04 October 2011

Tech Tuesday - Catstrophic Failures & Graves Galore

I think one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned as I’ve walked along this sometimes bumpy genealogical path, is that technology can truly be our friend. I’ll preface what I’m going to say with the fact that I have always liked to work with my hands, tinker with machines, and have had a fascination with technology for a long time. So, I have no fear of new technology and often ‘see’ how new technology can be leveraged to benefit the work I do. (Oh, and I was the first woman in the United States to be certified by Detroit Diesel Allison as a diesel mechanic…it’s true.)

As I mentioned when I first started blogging, I’ve been doing research for 15+ years…I started in 1996, the same year that Ancestry.com was born, that Cyndi’s List really started to take off and that Family Tree Maker was digging its roots into the genealogical community. That was back when ‘dial-up’ was still the norm and that my ‘blazing fast’ computer had less power by half than my current cell phone. To me, these are all tools that we use that help leverage us so we can spend our time as efficiently as possible.
What’s bad, really bad, is when technology goes wrong. In 2001, I got laid off from my job and was in full job seeking mode. I was working at home, on that computer, nearly 12 hours a day. And, although I had backup disks, I hadn’t backed up ‘for a while’. I had what I call a ‘catastrophic failure’…I blew the hard drive and realized that the backup disks I’d been storing behind the computer had gotten so hot that they’d warped and were unusable. I was suddenly out 5 years of genealogical research.

Are you queasy? I was. My poor husband thought he was going to have to take me to the hospital I was so distraught. All that work, down the tubes. Then I picked myself up, dusted myself off and bought a new computer. I thought long and hard about how I was going to reinstall the information that I had; of course I had paper records for my most important leaves on the tree and had printouts of the data entered.

It was then that I realized that I had an opportunity to really take a look at my process, and the data I was entering. As I trolled RootsWeb, Cyndi’s List, and other websites for family trees, I came to understand how detrimental it was to simply pull everything I found into my own work. Not everyone was as careful to check the information they were entering. I often found simple yet possibly misleading errors in other people’s trees. I started to see how large sites, like Ancestry, could actually create some harm in genealogical research by not ensuring that people uploading trees to their sites had verified the information in those trees.

Is my tree perfect? Ha! Not by a long shot. But this is what is driving me to learn the technical aspects of genealogy to become a professional genealogist. It is up to each of us, every one of us who creates those trees to ensure the information is as accurate as possible. We then have the benefit of the genealogical community’s collective eyes to find those errors and point them out to us so we can correct them. Unfortunately, not everyone out there cares whether the information on their 5th great-grandfather is accurate; they just wanted to be able to say that they know who it is.

My laptop is 5 years old and sound like an old Chevy when I start it up. I can’t really afford a new computer, so I back it up every day, on two different external hard drives. If one fails, I have two others that I can use to regain lost data. I sleep well at night.

I’m not one to tout websites or products, but I would like to share RestingSpot.com. I’m sorry I don’t remember who it was on Twitter that mentioned it first, but I went to the site, pulled the app onto my Android phone and am hooked. The purpose of Resting Spot is to GPS locate ever gravesite in the U.S. by May, 2013. I believe this is a very lofty goal, but I have to admit, as a techy and genealogical nut I adore this idea, especially for the rural cemeteries I have near where I live. All you do is take your smartphone, start up the app, stand in front of the grave, enter in the name and dates of the person in the grave, snap a pic and upload it to the site. The app uses the phones GPS coordinates to accurately locate, within feet, the exact location of a grave. I’m envisioning how wonderful it would have been when I went to Cavalry Cemetery in Evanston to have had this app on my phone, so the person I took the pics for would be able to go directly to the graves when she has the opportunity to come to Chicago and visit! As an aside, there is a known issue with the Android app, and it’s a biggie; the dates field can’t read anything other than 1900s and 2000s. When I sent an email from my phone regarding this issue, I received a personal response within about 10 minutes, and they also tweeted that the issue was being worked on. So, they also get two thumbs up for customer service!! Check them out at RestingSpot.com.


  1. Great information Laura, this brings back memories from my early days of digging up my history and what happens when you save your data into the wrong format.

  2. I know what you mean about 'queasy'! I was luckier than you, because I was able to retrieve lost data from the GEDCOM I'd uploaded to Rootsweb's WorldConnect, a Web site that I love.

  3. Hi Patrick! Thanks for stopping by and reading my post! I think this is a challenge we've all had at one point or another; the most important thing is that we learn from our mistakes so we don't make them again. ;-)

    Judy...aren't we so fortunate to have additional storage on 'the cloud'?! As I was tooling down the highway tonight, I realized that I was carrying both my laptop and backup drive...what if I was in an accident? Good news (other than not getting in an accident) I have a third redundant drive. Yes, I've learned my lesson!


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