27 November 2012

VHS Conversion Success!

     In my last post, I wrote about becoming inspired over Thanksgiving to convert our family's old VHS home movies to digital format.  I had ordered some software and was waiting for it to arrive.  Well, it did arrive and I did convert one of those VHS tapes!

     I had ordered a software and cable combo from Roxio called Easy VHS to DVD for Mac.  I'd done some research and read numerous reviews before making this purchase.  There are a number of options out there, and this is one of the best reviewed for Mac.  And as the title suggests, it was relatively easy to use.

     I installed the software in seconds, but ran into a little trouble when connecting the cables.  I plugged the cables that came with the software into the audio cables that I normally use to connect my DVD player to my TV. I then connected one end of the cables to my computer and the other end to my VHS/TV combo. Nothing happened. I then went to use my parents stand alone VHS/DVD player and plugged the audio cables into the front plugs. Nothing happened. My mom then suggested unplugging the VHS/DVD player from the TV and plugging my cables into the connections in the back. Success!

     Once the cables were hooked up correctly, I was able to see and hear the VHS tape on my laptop as it played in the VCR.  All I had to do was hit "record" in the software and "stop" when the tape was over. Easy! The software then saved a copy and sent another copy directly to iMovie.  The quality of the resulting digital copy is good, but not great. The images are sometimes jumpy during fast movement, but I'm pretty happy with the results, especially considering how easy it was to create.

     This home movie focuses on me, my sister and two cousins playing on a swing set, a sand box, with some pets and then ultimately catching lightning bugs.  There's a lot of random stuff in here and a lot of unintelligible 6 and 4 year old chatter. I decided to save an original raw copy and then created an edited version with "the good stuff." I then uploaded a medium quality copy to YouTube and will be making copies on DVD for the family.

     Here's the final video, hope you enjoy:

25 November 2012

Thanksgiving Inspiration

     For Thanksgiving my mom and I visited with my Aunt June (Albea) and cousin, Miranda. After dinner we watched some old home movies that my cousin had brought over. A little backstory: when we were kids my aunt had a camcorder; one of those big ones that recorded directly to VHS and you carried around on your shoulder. We often had sleepovers with our cousins and our aunt would record our antics.

      These movies hold an almost reverent position in our childhood memories. For example, when someone mentions the "Lightning Bug Video" you almost go ahead and start laughing at the thought of just watching the crazy stuff we got up to while trying to catch lightning bugs.  We all swear that if we sent this video to America's Funniest Home Videos, we'd win $10,000 easy.

     But this movie and others are trapped on VHS. I still have a VHS player, but many people don't.  Give it another few years and I might not have one either. I need to get these videos digitized so that they can be watched in the future (and preserved in multiple copies).

     I had tried simply playing the movies on the TV and recording them with a camera but, aside from being a last resort, this simply isn't good enough. So I did some searching and found some software from Roxio called Easy VHS to DVD for Mac. I ordered it from Amazon for $52.99.  In a day or two I should have the software and cables and hopefully can start transferring the old home movies to digital format.

     I'll give an update on my progress then, but until I can get started I'll leave you with a 15 second clip from the "Lightning Bug Video" that I recorded on my phone.

20 November 2012

Baker Times Three

     For the past week, I have been acting on some of the ideas I learned at the recent Georgia Family History Expo.  I found that one idea built upon another and gave me a better understanding of one of my family lines. 

     While writing up a short pamphlet about my Albea family for the next get together, I realized that I was missing a few details.  I did some more research on the family, but wasn't sure if I had the correct census records (does everyone really have to go by initials?) I decided to create a mind-map of the family to better see the naming patterns. Starting this mind map, I found yet more holes in my tree and did some additional research to fill it in.

     When I finally finished my mind-map, I saw some very distinct naming patterns. You can click below to see a larger image. I had so many different colors that I used a basic white bubble, with light gray letters for non-duplicate names.  I have children recorded for six of Thomas and Rachel Albea's kids. Of those six, four named their sons Thomas. Can you imagine having three (at minimum) cousins who shared your name? And I saw three men named Baker. I thought it an unusual name, that really tied the Johnson family into the Albea family.

