Archive for June, 2009

Treasures Through (Many) Generations

Friday, June 26th, 2009


Whenever I attend genealogy conferences as an exhibitor, I look for chances to either visit extended family nearby or perform research regarding our various family lines. I don’t have any deceased ancestors that spent time in southern California, but my mother lives up the coast a ways, and she’s joining me at the Genlighten booth for the SCGS Jamboree this weekend.

We took the opportunity yesterday before the Jamboree got underway to tour several of the galleries at the Huntington Library in nearby San Marino. The highlight was definitely “Treasures Through Six Generations:  Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection.” Basically a Chinese family has cultivated an impressive collection of art objects stretching back to the 15th century, preserved it and passed it on to succeeding generations, each of whom have added their own unique contributions. The family thus continues to honor their ancestors through fine art.

I was struck by the “Family Tree” highlighted in the gallery guide.  It looked a little different than the ones I’m used to. In particular, I noticed several arrows that appeared to tie branches of the family together laterally. The text accompanying the family tree explained what the arrows signified:

“Passing on the family name is of key importance in Chinese culture. The transfer of a son from one branch of a family to another by internal adoption, an old tradition very rarely practiced today, was essential in ensuring the survival of the family name and lineage. A father with several sons would bestow one on a brother who had none; ideally, every male would have an heir who would pass on the family name. The Weng family observed this practice (indicated here with arrows) for several generations.”

I found the tremendous importance this family placed on “the survival of the family name and lineage” simultaneously quaint and awe-inspiring. It helped me step back from the often inscrutable details of my various familial lines and briefly glimpse the larger picture of my shared heritage. I was motivated by the exhibit to worry a little less about filling in blanks on a pedigree chart and to invest a little more effort in reaching across generations to strengthen actual family ties. It also made me wonder if I’m leaving a legacy to my descendants anything like the one Weng Xincun left to his. Even if I can’t afford to build a world-class collection of Chinese art masterpieces, surely there’s something I can leave to future generations!

Personal Highlights from the Colorado Family History Expo

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Just a few more potential “rush periods” left between class sessions at the Colorado Family History Expo. Soon I’ll be packing up the booth and heading to the airport to return to Chicago.

It’s been pleasantly hectic at the booth almost the whole time, so I’m only just now getting around to posting about my experiences. Here’s a list of personal observations from the Expo:

  • Colorado is gorgeous and Loveland is no exception. The interplay of tall mountains and towering thunderstorms has been magnificent to watch (if not to drive through.)
  • Holly and her crew at FHExpos have managed to pull off a successful conference, despite this being their first time in Colorado. Logistics have gone smoothly, booth traffic has been disproportionately high (nearly as good as at NGS, I’d estimate) and the attendance at my presentations has been surprisingly good.
  • A lot of genealogists in Colorado (and even New Mexico) are interested in offering lookups from their local records. I’d estimate between 20 and 25 people indicated solid, detailed interest in becoming Genlighten lookup providers. That’s 2-3 times what we typically see at a regional-level gathering.
  • At past FHExpos events, the balance of booth visitors has tilted more toward genealogy beginners looking to use Genlighten to find source documents. Here most of them have been interested in finding documents for others. I credit that shift to Holly’s efforts to get local genealogical societies involved. Both the Larimer County Genealogical Society and a collective of other Colorado and Wyoming Genealogical Socities are represented in the exhibit area. Their members have also given some well-attended presentations. This has raised the level of research experience among the attendees, in my opinion.
  • Family History Center consultants seem hungry for how-to help with They recognize its potential value, but have yet to find success with it for their own research. That makes it tough for them to recommend it to their patrons, even though it’s accessible at FHCs for free. One attendee at my talk asked if I’d write her FHC a “manual” on how to use Footnote. Maybe someone (not me!) needs to do that.
  • Just as the “Genealogy Demographic” has turned to Facebook, they now seem willing to explore Twitter. Will they be turned off by the increasing levels of spam on the site? Very possibly. But if they could post their genealogy queries and questions to Twitter and receive “real-time” help from their followers, I think they’d join in droves. Facilitating that kind of interaction is definitely on Genlighten’s product development roadmap.
  • Our MiFi Wireless hotspot has provided reliable internet connectivity throughout the Expo, whether in my hotel room, at the exhibit booth, or in the presentation venues. The amount I’ve saved on wireless charges this trip has already offset the initial purchase price.

Time to pack up the booth and hit the road. Next on the Genlighten schedule? The Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in Burbank, California, June 26th-28th.

