How to create an online community that will survive

My genealogical community, Heycuz, has been around since 1998. That’s way back when you had to use a telephone to get online. Today, there are between 900 and 1500 people on it right now. I mean this very second. You can check by the “Who’s Online” widget on the front page. I’ve received lots of comments from administrators of other genealogical communities saying they “wish” they had the group participation that we have on Heycuz. In other words, Heycuz has not only survived but is has thrived!

A virtual community is expensive to launch, difficult to attract visitors (participants), and poorly planned execution will make even a promising start fizzle into thin air. I’m saddened that many worthwhile groups’ and organizations’ websites die out so quickly. I want to help you by telling you how we did it. Being deliberate in your planning and construction of your new community website will minimize the chances of your visitors becoming frustrated with a poorly working or confusing roll-out and leaving your site forever.

KISS your members, don’t knock them over.

Bells and whistles are so tempting. There are so many great toys for web communities available: forums, blogs, galleries, private messaging, video chat rooms, and surveys to name a few. But, I’m telling you now KISS (keep it simple stupid) your members don’t knock them over. The “throw everything up at once and hope something sticks” is a recipe for disaster.
At Heycuz, we started out with a very simple newsgroup format. We used Yahoo groups where members could post and reply to group emails. Since most people know how to use email (in the early days we still had to teach people how to attach files), the resulting conversation was lively. Within a few months, even though we didn’t seek new members, we grew from less than a dozen core members to a couple hundred. As we grew, we began to add features to our group including a website which included the family histories and descendant trees.

Drop What Doesn’t Work, Build on What Does.

One of the first new features we tried was a weekly chat room. The sound of crickets was deafening. We tried different times; we tried different topics; we tried different chat systems; but never more than three or four people showed up. I’m not saying don’t try chat rooms, there are lots of successful ones. But, since my members didn’t enjoy it, we dropped it and no one brought it up again. On the other hand, if you find that a large group of your members are doing something you didn’t expect then build upon it. For instance, say your members enjoy posting their links to videos that they created. Take advantage of that by dedicating a whole area of the site to showcasing your members’ videos. There are lots of open-source solutions to host videos or you can even allow them to embed youtube videos.  If you find many of your members posting links to their blog posts, then give them a reason to stick around by offering them a blog feature right on your group’s website. Not only will they enjoy it, but they’ll help add to your site’s content.

Give Yourself Room To Grow.

Being a genealogy group, documents are important, very important. Unfortunately, the servers that I chose didn’t see eye to eye with us. Can you believe they actually told us we had too many files? When we started I thought that we could NEVER use more than 10 gigs of space. The first time I had to pack up and move the entire site it took me three days AND nights. Talk about zombies. I slept by my computer, jumping up when my computer beeped the warning that I’d been knocked offline again. Now, there are much easier backup systems (which I will talk about later).
Also make sure that the software that you use for your site has the ability to grow. As I stated before, we started with Yahoo groups, so we were (and in some ways still are) at the mercy of Yahoo. About five years ago, Yahoo decided it would no longer save “attachments” sent along with the newsgroups posts. Another set of sleepless nights ensued as I frantically went post by post to download our precious files before they deleted them all. Remember, as I said, in genealogy documents are very important. I already had a backup system, but I didn’t want to take the chance that I had missed anything, so I saved everything again. So, learn from my mistakes, don’t use a system where you have little or no control. These days there are several newsserver systems that can be installed directly on your own server. Since my members are comfortable with Yahoo, having spent more than 13 years on it, I’ve left the newsgroup there, writing a script to send the posts to the website’s forum. It is an awkward work-around, but I stay with it because its working for now. I’m not saying don’t go with Yahoo Groups, some people are very happy with it, but if I was starting out today I wouldn’t go that route. It’s like having a landlord controlling your company.

Ask for donations or finance your site by selling advertising space.

Heycuz is a labor of love, so I never expected to make money with it. In fact, I find it laughable when going through my spam box deleting all the emails I get telling me how I can make money on my website. I know it’s just bots sending out spam, because one look at the site and you know we’re not a profit organization. For years, I was footing the bill for the hosting and cost of the extra software, and never thought to ask for donations. I just chalked it up to be an expense to feed my genealogy addiction. From time to time I would get a prospective member asking how much it cost to join the site because they couldn’t believe that they got all that they got for free. From day one we had always said that our research would be free to all who joined and I couldn’t go back on my word. Plus, I get so much more out of the website. Just think, every day I go to my website and someone has uploaded a never-before-seen family photograph, or someone else just added a complete branch that we’d never knew existed, or another member remembered it was my anniversary and sent me a dancing cow! I have even received beautiful, leather-bound family histories and credit on the dedication page to boot! For those who don’t know, family history books can be very expensive. How can you set a price on that? However, one day one of our members questioned why no one had thought of donating to the website and without even one guilt trip, I received enough money to pay for the entire year within a couple of days (by snail mail, too!) People were happy to give. So, we’ve put a donation thermometer on our site and when the goal is achieved we post it. However, don’t be annoying with your donation buttons. Don’t make your members mad. Don’t put popups that detract your visitors from enjoying and contributing to the site. My response to those sites is to just close the tab. They don’t work folks.
Since the Heycuz site is non-profit, we never had to sell advertising. But, if you’re interested in making money for your group, there are a number of ways to do it. The most obvious is to sell advertising space. There are tons of how-to sites and books that can give much better advice than I so I won’t post it here. But, you should also consider selling membership subscriptions to your site. There are some sites that give some information for free and charge you to get more information or to be able to post information. You can also have eCommerce on your site and offer group memorabilia. If people would proudly wear a T-shirt with your organization’s logo on it, for instance, you can use a site like CafePress that handles the orders, manufactures the items, and ships the product so you don’t have any overhead. When we had a reunion the ability to purchase coffee cups and other Heycuz paraphernalia was very popular amongst our members.

