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Got Tools?By Robin Foster


elcome to the Got Tools? genealogy blog by Robin Foster!

The way we do genealogy has changed so much recently. The technology we use now is so new, and many from experts to newbies want to take advantage of the lastest and greatest gadgets and gizmos to discover ancestors, preserve, and share family history. Families and friends are communicating in a different way also.

Between tweeting, blogging, and posting, are you trying to absorb it all or just keep up? Well, Got Tools? can help you get past the learning curve and take advantage of resources that others use to be efficient, bring down brick walls, and have fun!


Overcoming Three Obstacles to Recording Your Oral History Interview

You can now more smoothly record and share your ancestor’s story with the tools and advice shared here. With careful planning and the right tools, you can feel the satisfaction that comes with preserving your family history for future generations.

If you have tried before and felt that the technology that you used complicated the process or if you really did not know what to do with your file after production, you do not need to feel that way this time when you sit down this Thanksgiving to record. Using the following tips and strategies, you won’t be caught by these three obstacles that would otherwise cause you grief.

1.Figure Out Which Tools Suit You Best.

You do not really need expensive equipment. You probably are already holding the most convenient device to record the interview – your smart phone or iPhone. The following apps can be downloaded to your device:

Tape A Talk

Tape-a-Talk: I have used this app several times successfully. The sound quality was great each time. Even if you will not be with you the person that you want to interview this Thanksgiving, all you have to do is call them from your Android device after you begin your recording with Tape-a-Talk. Hang up, and stop the recording. It will be saved as an .mp3 file on your device. Oh, did I mention this app has a free version?

See “The Best Voice Recording App for Android.” Download it here. Also see the video: “How to use Tape-a-Talk” (YouTube).

Tape-a-Talk Screenshot by Robin Foster

Audio Memos

Audio Memos: If you have an iPhone, see “The Best Recording App for iPhone.” Download it here.

Audio Memos Screenshot by Robin Foster


StoryCorps: StoryCorps has partnered with SoundCloud making it possible for you to log in here using your Facebook account or your SoundCloud account where you can then record your interview right from your web browser using the SoundCloud app. You can then upload the interview to the Wall of Listening where you are invited to share your story. Be sure to have a photo of you and the person you interview to upload with your recording. Post the link to your interview on the National Day of Listening: Lowcountry Wall of Listening Facebook page too!

StoryCorps Screenshot by Robin Foster

Other Ways

If you conduct a long distance interview, use Skype to record it. Keep in mind that someone may have to help your interviewee set up the technology ahead of time. If this technology is a bit of a leap for you, you may consider using a digital recorder or a laptop and a HD webcam.

2. Sound Quality

Be sure you and your relative are positioned close enough for your voices to be picked up clearly. If either of you have a soft voice, you may consider using a separate microphone that is compatible with the device you will use to record.

Keep the microphone far enough away to prevent distorted sounds, and make sure it is kept still and does not brush against clothing or other objects. Record in a quiet place, but make sure your voices do not echo. Do a test run beforehand to make sure everything works properly and you are comfortable using the technology.

3. Sharing the File

You will not want your interview to just sit forever on your device. You will probably want to share it with others if you were given permission to do so. You may choose to share in more than one way. Video formats are best converted to .mp4 or .wav files (Windows Media Player). Sound files are most commonly .mp3. Here are a few ways to share:

  • - Save on CD
  • - Upload the interview to StoryCorps
  • - Share videos on YouTube or Vimeo (Sometimes videos need to be converted to .mp4 or .wav or other formats to share them. You can do this with Windows Movie Maker which comes automatically on a PC)
  • - Create a DVD (Photoshop Elements)
  • - Upload the file to Dropbox or Box, and e-mail a link to the file to family members

Now you have some planning before the big day. I hope these ideas help you to be ready for your Turkey Day interview! Please let us know how things went in the comment section below.


Create a Snazzy Facebook Profile Photo

Most folks do not know that you do not have to be stuck with a tiny profile photo on your Facebook profile nor on your Facebook fan page. Here are a few examples that I have created for my own profile and pages and for other people too:

About Our Freedom: An African American Perspective
Over Troubled Water: For African Ancestored People
Clarendon County, South Carolina African Americans
Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood , South Carolina African Americans

You can use other programs to create a layered photo that is the proper dimensions. Here are the steps I follow to create my own profile photo using Photoshop Elements: (click on screenshots to see full view).

1. Create a canvas 200 X 600.

2. Drop a color onto the background.

3. Open a logo or profile photo file, and drag it on top of your background. Notice the bottom right corner of the screenshot. You will see both layers there. This is the beauty of working with Photoshop. You can create different effects on any layer you chose.

4. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to draw a rectangle. Pick a color from the profile photo or logo and fill the rectangle.

5.  Next, I added a photo on top of the layer that I colored.

6.  Next, I added some text.

7.  Save the file as a .jpg, and you are ready to upload it either as your personal profile, or as a fan page personal profile.

In the next article we will review the basic settings for your fan page.

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Create a Place for Your Family to Meet Online

Use your Facebook account to create a special meeting place for your family to meet in one place online no matter where they live. You may have already seen these pages created by businesses and famous people. Even if you are now personally logged into Facebook, sharing your family history research online makes it easier for extended family members to discover and connect with you. Facebook pages show up high in Google and other search engines.


