How to Read and Find Ebooks

Books - Genealogy Books for Sale on Rack - photo by Lorelle VanFossen

As an avid ebook and audio book reader, I’m often asked about ebooks. The question of how to read and find ebooks is more complex than it sounds. For me, it is combination of the following questions:

  1. What device should I use to read ebooks?
  2. If I find an ebook online, how to I read it in an ebook reader?
  3. Where do I find ebooks online (free and paid)?

Let’s take these one by one.

What device should you use to read ebooks?

In the good old early days of ebooks, there weren’t many choices. You either used a proprietary ebook reader device, or read them in a web browser. Today we have choices, so which should you choose?

Books - Ebooks - Kindle Library on Smartphone - photo by Lorelle VanFossen

As with most personal use items, you choose the system that works for you and your needs.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, start there. If you are an Amazon user, install the Kindle app and begin the process of searching and buying books and magazines. There are over a million titles to choose from with new ones coming out every day, and many magazines, including family history and genealogy magazines, you can subscribe to and read on Kindle apps and devices. Kindle can also read PDF, DOC, HTML, MOBI, and TEXT files by simply opening the file on your device from within Kindle’s app, or you can email files to your Kindle Library using a unique email set up by Amazon Kindle. Today’s apps make the process simple and easy – a little too easy for my pocketbook.

If you are a serious reader, then consider the Kindle Unlimited book program. For USD $9.99 a month you can read as much as you wish from among the more than a million titles and audiobooks on the Kindle Unlimited program. You can check out up to 9 books at any time and read them on any Kindle device or app.

Ebook Readers - Read Magazines in Kindle - Family Tree MagazineSome people prefer to have one device just for reading. There are small sized tablets (notes), Nook, and Kindle devices. While the Kindle devices have some added benefits such as read-out-loud included, I recommend that you invest in tablet as it offers more options and flexibility. Kindle’s app will install on just about every type of tablet or phone, even on your desktop computer.

If you are not a fan of Amazon, or wish to read on something not Kindle, there are many book reader apps to choose from. My favorites for Android are Aldiko Book Reader, Cool Reader, and Moon+ Reader. Remember, these ebook readers do not access nor read proprietary Amazon or Kindle books, only books either downloaded free or purchased elsewhere.

For reading on a PC or Mac, I like Calibre, a powerful ebook manager, reader, and file converter.

Check out the lists of recommended ebook readers on Lifehack, TechRadar, and Make Tech Easier’s recommendations for iOS.

Ebook Reader - Kindle - Research Like a Pro.Once you have chosen an ebook reader, set it up to match your needs. The more comfortable your reading environment, the more likely you are to use it.

As I get older, I prefer larger font sizes. Some people find reading serif fonts easier than sans serif or the other way around. I also prefer reading white text on a black screen.

When reading on Aldiko, Cool Reader, and Moon+Reader, I experiment with the settings for auto page turning and scrolling to match my reading speed.

Check with your ebook reader on how to customize your reading experience.

How to read an ebook file in an ebook reader?

You’ve downloaded an ebook file from one of the many free ebook sources I’ve listed below. Now what?

An ebook is a file that can be read by a computerized device such as an ebook reader, tablet, smartphone, computer, and web browser. The key to reading an ebook is matching the file type with the ebook reader.

The most common ebook file types are PDF, Daisy, Doc, EPUB, HTML (browser), MOBI, RTF, and TEXT, besides Kindle’s proprietary file formats. When you hunt for books online, match the file format with the ebook reader’s ability to read it. For example:

Ebook Reader File Formats
Aldiko PDF, TEXT, MOBI, HTML, RTF, FB2, PRC, ODT, DBR, CBZ, LIT (non-DRM book formats)

If a file isn’t in the right format for your ebook reader or device, Calibre and other tools are available online for converting ebook files from one format to another, except for copyright protected and proprietary files.

Check the following for more information on ebook reader readers and file formats.

Also, check out Kindlepreneur’s tips on how to get free ebooks legitimately. It takes a little tech savvy, but once set up, easy to reproduce.

Where to Find Ebooks to Read?

There are many free and paid ebook sources online.

For Kindle and Nook users, start with the store built right into your app or device. They list free and paid books as well as easy access to audiobooks.

For free books, here is a quick list to help you get started. Note, some sites require registration or offer a combination of free or paid books.

Some of the above sources of free and open source books include specific categories for genealogy such as the genealogy collection at, which includes Family Genealogy, New York Passenger and Crew Vessel Lists from 1897-1957, US Passport Applications from 1795-1905, and a variety of war records.

If you are seeking strictly genealogy books, start with Cyndi’s List of books, ebooks, and online books.

In 2015, FamilySearch announced they’d added their 200,000th book to their online collection called Working with the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library and other libraries and genealogical societies and libraries, the work of many volunteers continues. Today, you can find more than 350,000 digitized genealogy and family history books, collections, and publications from Allen County Public Library, American Fork Library, Arizona State Library, BYU, Houston Public Library, and more.

Here is a short list of other resources for books on genealogy and family history:

Don’t forget that your local library is a great starting point for finding free books, in print and via digital download or access through their apps. Check your library for specific instructions and guides.

Amazon’s Kindle Store includes tons of free books, but finding them is often a challenge. Family History Daily offers search tips to ensure you open those digital archives in Amazon in pursuit of free books.

