RootsWeb is Back Up and Ready for You To Back Up

Rootsweb logoRootsWeb.com was one of the most invaluable sites during the early days of the internet, so much so, this grassroots effort to present and preserve genealogical information and society collections is back online…sort of.

In 2000, RootsWeb was purchased by Ancestry.com, causing many, including myself, to be wary of its future. Still, we like to believe that the commercial site, not associated directly with the LDS Church today, is trustworthy as we pay hundreds of dollars a year for access to their records, trees, and DNA. When a security hack brought down the site in December 2017, we felt that the power and vast resources of Ancestry would be able to restore the free sites and data quickly.

This past week it was announced that RootsWeb is back up and working, again, sort of. Mostly. Checking the calendar. End of August. Eight months later.

We can speculate on why it took so long…old servers, old tech, developers with little backwards compatibility expertise, the volume of data to repair, the damage done by the hack…but it is now up and it is time to ensure the information you need for your research, or your society’s data, is backed up and protected, and other strategies considered such as copying the information to another site under your control.

In the 1990s, I began to use RootsWeb to find genealogical societies with information about my personal research. They were beginning to share their databases, indexing projects, history, and record information via the wiki and society hosted free web pages. No longer did I need to pick up the phone, write letters, or get on a plane to find the information I needed to continue my research. There was still some of that, but those efforts were streamlined and made more efficient because of the online information.

From large genealogical societies to tiny family history groups, RootsWeb was an equal access platform to share information. Run mostly by volunteers, it became a passion for many, a frustration for just as many, I’m sure. Larger, more financially stable groups went on to create their own full-fledged sites, but others had a place to reach out to those seeking birth and death records in Shawano County, Wisconsin, or Raisin, Michigan. International family history groups and associations added to the wealth of information over time, and it soon became a first stop on your family history hunt.

As with all things online, the shuffle from owner to owner, host to host, and the ever-changing hands of control from the highest administration to the smallest web page manager took its toll. By the 2010s, there were calls to close RootsWeb or at least make changes to improve the quality of the material, or preserve it and walk away. I heard many rumors, opinions, suggestions, and assumptions over the years, but it kept hanging in there, and I kept reaping the rewards.

Today, it is back up and running. Groups around the world with information on their service should rush to check it, and update it if they can. And back it up.

This is what I’m going to do now that RootsWeb is back up.

How to Preserve Your Research Data on RootsWeb

While it is true that we can use the Wayback Machine to access many of the web pages found within RootsWeb dating back years, I found that some of the pages I relied upon for my research were hard to find through the Wayback Machine.

Here are a couple alternatives.

  • Saving Single Web Pages: If you have single web pages you wish to preserve for future reference and research, use the save web page as PDF method. Title the saved PDF file appropriately and store it where you can find it easily again.
  • Save Websites: Rootsweb is actually a collection of mini-sites, so to speak, called subdomains or sub-websites. They have a unique address, and using the techniques described in my article on how to save everything you find on the web, you can use the HTTrack web copier or an alternative to set the address for the specific address and download everything within that URL’s range.
    • An example of a sub-website is https://sites.rootsweb.com/~mialhn2/ for the Michigan American Local History Network. Enter that as the starting URL.
    • Take care to set the options to download only to one or two levels, not everything, to minimize time and the number of files.
    • Save the results with a name you will recognize in the future and place the folder with your other research material.
    • An alternative is to open the downloaded web pages and save each as a PDF to keep things better organized.

I’m going to do a combination of both to ensure I have today the information I’ve used in the past and may in the future…just in case.

I hate “just in case” issues, but that’s the world we live in. If we learn anything from the RootsWeb experience, let it be to save our research to keep it under our control for those just in case moments.

Tech Tips: Download Absolutely Everything You Can Find on the Web

How to Download Absolutely Everything You Can Find on the Web by Field Guide is an invaluable resource for figuring out how to download most things from the internet.

