The Toolkit: Hitting the Heirwaves

The Toolkit: Hitting the Heirwaves

Genealogy experts and enthusiasts are broadcasting news, advice and interviews to a computer near you. Our podcast primer tells you how to tune in.

Audio communication has come a long way since the 1930 census first asked our ancestors whether they owned a “radio set.” Now, instead of gathering around a big wooden box for news and entertainment, you can listen to your favorite programs via MP3 player or online streaming audio. And rather than tuning in at a program’s regularly scheduled time, you can listen to the podcast at your leisure.

This technology would certainly seem foreign to our forebears — and maybe it’s a little alien to you, too. If you’re not familiar with podcasting, you’re missing a great source of information and inspiration: Numerous family history podcasts have popped up, featuring interviews, research ideas and more. As the host of two of those programs — the Genealogy Gems Podcast <> and Family Tree Magazine Podcast <> — I’ve learned the tricks to finding and using podcasts. Let me show you how to tap into the wealth of genealogical information for your ears.

No iPod required

Since arriving on the Internet scene in 2004, podcasts have grown tremendously in popularity: More than 41,000 shows are now available online. The word podcast is a combination of iPod (Apple’s popular MP3 player) and broadcasting — but podcasting doesn’t have to involve an iPod at all. Rather, it’s a method of publishing audio files on the Internet.

Think of a podcast as a pre-recorded online radio show you can either download to your computer or play directly from the Internet. Most podcasts have “feeds” that let you subscribe for free and automatically receive new shows on your computer; you can do this through free iTunes software, too (see the next section).

Because podcasts are pre-recorded, you can listen to them whenever and wherever you want. For example, put an episode on your desktop computer to listen while you’re checking your e-mail, or load it onto your MP3 player to play while you’re driving to the library. You also have the option to fast forward and rewind, as well as stop and start at your convenience. The format puts you in control of your listening experience.

Podcast episodes can run anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour. Several weeks or months may elapse between episodes, or they might come out daily. Some podcasters choose to publish on a regular schedule; others broadcast whenever they feel inspired. It’s like the Wild West of communication — anything goes. But genealogy podcasters generally stick to a fairly regular schedule (see our program guide at <>).

iTune-ing in

Although you don’t need an iPod to listen to podcasts, the companion software, iTunes, is the ideal way to find, listen and organize genealogy podcasts. All you have to do is set up a free account, download the program to your computer, and you’re on your way.

To install iTunes, go to <>, enter your e-mail address in the box on the left and click the Download iTunes 7.6 Free button, then follow the prompts.

Once you’ve installed iTunes on your computer, locating genealogy podcasts is as simple as clicking on Store in the left menu bar, typing the word genealogy in the search box (upper right corner of the window) and pressing Enter on your keyboard. Narrow your results by clicking the Podcast window link.

To subscribe to one of the listed shows, click the podcast image, which will bring up the podcast’s listing page. Then simply click the Subscribe button. (All podcasts in iTunes are free.)

Play time

Now you’re ready to start listening – which you can do by following these steps:

1. In the left menu bar under Library, select Podcasts. A list of the shows you’ve subscribed to will appear in the middle of the screen.

2. Click the small triangle next to the podcast title to reveal all episodes. The newest episode appears in black type with a blue dot next to it, indicating it’s been downloaded and is ready for listening. Undownloaded episodes appear in gray.

3. Click the Get All button to download all previous episodes. Or click the Get button next to each individual episode you want to download. You’ll see a spinning orange circle to the left of the podcast name as the episode downloads (this can take several minutes). When it’s done, the episode title will turn from gray to black.

4. To listen to the episode, double-click the episode name. The play, pause, stop, fast-forward and rewind controls are in the upper left corner of the iTunes window.

Besides using iTunes, many pod-casts’ Web sites have embedded players for streaming audio. You also can click on each episode’s MP3 audio file link to download the file, then listen using Windows Media Player < windows/windowsmedia>, QuickTime <>, RealPlayer <> or whatever audio player is installed on your computer.

On with the show notes

When it comes to genealogy podcasts, listening is only half the fun. You won’t want to miss the companion show notes posted on the podcast Web site (look for a link in the upper-right corner of the podcast’s iTunes listing page).

Show notes usually include links to all the referenced Web sites, plus additional information, photos and resources to help you get the most out of the episode. They’re typically published in a blog format, with the most recent at the top. Notes for older episodes are usually in the Web site archives.

Don’t stick to just genealogy-specific shows — look for cultural heritage and history podcasts, as well, to get additional perspective on your ancestors’ lives. Episode 39 of my Genealogy Gems Podcast reviews history programs; find a complete list with links in the show notes <>. You also may want to subscribe to podcasts for other interests.

As my listeners often tell me, once you get the hang of podcasting, it’s easy to get hooked — just like you did with genealogy.


Follow along as we walk you through all the steps described here at <>.

Listen up

Here’s a rundown of genealogy podcasts regularly producing new episodes:

? Anna-Karin’sGenealogical Podcast <>

? DearMYRTLE <>

? Family Tree Magazine Podcast <>

? Genealogy Gems Podcast <>

? The Genealogy Guys <>

? The Genealogy Tech Podcast <>

? Irish Roots Café <>
From the November 2008 Family Tree Magazine

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