Protect Your Members, Protect Your Data, Protect Yourself.

When someone joins your community and adds personal information its because they trust you. Work very hard to keep that trust. Be honest with your members. Let them know your policy right off the bat and don’t change the policy without having a full discussion with your members. Also, protect your members’ privacy. Don’t sell your members’ list. Let me qualify that. It depends on what your user expects. If you’ve asked for permission or sent out a notification of your intent to allow companies to send out information, that’s between you and your members.
You should also have an email cloaking system on your forums to make sure that bots don’t comb the site and start spamming your members. We protect our members by requiring registration to access many of the features.
Building a community website takes a lot of time and it would be a disaster if all the data was lost because the site got hacked. So, have some kind of security system in place and, just in case the worst happens, have a full-site backup. Ask your web server for the services they have available before you put down your cash. If you’re already on a server that doesn’t offer a backup, which these days I find unbelievable, you can find automated backup systems easily by just searching on the web. Two of the most popular ones are Site-Vault and Handy Backup. You should be able to set up the backup to run automatically on a timely basis.
Finally, protect yourself. Running a website, especially a large community site can be exhausting. Don’t run yourself ragged. Ask for help. Give your members the opportunity to volunteer. Tell them what you need, divide it into specific tasks, and let them know how long each task should take. Not only will it relieve you of a lot of work, but it will also strengthen your community. We all want to contribute in a some way. That’s why we join a community and if we feel vital to the group, we’ll stick around. We all need to be needed.
Protect yourself legally. Heycuz is a family website, meaning we are all related in some fashion, but being related doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. No matter how much you trust your members, you need to have a few legal statements on your site. If you can’t get a lawyer to write a Terms and Conditions statement, you can find some available online. All you do is replace the generic name in the document with your own. Make sure that you include a copyright statement. Plagiarism is rampant on the web because many people are unaware of copyright laws. If you have a copyright on there, you have recourse if your valuable content that you and your members have built up, is taken.
One final word about protecting yourself–it makes me very uncomfortable to even bring it up–but some times things get out of hand. According to Ittybiz.com death threats and hate crimes on women bloggers is escalating.
Unfortunately, I’ve been the recipient of threats, so I feel for you. The advice of one workshop held recently at the Blogher ’11 conference is to document the threats and make an official report to your local police department. I advise you to read the transcript before you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

Do you love it? Do You Really, Really, Really, REALLY love it?

Love ? I love love love you.Image by doug88888 via FlickrFinally, take a long, hard look at yourself. Go on. Pick up a mirror and do a thorough examination. Remember how you look cause you’ll never be the same. Now, look at the premise of your community just as thoroughly. Is this community one you want to hang-out in yourself? Do you want to hang out there for hours? Days? Weeks? Years? Do you see yourself hanging out there 10 years from now? Still feel as giddy as a school boy? Then go for it! But before you go, please drop me a line and tell me about your community. After all, if you’re still excited about it I might want to join too!

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We’ve Moved, again

You may have noticed that something’s a bit different about Heycuz. We have moved to a new server. I had to do a little reshuffling of my finances and could no longer afford to keep 12 different servers but had to combine them to decrease the bills.
The down side is that I had such excellent support from the previous server. He held my hand when ever things went buggy, let me slide when the bills came due, and kept the bandwidth high enough to let me run amok. The upside is that the new server has more room to run amok and forces me to learn to trouble-shoot my own problems. Having more room is really a plus, because we no longer have to store our files off the site at places like Picassa or Mac’s iDisk.
Some changes:
Perhaps the first thing that you’ll notice when you log on is the community features have been expanded. You will notice the new features in the “My Stuff” menu that appears when you log in. The menu shows you at a glance the photos you’ve added, the articles you’ve added and your favorite ancestor’s if you’ve bookmarked any. I’ve added a Private Messaging System (a different kind of PMS) so we can leave each other notes which is much faster than emailing. The first time you log in it will tell you, you have a message (even if its a generic message saying Welcome to the PMS).
I’ve made it easier to share, bookmark, and search the photographs.
I’ve also uploaded all of the cemetery photographs. I haven’t linked them all, but I’ve been told by some cousins that they will help with that. If you’re interested in doing that, email me (or PMS me) and I’ll send you instructions on how to link individuals in the database to the photographs of their tombstones.
Upcoming features that I haven’t had time to do yet include inputting all the extractions into a searchable database.
Anyway, I hope you don’t run into too many bugs because of the move and I thank you all for the wonderful feedback and the corrections to the family tree.