LibriVox is a site offering free audiobooks, including classics and out-of-print books, easily listened to through any MP3 player app or audio book app.

Fairly regularly, I will be publishing posts on various public domain books and book sources for genealogy and family history research and studies. Stay tuned for updates!

On a person note: If you are a published author and you haven’t converted your book to an ebook or audiobook, so do now. Don’t wait. You are missing out on amazing sale opportunities. The decision to purchase a book today is often based upon availability of a digital and/or audio book as well as print. Many buy one of each format, including myself. This allows me to read the printed book in a comfortable space, take the ebook with me on the road to lighten the load, and listen while driving or doing something else. It’s a lifestyle.

Kindle’s CreateSpace makes it simple and easy, and the process and tools to shift the book from print to digital are free and easy to use. If you can use Microsoft Word or Pages, you can create a digital version of your book.

Taking Your Apps on the Road

Thumb and flash drives on key chain - Lorelle in the Past is a free site offering links to over 300 portable apps including freeware, software, mobile apps, and other platforms that allow you to take your work offline.

A portable app is a travel version, if you will, of a full-fledged application or software, or a version that allows you to work with files from a full-fledged application, either with full functionality or partial, such as Adobe PhotoShop files. These portable apps allow you to take your work or online project on the road by installing them in a synced cloud folder, on a local computer, or install them on a flash, thumb, or portable drive, and work offline.

Consider this situation. You arrive at an archive or library and are told that you cannot take your computer or smartphone into the special collections area where you wish to do your research. Even though you might be doing digital research, you must do it on their computers, not yours. With these portable applications, you can install them on a flash drive or on the cloud, if you have access, and run them without your laptop, taking notes, capturing screen shots, editing graphics, whatever you might need to do while there. Just plug your thumb drive into their computer after you log in, and your programs are waiting to help you work more efficiently, and in a familiar working environment.

In addition, there are many helpful, lightweight apps useful for those using what I call downsized or streamlined laptops like Chromebook or notebook laptops. When there isn’t much storage or power capabilities on the computer, and its key ability is to run applications on the web, these smaller apps work great whether installed on the notebook or on a thumb drive.

You may download the PortableApps software program that allows quick access to downloadable apps and programs, or use the website. With the software program you can easily keep your apps up to date and organize things with folders, favorites, and searches. The majority of these programs are free, but some may have a fee or timed testing use limit.

For genealogists, there are a variety of apps listed that may help you with your research efforts. I’m listing just a few that I think are useful, but your choices may vary depending upon your needs. Some of these may be familiar as you might be using their full versions.

To use these, either install the PortableApps software or download the individual files and follow the instructions to install them on a thumb drive, portable drive, or the cloud. This typically involves double clicking on the app file and ensuring the installation folder is on your portable destination. Label the thumb drive, or if you installed on the cloud, write a note to remind you of where they are and how to access them, and make sure these are with you on your next research adventure. is also available in multiple languages including English.

Tech Tools: Grandma’s Pie Chart

FamilySearch continues to offer and support a wide range of free and affordable genealogy apps. A simple but fun app is Grandma’s Pie, developed in BYU’s Family History Technology Lab and released in 2015. It is free, but does require FamilySearch account. You may upload a GEDCOM file or use your FamilySearch tree.

Grandma’s Pie is a novel name for the app that allows you to view your FamilySearch tree using various pie chart visuals. Also known as Pedigree Pie, the app requires you to authorize access to your FamilySearch account.

It begins by default with you and the geographic birth places of your grandparents, following a direct line up. As clear in my own tree, which is not as complete as it should be in FamilySearch, the majority of my recorded ancestors to 6x grandparents were born in the United States (83%).

Apps - Grandmas Pedigree Pie - FamilySearch Apps - Grandparents Generational View

You may change the starting person by using their FamilySearch Person ID number.

Switching to my favorite brickwall, Lula Bell Pinder, Grandma’s Pie chart shows her parentage as mostly Canada West. If I turn off “Extrapolate Unknowns,” as there are many, I see the gaps in my research on her part of the tree, mostly due to the brickwalls I’ve encountered.

Apps - Grandmas Pedigree Pie - FamilySearch Apps - Lula Bell Pinder - Grandparents Generational View

Click on one of the colored pie pieces to see who they represent. In this example, Lula Bell’s mother, Elizabeth Brunner is highlighted, helping you to see where people are on the chart and see who is missing.

Apps - Grandmas Pedigree Pie - FamilySearch Apps - Lula Bell Pinder mother Elizabeth Brunner - Grandparents Generational View

You then have the option to view that person in another pie chart or to visit their profile page on FamilySearch.

In an article on Grandma’s Pie by Jill R. Decker, the app shows countries up to seven generations. By turning the Extrapolating Unknowns, as I did above, it is easy to see where ancestors are and aren’t identified, and work needs to continue.

The app doesn’t do much else, and many online services offer such pie chart views with DNA results and other charting services, but FamilySearch doesn’t offer these. This app adds the fun visual functionality.

Whether to help you find the missing pieces of your genealogy research on FamilySearch or in a GEDCOM file exported from your genealogy program, or to provide a visual for friends and family or your website or social media, Grandma’s Pie is a fun additional to your tech toolbox.

Check out the other interesting and handy web apps and tools on FamilySearch.

Tech Tip: Save Web Page as PDF

Did you know you could save a web page like any document on your computer?