A Temporary Spike

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

I’ve signed up for Google to email me an alert when Genlighten appears in Google results on the web. I received an alert just now pointing to Quantcast results for Genlighten in May. Here’s the graph that appears:


A few thoughts sparked by this graph:

  • The results here would be more encouraging if they weren’t obviously the result of our Google AdWords experiment in May, combined with our mention in Family Tree Magazine’s blog during that same time frame.
  • We’ve already passed the peak of this spike.
  • I wonder who typed Genlighten into Quantcast to generate the Google alert? Who besides me is interested in our traffic stats? Hmmm.

Preview: Homepage Update Coming Soon

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009


The folks at Slice of Lime have been working with us for a while now to develop a “How it Works” illustration for the Genlighten homepage. This is what they’ve created. We really like it. Look for it to be added to the site soon.

Just by way of comparison, here’s an earlier draft that we ultimately decided not to go with. What’s your opinion? Did we make the right choice? Why or why not?


Novatel MiFi 2200: Your Personal Wi-Fi Hotspot

Saturday, June 6th, 2009


I haven’t felt the need to do any genealogy gadget reviews on this blog up until now. Dick Eastman‘s got that area pretty well covered, I’d say. But I do feel compelled to share a brief review of Novatel’s MiFi 2200 broadband wireless modem/router.

Web Access on the Go — How I’ve Done it So Far

Besides hotel accomodations and plane fare, one of my biggest expenses as an exhibitor at genealogy conferences has been the cost of Internet connectivity while I travel. Though some conference venues thankfully provide free wireless, many others charge $75-$100 per day for access to the web. Since my main reason for attending these shows is to demonstrate a working website, I’m stuck paying these fees.

For about the last year, I’ve used a broadband wireless card from Verizon to let my personal laptop connect to the web when I’m traveling. That way whether I’m waiting at an airport gate or manning the Genlighten booth, I’ve been able to retrieve email, browse RSS feeds, or make changes to the Genlighten site as needed for a single monthly fee (about $60 plus taxes.) But since my card only works with one laptop at a time, the computer I’ve used to demonstrate Genlighten to booth visitors has needed its own separate web connection, forcing me to pay the extra fees mentioned above. With luck, it looks like I won’t have to pay them any longer.

An Attractive New Solution

I first heard about the Novatel MiFi 2200 about a month ago from David Pogue of the NYT, in his article “Wi-Fi to Go, No Cafe Needed“. The article claimed that the device acted as a “personal Wi-Fi bubble” — compact and battery-powered — for up to five nearby PCs.  When Pogue mentioned that it would work particularly well for “trade show booth teams” I was sold.

I would have happily bought one that very second, but as it turned out I had to wait a few weeks for them to become available. Mine arrived yesterday. It cost me $149.99, or $100 after — you guessed it — a $50 mail-in rebate.

The Set-Up Process

Setup was a bit more involved than I would have liked. To begin with, I had to charge the battery for 2.5 hours. Then I plugged the unit, which is about the size of a 8 credit cards stacked together, into my notebook via a provided USB cable.  Verizon’s access management software promptly auto-installed and began configuring the device to work with my machine.

A few minutes later configuration seemed complete. My laptop’s internal wi-fi quickly recognized the MiFi 2200 and let me connect to it. Unfortunately, bringing up Firefox did not produce my usual iGoogle homepage. A call to Verizon Customer Service made it obvious why — I still needed to activate the device and associate it with my existing account. The manual gave the impression that the software would prompt me to do this via the web — so that aspect of the process seemed to fail. Nonetheless, the knowledgeable customer service rep soon had me up and running.

Speed and Strength Comparison

So far I’ve tested the MiFi 2200 under normal usage conditions here at “Genlighten World HQ” — i.e, in my daughter’s former bedroom that acts as our office. This has involved retrieving email, paging rapidly through RSS feeds using the “j” and “k” keys, switching between multiple tabbed windows in Firefox, and perhaps viewing the occasional brief video clip. At first, web pages loaded much slower than they do for my home Comcast connection. But that turned out to be related to signal strength rather than capacity.

Because the MiFi device doesn’t need to be plugged into my laptop, I’m free to locate it where cellular reception is better — like by a window. Doing that immediately got me four bars of reception and much more competitive download speeds. I haven’t measured it with any benchmark utilities, but I’d say it’s probably about one half the speed of my Comcast connection — pretty much in line with Verizon’s claim of 0.6 – 1.4 Mb/s. That should be good enough for airports, trade shows and the like, but not so fast that I’m tempted to ditch Comcast just yet.