Happy New Year!

It seems that about this time of year I’m stunned with the fact that another year has gone by. I take stock and wonder if I’ve done enough, or if there was something that I would have done differently, and attempt to set resolutions for the coming year.
This year begins the tenth anniversary of the Heycuz newsgroup, and as I peruse the 19,488 messages and counting, made by Heycuz members since December 2, 1998, I’m overwhelmed. It occurred to me that I can trace the major ups and downs of my personal life just reading our messages. It reminds me that we don’t have just an online newsgroup about genealogy but a huge extended family.
I’m so thankful that you’ve been a part of my life. I can be as emotional as the next gal, but when reading over the messages, I get unusually chocked up. One moment, I’ll be laughing about cousin Gale Ford’s experience with a bull in a cemetery and the next I’ll recall the grief we all felt when James Bradford admitted how difficult the holidays were for him since his beloved wife Kathy had passed. I can “hear” the excitement in our voices when reading the messages about our Heycuz reunion or the Harp cemetery trip and their unorthodox use of dousing rods.
Over the years, we’ve lost cousins and gained new ones. We’ve welcomed new grandchildren and babies. We’ve shared jokes and family stories. In addition, we’ve shared a lot of research. In case, you’re interested you can access the Heycuz archives online at Yahoo groups, if you’re a member of Heycuz. I also have saved a copy of every message on a CD. If you have Microsoft Access, or if you can handle a csv file, I can send you a copy of the archives.
Just to think it all started when a couple of us cousins wanted an easier way to share our research without having to remember to copy all the others in our emails. Still, it seems like there’s so much still to do.
And yet, I’m baffled on how to begin a list of resolutions for Heycuz: There’s brick walls we need to overcome, plans for another reunion, organizing photos and sources, and so much more. Here are some of my genealogy resolutions for the upcoming year:
Getting Organized: One year, I had a hard drive failure and ever since then I’ve become the backup queen. Unfortunately, now I have drawers and boxes of CDs, DVDs, clippings, census records, notes, deeds, etc. I’ve swung too far in the other direction. I need to put them into some manageable order so that I can find anything.
Go to the Family History Center: Ever since we moved, I have not yet been back to an LDS family history center, even though there’s supposedly one in our town. There are also other local resources I want to check out.
Make a schedule: It seems that I’m letting events of my life run me, when it should be the other way around. It feels like I’m jumping from one unplanned event to the next without rhyme or reason. I feel like I’m constantly just putting out fires. I need to set down and figure out a plan, a schedule, where I can actually say on such and such a day of the month, I’m going to work on something specific. For example, I will work on a specific brick wall in my family tree on the second and fourth Tuesdays for one hour minimum.
Anyway, I’d be very interested in hearing your goals for Heycuz. What direction would you like to see Heycuz go? Do you have any genealogy resolutions?
Finally, I want to wish a very happy new year to all of my cousins. May each of us find just what (whom) we’re looking for in 2009!
Your Cuz,

Merry Christmas Cousins!

They say that every seven seconds or so, the phrase ‘Merry Christmas” is posted on the internet. Well let me join in on the Chorus and wish all of you a very, merry Christmas!

Your cuz,


Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Greetings and glad tidings ~

May this message find you well and thriving!

This season, we celebrate a lot of changes at heycuz.net.

Together, we have co-created a new wave of genealogy.  Thank you for joining us on this amazing journey, for sharing your family stories, your research, your special moments, and your heart-breaking losses, for the honor of witnessing what happens when we collectively choose to preserve our family’s heritage.

In deep appreciation I offer this prayer to YOU *

May your brilliance be reflected in the eyes of all you meet.

May the blessings of Life be felt in thought, word and deed.

May you drink deeply from Wisdom’s cup.

May you see the gift in every challenge, the sacred in every step.

May laughter roll your belly as you delight in Creation’s mystery.

May you breathe freely, Love deeply, rejoice wildly and create


May you be at peace, whether your bowl be empty or full.

May the Light of Love shine brightly upon your soul.

May you listen deeply within, faithfully heeding the guidance of Spirit.

May you wake to dream each day, remembering NOW is all there IS.

May you feel the energy of co-creation flowing through each hand.

May you remember to honor and give thanks for our Motherland!

May you experience the bliss of a well-lived day …

Forgiving ignorance; releasing regret, guilt or shame.

May you be sovereign, and to thine own Self be true.

May you remember each person makes a difference …

… and that person is YOU!

