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Finding Felix

It all started with a tweet.

Last week my local public library tweeted “GCPL has the solution to your quest for genealogy information….#HeritageQuest”.  Squirrel!

The message captured my interest and before I knew it, I was hooked on a modern day treasure hunt for information on my family lineage. 25 years ago I did some basic family research at the state archive building and found census records back to 1910. With the Heritage Quest tool from the library, I was able to view my father’s family line in the census records in every census back to 1840 (except 1890 because most original records were destroyed by fire).  Time travel never felt so real.

Digitization of records.

The big win is the census records are now digitized with metadata. Unlike 25 years ago, when I was searching Microfilm, I was able to complete a wide array of searches very quickly. I could use first name, last name, birth year, death year, places lived, and family members to help narrow search results. Linked to each family unit was the scanned image of the original census document for visual confirmation. Using this new capability I was able to quickly find census record data back to 1880 for my father’s family line. But I wasn’t done. Felix awaited.

One challenge with the metadata is sometimes the interpretation of the original handwriting is wrong and sometimes the original census data has inconsistencies in what is recorded. There were variations in spellings, middle initials, and ages that made it difficult for me to get a match in a few of the years. So I had to examine the data in-context to find matches (approximate ages, children names, place of recording, etc.) Basically, the tools of the digital age combined with manual human intellect to solve a puzzle.

Finding Felix.

1840 Census Document

Before this past week, I knew the name of my great grandfather and great-great grandfather (from my great aunt while she was living). I also knew the cemetery where my great grandmother was buried. Using the cemetery information I was able to locate her grave using the site findagrave.com. At the bottom of her gravesite record was a comment from a lineal relative of mine previously unknown to me (a distant cousin). I emailed her a question asking if she knew the name of the father of my great-great father. Within hours I had the name, Felix.

Using this new information, I went back to the census search. Within a few hours I found Felix in the census records for 1880, 1870, 1860, 1850, and 1840! Hello Felix.

Digging required.

To get to the next generation, I’ll need data from additional sources. The 1790 through 1840 census records only show head of household by name and then headcounts for other family members. I was able to match Felix in 1840 because I knew the age of his spouse and children in the 1850 census.

Over the last four days, I’ve seen the power of metadata searching, optical character recognition and digitization of written records. I just hope I can find Felix through another historical document to tell me a little more. It’s a treasure hunt for another footprint in the past. It’s a story waiting to be told.  

Onward and upward!

The role of social media

My news reader brought me an interesting post from Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld this week; Why Google+ is the place for passions. I identify with Elgan’s commentary because that’s how I use Google+ today as well. My circles include Digital Marketing, Georgia Tech, Technology, and Ubuntu. Communities and old-fashion search are other ways to filter content. So is it a place for passions? Absolutely. While I have friends that I converse with at times on Google+, it’s mostly a destination for me to absorb content related to interests. Sometimes I think of it as a visual and interactive RSS reader.

What drives our social media usage?

Some people I know have completely avoided social media sites. They don’t use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Other people I know use multiple sites. As with anything in life, we make decisions about where we’ll spend our time. It’s getting tougher to decide, because the digital age has multiplied all of the sources that compete for our attention each day. For me, it’s all I can do to keep up with work and family obligations during the work week. My social and digital media usage is increasingly becoming a weekend activity. (Thank goodness the little Roku box gives me a digital outlet during mid-week exercises!)

What drives our usage of social media sites is content and interaction. The various platforms deliver content and interaction capabilities differently. Look at the social media sites in 2014. They’ve evolved to communities that appeal to specific audiences. Our interactions on sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn might include common set of people. But even if it does, the content of the messages and our degree of interaction are different on each platform.

Why does social media matter?

Take the role of social media in our culture and compare it against Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are elements that fit in each of the three top tiers: love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. I translate that to mean that social media can make a difference in our lives and those we communicate with. For example, our participation in social media can help us get through tough times, provide for others in need, contribute to causes, receive instruction for problem solving, share a joke, engage in debate, and learn new skills. Sure, you could argue that some social media use is superficial. That’s true of all our interactions in life whether through electronic media or not. The bottom-line is that social media is interwoven in elements of human motivation and needs.

Oh, by the way. If you haven’t looked at Google+, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Golden retrievers and disruptive technologies are a few of things that interest me.

(Image credit – http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4453/Twitter-In-Real-Life-The-Follow-Back-cartoon.aspx)

Finding social rhythms

We have limits on the number of digital profiles we can keep active.
I have six digital profiles that I use regularly for various purposes. Here’s the list in no order of significance: Blog site, RSS reader, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. My activity on each varies from week-to-week based on a variety of factors including my schedule and purpose of communication. I’m not closed minded to changing in the future. But at this point in time those are the areas that comprise my digital life.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect six digital areas are far more than most people try to maintain. I’m not active on Pinterest or Instagram or (insert your favorite site not listed here). It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy learning and exploring, but my capacity to participate is limited by my other choices.

Our digital participation is subject to change.
I think we all gravitate towards the spaces that give us the most value. By that I mean, a place where we connect with people and information. This is a place that we can consume information that provides knowledge and benefit to us, but it’s also a place that allows us to contribute information back to the space.

We may create profiles and try them for a time before abandoning the profile for something else. Twitter is a good example. I see abandoned profiles all the time. Many have created a Twitter account to see what it’s all about but have never contributed any information on their own. LinkedIn is another good example. One could argue it’s a professional expectation now to have a LinkedIn profile. But most people don’t use LinkedIn for professional activity such as networking, knowledge share, or research until they are actively pursuing a job.