But Will it Work at Genealogy Conferences?

Will the MiFi completely eliminate the need to pay for exhibit hall Internet access? I’ll find out this coming weekend, at the Family History Expo in Loveland, Colorado.

As I write this, I’ve got four laptops (mine, my wife’s, the Genlighten exhibit booth machine and my son’s MacBook Pro) all connected to the web over a single cellular connection. And I’m watching a streaming video, with only the usual minor glitches. So I’m cautiously optimistic that things will work well in Colorado.

I’m planning to blog from the booth during the Expo, so I’ll write a follow-up post to let you know how well the MiFi performs under enterprise-level conditions. Wireless internet at the Expo costs $45/day for a 0.5 Mb/s connection. That’s actually pretty reasonable, but if the MiFi let’s me forego those charges, I’ll have nearly paid for the cost of the device in a single weekend. That would be sweet indeed!

Next Up: Colorado Family History Expo 2009

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

After a week off this coming weekend, it’ll be time to head off to another genealogy conference the following weekend, June 12th-13th. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to recruit lookup providers from Colorado for almost a year, and now I’ll get my chance.

At Holly Hansen’s invitation, I’ll be trying to share my impressions of the conference in this blog and via Twitter.

I don’t often get away from the Genlighten booth to attend many presentations during conferences like this one, and I’ve only rarely attended any evening conference events, but I’m making an exception this time. I’m very much looking forward to attending Jean Hibben‘s banquet presentation. I met Jean at the Mesa FHExpo back in November, and I was highly impressed with her combined background in genealogy, history and folklore. Looks like she and “Uncle Butch” will be providing musical entertainment as well!

Presentations I’m Working On

I’ll be giving the Footnote for FHC Consultants talk I gave back at the Mesa FHExpo last November, updated to discuss the records Footnote has added since then along with their new “I Remember” pages.

I also plan to present an Introduction to Twitter for Genealogists. This will be a completely overhauled version of the talk I gave at the South Davis Family History Fair back in March of this year. Twitter is no longer the obscure geek-oriented service it was then. Oprah and other celebrities have embraced it and the mainstream media has coronated it as the next big shiny thing. If you’ve found Twitter helpful in furthering your genealogy research, please let me know in the comments to this post.

Social Media Outposts — Personal vs. Corporate

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

As we get closer to letting a few potential early adopters preview Genlighten in private beta form, we’re taking a few tentative steps towards establishing some new social media outposts on the web in addition to this blog.

Up until now, I’ve shifted back and forth here between sharing personal anecdotes and talking about Genlighten milestones and strategy. I’ve done the same with my Twitter account, casually mixing the personal with the corporate. As we start to approach the point where Genlighten becomes an authentic business rather than merely an extremely expensive side-project, it feels like it’s time to give the corporate entity and the CEO their own respective social media channels.

Genlighten — the Corporate Web Presence

What’s that mean going forward? For one thing, Genlighten now has its own Twitter account: @genlighten. There aren’t many updates there yet, but eventually that’ll be the account for our users to follow if they want updates on new features, scheduled maintenance, unscheduled downtime, special events, etc..

The Genlighten blog will remain our formal corporate communication channel — the place to hear what we’re up to, how we view the genealogy marketplace, and what we think we can offer that’s unique. But in keeping with the typical guidelines for a corporate site, I’ll probably inject my personal life here a bit less than I’ve done in the past.

We also now have a Genlighten fan page on Facebook: try this link, or just type “” into Facebook’s search box.

A YouTube channel (for Genlighten how-to and help videos) and a account (for presentations) are still in the planning phases.

Me as CEO and Co-Founder

Because I want to continue to communicate in an informal way with the Genlighten community as well as with friends, family and colleagues, I’m now maintaining a personal blog at Since Genlighten, family history research, and the entrepreneurial worldview are such a huge part of my life at the moment, you can expect my nicelittleniche posts to focus on those three areas. But you’ll also get the occasional update on my family or the fun things we have going on when we’re not Genlightening.

In case you’re wondering, the title for the personal blog was inspired by a visitor to our booth at a Genealogy Conference last year, who, when she heard what we were up to, said without the slightest hint of condescension: “Oh… that’s a nice little niche.” [grin]

I’ll continue to share 140-characters-or-less views of my day-to-day experiences via my personal Twitter account, @hikari17.

And if you just can’t get enough of us…

…You can also follow my account on FriendFeed here. That way you’ll get both the personal and the corporate perspective in one place.