Many blessings always and all ways …

Thank youFrom your Cuz,April        

Time to Go Ahead

My first editor taught me that there’s a time to stop editing and go to press. I know there are still bugs in the system, but hopefully I can work them out and still have much of this site online. So far, known bugs include pages not loading correctly in Internet Explorer; links and updates not working in the database which includes mostly the documents and photographs; my cemetery extracts are not loading so I had to provide an offsite url til I can figure it out; and several code errors occasionally appear on different pages. There are also some old links remaining on some of the pages that have to be deleted, but I’ll do that as I run across them. Also there are a few more photo albums that I have yet to load. But, this is a very busy season for me so I figured if I didn’t get it updated now, I’d have to wait til after the first of the year. So, please bear with me while I get the kinks worked out. I think that this new system will be so much nicer for us as a group and for me in terms of time spent updating the family tree. If you have any questions, feel free to post it to the forum. This is your site, make yourself at home and enjoy!


Website Update and Suggestions Requested

I’m so excited about the website update. I wish that you all could see it, but I have to keep it offline for now, because when I set it to run, the old website will be wiped clean for the new installation. Don’t worry, I’ve backed up the old stuff so nothing will be lost. Anyway, this site has A LOT of new features which will truly make this a site run by Heycuz members. Members will be able to add news, create reports that others can view, set up their own profiles (which includes a list of surnames so you can link up with others who are researching the same ancestors), upload documents, attach documents to specific people in the database, make changes, etc.
The Share the Wealth section will be integrated into the database so that it’s not a separate section any more. That way, for example, when you’re looking at the information on your ancestor, you can click on a thumbnail image of his death certificate and see it right there. As it is now you have to navigate to Share the Wealth, click on death certificates and then find his and then download it and then open it and then compare it to where you started.
There’s this really cool “reports” section. It not only shows who’s celebrating a birthday on any given day, or anniversaries, or deaths, but nearly every type of report I could think of like what branches have the most triplets, most twins, who is missing parental information, who lived for more than 200 years (obviously that shows that we need a death date), anyway, these reports will also show who was born under the sign of Sagittarius or Pices. I’m not kidding. You can also make your own pdf. reports of ancestral charts, descendant reports, etc.
Can you tell that I’m excited?
It’s so freakin cool. I’ve been working on importing all of the existing documents and adding the more recently submitted documents. And, all that is coming along nicely. Unfortunately, I had some personal stuff that got in the way. Can you believe the gall of my family? They actually want to be fed on time and have the house cleaned? And then, there’s work. ha ha.
One thing–I can’t figure out how to do, and I’m sure there’s a way, but I can’t get it to show WHO made a change under a persons information. Until I can figure it out, what I’ll need is that when someone makes a change to a date or whatever– if they could put in a note who made it and why in the notes section. The Database shows when someone’s information was changed but it doesn’t show who did it and what they changed. Maybe I’m not looking in the right place for that information, it seems like it would be there. In the meantime, I’ll have to add that to the guidelines section as soon as I figure out a better way to word it.
This is going more smoothly than I thought and so I think it shouldn’t be too long before I’m ready for the big unveil. Then, there’ll be some adjustment time when we get all of you “registered” with your passwords and “permissions”, etc. Your Yahoo username and password won’t work cause this is completely separate. People who registered will get more of an experience from the site because they can view, download, add, correct, submit photos, exchange information, etc. While non-registered visitors will only have a limited view.
So if you see a message saying ‘We’ll be back soon,’ you’ll know that I’m installing the new system.
Anyway, I need some suggestions from you guys, because it is–after all–your site. Part of the site includes a forum messaging system and I can come up with some topics on my own–like, ho hum, the rules, guidelines, and most wanted–but if any of you have an idea you’d like to see, let me know. Also if you want to be the moderator for a certain board, too, that’s fine, just let me know.
Gary, I think you were working on a project to do some mapping? I can put it in as a board subject if you’re interested. The cool thing about this site is it integrates with GPS so you can put in longitude and latitude coordinates! And, people can see exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve already found the coordinates for all the major cemeteries and loaded that onto our cemetery lists so now when you look at where a person is buried you can look at the map and get a map, satellite, or other view of the cemetery. Anyway, Gary, if you think you want to have a forum on that topic, let me know what it should be called, etc.
Some of the old topics which I am migrating to the new site include: The Past Lane (Family stories told by or about our ancestors); and Grandma’s Secret Recipes, Book Reviews, Announcements, Reunions. I think I’d also like to add a forum I call “the Kitchen Table” which would be a place where people just go to chit chat about non-genealogy stuff.
What are some forums You want? We can have surname specific forums if you like, but just know that I’m not familiar with all the research on some of the surnames, so you might have to help answer queries as a moderator.
Any other suggestions would be very much appreciated!
Can’t wait for you to see this! I’m bouncing off the walls with excitement.
Your cuz,
P. S. I also need to thank cousin David Brunger for his donation to Heycuz in August. It was very much appreciated. THANK YOU! David found us after reading a copy of Dennis Lampley’s “Capt. Baxter’s Artillery” and visiting Williamson County, Tennessee. He is a descendant of William Sullivan who fought under Capt. Baxter. David’s grandmother was my Great Aunt Grace. David told Dennis a great story about William Sullivan:
“When I was a child, grandma Coates [Grace Lee Zell (Sullivan) Coates] would tell us stories of “Billy” as he was known to his family. Stories he had related to his family, including my grandmother.
“One of my favorite is of how his brothers would say upon seeing him “here comes that dammed Yankee!”  Curious enough to ask why, Grandma Coates said that old Billy took the oath so that he could go home. Many other stories were told of his time in the CSA service.
“Of a sidebar note, is the fact that I enlisted in the US Army on December 10
th 1971, 109 years after Billy enlisted in the CSA. I did not know that until 6 years ago.