Here are a few examples of Facebook pages:

About Our Freedom Community Page: Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War from an African American perspective.

Preserving Our History in Tangipahoa & St. Helena Parish, Louisiana: Families sharing photos and history.

Over Troubled Water: Strengthening the ties between all African ancestored people.

The greatest thing about Facebook pages is that they do not show the random posts which appear in your news feed, however, your posts from the community page do appear in your news feed for your friends and family to see. Facebook pages allow you to create a community where you can focus on discovering, sharing, and preserving family history.

As family members and friends share photographs, video, and news in their from across the country, bonds are strengthened. Facebook in particular is the perfect place to reach the young members in the family.

Create a Facebook Page

This is the first in a series of articles on how to create a Facebook Community Page where extended family members can share resources and keep in touch. Think of a title for your Facebook page and got to Create a Page. Select the page type. Most family pages can be classified as a Community Page.

Create a Facebook page

After selecting Cause or Community, enter the name of your page, agree to Facebook terms, and click "Get started."

Cause or Community

Next, the "Get Started" page loads, and you will see the first six things needed to set up your new page:

Get Started
The first item is "Upload an image from your computer." In the next post we will walk you through creating a great profile photo and uploading it to your Facebook page.

Business Cards: Does this look familiar?

Business Cards photograph by Robin Foster. May 2, 2011

      Does your stack of business cards look like this?  Find yourself shuffling through a stack like this to find the contact info for the new friend you met at a recent conference?  Now you can carry all your businesses cards with you right in the palm of your hand with a mobile app called CamCard Lite. Read more

Got "My Library" at Google Books?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

If you have not queried Google Books to learn more about the geographical area where you ancestors lived or to find out what information mat exist on your ancestor, you may be missing a valuable geographical resource.


To access Google Books go to or:  

  1. Go to
  2. Click the “More” link at the top of the page
  3. Select "Books."

I have found many helpful books by searching using the following criteria:

  • county/parish and state
  • ancestor's name and locality
  • topics (slavery, reconstruction, local history)
  • prominent families in the area

With Google Books, I can save books to My Library to read later where I can keep them organized:

My Google eBooks
Recently viewed
Reading now
To read
Have read
Debbie Bloom, Walker Local History Room Manager at the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, recently gave a great presentation at the Southeast Branch on using social networking and genealogy where she demonstrated how she uses her eReader to store .pdf files from Google Books and Heritage Quest.  She pointed out that sometimes the places you go to research do not have the internet.  Census records or books saved on an eReader can be easily referenced when needed.  
A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

Some of the most fascinating discoveries which I have found are federal and state records which mention the names of my ancestors ans well as other works by researchers which provide further biographical details and information about collections in local archives and libraries.  I have been led to a vast array of record types rich in genealogical data on people in the communities where my ancestors lived.

If you discover a book that only show a "snippet view," and you cannot access all the pages, look for the link within Google Books to  The "Look Inside" feature available for many books at Amazon allows you to search the indexes for family surnames or localities you are researching.

Check out the "Look Inside" feature for this South Carolina Low Country book:  Masters of Small Worlds:  Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country. If you log in you will be able to access more of the book.  Check out some of the great treasures I have found on online book sites:
Find more clues about ancestors on online book sites
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FamilySearch power tools break down "brick walls"

Self-retracting pocket tape measure (imperial)

Image via Wikipedia

When I was young, I used to sneak into my dad's red toolbox to admire the tools he used and to make sure I knew the names of each and how each one was used.  I was most fascinated by the tape measure and the level.
My fascination for tools has carried over to social media.  I am always looking for the best tools to help genealogists and family historians find greater success.  Two new powerful FamilySearch community tools have leveled the playing field between professionals and enthusiasts, and helps everyone measure up when it comes to our knowledge of genealogical resources, FamilySearch Wiki and FamilySearch Forums.
I volunteer at the Columbia family history center in South Carolina each week where I have had many opportunities to help patrons break through "brick walls."
I have helped to empower them by helping them to learn how to access and use these two tools when they have exhausted known resources and need a little assistance.
The benefits of FamilySearch Wiki and FamilySearch Forums are:
  • research assistance is free
  • both can be accessed from home
  • professionals and enthusiasts share what they know
  • responses to research questions are accurate and timely
The two challenges we face in researching are running out of resources and finding answers to research questions.  These two FamilySearch power tools are the answer to both challenges.  Just about every person whom I have helped who needed help beyond my own expertise has found answers using FamilySearch Wiki or FamilySearch Forums.
Now, I help to empower everyone to know how to find help when they get stuck:
1.  When you run out of resources, search the wiki to see what resources exist for the geographical location where your ancestor lived.  Search the wiki also for articles that tell more about the history of the area and the events that took place during you ancestor's lifetime.
2.  If you are unable to locate resources on the wiki, go over to the forums and ask for free research assistance.  Be sure to include your ancestor's name, vital information (dates, places, and events)  and explain what you want to know.
3.  If you discover a resource that was not included on the wiki, go back and contribute it so the next person will be able to find it more easily.
These three easy steps have proved successful for many people who have struggled with "brick walls" for some time.  I have received assistance with a few of my own challenges as well.  I encourage you to try these powerful tools for yourself, and please come back to share your success!
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