Welcome to iHCPL: The Next Generation. This site was created as the next step in Harris County Public Library's iHCPL Learning 2.0 Program; a discovery learning program designed to encourage staff to explore new technologies. The original iHCPL program was adapted from The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County's Learning 2.0 Program.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Genealogy #70: Genealogy 2.0

Flickr image by luc legay

What is Genealogy 2.0? Genealogist Kimberly Powell explains that “Genealogy 2.0 sites use advanced social computing and networking technologies like wikis, RSS, mapping, and online family tree building to help people connect with family members and other researchers”. For those dedicated family researchers, they can either purchase genealogy software or subscribe to a free web-based genealogy program such as Ancestry, MyHeritage or Footnote.


MyHeritage is a free genealogical social networking site. This website allows members to make family pages/sites, share multimedia, maintain a calendar, build family trees, and find relatives/ancestors. The Family Pages are online profiles for entire families. On these pages, MyHeritage members can invite other relatives to join and share photos and videos, schedule events, and, like other social networks, connect family members. At this time, a family tree can hold up to 250 people free of charge. More ancestors can be added for a fee.

One attribute of MyHeritage.com is Family Tree Builder (FTB). FTB is available in thirty-four different languages at this time. FTB is software offered by MyHeritage which lets a user put together a family tree, enabling a user to add information about his or her ancestors (i.e. dates – birth, marriage, and death, places lived, professions, and pictures). In addition, FTB can generate charts showing the relationship between two people. A user can build his or her tree online or offline; offline trees can be published to the family page. FTB features Smart Matching, which identifies people appearing on more than one family tree. So, if Jane Doe, 1867 – 1944, happens to be on two different trees, the members of the family page receive notices. Smart Matches contribute to the social networking component. People throughout the world can collaborate and research the same family!

Like many other social networking sites, MyHeritage can automatically tag people’s faces in photos when they are uploaded to family pages. If a picture of a person in the family tree is uploaded and tagged, then the MyHeritage software can also instantly match the two. Photo tagging leads into a fun part of MyHeritage.

One of the MyHeritage’ bells and whistles from is facial recognition technology. Originally designed to help a user spot possible ancestors and/or relatives, the facial recognition technology now enables users to find out what celebrities they look like. By design, this software identifies human faces. An example of such is provided below.

In addition, users can see whether a child looks more like his/her mother or father when using the look-alike meter. Check out the results below on the right.


Footnote takes original documents and mixes it with social networking. This creates collaboration amongst people throughout the world. Footnote has digitized documents dating back to the United States Revolutionary War as well as a place for members to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the document access granted by Footnote.


  1. Have you ever wondered which celebrities you most resemble? Do you look like your mom or your dad? Create a free account with MyHeritage. Either make a Celebrity Collage or use the Look-alike Meter to find out whose looks you favor. When you finish, use the widget to add the results to your iHCPL blog.
  2. Go to Footnote and browse the Member Discoveries. What did you think of what people are doing on Footnote?

This module brought to you by Jorie Nissen (FM), Laura Smith (FM) & Rhiannon Perry (LAP).

HCPL Staff: Have you completed this exercise? Dont' forget to submit your Registration of Completion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Genealogy #69: Database Researching

When conducting genealogical research it is necessary to use information found in official records to assist in tracking your ancestors. The records most commonly used for this purpose are federal census records and vital records. Access to these records is limited by privacy guidelines. For example, even though the federal census is conducted every 10 years, access to those records is not allowed until 72 years later. Currently, the 1930 census records are the most recent that can be accessed for genealogical research. The 1940 census records will be made available to the public in 2012.

When working with these records, keep in mind:

  • Official records are not always completely accurate or available

  • Handwriting is often difficult to decipher in the years prior to typed records-this provides challenges for indexers and researchers alike

  • Names and/or their spelling can change over the years, or be recorded incorrectly-a reason for the creation of the Soundex

  • Due to a fire at the National Archives in 1921, except for fragments from certain states, the 1890 federal census is unavailable

  • Examine all information provided on a record as you never know what might trigger your next great find – a street address on a census form can lead you to finding that ancestor in a city directory

  • Questions asked from decade to decade on the census vary, so each time you locate your ancestors you have the potential to learn something new about them; the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota has created a site that lists the census questions from 1850-2000 and another that provides the Census Enumerator instructions from each decade to help with deciphering entries

HCPL Genealogy Databases

The records necessary to genealogical research are more accessible today than they have been in the past due to the digitization of records by organizations like HeritageQuest, Family Search and Ancestry.com. Records which in the past were only accessible via hardcopy or microfilm, often requiring travel and/or expense on the part of the researcher, are now available online and can be accessed for free through public libraries, Family History Centers, or a National Archives Research Room. HCPL subscribes to two different genealogy databases – Ancestry.com & HeritageQuest: Genealogy & Local History.