Wishin’ and Hopin’, Thinkin’ and Prayin’
Plannin’ and Schemin’ Each Night from the Start
That Won’t Get You into His Heart

The recent problems I have had with making our regularly scheduled updates to the Heycuz website has got me to thinking…Daydreaming really. Normally, it doesn’t do much good to wish. As my father used to say, “Wish in one hand and Hope in the other and see which gets fullest the quickest.” That said, perhaps there’s some programmer out there who’s looking for a “good idea” and stumbles unto this. Genealogy is a huge market these days and growing every day, so the programmer who’s into making wishes come true can make a few bucks to boot.

What if…(ripple dream visual) there was software just for Genealogy Groups like ours?

Here’s my dream of the perfect genealogy software, in no particular order:
1. The software would work on any system but powerful and robust enough to handle huge files in real time. Something like Google Calendar, where “subscribers” can add events to a group calendar and be notified when someone else has added a event. The files would be accessible from any computer or cell phone with internet access. That way, if I’m out of town without my laptop and we run into an old cemetery, etc. I can do a quick search of the database and see that Hey, My Great Grampa Fred is in there and I need a photograph. I manage to find him, take a shot with my cell camera and immediately can add it to the Great Grandpa Fred’s info. While I’m doing that I notice that I don’t have a Death Date for Great Grandma Beula and I can add it on the spot.

2. MULTIPLE USERS: This Dream Application would be created for Genealogy Groups and so it must be able to support many users at once. Multiple users could make updates in real time while others are browsing or updating other individuals.

3. CHANGES ALLOWED: Allow users to make changes to individuals or add individuals. This ability to make changes however, will be limited to registered users only. They will have an individual password and any changes they make will be attributed to them on the individual’s file. Changes would occur instantly on the individual’s file so others can see the correct information. At the same time, any visitor would be able to click on, say the changed date, and see what the previous date was. If they disagree they can either leave a note, alternative date, source info, etc.

4. ERROR CHECKING: This dream software would block known errors from being made. For example, some one wants to add a spouse to a person already in the file, but that person has written herself saying she never married that person and its a case of mistaken identity. So the member who was trying to make the change would be notified that their change was not made and why it was not made. Second, if its a highly questionable fact to be added there would be a “waiting period” until an administrator approved of a change. The administrator would be notified by email that a questionable fact needed to be approved. For instance, say someone was born in May 1842 and someone tries to add that he was a soldier in the American Revolutionary war. That would be impossible so it would be flagged as questionable. Or that someone got married at the age of three or after they died. The software would also block questionable relationships. People do not tend to marry their sisters. One specific example is Jimmy Wayne Sullivan, Jr. Several times, in sending updates, people have told me that Jimmy married his half-sister Joy Hudgins, both children of Elizabeth Hall, but by different fathers. This is not correct. The Joy that Jimmy married was Joy D. Smith, not Hudgins. It’s just a coincidence that he married a girl with the same first name and middle initial as his sister.

5. ALTERNATIVE FACTS: In cases where there’s a question of a fact, the alternative facts can be listed below the “accepted” fact with a note or icon to draw attention to the viewer that there’s a conflicting fact.

6. SOURCES: Any changes made by anyone will be sourced with information on who made the change. They should also have the ability to name their source, preferably with fields to make their reference as accurate as possible. Like Type of Source: birth certificate or book? Certificate No. or page No., etc. Then, finally the person who made the change would use a rating system as to the value of the source. If they KNOW it for a fact from personal knowledge, they would list it as a 5-star fact, if it came from a book then a 1-star fact. etc. So that viewers could see how differing facts would compare.

7. PROTECTION FOR THE LIVING: When entering new information, the submitter would be asked if the person is living. If so, information on birth and other vitals would not be viewable to the general public.

8. PHOTOGRAPHS: Ability for users to upload/download photographs or images of source documents and attach directly to the person’s page, and once the page is refreshed the photo would appear on their page.

9. DUPLICATE CHECKING AND MERGING. As a user adds people to the Heycuz or Group’s database, the software will check to see if that person already exists. If it does, it will compare the other facts, like birth date or whatever and notify them that they are attempting to add someone who might already be in the database. It will allow them to compare the alleged duplicate and if they believe the person is the same person they can select the option to merge the “new” person with the “old” person.

10. MULTIPLE NOTES: The software would allow users to add note fields to post “stories,” transcriptions of documents, or other items specific to an individual. Visitors would see a icon that there are notes available for that person and be able to view them along with who wrote them.

