Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You Know You're Nerdy When...

Well, as I write this I have just completed two presentations for two different IT classes I am taking. One in a web design class, where we presented the web site we designed for a local law firm. Thought that one went ok, but then I've been designing web sites for a while and that's in my comfort zone. The other one had to do with Storage Area Networks (SANs) and the whats, whys, and wherefores. Thank goodness I didn't have to do either on my own as they were team projects, but especially the last one. Hardware and I just do not seem to get along! I was gratefully relegated to the end of the presentation where I discussed some software options and who would best implement a SAN. Let's just say I was glad we were running short on time...

Thing is, as I'm preparing for finals next week, I'm amazed at how excited I can still get about all this stuff! We had a presentation on cloud computing today (reference my inaugural blog post) and I found myself thinking of all the cool ways this is going to affect genealogy. Then for some reason, I decided to check the RootsTech 2012 conference site when I got home. For those of you who are not aware, 2012 will only be the second year this conference has been held.

"We interrupt this blog to bring you this important commercial announcement..."

What is RootsTech? It's an awesome opportunity for genealogists of all expertise levels to be in the same room with developers who are interested in creating applications (desktop, online, and mobile) for family historians. I didn't attend last year, but I heard some pretty amazing things about it. Hands-on workshops, interactive classes, rubbing shoulders with the people who have brought technology to the field of genealogy. Microsoft even had a game room set up! Other companies that will be there in 2012 include Oracle, brightsolid, Dell and a number of the major players in the online genealogy world, including If you find yourself with some extra time on your hands in February, come join me at RootsTech!

"We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog..."

So, having been a genealogist for 30-some years, I went to look at the classes being offered, and of course went straight to the User track. I scrolled down the list and found a few interesting things (I have got to listen to D. Joshua Taylor's talk on metadata, for instance...), but then thought I'd tiptoe through the Developer track. WOW! Simply reading some of the titles of the classes got me just itching to get on the plane and get down there. Too bad the conference isn't until February 2nd! Developing a new GEDCOM standard, learning about FamilySearch's API, Developing Applications with JavaScript and JQuery (I now know just enough JavaScript to be dangerous...), PHP & MySQL, and a class on Visualization of Genealogy Data are just a few that I'm fascinated by. I am definitely no hard-core programmer (ask either of my programming professors), I don't even know SQL yet, and algorithms can sometimes throw me for a loop (no pun intended...). But for some strange reason, if you put words like computer, database, genealogy, cloud, and web development in the same sentence, the fog seems to clear and I want to learn more and right now please! One would think I've had enough for the time being, but apparently not.

So, I guess I will not so patiently wait until I can get on a plane in February and head to Salt Lake City. I'm sure I'll attend some of the user classes, after all, that's primarily what I still am. But being a wannabe developer with 30+ years of genealogical research experience does have its merits, I suppose. I'm hoping that between knowing what I'd like to see developed in the next several years (bigger and better databases with much better search engines for starters...) and continuing to learn about the many facets of IT in school, that at some point I'll be able to meaningfully contribute to the world of genealogical technology.

How do you know you're nerdy then? When you're tired because your brain is so stuffed with information about CPUs, C# programming, inheritance, UML diagrams, DOM, and secondary storage that you dream about them at night, and yet you can still get excited about going to a technical conference.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Perspective and Legacy

A picture I took this past week from the waterfront near Des Moines.

I suppose that in genealogical circles, we think more about leaving a legacy than some others do. I've had occasion to ponder this over the past few days. In the genealogical community, I've been reading about Bridgett Schneider, the founder of the website Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, who passed away this week at the far too young age of 64. I never had a chance to take advantage of the incredibly kind natures of the many volunteers that worked to help others make their genealogical research a success, but was always very grateful that such a place existed. The site will be down for a little while, but Bridgett's husband, Doc, has promised Bridgett he'll get it back up and running. Over 4,000 volunteers helping each other with their family history from all over the world; it's an amazing thing...

Bridgett's passing made me think of my sweet mother who died six years ago now at the age of 63. I wonder if when she was my age she realized that she had less than 20 years left on this earth? That she wouldn't live to see her oldest granddaughter get married, her next oldest graduate from high school, or her grandson graduate and leave on a mission? I'm sure she had all kinds of plans, including great-grandchildren. After all, her mother and grandmothers lived into their 80s and 90s. It makes me sad, but it also makes me reflect... Would I change something if I knew that about my own life? I like to think I would, but I wonder. Life has a way of just taking over and swamping our best intentions. At times I feel positively bulldozed by circumstances!