12 November 2012

Family Tree DNA Year-End Sale

     Just as Family Tree DNA ended its 8th Annual Conference, they announced the start of their annual Year-End Sale.  These are some good prices and are available to everyone through December 31st. You don't have to do anything special; there is no code. Simply visit ftdna.com, pick out your test and you'll see that it's on sale.

     As I mentioned in my post about AncestryDNA's new autosomal DNA test, I feel that ftDNA offers a superior product. Currently, the autosomal Family Finder test is $199, the same price as Ancestry.com's non-subscriber price. FtDNA offers you a ton more features that will help you find relatives and allow you to use third party websites to delve deeper into your ethnic analysis.  If you were thinking about getting a DNA test from Ancestry, I highly recommend your purchase from ftDNA instead.

11 November 2012

The 2012 Georgia Family History Expo, Day 2

     I was very excited for the second day of the Georgia Family History Expo and woke up way too early.  The day started at 9am with an hour to visit the vendors.  I bought four books and a CD from three different vendors, then stopped by the Ask-The-Pros table to get some advice on researching my Waters family brick wall.
  • The first class:  Records of the War of 1812 by Robert Davis. It's interesting to watch him speak. He doesn't have any visuals or notes, but simply talks. He's very entertaining and amusing and obviously knows a lot about history.  I found out that there are a lot of records regarding the War of 1812, but they are scattered. Some are online and some haven't even been microfilmed! As with any war, pensions are a great place to start. Also, land grants can provide information on soldiers and their families.
  • The second class: Thinking Outside of the Box by Drusilla Pair.  Dru had some great ideas for creative ways to share family history with family or in your community. I have a gift idea for my mom for Christmas and also ideas on how to better share my family history at family gatherings. Many of my relatives are interested in what I've found, though they don't necessarily care about the minute details. I think I'm going to write a small booklet about the Albea family to hand out. This will also serve as a template for eventually creating an actual book. A small step that leads toward a bigger step. I was also really inspired by what Dru has done with youth groups in her local churches to help inspire a passion for family history.
  • Next up was lunch. We decided to take a long lunch, skip the next class and visit the vendors some more. I chatted with many of the vendors, some of whom had been to previous expos, others who were there for the first time. There's always something to tempt your wallet.  Here's my book haul:
  • Final Class: this last class was a panel discussion with Paul Adjei and Bernie Gracy, discussing the importance of Oral history. It was really interesting to hear about the methods being used to record the oral histories that have been passed down for generations in Ghana. They've recorded over 1.5 million names into family trees. This segued nicely into Bernie Gracy's project to help record history with a geographical emphasis.  It was less a class than a discussion, but was still very interesting.
  • The final event was the closing session and door prizes. I didn't win anything, but a few lucky winners did win Ancestry.com subscriptions and a stay at the Plaza Hotel in Salt Lake City. 
     I can't say enough how great these Family History Expos are. Every time I go to one I come away with new ideas and inspiration. It's taken me hours to write this blog post because I keep breaking away to start working on something new.  It's also great to meet new people and see familiar faces. I was honored to be asked to be an Official Blogger and enjoyed spending time with the other bloggers. I'm sad that the 2012 Expo is over, but am looking forward to next year. I hope to see you there!

Dru, Me, Tonia, Linda

09 November 2012

The 2012 Georgia Family History Expo, Day 1

     I just got home from day one of the 2012 Georgia Family History Expo. It was a great day!  Like the last two years, the event was held at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth Georgia (only 10 minutes from home!).  I attended as a Blogger of Honor and have been tweeting throughout the event (@ValerieC84).  Here's a rundown of day one:

  • I arrived early and checked in and met up with Linda, Tonia, Dru, Stephanie and Christa. 
  • One of the ladies there with Ask-the-Pros had roots in Elbert County. Her (I think) Uncle married a Craft. I'll have to meet up with her again tomorrow - we're probably cousins of some sort.
  • The Keynote Speech was by the ever entertaining Robert S Davis. He survived the lights fading up and down twice and his mic going dead. What a trooper!
  • First Class: Georgia Land, Maps and Technology by Jennifer Dondero. She gave a lot of great places to find Georgia Maps, some of which I knew, others that I did not. I've used the Georgia Archives' Virtual Vault many times, but after this class I realized that I hadn't even scratched the surface of their Map collection! She also gave tips on using Google Earth that will be very useful.
  • Second Class: Recording, Preserving, & Sharing Your Family's Oral History by Harvey Baker. This class was something of an introduction to the website, SavingMemoriesForever.com. I'd heard about this site/app before, but never really looked into it. It looks like just the thing I need to organize my audio files.  
    • He also gave a lot of tips on why you should use audio to record your family's history. 
      • Consider this: sometimes folks don't want their photo taken, so they certainly don't want you to record a video of them. However, with audio it doesn't matter how they're dressed or if they have a food stain on their shirt from the family reunion picnic. 
      • Also think about audio files. They are almost always MP3. What about your video files? The formats vary and are often changing. You can convert them, or you can stick with audio.
      • Video is often distracting. Not only are your subjects self conscious, but your viewers might get distracted by the visuals and miss out on the actual content.
  • Lunch Break. Mom had picked up some brochures from the Gwinnett Visitor's booth in the expo hall and we had a discounted Chick-fil-A dinner!
  • Third Class: "Non-Genealogy" Tools to Help Your Family History Research by Tonia Kendrick.   Boy did I learn a lot! Tonia introduced me to mind-maps and helped me figure out how to better use spreadsheets in my genealogy research. I'd tried some before with little success, but I'm going to try again. She mentioned a website called CensusTools.com that I've just got to check out. She also gave a brief intro to Evernote and OneNote that had me experimenting during the class. She also promised to put up copies of her FAN Club and Research Log spreadsheets on her blog.
  • Fourth Class: Crossing the Great Divide: Little Known Federal Sources for Place of Birth before 1850 by Robert S Davis.  This class was just chock full of helpful information on finding information in places you've never heard of. He also explained why the information is there; the original purpose of the record. It was a bit complex, but he explained it well and I have new places to look for my ancestors.
  • I bought a book from the Georgia Genealogical Society, "Georgia Research: a Handbook for Genealogists, Historians, Archivists, Lawyers, Librarians, and Other Researchers," by Robert S Davis and Ted O Brooke.
  • I talked to the gentleman at the booth for GenealogyWallCharts.com. They have some great conference prices and I'm planning to take a Gedcom file tomorrow and see about buying a (few?) chart(s).
     Today was over much too quickly and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. If you didn't attend today, and you are in the area, I recommend you attend tomorrow. The first class is at 10am and a one day registration is $60. 

Me, Mom, my sister, Sarah

Your Ancestors Can Help Fight Cancer

     Did you know it was Movember? It's the month dedicated to growing mustaches, fighting cancer and raising awareness about men's health.  So how are your ancestors involved? Odds are some of your male ancestors sported a mustache. If you've got a photo of them, you can upload it to the Hairy Machestors Facebook page. For every photo of a mustache sporting ancestor (no beards allowed), Inside History Magazine will donate 50¢. Add a photo of yourself next to your ancestor and they'll donate $1.

     So far I've uploaded this photo of David J Witt and his wife, Alice.  I'll have to look through the rest of my photos and upload others that I find (I think there might be a five photo limit).

08 November 2012

Small Changes with AncestryDNA

     It looks like Ancestry.com has started to make updates to their AncestryDNA layout. Take a look:

     They've rearranged some things, changed how they compare your ethnicity with your match and added a notes section.

  • Moving the star, read/unread dot and trashcan don't really do anything except create space. 
  • The changes to how your match's ethnicity is shown on the match page is a bit strange. I found the comparison confusing before, but this new view is only a little better. It might just take getting used to. 
  • The biggest change is the ability to make notes about your match. This is really well done and is reflected with a "note" icon on your match list page.  

     This is a really good sign that Ancestry does intend to make their service more user friendly and will be adding features. I hope we get a search feature soon! I'd also like to see more icons added to the match list page, such as a leaf to indicate that there is a suggested ancestor hint.

07 November 2012

Windows to the Past

     Today, my mom and I drove to South Carolina (Greenwood, Edgefield and Aiken Counties) to visit cemeteries.  We don't just learn dates and burial locations when we do this, we also get a snapshot of their world as we travel through their community.

     This is especially true in the church cemeteries, where we can see the churches that they worshiped at. I snapped this photo of my mom, peaking into the window of Bethel Methodist Church in Callison, South Carolina.  Gazing into the church in which generations of my ancestors worshiped is somewhat surreal and rather powerful.