11. AUTOMATIC UPDATES: When a user “signs on” to the Heycuz/Group database. They will be notified that changes have been made since they last visited and give them the option of downloading the changes or waiting for another time. It will give them the number of changes and the estimated length of time it will take to update their files, taking into account the speed of their internet connection as set in their “preferences.”

12. WORKING OFFLINE: The Software would give members the option of “working offline” and uploading the changes all at once, in keeping with the duplicating checking and error checking protocol as mentioned above. It would also give them the option of withholding information for what ever reason–whether they are still working on fact-checking or are concerned with privacy–by allowing them to set a privacy or “omit from public” flag. Any ancestor flagged in an individual’s file will not be added to the Heycuz database until the user chooses to remove the flag.

13. STANDARDIZED SURNAMES: Those of us with surnames that have multiple spellings, will agree with me on this. The software’s index should be able to search for all of the possible spellings of surnames. One of my ancestor’s is a Hutchinson. Whenever I’m searching an electronic database I have to search every one of the possible spellings to see if he’s even in there. For years I couldn’t find him on census or marriage records and it all had to do with the spelling of his name. Soundex doesn’t seem to do it for certain names. I’d search for the obvious Hutcheson, Hutcherson, Hutcheson, Hutchinson, but finally when I was looking for somebody else, guess who popped up? Good ol’ great great gramps Floyd Hutchinson spelled on one census, as Floyd Hutceson. On a hunch, I noticed that he was living next to a Langdon family, so I started searching for them instead, and that helped me find him nearly almost always. That got me to thinking he must be related to the Langdon’s and after a search, I found his marriage to a Mary Langdon, his name was recorded as Alexander F. Huchason, not only a different spelling of the last name, but his first name. No wonder I couldn’t find him. The Hutchesons of Williamson County are even harder, as someone reported on a rootsweb post that one branch changed its name to King of all things. And in the case of the Kennedy, Canady, Canaday, Canida, OMG!!!! So, there should be a way that would offer a alternative name field for both a “standardized” spelling and the spelling the person used and typing the name in the index would search of the database would search for all optional spellings. Now, I have to do a any field find, which takes longer and isn’t as handy.

15. MARRIED NAME. While I’m talking about names, it’d also be great to be able to view an index sorted by married names. As it stands now, say I’m browsing in a library and see a reference to Mrs. Ethel Hudgins, I have to set up a search that finds first name and married name. It’d be SOO much handier if the index let me just show married names and then I’d just type in Hudgins, Ethel and all the possible ancestor’s would appear.

14. UNIVERSAL FIELDS. If you do a lot of switching between genealogy programs, like I do, you begin to notice that there are indeed differences which have some dire consequences. Most of this is due to the way each application handles information. In my preferred program, Reunion, I use a memo field after each fact to describe the specifics of an event or fact. Like Cause of Death, in the death event field, or who sold what to who in the Land Sale field, but Family Tree Maker uses a specific Cause of Death field and either drops my memo or merges it with the notes field so that the memo is unclear as to what it goes with. Reunion also uses a “status” marker to denote such things as died as an infant, twin, or adopted and when I import files to FTM, via gedcom, all of those markers are lost. So, I want this software to be completely universal so that the information I see on my computer is the same as what someone else sees no matter what platform they are on. People can of course add fields as needed but those fields will be viewable when I open the file too.

15. WANTED or RESEARCH CHECKLIST. When viewing the information, it should be immediately apparent that a specific fact, event, or census is needed. When a new person is entered into the data base, it will review the birth and death dates and automatically add to the checklist the years of the Census, (or military records, etc) that should be checked. That way, if someone has it already they can see that its needed and input it. Or seeing that it is already there, not to bother putting it in again. Users can also attach queries to a specific person so other’s can view it and, hopefully, solve the question. On the other side of the coin, it would also list sources that have already been checked so we don’t keep researching the same files over and over. For instance, if we already looked in Dickson County, Tennessee’s Wills and Administration and found nothing, we could let others know, or remind ourselves, so that we don’t waste time and look through it again.

16. UNIVERSAL PLACES. Most genealogy software, including Family Tree Maker and Reunion, have an automatic fill-in feature that occurs as you start to input a place into the field. This is great because everyone enters information differently and I’m a fanatic for consistency. It drives me nuts trying to figure out which Tidwell Cemetery is the correct one, though. So, there should be a pop up or another indicator when someone types Tidwell Cemetery, to come up and point out which specific Tidwell Cemetery or what ever is referred to. In the same vein, the quick fill in should be able to tell the difference in places by not giving the person inputting information the option of having a person get married or be born in a cemetery. I covered a wedding once in a cemetery as a Movie stunt but it is an unlikely venue, and it’d be nice if my Dream software could tell the difference.

17. BACKUP: The Software’s database would have an automatic mirror site/backup so that there’s no chance of losing info if one server goes down, or slowing down the whole system if it gets too busy.

18. BOARDS: Members would have access to Chat and a message center just for them so communication would be easier. They could see when another member is online, unless the person wants to remain hidden, and invite them to a chat room to tell them the great news about uncovering a lost cousin or whatever.