Records - Save Web Page As File Menu.In your web browser, when you click File > Save Page As to save a web page, the process generates an HTML file and an attached file folder containing the images and other code necessary to re-generate the web page in the web browser. This creates additional files you may not need, is confusing for some when they stumble upon this oddly named file and folder later, and isn’t very portable.

Let’s make this easier.

Save the web page as a PDF document instead.
Save Web Page As PDF - FamilySearch Shawano Wisconsin.

Save a Web Page as a PDF, the resulting PDF document of the Family Search Shawano County genealogy information.

Shawano County Wisconsin Genealogy Research Page – FamilySearch Wiki

On the web page you wish to save, click Print or Print Preview, or CTRL+P as the keyboard shortcut. NOTE: If using Print Preview, some browsers allow you to scale the printed result or make other modifications for a better printed version.

  1. In the Printer drop down menu, change to the default PDF printer.
    • For Windows switch to Microsoft Print to PDF.
    • In Mac, look for the PDF button in the lower left corner and click the pull-down menu and select Save as PDF.
  2. Click Print.
  3. A menu will pop-up asking you where to save the file. Put it where you can find it again, such as in a folder appropriate to the web page topic or your research.

This saves the entire web page as a single PDF document.

Print to PDF - Web Page with Record for Reference - Michigan Family History Network Schoolbook Records.

How to Save Existing Web Pages on Your Computer

The same technique works for web pages you’ve already saved to your computer that you would like to resave as PDF files, then deleting the original HTML file and folder of files to save space and better organize your filing system.

Records - Save Web Page As - File Results.

  1. Double click on the HTML file. It will load in your web browser.
  2. In the Printer drop down menu, change to the default PDF printer.
    • For Windows switch to Microsoft Print to PDF.
    • In Mac, look for the PDF button in the lower left corner and click the pull-down menu and select Save as PDF.
  3. Click Print.
  4. A menu will pop-up asking you where to save the file. Put it where you can find it again, such as in a folder appropriate to the web page topic or your research.
  5. Return to your file manager and delete the original HTML file. This will also delete the folder. If not, delete the folder manually after deleting the HTML file.

Records - Save Web Page As - Delete Web Page and Folder to delete after saving as a PDF..

Using this technique, I was able to save hundreds of megabytes of storage space on my hard drive, condensing all the HTML page attached files into a document and removing them. You will see similar results if you convert a couple decades of saved web pages to PDF document files.

And your organized family historian self will adore the cleaned up digital filing system.

Tech Tip: Renaming Files with File Preview

I love learning about family history research, attending as many conferences, genealogy society meetings, and workshops as possible every year, and speaking at a few as well. I love the incredible work and dedication that goes into many speakers’ handouts and class notes, basically giving us almost every word they say on the stage, allowing us to soak in their vast knowledge without the desperate nature of some note-taking efforts spend balancing a notepad or laptop on your lap.

Windows File Explorer - renaming files to organize them.

Unfortunately, many of the digital copies of these handouts come with odd names. RootsTech is notorious for this, bless their purple hearts. The digital files are named by the session number, day of the week of the session, then the speaker and, if we are lucky, a word or three of the title. If a presenter offers the same session multiple days, the class notes are the same, they are just labeled with a T, W, Th, F, or S for the day of week of the session. Same notes, different obscure file names. I delete the duplicates to save space. Some conferences offer digital handouts with the author last name and a squished abbreviation of the topic such as OYRA (Organizing Your Research Area). I have no idea what these things are, and after 10 speakers, or 50 at RootsTech, I’ve forgotten who said what when.

I shouldn’t blame conferences as many of these files are named by the presenters (please do a better job of it). I’m often perplexed by my own digital scans with photoscan873456.jpg or dcn42849567.jpg, or my own strange naming system from the past, Johnson Alex C-WI-GB-1964.jpg (Alex Johnson, cousin in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1964 – yeah, dumb idea).

What we need is an easier way to rename these files quickly and efficiently without spending time opening and closing programs.

Yes, I could do it in a graphics software program, but I’m sorting through all my files to better organize them like a good genealogist should.

What could be simpler than just using the File Preview feature right in your file management program.

Using File Preview in File Manager

Whatever your operating system, you have a native program that helps you dig through your computer’s hard drive, thumb and portable drives, to find and organize your files. Every file manager comes with the ability to preview files.

If the files are photographs, the file manager previews them as part of the View settings for large or extra-large images right in the file list window. If the files are documents, audio files, etc., all you see is the logo thumbnail for the file’s associated program. Not much help.

The Preview in Windows is under View > Preview Pane. Use the Quick Look option for Mac (or hit the spacebar) for a popup preview image.

File organization - using File Preview in File Manager (Explorer) to rename files quickly.

With a glance, you can see the contents of pdf files, images, and documents to help you quickly rename them without opening them in their appropriate programs.

Fast and easy. My favorite flavor.

Google Alerts for Family History Research

Google Alerts - Front Page Set up for Lorelle - Lorelle in the Past Lane.Google Alerts have been around since 2003 and serve as an excellent free method to uncover topics of interest on the web. Google Alerts are an ideal way of bringing the information on your family history research to you rather than you chasing after it.

Google Alerts are not searches as much as they are notices that there is a news item, blog post, or scientific research on your topic of interest. I’ve been using them since the beginning to track surnames in my family tree and topics related to family history, genealogy, genealogy technology, and other areas of interest.

