Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Technology, and its impact on genealogical research.

Technology is changing the way genealogists conduct their research. But in the long term, is it changing for better or for worse?

I came across a quote on Goodreads today. It's a conversation from the third book in my Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery series, The Last Queen of England, and once again it got me thinking about the way family historians of the future will go about their research.

Here it is:

    ‘So what’s your topic for tomorrow?’ Tayte asked, changing the subject. Marcus had been a key speaker at the genealogy convention for many years, and this year Tayte knew he had something controversial planned.
    ‘Technology,’ Marcus said, relaxing again. ‘Specifically the World Wide Web and how it’s changing the way we genealogists do our job—and not necessarily for the better.’
    Jean seemed surprised by his negativity. ‘Surely the Internet’s making things easier, isn’t it?’
    Tayte agreed.
    ‘In many ways, yes,’ Marcus said. ‘Access to archives has never been easier, but there are serious downsides. There’s a price to pay.’
    ‘How so?’ Tayte asked.
    ‘Well, take e-mail for example. People don’t write to each other anymore, do they? Once my generation’s gone, the written letter will be consigned to social history. Tell me, Jefferson. When did you last write a letter?’
    Tayte had to think about it. When the occasion came to him, he smiled, wide and cheesy. ‘It was to you,’ he said. ‘I wrote you on your sixtieth birthday.’
    ‘That was five years ago.’
    ‘I still wrote you.’
    Marcus looked sympathetic. ‘It was an e-mail.’
    ‘Was it?’
    Marcus nodded. ‘You see my point? Letters are key to genealogical research, and they’re becoming obsolete. Photographs are going the same way.’ He looked genuinely saddened by the thought. ‘How many connections have you made going through boxes of old letters and faded sepia photographs? How many assignments would have fallen flat without them?’
    ‘Too many,’ Tayte agreed.
    ‘I can’t see genealogists of the future fervently poring over their clients’ old e-mails, can you? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the excitement and the scent of time that so often accompanies the discovery?’
    He had Tayte there, too. Tayte’s methods were straight out of the ‘Marcus Brown School of Family History.’ Tripping back into the past through an old letter and a few photographs represented everything he loved about his work. It wouldn’t be the same without the sensory triggers he currently took for granted.
    ‘So what’s the answer?’ Jean said.

Technology is certainly changing things. On one hand, and while we're in transition, it appears to be for the better as we genuinely have the best of both worlds. The old photographs and letters still exist, waiting to be discovered, and access to archives really has never been easier. It also seems that every week a new online resource is made available to us, which we can search from the comfort of our homes. All good stuff then...

But what about those old photographs and the letters we currently take for granted? The vast majority of those memories - those connections to the past - will someday only be available on personal hard drives in the form of digital photos snapped with our cameras, and emails locked in a folder that is all too easily deleted or otherwise destroyed in time. We take more photographs nowadays of course, and many are uploaded to the internet, potentially making research easier. But what happens to all that data when a person dies and their website or blog expires - their personal computer sold on or destroyed? Perhaps the important data will be handed down, much as we've become accustomed to handing down family photo albums and personal letters. But I do wonder.

I love technology, and ultimately I think it will continue to make genealogical research better. But this has certainly got me thinking. How will technology shape things for the genealogist of the future?

What do you think? I'd love to know. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Photographs from Italy - the Dolomites

Last week I was in Italy, in lovely Corvara, which is right at the heart of the magnificent Dolomite mountains. My companions were my best friend from my school days called Andy, and a rather heavy backpack full of camera gear as we're both keen amateur photographers - in case you didn't know that already. The decision over what to take on the trip proved a challenge for both of us as space was an issue, as was weight. That's Andy on the right, by the way. We've known each another since we started secondary school, age twelve.

It you're interested in the camera gear I took with me, please read on. If not, you can safely skip this paragraph. For those still reading on, I can highly recommend the F-Stop Tilopa rucksack. It proved tough and comfortable with a fully loaded large slope ICU (Internal Camera Unit). For this trip I loaded the bag with a Canon 5D mk3 camera body and three lenses: 14mm f2.8L, 35mm f1.4L and a 135mm f2L, the latter of which I bought specifically for the trip for some extra (relatively lightweight) reach, especially when coupled with my 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter, giving 189mm and 270mm. The 14mm is quite a specialist lens, and this time around it saw very little use. I love it, though, and just couldn't bear to leave it behind.

