS coordinates.

 Let’s all have some fun and go on a treasure hunt at the next family reunion!