Google Alerts is designed to email you automatically with a link list when news is found, daily, or in a weekly digest. It also includes the ability to create a feed of the alert results which you may add to your feed reader for easy updates.

To use Google Alerts, consider what you wish to track. Alerts for the family name “Anderson” will generate every news article about a criminal or sports player with the last name Anderson, every mention of towns and streets with Anderson in the name such as Andersonville – very overwhelming.

Google Alerts uses basic Boolean for search terms. “Anderson Wisconsin” will restrict the alerts to news items with both Anderson and Wisconsin in them, but might miss those with abbreviations for Wisconsin such as Wisc. and WI. The more specific you are, the more restrictive the search, and the more you may find or miss, and the less specific you are, the more likely you are to be inundated. Be patient and willing to experiment to find the right combination that works for your needs.

Using quote marks and plus and minus signs, you improve the results.

  • Andreas Anderson Wisconsin = mentions of all three words in the text.
  • “Andreas Anderson” +Wisconsin = mentions of Andreas Anderson near the word Wisconsin.
  • “Andreas Anderson” -Wisconsin = mentions of Andreas Anderson with no mention of Wisconsin.
  • “Andreas Anderson” -Wisconsin -Michigan -Florida = mentions of Andreas Anderson with no mention of Wisconsin, Michigan, or Florida.
  • “Andreas Anderson” +Wisconsin -Michigan -Florida = mentions of Andreas Anderson and Wisconsin with no mention of Michigan or Florida.
  • +Anderson +Wisconsin +baseball = mentions of Anderson, Wisconsin, and baseball on the CNN news site.
  • intitle:genealogy = mentions of “genealogy” only in the title of posts, irregardless of the use of the world within the content.
  • “family history” intitle:genealogy = mentions of “genealogy” only in the title of posts with “family history” in the content.
  • #genealogytips = mentions of the hashtag.
  • genealogy OR “family history” = mentions of either term.
  • genealogy OR “family history” +society -Wisconsin = mentions of either term with the word “society” but not “Wisconsin.”
  • Anderson type:image = mentions of “Anderson” associated with an image.

I work hard to find interesting archives, especially digital archives, for this site and my students and workshop participants, breaking the doors open on what’s available to help you learn more about your ancestors. Unfortunately, my Google Alert for “archives” is indeed overwhelming. Over the years I’ve honed it down. The current version is:

archives -“from the archives” -sport -football -baseball -teams -taxpayer -marvel -endometrial – endocrine -ovarian -“breast cancer” -“the bachelorette” -fortnite -overwatch -“grand theft auto” -“varicose veins” -football -soccer -hockey -cholesterol -“free concert” -“cancer claim”

Why? Because there are too many “from the archives” posts that have nothing to do with a physical or historical archive, too many mentions of sports archives, and other unrelated odds and ends that appear in my Google Alerts feed for “archives.” By eliminating as many of the distraction posts, I see more of what I want to see and report to my readers.

For more information on Google’s use of Boolean search operators, see Google’s Boolean Search Operators Guide.

How to Setup a Google Alert

Once you have an idea of how specific your Google Alert search term is, it’s time to set up your Google Alerts. It’s free, and you may have as many a you need.

  1. Sign into your Google Account and go to Google Alerts.
  2. Type in the search terms in the form for “Create an alert about…”
    Google Alerts - Search Results to Create an Alert for Genealogy Society - Lorelle in the Past Lane.
  3. The resulting page displays a sample of the results. If there are too few results, or the results don’t match your expectations, change the wording in your alert search term. If there are too many results, consider removing some using the minus in front of keywords.
  4. To create a Google Alert, click the Show Options link.Google Alerts - Alert customization options - Lorelle in the Past Lane.
    • Set how often you wish to recieve an email or have the feed updated.
    • If you wish to restrict your searches to a specific type of media such as the news, blogs only, video, images, books, etc., do so in the Sources section.
    • If you are seeking language specific content, switch to that language.
    • If you would like to restrict the information found to a specific geographical region, you can select that option to reduce the incoming results.
    • The How many option is confusing. They options are “Only the best results” or “All results.” The latter gives you everything found. If you are working with a fairly specific and restrictive set of terms, this might be your best option. Otherwise, consider selecting the best results as Google Alerts may analyze the relevance of the content to match your search terms, thus improving the results.
    • Deliver to sets the Google alert process for delivery of the information via email or feed. If you would like both, you will need to create two alerts with the same terms, but different options for delivery.
  5. When ready, click Create Alert.
    • If the alert will be delivered to your email, it may arrive shortly or within 24 hours, as news is available. Check your spam filters to ensure you whitelist these emails, or set up a filter to send them to a specific folder.
    • If the alert will be delivered via RSS feed, copy the link from the feed logo (curved fan) and add it to your feed reader.
      Google Alerts - My Alerts - Feed links - Edit - Trash buttons - Lorelle in the Past Lane
  6. If you wish to customize your Google Alert results, click the pencil to edit.

Not all of the results will be of interest to you. Review the titles and the excerpts to see if they apply to your research, and if they do, click the link to open the web page. If they don’t apply to you, simply delete the email.

Below is a comparison of the Google Alert created for “genealogy society.” On the left is what it looks like in Google Alerts as a preview of your search request. On the right is what the results look like in my Inoreader feed reader on the desktop.