Even when I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. Just recently, in the midst of frantically preparing for and taking midterms, I received several very interesting genealogical queries from distant cousins that demanded attention. It would have been easy to just put them off, but I found that answering them helped me to keep my perspective and gave my mind a rest from C# programming and CSS layout. If I had to think one more time about all the components of a CPU... but it also occurred to me that sometimes I get overwhelmed and a few of those 50 balls I'm trying to keep in the air drop with a resounding thud. What I have often wondered is which ones will I regret dropping the most? I'm smart enough to know that I will regret some. Maybe it will be spending time being silly with my teenage son, or quiet time with my hubby. Since my girls have gone off to school, time spent just chatting and getting giggly on the phone has come to mean a lot more, believe me!

But, in the end, as a very wise woman told me today at church as I was preparing to perform a duet during Sacrament Meeting and was feeling a bit panicked, "You can only do the best you can do." And in the end, I suppose that's the answer. As we near the Thanksgiving season, I'm most grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who knows my limitations and while He expects me to do my best to overcome them and to grow, He also understands when I've done my best and can do no more.

So maybe it's time we all were just a little gentler and kinder to ourselves and others, did our best to help them bear their burdens, and spent some time letting those we love around us know about it. We don't always know what's around the next bend, and that's ok too. Just do your best to leave a legacy of love and service and try to keep a perspective that allows you to keep moving forward and live your life with joy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Education

I taught a class on organizing your family history yesterday to a genealogy society and I'll admit that a few days before I was thinking, "Why do I do this?" I have taught at various venues for a number of years here in my community and have always enjoyed it. But every once in a while, when I look at my absolutely crazy schedule, I wonder if I should continue. Is it really worth it? But then I teach again and I remember, "Oh yeah! This is why I do this!" I have to thank everyone at the Jefferson County Genealogical Society for being so warm and welcoming. It was a beautiful drive to Chimacum (near Port Townsend), and the view of the Olympic Mountains as I drove over the Hood Canal Bridge was inspiring. But really the highlight of the whole day was getting to teach those wonderful people. They were so gracious and kind, and I just had so much fun!

I have always loved attending genealogy seminars and programs. Heck, I just enjoy learning period, full stop. I remember taking a Career Interest class at Bellevue Community College back in the day and one of the things they measured was how much you enjoyed learning and what type of situation you learned best in. Were you a college lecture-type person? Maybe you learned better in a hands-on trade school environment? As soon as I got my results back, I knew they had me pegged: I was listed as potential PhD material. Now, this had nothing to do with being intelligent or not. It was simply that I love to learn in the college environment and apparently they figured I was good to go for long enough to get to that level. Truth is, I'm back in college for my second bachelor's degree (it's tough to go get a Master's in Computer Science when your original degree was a Bachelor of Science in Zoology). Is it harder at my age? Yeah, I'll admit that I find some things more difficult. Am I enjoying it? You bet I am!

What I find interesting these days is how I'm viewed in the classroom. I am, on average, old enough to be most of these kids' mother. No kidding... I attended the orientation in August for the program I'm starting later this month at the University of Washington Tacoma campus and actually had one of the kids say to me, after I explained the pros and cons of the workshop classes, "Ok Mom, we'll sign up for the workshops." When I later asked the department advisor how I got into the program (since as a post baccalaureate student I didn't have a very good chance), she said that the head of the program took a second look at my application and said, "Oh definitely. We want this kind of diversity." That led me to think, "Me? Diverse?" When I told my husband about this, he laughed and asked how it felt to be diverse because I was old. Let's just say I didn't find him all that amusing, especially given that he's 14 years older than me! But I really do enjoy the atmosphere I'm in with those kids (and I can rightfully refer to them as kids, since I have children their age) and the energy they bring to what they do. It makes me remember what it was like to be that age, going to college for the first time, and trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. (By the way, when I solve that little mystery, you all will be the first to know...)

The interesting thing that I've found is that the more I learn, the more I love to teach. I have taught genealogy seminars in public libraries, retirement communities, LDS Family History Centers, and at our state genealogy conference. But then I have also taught teenagers in early morning seminary for church (yeah, 6:00 a.m. every weekday morning back then!), little ones in Primary classes, music during Sharing Time, preteens in Sunday School, women in Relief Society, and occasionally Sunday School. I'm currently teaching some of the young women in our ward. I even recently had the rather unnerving opportunity to fill in during our Sunday School class with no previous preparation. And let me tell you, we have amazing sisters that teach our Sunday School class; they are a tough act to follow! I'll be honest though and say that I found it a very interesting experience. It's not often you have to fly by the seat of your pants, but I got the chance that day, and thank goodness for wonderful class members who contributed and didn't let me fall on my face! So I think that's why I enjoyed teaching yesterday so much. I often find that I get as much out of it as the people that attend. The people who attended yesterday's class asked interesting questions; they obviously wanted to learn, and that made all the difference for me as the instructor. It just feels good to share what you know and be appreciated for it.