What did prove useful was a Canon 500d close-up lens. It screws onto the front of other lenses like a filter, reducing the close focus distance. Coupled with my 135mm f2L, I found it a very impressive travelling option. The combo allowed me to leave my macro lens at home, saving space and weight while letting me get close enough to capture some great detail. Also in my bag was a tripod and ball head, a small flash unit, several filters, a three litre water bladder and, and...

Anyway, onto the mountains, and as with my books, it's great to be able to share my passion like this. Thank you Internet, and most of all thank you for visiting my blog to see some of the shots I came home with. Overall, I took close to 1000 photos during the week, which boiled down to 60 shots that I felt best captured the trip and the majesty of these truly wonderful mountains. It's been difficult to choose which photographs to put on my blog, and which to leave out. These are some my favourites. Click on any image to view  in greater detail. I hope you enjoy them.  

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Look Inside The Lost Empress - Jefferson Tayte Book 4

The 'look inside' feature on Amazon is now live for my new Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery, The Lost Empress, which will be released in all formats worldwide on 21 October - unless you live in Australia, in which case you can get it a day early on the 20th. I'm getting more and more excited about it every day.

Below is an excerpt, which is from the preface to the book. This is the first time I've used a preface in my work, and I've done so now because when I came across the material during my research I felt it set the backdrop for the book very well.

The full sample, which includes the prologue and part of chapter one (where we catch up with Jefferson Tayte again) is viewable via this link.  Alternatively, you can access it via the 'look inside' feature on the Amazon store wherever you are.

Kent, England. Three weeks ago.
     This would be his first murder, and he hoped it would be his last. His mouth felt dry despite having just been sick. He could still feel the gastric acid burning his throat—still smell the sweet bile that now stained his clothes. He wanted nothing more than to withdraw back into the shadows where he’d been waiting for the right moment, psyching himself up. But he knew he had to do it. There was no turning back now. He put on a pair of thin gloves and pulled a grey ski mask over his head as he continued across the moonlit yard, checking to his left and to his right as he went. It was quiet—no one else around. The owner of the workshop-cum-warehouse he was heading for didn’t even have a guard dog, which would have complicated things because he liked dogs.
There was a light on inside, just a single lamp by his reckoning. That was where his victim would be, working late for the last time. He reached the door and pulled a sleek carving knife from inside his jacket, which he’d bought from the local supermarket that afternoon. He’d thought long and hard about how he would do it, concluding that a knife would be quick and quiet and easy to obtain, even if it did mean getting closer to his victim than he wanted to.
He went around to the side of the building, heading away from the light, and began to prise the tip of his knife beneath each window frame as he passed, waiting for one to pop open. It was an old building, as old as the antiques the man inside liked to restore for all he knew. The windows were covered in a film of dirt, their old metal frames chipped and rusty. The fourth window he came to lifted easily and he stopped beneath it. It was time. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves as he eased it open. Then he pulled himself up and slipped inside.
He could just make out the shapes of crates and boxes in the dim moonlight, and he cursed himself for not thinking to bring a torch. You’re such an amateur, he thought as he fought the dry cough that was rising in his throat from all the dust he’d kicked up. He stepped further in, feeling his way around the crates, looking for the door. Then he heard music, classical music that was faint and tinny, as though coming from a small radio. The sound guided him, and as his eyes adjusted he began to make out the glow beneath the door from the room beyond.
The heady smell of polish and linseed oil hit him as he teased the door open. The man he had gone there to kill had his back to him. He was bent over an old pedestal desk twenty feet away, rubbing the surface with a cloth in smooth, even strokes that seemed to keep time with the string section that was playing on the radio. He thought that was good. It would help to mask his approach as he crept up behind him, but after taking two steps, his nerves got the better of him and he ran to the desk, knife in hand. He grabbed the man by the collar of his overalls and pushed him back onto the desk, quickly showing him the knife so there was no mistaking his intention.

Please follow the link above to read the full sample.