This database is accessible from home with a library card, an advantage over Ancestry.com which, due to licensing restrictions, is only available for use at the library. The index provided by HeritageQuest for the federal census contains only the names of those listed as head of household. However, advanced search features in HeritageQuest allow you to search by series, roll or page number, or by other indexed fields: county, locality, age, sex or birthplace. In addition to federal census records, HeritageQuest contains five other databases that cover:

  • Records and digitized books or articles concerning people and places as they are mentioned in family, genealogy and local history articles
  • Selected records from Revolutionary War era
  • Individuals listed in the Freedman’s Bank (1865-1874)
  • Select records of the U.S. Congress from the LexisNexis® U.S. Serial Set

As you find relevant items they can be marked for addition to your “notebook” which can be printed, emailed or downloaded once your search is complete.


As mentioned earlier, Ancestry.com (Library Edition) is only accessible to users in the library; however it can also be accessed via WiFi for those who bring their personal laptop to the library. As opposed to HeritageQuest’s six searchable databases, Ancestry.com contains over 6,500 databases for searching, some of the most popular of which include:

  • Federal, state, and some foreign census records
  • Voter registration records
  • Military records
  • Public directories and member lists
  • Court, land, wills and financial records
  • Birth, marriage and death records
  • Immigration and passenger lists

Ancestry.com also provides blank copies of many of the charts and forms used in genealogical research. Records from Ancestry.com can be printed out or saved to a flash drive. For those willing to pay for access to Ancestry.com as opposed to using the free library edition, additional features are accessible:

  • Create a family tree adding as much or as little detail as you like
  • Store the records that you find in a “shoebox” or attach them to the profile of the person to whom they pertain
  • Include stories about or told by members of your family, and attach photos, audio or video
  • Make your family tree public so that you can make connections with others who might also be searching for the same people as you
  • Access to webinars and reference tools

Additional Resources

Archives Library Information Center (ALIC): Genealogy – links put together by the U.S. National Archive and Records Administration for learning how to do genealogical research and how to obtain records

Cyndi’s List – one of the most comprehensive lists of genealogy sites on the internet

US GenWeb – collaborative effort by volunteers to list U.S. genealogy websites by state and county

Photos c2009 JupiterImages


  1. Conduct a search in Ancestry.com or HeritageQuest for historical records concerning somebody in your family. Were you successful? If not, what difficulties did you encounter? How could you improve your search results?

This module brought to you by Jorie Nissen (FM), Laura Smith (FM) & Rhiannon Perry (LAP).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Genealogy # 68: Detective Work

© 2009 JupiterImages
There may come a point in your genealogy research when you’ll have to find your inner Sherlock Holmes. Here are several old fashioned methods of obtaining information needed for your family tree.

Oral History

Oral history is a way to capture your family member’s history in their own words and preserve it for both yourself and others in your family. In February 2009, Dr. Louis J. Marchiafava, a prominent oral historian and former archivist for the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and Houston Public Library, presented an Oral History workshop. Below are some of the tips he mentioned:
  • Plan and prepare for the interview ahead of time
  • Test your tools (recorder, tapes, microphone, etc.) & take extras with you
  • Start a framework or theme that reflects the role of that person within the family
  • Look for diaries, photos, letters or awards as potential talking points
  • Ask to view bibles for records on family births, deaths, and marriages.
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Transcribe and make copies of recording
After that, it’s up to you how to share with interested family members or even local history groups - email, social networking sites or by mailing out physical copies.

Additional Tips and Guides

Oral History Association, OHA Wiki and Cyndi’s List: Oral History & Interviews have information on reliable recording devices, as well as other resources and tips.

Jelly Jar & About.com have compiled lists of questions to ask when interviewing family members.

Examples of State and Local Oral History Projects

Local Library

The Genealogy Room
Originally uploaded by Robert Dumas
Locate a library that may contain information pertinent to your family line. Ask about newspaper on microfilm, old maps, or special collections. Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, founded in 1921, has been named one of the top nine genealogical libraries in the nation to visit by Family Tree magazine (July 2008). Check out Clayton Library’s FAQ section to help answer many questions you may have.