19. CORRESPONDENCE HISTORY. In a person’s file, any user would be able to see the emails, chats, or letters that they sent or received to that person in their copy of the family file. This would have a send note option and other correspondence. It would be only viewable between the correspondent and the viewer, unless it was “marked” as a group email at which point all members would get a copy of the same email. A specific correspondence could also be linked to any ancestor who may have been the target of the discussion. Right now, I just dump emails into my “research notes” area and it gets mixed in with other notes and isn’t easily searchable. It’d be great to have an “at a glance” look that reminded me what has already been discussed, sent or if I’m awaiting a reply.

20. COST. I understand that the programmer who designs such a Dream program would want to be paid for his hard and much appreciated work, however, groups like ours don’t have a budget. Our site has always been free, and asking people to start paying now would be difficult. So, it’d be great if we could have such a program that was based on donations.

  1. Ah, oh well. It’s just a dream, right? Well, I found software very close to that dream and am in the midst of installing it right now! I’m excited. This will mean that I others will be able to make changes and update the database without having to wait for me to do it. I haven’t even explored all the benefits this software has as I’m still working with my server to get it working. I can’t wait!

Your cuz,


Busy, Busy Summer

Hi Cousins,

I hope everyone had a great summer and is ready to share all their genealogical research they found! My family had a very busy summer starting with the graduation of our son from middle school in June. Since then we’ve been running around like banshees up through Thursday when he started high school. We had a practice run on Wednesday, but not on purpose. My son and I were getting everything ready and when he hit the showers, my husband asked, “Why’s Lucas in the shower?” I looked at him like he was off his rocker for not remembering it was the first day of school. He pointed to the calendar on the fridge which clearly displayed my error. We were a day early. I asked him why he didn’t say something — between getting school clothes, packing a lunch, getting all the checks for various activities, getting his hair cut, etc — didn’t he notice we were getting ready? He said it didn’t even occur to him. It would be like celebrating Christmas on the wrong day. Well, my son finally started high school. Can you believe it? It seems like it was just last week when our Heycuz group was giving me advice on how to deal with his kindergarten teacher who thought he was ADD. Big Al Turman, gave me a lot of helpful information so my son didn’t start his school career on the wrong track. Young mothers, like our cousin Stacey Givens, will shrug like I did when told it goes by fast. But it really does. 

Anyway, I welcome the start of school like a major holiday and am eager to get back to “normal.” I wasn’t able to do much research this summer, but I did get a lot of corrections and updates done. It wasn’t an easy task, as anyone who read my last “What’s New?” column knows I had some computer problems. There were over 18,000 changes and additions to the Heycuz database. Our cousin Sherry Ceallaigh, submitted a 3,500-person gedcom which included the Kelleys, Tidwells, Sullivans, Whites, Reddells, and their allied lines, along with a CD-full of photographs. Both the photographs and the ancestors have been added to Heycuz.net. We also received other additions in the form of family group sheets and reports from Charlton Queen, Carole Phillips, Dale Johnson, Ruth Dickens, Debra Buerman, Jan White, Richard Archie, Carole Dee Sullivan Emmons, Vicki Rice, Cheryl Mangrum, Mattie Bishop, Nancy Stevens, Charles and Louisa Vest, Diane Johnson, James Breece, Ida Deal, Kathy McNeil, and probably some others that I’ve forgotten over the long summer months. I also want to add special thanks to Tom Sullivan, who has been going through the heycuz database and doing major fact checking. Every month he’s been sending me CDs with thousands of updates and corrections. I really appreciate the help. 

I also want to point out that Wanda Losee submitted a report on Moses Beard that James Bradford had created as a supplement to the Friends of Oak Grove newletter. We discussed it on the list in April and I forgot to mention that it was now availble. Even though the copy she had was incomplete, it has the first generations of that family. Anyone who has the rest of the pages is encouraged to contact us. To view the report go to:


Also, anyone who’s a member of Ancestry.com, I wanted to note that I stumbled on a great Tennessee database. It’s called, incorrectly I think, “Tennessee Divorce and Other Records, 1800-1965.” I think its mislabeled because while it has divorces, more importantly it includes probate records, guardianships, and other court records. I was able to find images of the estate settlements for G. W. Givens, Zachariah Green, Newton McCord, Joseph Hendricks, Peter Hendricks, Jacob Lampley, Moses Lankford and others. There is also the Insanity Case for Andrew Jackson Sullivan, the law suit of Nancy and Elisha Sullivan against Jesse Benton and more. If you have access to Ancestry, check it out. If you don’t and want a look up, just post it here and one of us can look it up for you. The database is, however limited to Anderson, Carroll, Cheatham, Dickson, Franklin, Haywood, Henderson, Obion, Tipton, and Williamson counties. I hope Bedford and Sumner county get added soon!