There is a big caveat: While you can save and download everything and anything from the web, this does not give permission nor license for you to do whatever you want with it. Always check their copyright policy before using the image on your site, uploading to public genealogy sites and services, adding to a slide show, or any public usage. If they don’t offer an easily accessible copyright policy, assume it is copyrighted and treat it accordingly (limit usage to Fair Use limitations) or use their contact form to ask for permission. Most say yes, but you won’t know until you ask. I strongly believe in asking permission before instead of after. After could be costly.

Why would you want to download absolutely everything and anything on the web for your family history work?

There are so many reasons, where to start? Here are a few of the reasons I download things from the web.

  • Research: Find a web page with family history research associated with your research project? Knowing it could disappear at any moment from the web, you might be able to find it again through the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. Don’t count on it. Save it to an appropriate folder on your computer so you may find it easily with related research material without being online. Remember, save web pages as PDF files, not web pages. Consider also saving images and video related to your research.
  • Studies and Education: There are amazing tutorials, webinars, videos, and web pages with educational and historical information to help you learn more about your ancestors. As long as the usage is within their copyright and proprietary limitations, consider downloading the material to your computer so you can revisit it as needed as you continue with your studies. This option also helps you view the material offline without an internet connection, accessible any time you need. This has saved me many times as I struggle to remember a specific point from a webinar or tutorial.
  • Teaching: Paying close attention to the copyrights for the web page, image, video, and audio files, and asking permission when in doubt, I often use what I find on the web in my lectures, teaching, and keynotes, introducing my audience to products, services, topics, and concepts to help them learn more and understand how all these work.
  • Offline Usage: Slow internet access speeds and extensive travel often makes it a struggle to keep up with online content. Sometimes we visit or live in places where internet access is a luxury. Downloading your online materials when you have access is critical for viewing when you don’t have access later. I often do this before a long flight, giving me something to read and work on while traveling. If it is worth saving for the future, download it, then delete when done. It saves times when online and expands the possibilities when you are offline.

Among the tips Field Guide offers is how to save a web page, to which I suggest again you not save it as a web page but save it as a PDF file using your computer’s PDF printer driver (select it from the print options).

HTTrack Website Downloader downloading a website.

The article offers tips for also saving more than a web page, saving a whole site using HTTrack, one of my can’t-work-without-it favorite tools. It has a slight learning curve if you aren’t familiar with how websites work under the hood, but there are many tutorials available to walk you through the process. One of the great features of HTTrack is the ability to expand the download to include web pages the site links to, and the ability to control how far those links go. I recommend only one level, maybe two, as this feature tend to take a long time and eats up a ton of bandwidth.

Other examples of saves from the internet include images, video, and audio are also included in the article.

Download All Professional Firefox Extension - downloading files from a CNN article.There are many web browser extensions and add-ons offering the ability to download video, images, and audio, but there are two web browser add-ons I use frequently to download literally everything from a web page including files, videos, images, and more. They include:

Again, the use of these tools is for your private and personal use, not for sharing with the world unless the usage complies with Copyright Fair Use and is in line with their copyright policy, or you receive written permission.

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
Kindle PDF, TEXT, DOC, MOBI, PRC, AZW, KF8, KFX
Aldiko PDF, TEXT, MOBI, HTML, RTF, FB2, PRC, ODT, DBR, CBZ, LIT (non-DRM book formats)
Moon+ TXT, HTML, EPUB, PDF, MOBI, UMD, FB2, CHM, CBR, CBZ, RAR, ZIP, OPDS
Calibre TXT, TXTZ, PDF, EPUB, DOC, DOCX, MOBI, HTML, RFT, PRC, AZW, AZW3, AZW4, CBZ, CBR, CBC, CHM, DJVU, FB2, FBZ, HTMLZ, LIT, LRF, ODT, PRC, PDB, PML, RB, SNB, TCR

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 Archives.org, 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 books.FamilySearch.org. 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 LanePortableApps.com 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.

PortableApps.com 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.