Cemetery & Church Records

Little Horwood Grave
Originally uploaded by R P Marks
Do you know the best time to visit a cemetery or the proper etiquette? Tiptoeing Through the Graveyard answers these and lots more questions in regards to conducting genealogy research in cemeteries and churches. If permitted, taking pictures of grave markers is a quick and accurate way to document the information.

Additional Tips & Pitfalls

These online resources offer a wealth of great tips:
Some of the most common mistakes in genealogy research are assuming that no one else is working on the same family lineage or that your family surname was never spelled differently at some point in time.


1. Look at some of the examples provided of oral history projects and listen to some of the stories, Tejano Voices in particular has some good examples.
Have you ever pursued an oral history project? Would you consider doing one to record your family history? Who in your family would be a good subject?

2. Go to Find-A-Grave site and search for a cemetery location. Pick one cemetery and locate the oldest burial listed, then post the information that is provided about the person onto your blog.

This module brought to you by Jorie Nissen (FM), Laura Smith (FM) & Rhiannon Perry (LAP).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Genealogy #67: Genealogy Genesis

Many have often wondered about their ancestry, but get discouraged because they are unsure of where to even start. Some have begun the searching process only to reach a block in the road. The goal of this module is to lead the way for those wanting to begin the process and to provide a few suggestions for those stuck at a roadblock. Library staff members who complete all 4 posts in this module (#67, #68, #69, #70) will receive three hours of training credit.

©2009 Jupiterimages

Genealogy Genesis

One of the first things you’ll notice as you begin researching genealogy is the amount of time it takes to gather information. Think of your family history as a complex jigsaw puzzle. While you may never find every piece to fully complete your puzzle, each piece that you do find will bring you one step closer to seeing the big genealogical picture.

Here are the basic steps to get started when researching genealogy. Don't forget to pace yourself. Remember, this process takes time.

  1. First you have to select which family surname to start with. If you decide to work on two or more at the same time try to organize the information separately.
  2. Interview any living relatives or family friends that are willing to share information. Ask open-ended questions. Ask them to share stories from the past with you. Write down every detail and if the speaker feels shy about their every word being documented, just listen and write down everything they said down at a later time.
  3. Take pictures or scan any documents/photos that hold an importance to your ancestry. For example, if Aunt Mary is the only one in the family to have a copy of your great grandmother’s birth certificate and wedding photo, take pictures of these documents for your records. This is a lesson learned from personal experience as my family lost many cherished documents and photos due to a house fire.
  4. Organize your data. You can decide whether to document your family history on a paper or computer format. Here are a few downloadable genealogy charts available. Two free genealogy software programs available for download are Legacy Family Tree (SD edition) and Family Tree Builder. When beginning your family tree, start with yourself and then work backwards in time.
  5. Begin entering your gathered information into the genealogical sites, message boards and databases. Remember to record your sources and keep a research log. Post any queries you have onto message boards.

    Once you begin searching through U.S. Census records, it is important to understand that by law a census year cannot be released until the information obtained is 72 years old. During your research you may discover that there are some standard abbreviations used in the field of genealogy. Six Strategies for Finding Roots Online & 10 Steps for Finding Your Family Tree Online provide great online researching guidelines. You may also find it helpful to read the Freedom of Information Act. Visit the actual places where your family lived. Find out what churches, schools, courthouses, and libraries are located in that area that may have stored documents.
  6. Find your inner Sherlock Homes. Do some old fashioned detective work by visiting the places your family lived and locating any large genealogical depository such as Houston Public Library’s Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research that may house large amounts of documentation. The Clayton Library offers genealogical orientations to inform customers about the resources available.
  7. Share your information through social networking.

Additional Resources

HCPL: Genealogy contains links to a variety of genealogical websites on more specific areas: African American, Jewish, Hispanic, and Texas.

Online Genealogy Classes provides free online courses on topics such as beginning genealogy and tracing immigrant origins.

Genealogy Learning Center shows you how to organize your information.

Suggestions for Beginning Genealogists presents a listing of genealogy abbreviations along with suggested standards of recording your research.

About.com: Genealogy provides basic to advanced articles on researching genealogy.

10 things I Could Not Live Without in Genealogy lists tips by a genealogist researching her family history.


Have you studied your genealogy in the past? If so, what advice do you have for those new to genealogical researching? If you have not begun researching, list at least three steps you would take when beginning your research?

This module brought to you by Jorie Nissen (FM), Laura Smith (FM) & Rhiannon Perry (LAP).