Strategies for using technology in family history research

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd


In using technology to aid family history, enthusiasts often are faced with a challenge that Lisa Louise Cooke says goes by the acronym “PICNIC"; the letters stand for the mantra “problem in chair, not in computer.”

Mrs. Cooke is the founder of Genealogy Gems, a multi-media company, and produces an associated podcast. She was one of four keynote speakers at the Conference on Family History and Genealogy held at Brigham Young University July 28-31. Coverage of the conference began in last week’s Church News edition and continues with this and other articles this week.

Speaking July 30, Mrs. Cooke presented several strategies for using technology — both current and emerging — to aid in genealogy.

“The good news about that fact that the problem is almost always in the chair and not in the computer is that actually means you’re empowered,” she told conference attendees, explaining that while they can’t change computer technology, they can change how they individually work with it.

Here are some strategies she suggested:

Go from topic to task.

“What I mean by that is to change the paradigm and in doing genealogy and break it down into the tasks we need to accomplish as we approach the use of technology,” she said.

There are many computer apps and other technological tools that were not specifically designed for use in family history research but can be used to accomplish tasks associated with it, she said. She cited Google Earth as one such tool.

Think outside the genealogy box.

She said many people who are not genealogists must do similar tasks to what genealogists do, “and they have developed incredible tools.”

One such tool she cited is a website called Stanford Data Visualization: Journalism’s Voyage West. Developed at Stanford University, it allows the user to manipulate a timeline slider bar to see plotted on a map of the United States newspapers that existed anywhere in the country at any point in history.

She said newspapers are the “last frontier when it comes to records” because so many have not been digitized, and they contain so much story-based information. Family history enthusiasts using the website can find newspaper information that relate to their ancestors.

Take advantage of the “democratization” created by technology.

These days, one can publish a book, create a podcast, make and disseminate a video all with a home computer and without spending thousands of dollars or relying on professionals, Mrs. Cooke said. “Ten years ago, none of that was possible.”

And because of the technology democratization, one doesn’t have to be royalty to engage in genealogy, she said, or make expensive trips to far-flung locales.

“There is always information available to you wherever you are,” she said. “Genealogy is no longer a retirement sport. Everybody can do it.”

Look to the future for emerging technology.

“The video revolution is already here,” she said. “We need to catch up.”

Genealogists can upload home movies to YouTube, or they can do searches on YouTube for videos that might relate to their family history, she said.

“Another area to keep an eye on is ‘cloud’ technology,” she said. Increasingly, software is useable on the Internet as opposed to being loaded into one’s personal computer, she explained.

“It’s less expensive because companies don’t have to make boxes and packaging and publish discs and ship them out to you,” she said. And data stored on the cloud, if it gets lost, can be restored from an Internet backup.

Virtual reality technology is another area to consider, she said. Such technology is becoming available on smartphones, enabling users to record personal experiences in a way that places a viewer inside one’s own three-dimensional environment.

“Technology has so much to offer us,” she concluded. “Stay open to genealogy’s serendipity moments. And in the end, we can search with our computers, but we never want to stop searching with our hearts.”

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