In reality, education at any age is a choice. We can choose to rest on our laurels and just go with what we already know, or we can get out there and try to learn one more new thing. Or may two... or three... I find that in the genealogical realm, there are a whole host of ways to do this, including taking online classes through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies in Toronto (I'm about 2/3 done with my certificate program!), or through the National Genealogical Society. Don't have that kind of time? Try the lessons on that involve finding your ancestors during their Five-Minute Genealogy courses. How did I learn about those? I read Cyndi Howell's blog and you can too!

So go out there and learn something new today. It doesn't have to be genealogy related of course, but then again, why shouldn't it be?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Serendipity of Genealogy

I was struck once again a few weeks ago by how fascinating it is that when we start on the journey of family history, we so often end up finding out about connections we have with friends that we knew nothing about. When down in Utah visiting some very dear family friends, I mentioned that I remembered her saying a few years back that she was descended from a Skidmore ancestor. I had been curious about it for quite some time, since I too am descended from a Skidmore ancestor, but had never pursued it. Hers was a Loyalist who went to Canada, mine ended up in Virginia. One time a few years ago, when their son and his family were up visiting us, their grandson asked my son, "Are we cousins?" It was a sweet question, as our families are so close, but we all just sort of laughed and forgot about it. During this recent visit we finally sat down, she with her PAF database, and me with my RootsMagic one, to see if we could find a connection. Sure enough, to our delight, we discovered that she and I are 9th cousins, once removed. Our common ancestor is John Skidmore, b. 1643 in Massachusetts. That makes me 10th cousins with her children and my children are 11th cousins with her grandchildren. Now, my husband often laughs and says that this is akin to not being related at all, but I don't care. I can honestly claim them as mine!

I had another similar experience when a family moved into our LDS ward a number of years ago and the wife and I became very good friends almost instantly. Of course, our mutual obsession with genealogy didn't hurt! We had known one another for probably over a year when one night we took my family history Sunday School class to the local LDS Family History Center. I asked if she was okay to help the people who had come because I wanted to go and look at some Wythe Co., Virginia marriage records on microfilm. She looked startled and said, "You have Wythe Co. ancestors? I have Wythe Co. ancestors too!" Well, come to find out, there was some distant intermarriage of cousins, but it turned out that her ancestors and mine lived in the same small village and went to the same church. Crazy! But it gets better...

Probably five years after we'd met I was working on my husband's southern Polish lines. I knew that her husband had Polish lines on his mother's side, including the name Banas. One night, as I was squinting over some very old parish registers from Borowa and the surrounding villages near Mielec, I came upon the name Banas several times. When I called her and asked her to send me her husband's pedigree chart, it was to find out that his ancestors and my husband's ancestors lived in neighboring villages about 5 km away from each other. I find that extraordinary...

Henry Z. Jones has written several books on this topic and how often coincidence and "chance" seem to play a role in our finding our ancestors. I'm not sure I'd call it chance... I honestly believe that these individuals want to be found. I also believe that we are often brought together with people who are related to us or can help us further our research in often miraculous ways. I have seen it in my own life and I am oh so thankful for it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

My shiny new blog...

So, this will be the inaugural post to my newly minted blog... I suppose I'd better say something profound.......

Oh well, never mind; I'll just be me. :)

I have wanted to write a blog for some time now, especially when it comes to some of my thoughts on family history. It's just that life has been too busy for me to give it a go. After attending the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy in July though, I felt like I'd better get down to it. As mentioned above, it isn't that I necessarily have anything especially profound to share, but I'd like to be able to wax lyrical about both old and new topics in genealogy and occasionally the vicissitudes of life. One of the family history topics I'm fascinated with at the moment is cloud computing.

What does cloud computing have to do with genealogy? Well, as Josh Taylor shared with us at the conference, it could potentially have a LOT to do with it. The idea that you can not only store your scanned images/documents in a remote location (automatic offsite backup!), but that you can then access them from any device you happen to be using or, barring that, from any Internet connection is pretty appealing. I have taught classes for years on organizing your family history files and the combination of being able to digitize files and store them for anytime/anywhere retrieval just sounds like something out of a fairy tale!

As a result, I'm investigating... I downloaded DropBox today in order to check it out and so far I like what I see. I have it installed on my own Windows laptop and my husband's Mac desktop, and I also installed the DropBox app on my iPhone. Pretty slick! It also allows you the ability to share folders with others so that they can see your vacation photos, cute pics of your kids, or that extremely rare deed you just found in your great-grandmother's cedar chest after all these years. It has great potential and I'll be spending this week scanning and uploading some documents just to see how things go as far as storage and such. They give you 2GB for free, but you can get 50GB for $9.99/mo. if you need more space. This same idea extends to the iCloud recently announced by Apple. I'll be interested to see how that pans out...

Speaking of teaching classes, I'm going to be giving a seminar in Chimacum, WA to the Jefferson County Genealogical Society this coming Saturday, September 17 at 10:00 a.m. on Organizing Your Family History to Stay Sane. If you have an interest, drop in!