For more information and tips on using Google Alerts:

What Inspires Me

Pinder Lula Bell and son Howard West c1904.I pick up my phone early in the morning to begin the process of sifting through the news feeds for the latest in genealogy, family history, historical archives, and technology, and I’m inspired.

A news article catches my eye on the ease of web indexing with new technology, making it easier than ever for volunteers to use the web, a laptop, tablet, or even their smartphone to assist with indexing records on FamilySearch, and I’m inspired.

A photograph in the hallway is of my great-grandmother holding my grandfather, the only picture we have of her, and the clue that revealed her existence to me, and led me on the path to genealogy studies over a lifetime, and I’m inspired.

I walk into my office and see my family history chart, all color coded to match the file folder colors in the filing cabinet nearby, and I’m inspired.

On my desktop computer, the web browser is opened to an obituary in a newspaper of one of my ancestors, and I’m inspired.

A simple web search turns up several hundred possibilities that may answer a genealogy question for me today, and I’m inspired.

A comment from a fan of my family history site asked a good question about how to resolve four conflicting bits of evidence for a birth date of her great-ought grandmother, and I’m inspired.

A fan of this site asked me what the latest news was on digital book scanning for home offices, and I’m inspired.

A post by a fellow genealogist takes a moment to thank the volunteers that make our family history research possible today, finding, preserving, digitizing, transcribing, and indexing records, and making these available to everyone researching their family tree, and I’m inspired.

I walk up the long gravel road to the mailbox and find a personal thank you letter from my local genealogy group for being such a valuable member, and I’m inspired.

An email from a cousin in Wisconsin uncovers some family papers that might uncover more details in our research into our Norwegian family branch, and I’m inspired.

A friend swings by to drop off some supplies for an upcoming conference on writing I’m producing, and asks me if I’m still into this “family history thing.” We sit down and she says, “About my own family, I’ve been wondering…” and I’m inspired.

I am inspired by the big things in genealogy research and technology today, but it is often the small things, the things we tend to take for granted, that inspire me to keep going, minute by minute, hour by hour, year after year.

To all the small things, and the people who make them happen, I thank you. You inspire me.

The Survival Guide for After RootsTech

RootsTech 2018 Badges and Relics - photo by Lorelle VanFossenThere are many around the web offering advice for what to do to prepare for RootsTech, the world’s largest genealogy conference happening every February in Salt Lake City, and many helping you figure out the ins and outs during the conference. I’m here to tell you what to do after the conference is over, after you’ve come home and collapsed.

My guide assumes you’ve experienced RootsTech to the full, attending all the keynotes, a dozen or more workshops and classes, special event lunches, after-hours special events, and wandered dozens of times around the exhibition hall getting your scavenger hunt stamps collected and exploring all the new gizmos, gadgets, books, classes, and technology there is in the family history industry. PLUS you’ve spent at least a few hours if not a day or two in the Family History Library, the parent of all the Family History Centers around the globe offering genealogy information and guidance through the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

In other words, your brain must be exploding and your feet are the size of two blimps. You’ve laughed too much, cried a few times in public, have an overstuffed suitcase or two to unpack, and are fighting the desire to sleep for a week to recover. That’s when you’re ready for this guide, and you know you had a great time at RootsTech.

Stop everything right now and go get a list to take notes. You’re going to need them.

Now, it’s time to seriously unpack and sort.

RootsTech 2018 - Unpacking from the trip - Conference stuff on bed - photo by Lorelle VanFossen

Empty the Suitcase and Sort

The first thing you need to do after the swelling has subsided in your feet, and your head isn’t beating a brass band, is unpack.

Throw the dirty clothes in the laundry. They can wait.

Sort all the rest into piles. I recommend using your bed as a sorting table. This encourages you to finish the job so you can climb in. Nothing like a little motivation.

Make a pile for all the wonderful books, DVDs, CDs, or whatever other readable, listenable, and watchable material you purchased or gathered from the exhibition hall goodies.

Make a pile of all the pamphlets you collected as well, all the advertising, marketing, and promotional material from the various booths, displays, exhibits, and societies.

Make another pile for the gadgets and gizmos you collected along the way. I love all the product tech available at RootsTech, from lighted magnifiers to sticky notes for research documents.

Make a pile of business cards and scraps of paper you collected from people with contact information on it. Honestly, you should attend a conference like this with an easily-made business card with your contact information, mostly your name, phone, email, website, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, along with your key ancestral names, places, and dates, or your research specialty such as Norway, Ireland, or Australia. Print it out on your printer on some inexpensive business card stock from the office supply store, or onto some other card stock that you can cut with a paper cutter or scissors to the size of business cards. Don’t overthink this, just make sure you do it for your next genealogy conference or workshop. Others are doing it and you need to make a pile for their cards.

Make another pile for your notes and the printed worksheets and materials you collected from the classes and workshops you attended during the busy days.

What else did you pick up that you can sort into separate piles? Gifts for friends and family from Salt Lake City? A little bottle of salty lake water on a key chain? Chocolates? T-shirts? Goodies from the Church History Museum Store and Gift Shop across from the Family History Center? Whatever else you brought home, group it into separate piles.

With the gift pile, find some plastic grocery bags or gift bags and quickly sort those into bags for the recipients, clearly labeled. That’s quick and easy. Do it now, or you will forget who you had in mind when you picked up that little do-hickey.

Let’s look at the rest of the piles individually.

Business Cards - photo by Lorelle VanFossen.

