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2/1/2004
Talk is cheap when you call via computer. Try these services to phone far-away kin at no (Or low) cost.
For genealogists with families spread across the globe, the idea of making free phone calls certainly is appealing. Who wouldn't like to call cousins in Italy, England or Russia without worrying about the cost? Well, now you can — through your computer.

A few years ago, dozens of companies offered software to make free long-distance phone calls through technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). All you needed was a sound card, a microphone and speakers or a headset, and an Internet connection, and you could call any other PC that was online and using the same software. VoIP worked by breaking up your voice into tiny data packets and carrying them over the Internet. When the packets arrived at Aunt Jane's computer, she could hear your voice. Although the technology let you make free or close-to-free phone calls, the packets did not always reassemble perfectly, resulting in word dropouts or static,

Today, VoIP technology is so advanced that PC-to-PC calls sound almost as clear as those made on telephones. And thanks to companies such as Microsoft and Skype, they're still free because they bypass long-distance carriers. Here's how Microsoft's and Skype's VoIP applications work:

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Genealogist's Google Earth Premium Collection

With the free online program Google Earth, you can follow your forebears across the planet from the comfort of your personal computer.

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