• Technology
  • May9


    UPDATE (09 NOV 2015): 23andme is retiring Countries of Ancestry, (the tool formerly known as Ancestry Finder) as of November 11, 2015. I’m leaving this blog post out here for posterity, mainly due to vanity and the amount of time I put into creating my Excel sheet. 😉

    But, as mentioned in the previous update: you should be using the tools at DNAGedcom.com. Good luck to you!

    UPDATE (11 July 2013): It has been more than a year since I created this tool and process, and the 23andme site has gone through some extensive changes. I have not had time to test if the process in this post nor the spreadsheet is still working properly with any possible data format changes.

    Feel free to give it all a shot, but I recommend that you may first want to take a look at the DNAGedcom.com site, which has automated things in a much more user-friendly way!

    Ancestry Finder Drop DownIf you are a 23andme customer, you may have noticed that they updated their Ancestry Finder (AF) tool to make it possible to see the matches of the people with whom you share genomes. You can also download this data in comma-separated-variable (.csv) format.

    That. is. great. stuff.

    I’m sure that people will soon come up with interesting new ways to triangulate their genetic matches and learn more about their ancestry. But, there is one problem: If you are sharing your results with a few hundred people and want to get all of their AF data files, it takes a drop-down selection, wait a few seconds for AF to reload, then a button click and a Save File As click FOR EACH PERSON IN YOUR LIST.

    Holy carpal tunnel.

    I suppose 23andme might make it possible within their system to get them all at once which will make this all moot. But, I thought there must be a better way to get all of these data files and I found a slightly clunky, yet completely workable method.

    There may be more elegant ways to do this, but for now I created an Excel spreadsheet that will help you get you all the data with only a bit copying and pasting – along with some help from a Firefox add-on.

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  • May4

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    File Naming Convention - Files List

    Click image to see larger version

    Lately I began to wonder if other researchers are as naming-convention-specific as I have become when it comes to saving records. Are they? Are you?

    I do my best to keep a standard convention for the various files types, but usually I try to keep the info within it flowing from the most general to most specific within it.

    For example, this is all one filename for a 1901 Irish Census document:
    File Naming Convention - detail

    The idea is: FileType.Year.Country.County.Town.Subtown.Address.SURNAME Names.NOTES.jpg

    While it looks a bit of overkill, it comes in especially useful with images – I use Google Picasa to work with my image sets locally. I have more than 4,700 images in my document folders alone – and that doesn’t include the few thousand family photos I have scanned so far, nor my newer and natively digital photos.

    In a perfect world, I would have used tags to categorize all of the images so I could search for things that way. But, that didn’t happen back in the early days of my research. However, the good news is that as you search within Picasa, it uses various things to find what you want.

    That includes the file names, folder names in addition to tags. So, my crazy-long file-naming conventions not only make them easier to parse when looking through folders, but help me break them into sets when searching in Picasa. Two birds with one pixel. or something.

    As a bit of trivia, did you know there’s also another neat search feature in Picasa?
    It can search for colors!

    Picasa search - White legsI’m not talking about file or folder names here- I’m talking about color within the image itself. So, type ‘BLUE’ in the Picasa search box and get all of them sky photos. Type ‘GREEN’ and get grass photos.

    Funnily enough, in my photo sets, if you type ‘WHITE’… the first result is a photo of my legs.

  • Mar21

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    I originally posted this quickie a few years ago, and have noticed that Google has added a few interesting symbols to their map marker collection.

    So, if you like to personalize your Google maps head on over just to the left of Equatorial Guinea (which is where The Google happened to put these markers) and take a look. You can click on any icon to get the marker name, some tips on how to use it and a Learn More link that provides some additional info on creating maps using Fusion Tables. There is even more additional added information a their Change placemark icon page.

    Also, for the record: there is one icon that looks like a skinny swastika – be aware that symbol has ancient origins that go far beyond its use and corruption by he who shall not be named.

    Below is my original post, kept intact for reference by future archaeologists:

    A quick post for today: During my research to create my Tierneys in NYC Directories map, I happened upon a nice reference over at The Google’s fusion tables – a map containing all of the available Google maps icons and their names…

    You can find it here, or see below for a quick peek.

    I’m also in the process of reading “Beginning Google Maps Mashups with Mapplets, KML, and GeoRSS: From Novice to Professional“, so far I’m liking the format and content. I’ll report back when I’ve had a chance to get all the way through.

  • Mar9

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    The resources linked below have generally made their way around the genealogosphere in the last week or so, but I just thought I’d post them for quick access later…

    Last month’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 has posted presentations and workshop handouts for your downloading pleasure here.

    You can find RootsTech 2012 videos online here.