AND, saving the biggest news for last, I want to thank Opal Hays who submitted what is left of the Family Bible of William and Artemese Green Sullivan. Most of us thought that it either didn’t exist or was destroyed. Opal said that she thought that the Bible was burned when Grandpa Gray and Minnie Belle Sullivan’s house burned down many years ago, but apparently their daughter Bonnie May Belle Sullivan Duran, (my great-great Aunt), copied down the family record about the year of 1944. The pages have been scanned and are available in Acrobat pdf format at:


Well, whether you’re still soaking up the last remaining rays of summer, or ready for the genealogical hunt, remember you can always contact me with any corrections or additions and — my email server permitting — I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Love,

Your Cousin,


Family Photos – Arggggh!

Everyone knows that I love photographs of our ancestors. Seeing the
family resemblance in a photograph taken a hundred years ago sends
chills up my back. Once, in wondering if a branch of the family was
really mine, I stumbled across a photo of a civil war soldier and
there, as if looking me straight in the eye, was the spitting image
of my kid brother Shane. Wow. I had no doubt, we had to be related.
Recently, however, they’ve been testing my patience. The photos, not
the ancestors.
During the last couple of times I have tried exporting the Heycuz 
database into web pages, one of the photographs has caused my system 
to crash. Each time I attempted to export the files, it would go for 
15 hours and 23 minutes and right at that point, bam, everything 
would fail. I’d have to rebuild the file, another couple of hours and 
try again.
I use Reunion, a Macintosh computer application for genealogy. 
Normally, I can’t say enough about this software. I’ve used a lot of 
the different programs but Reunion stands so high above the others 
that its no question that this is the program of choice. I do keep a 
copy of Family Tree Maker installed on my son’s PC, but I’ve used it 
maybe twice this year and only to convert submitted FTM files into 
gedcoms and opening them up in Reunion.
So, I posted my problem on the Reunion Talk board hoping someone had 
similar problems and solved it, but I didn’t get one reply. Come on! 
You’re telling me I’m the only lucky one to have such a problem? So, 
I tried again and noticed that it crashed right about the point that 
it started to export the photographs. It must be a rogue photograph 
then, I assumed. So, I tried to export only the people that had 
photographs to test the theory. That was only about 6,000 files, 
compared to the 90,000+ people on heycuz. Halfway through the 15 
hours it still took to export the file–Why so long?–I realized that 
if it crashed it still wouldn’t solve the problem. Even so, I waited, 
and sure enough it got to the “exporting images” sequence and 
crashed. After rebuilding the file for the umpteenth time, I decided 
to export only a few files with photographs and see if that would 
help. This time the export went much faster, exporting 300 people, 
but it still crashed. So, I tried turning off all photos and it worked.
So, I knew it was a photo. Then, I went back and exported only 50 
people with photos. Drum roll, please….Tada! It exported with no 
problems. So, I tried 100. It went. I tried 200, it didn’t go. I 
theorized that it must be one photo and if I could just narrow it 
down to that one photo I could take it out or fix it and then solve 
the problem. So, I went through the entire database and exported 
every one, 100 people at a time. It took a week. However, it still 
didn’t solve the problem. If I exported the files in 100 increments, 
it would work every time. Unfortunately, if you do export the family 
file in 100s, the links no longer work and the result is a useless 
bunch of html pages. The good news is the photo files do export. So, 
what I ended up doing, eager to get the updates uploaded, is exported 
all the files as though there were no problem. Of course, when it 
came to the exporting images it crashed, but then I just merged all 
the photo files from my 100-people experiment into their correct 
folders and checked to make sure that the correct photos linked to 
the right people. I believe it worked. I know its a temporary fix, 
but at least I got the updates done.
After spending a week uploading all the files of course, I’m still 
left to resolve the problem. Anyone with a bit of computer knowledge, 
is probably thinking that the problem has an obvious cause. Memory. 
Well, I have twice the amount the software requirements call for. I 
have a processor that is three times the minimum speed recommended. 
The photographs are all small jpgs. Well, I did notice that there 
were a couple of .tiff formatted photos so I converted them to jpgs 
but that didn’t solve it. Besides, it had always worked before the 
last few months. The only thing that changed is of course, 
corrections, and there was a software update. Unfortunately, I can’t 
back track and use the older version of software because then it will 
no longer open my file. Since my system isn’t the most up to date I’m 
hoping that if I finally upgrade the Computer system software it will 
fix the problem. If not, at least I know that I can export the pages, 
100 people at a time, but that means I will be doing updates less 
often as it takes such a long time to update. So, if you’re wondering 
why your corrections take so long to get up on the web, now you know.
On a semi-related note: Apple recently switched its server to “The 
Cloud” and, once again, lucky me, I was one of the 1 percent of 
people who lost email service. So any one who tried to write to my 
Mac address, which is the address I use for Heycuz members, didn’t 
get through. I have other email addresses, so for the first week I 
didn’t notice it. Then, someone forwarded a note that my email was 
undeliverable and checking with Mac’s website, I found out why. It 
would take another week for Mac to get its act together and get mail 
service back. I can’t believe they could do that and still run 
commercials about how much better everything is.
Anyway, with “The Cloud” and the problems with my software, I will be 
down once again, hopefully not for too long, while I do a clean 
install of Mac OS Leopard. Wish me luck!