Business Cards

Take the business cards and scraps of contact information paper and flip them over. On the back of each card, write in pen “RootsTech 2018,” or whatever the year of your attendance. This will remind you of where and when you met the person.

If you are a professional or techy, use your phone or scanner to scan the cards into your contact information app. Doing it now (or on the plane on the way home) gets it done and out of the way. Trust me. I waited for years and now have a huge box filled with business cards and no memory of meeting 90% of these people, nor desire to spend my life adding their information now to my contact database. Do it now before it piles up on you.

Flip them face up and go through them one at a time and make a note that will remind you three years from now who this person was and why you have their card. If you scan the business cards, make a note (and add the RootsTech2018 tag to each) as you scan them. Do it now while you remember why they were important to you in the moment.

When done, either wrap a rubber band around the cards or slip them in a small zip storage bag with notes that say “RootsTech 2018” on it and store it where you keep the rest of your collection of business cards, or pull out the ones that you definitely wish to respond to, and keep those on your desk and throw the rest away.

Write on your task list to contact the people you’ve pulled out of the list by the end of the week. Contact them sooner rather than later so they remember who you are and how you two met.

While you are at it, if you used the Find Relatives at RootsTech feature on the FamilySearch app and connected with relatives, follow up with them. They might be your new source for family information. Hopefully, you took screenshots during the event of the app’s results as those go away when the people are more than 100 to 500 feet away from you. It’s GPS-centric. I forget each year, so I added a note to my conference notes to remind me for next year.

Genealogy Books on shelf - Research - photo by Lorelle VanFossen.

Books, CDs, DVDs, Etc.

Pull out your smart phone and ensure that you have some form of inventory app installed. It might be Goodreads, My Library, Personal Library, Magic Home Inventory, Book Crawler, My Library, Full Version Home Inventory Organizer, Encircle: Home Inventory, or any of the other personal home or personal book library catalogers. Flip over each book and look for the ISBN number and barcode on the back. If there is a label over it, do your best to remove it with a hot dryer or use Un-Du Sticker, Tape, and Label Remover so you can get to the barcode. You don’t need much, just a tiny strip of the width. With your app, scan the barcode to add the book to your inventory.

I’ve added 50 books, manually when the ISBN number isn’t found, and by scanning them in less than 25 minutes. I keep all my books on my phone so next time I’m at a conference or workshop, I can check to ensure I’m not buying a book I already own, something I used to do way too often.

Do the same thing with CDs, DVDs, and other reading material. If you purchased magazines, add them manually to your inventory app so you don’t repeat purchase those in the future, and you know what you have or don’t.

When done, put the books into your library where they belong, or by your favorite reading spot so you can get busy when you are done with everything else you’ve brought home from RootsTech.

RootsTech - Genealogy and Family History Marketing Material - photo by Lorelle VanFossen

Brochures, Pamphlets, and Flyers

Next, sort through those brochures, pamphlets, flyers, and all the scraps of paper you brought home filled with products, services, classes, society memberships, and other flotsam and jetsam.

Sort them into piles as to their categorization, class material together, memberships together, products, services, etc.

Take a moment, pen in hand, to go through each and make a decision on whether or not you will use any of these. While they are all good to know they exist, which will you truly use. Toss the ones that you don’t need and consider what’s left.

If any of these require action on your part, to register for an event, subscribe to a service, join a membership, make a note on your task list to act upon these and add them to the pile with the business cards for immediate action.

If you wish to file away any for future reference, do so immediately so they don’t pile up.

Family History - Personal Business Card with Family Branches and Brickwall - Lorelle VanFossen

Review Future Strategies

Each time I attend RootsTech, I learn new strategies for getting around. This is even more important as the conference continues to grow, attracting thousands more every year.

I make a note in my conference file on my computer to remind me of these tips and tricks for the trip to Salt Lake City. I do this for every conference. Examples include:

  • Bring self-made business cards listing my contact information (phone, email, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and summary of my family branch names. Also include a list of the people you identify as your brick walls. You never know who you will meet that might help you with your research, and this may trigger a memory or research after the event. If there is a bulletin board for those seeking their relatives, tack the card on the board.
  • Map of the Salt Palace Conference Center with notes as to the fact that room 155 is not in order with the rest of the rooms. You must go RootsTech 2018 - RootsTech App - Salt Palace Mapupstairs, walk a long hallway, then downstairs (or escalators) to the rooms in the furthest reaches of the convention hall. You think there is another way and there isn’t, so stop trying.
  • Note the “best” bathrooms. They are located on the second and third floors near rooms 255. The bathrooms at the back of the exhibition hall also rarely have much of a line.
  • Remember the ballrooms have access along the main hall and in the middle down a narrow hall. The letter order doesn’t make much sense until you get the hang of it.
  • Each year I experiment with what and how I carry my laptop and other odds and ends through the days of the conference. I make notes on what worked and what didn’t to remind me to make improvements next year. I’ve almost got it down to a science, but I change things as I travel throughout the year, so this helps me remember. I recommend a small backpack or small to medium tote bag for carrying your stuff around. While there is a coat check, it is often a long line to access, so you are likely to carry your coat with you throughout the day. Registrants receive a small branded tote, which makes an ideal thing to carry around. You will pick up goodies in the exhibition hall. Some vendors offer branded totes, so use, too.
  • A list of my memberships, societies, and associations. They often offer sales and discounts for new members and renewals. I’ve been able to save several hundred dollars on various memberships and subscriptions by renewing at RootsTech. The list helps me remember which groups I belong to and which I should consider joining if the price is right.
  • A list of vendors to visit. There are so many, and it can take a couple days to get through the entire exhibition hall with the little time you have to explore. I make a list on my phone to ensure I visit those I need to see first.
  • Bring food for lunch and snacks. There are grocery stores, a Subway, and a pharmacy within a block of the center to grab some sandwiches and snacks. If you choose to eat there, the food is found at the back of the exhibition hall along the entire length of the L shape. Fresher food is found at the very back near the stage.
  • For dinner, Olive Garden is diagonal across the street past the open park area. Also try the hotel restaurants, Market Street Grill (on Market Street – two block walkish), Benijana’s, or walk one block away from the center on Main and explore the fun restaurants, pubs, and cafes on the street or in the City Creek Center. Note that many close early, about 8 or 9pm on weeknights. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I recommend you call for a reservation unless you wish to sit in the bar and you’re a party of two or less.
  • Weather reminder and notes. As I sit here finalizing this, a freak snowstorm is dropping over a foot of snow on Salt Lake City. I dressed for being inside the convention center and Family History Library, not trudging through snow on my way to and from these places. I make notes on the weather each year to remind me to dress appropriately.
  • Other things I remind myself to do are:
    • Make screenshots of the FamilySearch Find Relatives at RootsTech feature on the FamilySearch app of the people at RootsTech on my family tree. It is GPS-centric and has a limited range. After the conference, they leave, and the list is no longer there to remind you of the connections.
    • Shoe and feet inspection. I make a note about the shoes I wore and how my feet felt walking a thousand miles over 5 days in the convention center. This year was the best with my Keen sandals. I’m going to wear them next year, too.
    • Take pictures of the name tags of the people I photograph. Sometimes their name tag is visible, but often it is turned over or hidden, and I can’t remember their names.
    • Bring small safety pins to pin the name tag ribbons after day three when they start to lose their stick and fall apart from all the hugging, tugging, and wear across my chest and stomach.

RootsTech 2018 - RootsTech App - Class ScheduleRootsTech 2018 - RootsTech App - Class Info

Workshop and Class Handouts and Material

There are so many workshops and classes at RootsTech, by the end of the week, the information sloshes around in your skull like mush.

I recommend you sort through the stack of printed teaching material to group them into related topics. Put all the DNA material together, the ethnic research (by country, region, or language), the citation and research material, whatever the categorization of the workshops you attended. Paper clip or rubber band them together and put them in a pile on your desk or next to your reading spot.

Many workshop notes and materials are found online. Using the RootsTech app (Android/iPhone), or the links found in the workshop notes, when your head has settled a little bit more, get online and download those documents and files. While most educators leave their notes online for a good length of time, some don’t stay in the same place or accessible after a few months. You don’t have to look at them, just download them before you forget. Look later.

Note: If you were one of the 4,000 early registrations, in 2018 you would have received a USB thumb drive with most of the class handouts and syllabi. Unfortunately, there were duplication errors with many of them. Replacements were handed out during the conference for those that noted the errors. Even the replacements had errors. Go through your thumb drive carefully and note which files aren’t working, and download replacements through the RootsTech app and email them to yourself or share them via OneNote or Evernote.

In a couple days, when the headaches are truly gone, feet feel normal, and your mind is clearer, but not longer than a week, go through each of these stacks, print and digital. Review your notes. Maybe print the digital versions for easier reading and storage in a notebook. Add more detail to your notes to ensure you understood the material. Make some sense out of them. Don’t forget about those downloaded versions.

I often will write a summary of what I learned and why it was important for me to learn this material, along with notes recommending myself to use these, and what to use them on. Something that will remind me of this session’s importance five years from now.

Explore the class handouts for the other classes you didn’t take. Watch the free videos on the RootsTech site.

When you are done exploring your notes, walk over to your scanner (a required tool for every genealogist), and scan them to your computer. Name the files immediately, highlighting the educational topic, and store them in an Education folder on your computer or wherever you store educational data files. Make sure the file name includes RootsTech 2018 to ensure you remember where you picked up the material.

Then toss or file as is your custom.

Family History Research Tools - photo by Lorelle VanFossen.

Gadgets and Gizmos

I saved the gadgets and gizmos for the last. Why? Because they are a distraction.

Oh, they are the right kind of distraction, but as you have many things on your list to do before you can clear off the bed and climb in for some more much needed sleep, you must resist the temptation to play. I know that new Flip-Pal Scanner is calling to you, but resist.

I recommend you put them all in a bag and put them in your desk or work space area and leave them to be laid away the next day. At that time, you can play all you wish because the bed will be empty.

Clear Your Bed and Have a Cuppa

Put away whatever else you need to sort and store, but before you reach for that cuppa whatever relaxes you, there is one more thing to do.

Yes, you need to clear the bed, but you should do something else.

Put your suitcase back into travel mode.

That’s right. I want you to change your mindset about travel when it comes to family history. I want you to travel more and make your life easier as you do so.