06 November 2012

Happy Election Day

     No matter who you are, your family tree is full of people who weren't allowed to vote. Celebrate your rights as a citizen and go out and VOTE!

05 November 2012

Using WikiTree: The How and The Why

     There are a lot of different websites you can use to build your family tree. Many of them offer features that allow you to collaborate with others, such as WikiTree.com.  The whole point of this genealogy website is to work together to build one giant family tree.

     I don't know about you, but I can feel a bit possessive of my family tree. Not possessive of the information - I love to share! - but possessive of control.  So it took me a minute to get used to the idea of WikiTree. The first time another user edited one of the pages I'd created, I was a bit miffed - who edited my ancestor? Oh yeah, someone else who is also a descendant of that ancestor.  The whole point of WikiTree is to take advantage of the fact that your ancestors had many descendants and that those descendants can work together to build a family tree.

     So how does WikiTree actually work?

     WikiTree works much like the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  The concept allows many users to edit a website in conjunction with each other, in order to create a resource of value to everyone.

     WikiTree is pretty easy to use, with fill-in-the-blank forms for names, dates and relationships. There's also an area for more free-form information such as biographies and sources.  You are also encouraged to upload photos and even create pages for places or things that relate to your ancestor. For example, I created a profile page for my Great-Great Grandmother's Bible.

     To get started at WikiTree, you first create your account. In doing so, you are also creating a page for yourself in the family tree. Don't worry! The default privacy setting for any living person's profile page is "Private."

     Once you have your account set up, you can then start adding to your family tree.  There are a few ways to do so.   

  • Adding one profile at a time, starting with yourself. This is the slowest method, but it is the most thorough and the best way to learn how the wiki concept works. 
  • Find an existing relative on WikiTree and add your branch of the family. Depending on the privacy level of this individual, you might need to request to be added to the "Trusted List" first (more on this below).
  • Upload your Gedcom.  Although this is a valid method, it's the one I recommend least.  With the wiki format, you'll probably want to go through and edit and adjust each profile. Also, you don't want to accidentally duplicate ancestors that might already be in WikiTree. If you do upload a Gedcom, I recommend a small one, maybe back to your Great-Grandparents, to get you started.
     When adding your own family tree you might come across one of your ancestors that is already in the tree.  If this happens, you should NOT recreate this ancestor with your own account. Rather, you should edit the listing that already exists.  Perhaps you have more information on this ancestor: dates, placed, documents, photos, ancestors, descendants.  Add these to this profile - but remember to cite your sources!

     However, your ability to edit the profile will depend on the privacy setting of your ancestor. WikiTree has a wide variety of privacy settings, designed to protect your privacy. However, for deceased, and especially long deceased, ancestors, WikiTree encourages folks to "use the most liberal setting possible."  If you come across a profile that you want to edit, but are prevented from doing so due to the privacy settings, there are still options. Click on the link to "Request to join the Trusted List" and send a message to the other user to created the profile. This is probably your cousin! Introduce yourself and start collaborating!

     If you don't feel quite up to editing the profile yourself, you can always use the features at the bottom of the page to leave comments on the page or on a message board. 

     There's a lot going on at WikiTree, more than I can really get into here. I recommend that you check out the site yourself to discover all there is.  But there's one more thing I want to mention: the biggest reason why you should use WikiTree: cousin bait. 

     "Cousin Bait" is the concept of putting information about your ancestors out on the web to attract the attention of other descendants. You hope that they will contact you and hopefully provide new information.  In my years doing genealogy, I've had the most success thanks to WikiTree.  One cousin who contacted me emailed me copies of a Bible record and snail-mailed me actual original photos of my Great-Grandfather as a young man (the only photos I had of him were from his 40s or older).

     When you do a google search for an ancestor, their WikiTree profile (if one exists), will likely be at the top of the search results and at minimum on the first page of results.  If others are out there searching for your ancestors, they will find your WikiTree profiles via a google search. Who can say no to that?

     Using WikiTree does take some work. It might be a new concept to you, and there might be a learning curve. But if you give it a chance and put some effort into it, I bet you'll get a lot out of it.


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