    NARA has put Popular Know YourRecords Workshops Online for First Time!

    Duck On A Bike BookMy 5 year old daughter has drawn me a picture of a duck in a pond. (Not to be confused with the book at right, which is not only one of her new favorites to read, but whose title is my new non-offensive workplace interjection.)

    (OK those last ones aren’t genealogy-related, but I was on a roll.)

  • Feb3


    After watching D. Joshua Taylor’s Rootstech session “Do I Trust the Cloud?” earlier today, I thought it might be a good idea to finish a blog post I’ve had in limbo for quite awhile now – how to encrypt your data to protect it if you use a cloud-based sharing or storage service.

    But, that post  of mine is mainly “How To” and not “Why To.” Here I’ll address some of the Why first.

    First, I liked D. Joshua Taylor’s presentation. It had very many good points on the value of using cloud services, both from a data preservation and a collaboration standpoint. I’m all in – I use cloud services all the time and I’m with him on the potential of using these tools.

    Cloud Lock CylinderBut, we need to remember that these cloud services are just that – tools. They are not a panacea for your security nor your data storage and backup concerns.

    At the start of the talk I felt he was overselling the “trust the cloud” part of his argument for using such services. He then followed up with a discussion of the pitfalls of cloud services and things one might want to verify with a service provider to insure their data was safe and available.

    That was great – but as a security professional, I still think it felt a bit too much like the ultimate takeaway was “they’ll take care of your stuff and they’ll figure out how to make it secure, since it is in their best interest as a business to do a good job.”

    Well, maybe. If you think cloud services (or any company) have it all figured out or are close to it, then you might want to leave your happy place for a minute and take a look at any day’s conversation on my Security & Privacy Twitter list of infosec professionals. Then, you might meander over to the DataLoss Database and check out the latest reports. It ain’t pretty

    Dilbert DR Plan: HELP HELPWhile I’m a fairly heavy user of cloud services, I make sure that I have a definite plan for knowing what data I have, keeping multiple copies both in the cloud and locally, as well as maintaining a system of managing a string of backups over time.

    I mean, who hasn’t overwritten a file by mistake? Raise your hand? Higher! I thought so.

    Well, that can still happen with cloud-based services. Or, someone might breach the cloud service. Or, your local system might get infected, leading to easy access to your cloud data. Or, a service might change their privacy policy regarding your data – and once your data is out there, between backups and cached copies, there’s (almost) no un-ringing that bell.

    Your data is still your data, no matter how you store it and to protect it you need to plan for the worst-case scenario. Because the funny thing about worst-case scenarios is when you expect them and plan for them, they don’t show up as often. Remember:

    “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

    OK, so I’m done with building  the bleak house. But, let’s just move forward with the following tenets in place:

    1. You need to decide how important each type of data is to you, and what might happen if it fell in the wrong hands.
    2. You can’t know for sure how secure any online service is, so act as if they are insecure. No matter what they tell you.

    Realize now that I’m not saying you should consider these cloud services as evil, incompetent entities. Use them. Love them. Send them Christmas cards and name your children after them. But we all need to be realistic about both the opportunities they present and the risk you take when putting your stuff “out there.”

    For me: Putting my open research and photos in the cloud? Great! Cousin Bait! Research help! Collaboration! Putting my taxes and medical records in the cloud? No thanks; the risk outweighs the benefit.

    Here’s a simple way to harness the goodness of something like Dropbox without exposing your bits to the elements: Encrypt your data before you put it in the cloud.

    TrueCrypt is a free open-source encryption software and is available for all major operating systems. You can encrypt an entire disk, or for our purposes here: create a virtual encrypted volume to put your data in. From your operating system’s perspective, this volume is simply another file.

    Cloud Dropbox ExmampleAt right is a simple diagram of using Dropbox and Truecrypt together to protect your data over and above the protections in place by the cloud provider.

    For example, I have Dropbox installed on my desktop, laptop and mobile devices. I have regular folders and files in it and a public folder for sharing with others. I also have an encrypted Truecrypt volume (read: file) that gets synced along with those other files.

    How a Truecrypt Volume Looks in Dropbox A Truecrypt volume contains a file system within it – so you mount the volume using the Truecrypt software, enter the correct password and it will look just like any other drive on your system. You can work with the files there just as you would any other.

    When you are done working with the files, simply dismount the Truecrypt volume and Dropbox will sync it as usual. So you can have it all: availability, security and convenience.

    I hope that wasn’t too long a post and that my soapbox wasn’t too high. It is an exciting time to research family history and to work online. But, sometimes we need to work to try not to get *too* excited.

    In my next blog post I’ll provide some details and screen shots on how to create a secure Truecrypt volume.