  1. Start the laundry with your travel clothes only (not what the other family members left for you to do when you got home). When they are dry, fold them up and put them back in the suitcase. Only the items that were comfortable to wear and ones you wore, not the ones you wish you had worn.
  2. While the laundry is going, wipe out the empty suitcase. Dump everything out and with some water and white distilled vinegar, give it a gentle wipe down. Most of us come home with dirty laundry rather than waste time during those last few days. We’ve shoved our shoes in the suitcase, shampoo, wet towels, who knows what. Give it a quick wipe to ensure it stays smelling clean for the next trip. While wiping it down, inspect for damage and replace parts and pieces or fix them, or consider it junk and start planning for a replacement.
  3. Restock your makeup and bathroom kit and put it back in the case.
  4. Restock your personal business cards and tuck them into a pocket of the case.
  5. Find all the other little do-dads that you can’t travel without. Clean them off, and put them back in the case.
  6. Add the clean clothes once dry, packed as you like to travel, rolled up or stuffed into compression or packing cubes.
  7. Once closed, check the luggage tags to ensure they survived the flight, and tuck the suitcase away ready for the next trip.

Now it’s time for that cuppa.

Sit back, relax a bit, reminisce about the great time you had in spite of your aching feet and back and pounding head. Get ready to tackle your task list tomorrow, taking things one step at a time.

And don’t worry. By the time RootsTech arrives next year, you will have forgotten about the pain and be eagerly awaiting the next round of family history madness.



The Technology of the Pencil

Pencils from Around the World - Collection and Photograph by Lorelle VanFossen - Lorelle in the Past Lane.

One of my students asked me to define technology. After a few moments of thought, I held up a pencil.

“This is technology.”

She laughed.

I teach web technologies for web publishing, design, and development. I specialize in WordPress, blogging, and social media. I’m a techno junkie of the highest order. My students wish to follow my path, but I’m already several decades ahead of them. To her, a pencil was “old school,” not like computers and driver-less cars run by computers.

“Before the pencil, humans carved words in stone, wood, plants. They used ink on quills of feather, metal, and wood. It was hard work and messy. The pencil, and the pen, revolutionized the world. It gave people a way to communicate and preserve their thoughts and ideas more efficiently. It democratized knowledge.” She stared at me. She should have known the answer to the question would come with a history lesson. “The pen and pencil allowed anyone, no matter their class, income level, or education level, to write. It brought literacy to the world.”

“But it’s not technology.”

“What’s your definition of technology then?”

“Machines that improve our life.”

“That’s right, but be more specific. The definition of technology is anything that improves our way of life. It could be the pen and pencil, the wheel, the dishwasher, the computer, or the space flight.”

As I work on this site, I keep hearing her voice in my head. “But it’s not technology.”

The goal of this site is to talk about technology for the modern genealogist. Sometimes I feel like I should defend myself when I offer tips and techniques for genealogical research that involves pen, pencil, and paper, with no computerized gadgets or bells and whistles to impress. Yet these are technology. So are the gadgets. They all improve not only our way of life but our family history research.

Recently, Archeology Magazine reported on research by Washington State University on the inequality of human societies. They studied the economy between 9000 BC and AD 1500 to measure the disparity of the income gap between rich and poor. They found that economic division grew as society became more technological. As people became more industrious, turning beasts into instruments of agriculture, allowing farmers to increase the area of land they cultivated for food, thus increased food production. The agricultural industry developed, feeding people beyond what a person could grow themselves. Before, if you wanted to survive, you did it yourself. Everyone was basically equal. Technology, even the use of animals, changed lives, improving it for some, but not always all.

I will never forget the day when my father announced that his shipyard engineering staff were about to receive their first computers. They would finally be able to work on their drawings and plans on their computers. Like a kid, he was so excited. We had a Commodore computer which everyone shared (5 kids and two adults), but this was a “real” computer. It promised easier working conditions, project management, and faster production times.

A couple months later, he came home tired, frustrated, and cussing up a storm. The computers were finally installed at work. They were so excited, watching the workers carry in the monitors and CPU units, fiddling with all the wiring. The activity was fascinating and the prospects promised of improved work conditions delightful, until they learned the price of the new technology. The memo arrived just after lunch. Their secretaries were going to be laid off. They were no longer needed. They’d been replaced by the computers.

For my father, it was the end of his world. He hadn’t quite figured out the computer process or system and relied upon the secretaries to help him out. And he was semi-illiterate. He could read, but he couldn’t type and couldn’t spell. Getting a handwritten letter from your own father with your name misspelled is an eye-opening experience in this age of literacy. I didn’t realize until then how much effort he’d put into concealing it. The secret was at risk. The computer brought great opportunities to his work life, but years of relying so heavily upon the secretaries to cover for him gave him nightmares.

I did my best to teaching him how to type, sitting with him for hours at our home computer, teaching him the basics. I became the teacher of the family at a very young age, embracing modern technology quickly, taking everything apart and putting it back together (successfully) even then, then showing others how to do the same. He struggled, and managed to hold onto his job for quite a while, until the ship building industry couldn’t hold its own in Seattle.

Secretaries were a form of technology because they improved the quality of life and work for busy employees. Today, computers have replaced them, and secretaries went on into new jobs, embracing new technologies or being hired as personal assistants, same job, new name. The computer is today’s pencil.

As I drive down the past lane, my focus will be on technology in all its forms as related to family history. It could be the pencil. It is likely the computer, printer, and scanner. It is about the web and online access to records and research techniques never before so readily accessible. It will be about the techniques in modern genealogical research, including online databases and archives, educational opportunities, and ways to preserve that research, and your family’s history.

As we share the journey, remember the pencil. Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that changes not only our lives but the world. And we must adapt.