Tech Tips with Lisa Louise Cooke

Tech Tips with Lisa Louise Cooke

If "Who Do You Think You Are?" had aired 20 years ago, I probably would have missed half the episodes because I never did figure out how to set the clock and timer on my VCR! Technology can sometimes be as frustrating as it is helpful. But one thing...

If “Who Do You Think You Are?” had aired 20 years ago, I probably would have missed half the episodes because I never did figure out how to set the clock and timer on my VCR!

Technology can sometimes be as frustrating as it is helpful. But one thing is for sure—technology will continue to change. For the next eight weeks I guest blog for new mommy Diane Haddad, bringing you Tech Tips that I hope will keep you from pulling out your hair in frustration and lead you to more ancestors.

The technology bug bit me about 10 years ago, much the same way the genealogy bug did years before—hard. An online search delivered up a database that held the answers to years of questions about my Prussian ancestors, and I was hooked. There’s nothing like having a need and seeing the direct application of technology to meet that need to give you “gumption,” as Grandma used to say, to pursue it further.

The Pursuit of Answers

In the end it’s not really technology we are pursuing, but rather answers to questions and problems that plague our family history research. In my keynote presentation at the recent Family History Expo in Mesa, AZ, I tried to drive home the concept that if you focus on your needs, and then look for and find answers in the technology arena, you will also find the motivation to learn how to use that technology. And as you learn what is technologically possible, you can pursue it when a need arises.

That’s sort of how I fell into podcasting. In 2006, I visited my local Family History Center and shared a discovery I made. The center’s director was so excited she took a photocopy of the pages in my hand and posted them on the office bulletin board. “What a genealogy gem that is!” she squealed. I stood there looking at the paper held in place with a pushpin and thought to myself: There’s got to be a better way to share something like this. It could help so many more people than just those who visit this center.

Fast forward to February 2007, when I received an iPod from my daughters for a birthday present. I immediately went snooping around the iTunes store to see if there was anything free I could download and quickly came across podcasts, which had only come in to being about a year and a half before—talk about new technology! I downloaded a couple of podcasts on a variety of topics and really enjoyed them. Then I remembered that paper stuck to the bulletin board. A quick search for “how to podcast” led me to a great little show, and a month later the Genealogy Gems Podcast was born. I’ve been posting genealogy gems ever since for listeners around the world in over 80 countries.

Not long after I began hosting the Family Tree Magazine Podcast. The budding new RSS technology filled a need and solved a problem. I wondered what else might be out there that could help the genealogist.

A prime example of technology power boosting the family historian’s research is the big daddy of them all—Google. Let’s wrap up this first installment of Tech Tips with a search tip from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Lulu Press, 2011) that consistently delivers excellent results: the suspension point better known as “dot dot dot.” (…)

In search terms, a suspension point is used to indicate a range of numbers.

Problem: When did my ancestor die? I know it was sometime between 1790 and 1830.

Answer: The suspension point

Search Query: “Jehu Burkhart” 1790…1830

Here’s the results page:

The beauty of the suspension point (…) is that it tells the search engine to retrieve webpages that mention Jehu Burkhart (the quotation marks indicate we want the exact phrase) between the years of 1790 and 1830. And Google takes the added step of bolding the year mentioned on the webpage so that you can quickly assess from the results list if the page is the result you need. This tip has limitless genealogical search applications, and can thin that massive list of results you often get saddled with down to a manageable lot.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more tips with you as well as bringing you the latest from such conferences as “Who Do You Think You Are?” LIVE in London, and the brand new Roots Tech conference in Salt Lake City. It’s an exciting time for genealogists as technology and family history merge!

—Lisa Louise Cook

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