We develop social rhythms based on the platform and content.
Maybe you don’t think of it that way. But we are all creatures of habit. I know I try to find a rhythm for producing and consuming digital content. It’s a challenge and requires dedication each day. As I see it though, my digital lifestyle is about learning, thinking, and growing. Even though contributing content isn’t directly related to my compensation at work, keeping an expertise and knowledge molds my thinking and knowledge for work activities.

Here’s some examples from my routine:
* My RSS feed is like my newspaper. It contains profiles of information sources that I want to read regular updates. Some of them are media outlets while others are blogs from individual thought leaders.

* LinkedIn is a always-on professional networking forum. I can keep track of my professional connections changing jobs, adding skills, or sharing pieces of information.

* Google+ is like combination of a RSS reader and discussion forum. I’ve created circles based on topics and when I view the stream from an individual topic it’s like reading a RSS feed. I’m finding that Google+ is more rich with discussion about topics than a typical blog or media publication. Much of the value of Google+ comes in reading and participating in the comments after each post.

* My blog is a my thought sandbox. I use the blog to record my thoughts, practice writing, and experiment with digital publication.

Platforms may come and go. But our basic need to communicate doesn’t change.
Regardless of what digital platform(s) we use or how we use them, we are driven by a need to communicate. “Social media” is just a term to wrap around social creatures. Maybe the current platform we use is discontinued in the future. But we’ll find another one to use because of our basic need to communicate ideas with one another. How much or how little we contribute is based on our rhythm for consumption.

I’m always searching for ways to stay in rhythm or to develop a more complete set of habits in my life. Let me know what works for you.

Thought readings 7

Each week I capture, mark, and comment on blog posts and news articles around the internet. This is a short-list of three links that I think others will find valuable for their thought lives.

  1. Emerson College student paper completes a fully responsive, mobile-friendly redesign by Andrew Phelps from Nieman Journalism Lab.  A great story of a student run newspaper using some technology updates to get closer to their readers. Their site, the Berkeley Beacon,  now adjusts the display based on the type of device the reader is using. So if you are using a mobile or tablet device, the screen dimensions will adjust accordingly so that you don’t have to continually zoom and scroll.
  2. Tracking Twitter, Raising Red Flags by Pete Thamel from the New York Times. Thamel does a good job correlating the relationship between college athletes, the athletic departments, and internet monitoring businesses.  Internet monitoring is a growing industry. The article frames a good case study in legitimate business concerns vs the privacy of individuals.
  3. Frank Warren: Half a million secrets from TED 2012. Warren discusses his site postsecret.com and reveals some of the anonymous secrets posted by people. It’s a fascinating look at type of information that people will reveal and how relieved they are to have a place to do it anonymously. Releasing secrets has a powerful psychological effect for most of us and you’ll enjoy listening to Warren discuss his site.


Let me know what links you shared, tagged, or commented on this week.

Your social media footprint is your history

We are fascinated with history.
Maybe History wasn’t your favorite subject in school, but I suspect that certain aspects of history get your attention now. There’s the History Channel on cable television with popular shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and American Restoration. In fact Pawn Stars scores at the top of some cable TV ratings for certain age groups. There are books, documentaries, investigative reporting, etc. that all touch-on our fascination with history.

Historical information appeals to us because it’s about about how people and objects interacted to create a moment in time. They create a story and a connection for us to relate. We say life is all about relationships today and it was all about relationships back then also. Relationships are part of the fabric that makes us. So why wouldn’t we have a fascination with history.

We are fascinated with our own history.
There comes a time in the life of most people where they want to know more about their family lineage. For me, it hit during my college years. I spent some time at the local archives digging through census records and got back as far as my great great grandfather. Then just when I thought was picking up steam my grandmother told me she believed he was adopted. So it became complicated to proceed and I had school work to do and dropped my research.

Today, sites like Ancestry.com pull together information and provide tools to aid in historical research. I love the phrase I see when I pull-up the Ancestry.com site: “Ready to discover your family story?” That’s the connection with people. It’s not just a history of people and names. It’s a story about who your family was during a moment or a passage in time. It’s a story about what made you.

Social media is creating a historical record of our lives.
Now think about what digital media sites are creating. We are creating historical time lines of events in our lives. No longer will people piece together bits and pieces of their history by a photo album with names and dates on the back of the photographs. We are creating a digital footprint of our lives by our status updates.

Facebook has captured this the best with their new timeline feature. Facebook says “Tell your life story with a new kind of profile.” In essence they’ll sort your posts, status updates, blogs, photographs, etc. by date so that you can create the sequential story of your life. Just imagine if you had that for your great-great grandparents. You’d be interested to read that right?

Other social sites such as Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest are building and keeping this type of information as well. Blogging is great for this too and whether you are recording events in your life or expressing opinions on a subject, you are creating a sequential series of content.

The social sites are like our digital diaries.

The good and the bad of it.
I know when the Facebook timeline feature was first announced there was a flurry of activity and blog post recommendations to look at your timeline and remove posts that you didn’t want to be public. So for example, all the things you said about your-then “significant other” you might remove. Or maybe it was the things you wrote as an impulsive youth and you’ve grown wiser with your words now and want to remove them from the record. Whatever the reason, the idea is to make sure your history is clean. Then there are the privacy concerns. Do we want to have all this information exposed to stalkers and criminals?

But I think the idea is more good than bad. What’s really happening is that we are creating a life journal just by populating our social spaces with content. At some point in the future we can go-back and see our thoughts, our pictures, our conversations, etc. It’s our history. It’s what we have made.

Go make history.
So value your history, your story, your life. Keep a copy of it for yourself and future family members. (Google+ and Facebook have options to download a copy of all your content.) It’s your history. Go make it.