I was sorting through a box of unfiled genealogy papers the other day. I was amazed at the number of census printouts I'd made since the advent of online census searching, and there are plenty more on my computer that I may never print. It's no wonder I don't know what I have anymore. Twenty years ago when I started doing genealogy, I kept a little census chart. I soon outgrew it though, and chaos quietly slipped in to take its place.
But among the census sheets, I found a printout of something else I'd forgotten, a great little Excel spreadsheet called Census Tracker, which I'd filled out with the four U.S. census records of my great-great grandfather. My excitement was quelled, however, when I remembered I don't have Excel on my new computer.
Google keeps dreaming up great new tools. When I found out their free online application Google Docs and Spreadsheets (Beta) is compatible with Word and Excel, I was eager to give it a try. I was able to upload the Census Tracker spreadsheet and work on it online, without having any spreadsheet software on my own computer.
Using this program requires a high-speed internet connection. Even with high-speed, it's still considerably slower than working with Excel on your own computer. But the Google application has some neat advantages:
- You can invite your partners-in-genealogy to collaborate on a spreadsheet with you. The only prerequisite is that each collaborator must have a Google account. You needn't work simultaneously, but if you do, there's a chat box in the same window so you can discuss changes. Those changes appear to all collaborators as they are made.
- Documents and spreadsheets are stored online, so you can access them on any computer by logging into your Google account. You can also download them to your home computer, work on them in Excel, and upload them again.
- It's easy to publish your spreadsheet to the internet. Google provides the space and tells you the URL. You can then share the link by email or use it in a blog. It's also easy to generate the HTML code to view the spreadsheet in a window within your blog post. Examples of both appear below. I wish the window were larger.
- Each individual you want to track gets his or her own page in the spreadsheet. I can choose to display just one particular page or all the pages. I do wish there was middle ground here, as I would like to display more than one page, but not all.
- When you make changes to the spreadsheet, the blog view can be easily updated from within Google Docs and Spreadsheets. No need to edit the blog.
- You can also easily generate a PDF file to share.
Click here for a full-page view of Joseph Meyer Schulte in the U.S. census. When I add pages for other individuals in this family, you will see one family member at a time in the full-page view, with links to the others at the top of that page. In the scroll window, you will select a tab at the bottom of the window to see the page you want.
Click here for a PDF file of Joseph Meyer Schulte and Related Lines in the U.S. census. The PDF file can be saved to your computer. Printouts from this file are attractive and do not have the headers and footers typical of internet printouts. However, I haven't found a way to insert page-breaks where they would be most logical. As a result, page-breaks may interfere with proper presentation of the data.
After publishing a post with the spreadsheet window in it, I found I was unable to edit the post.* Despite that and my other complaints, however, I think Google Docs and Spreadsheets is an exciting innovation, and "free" is a very good price. I trust Google to work out the kinks.
Census Tracker has a variety of spreadsheet templates, also free. Others include some state and international census trackers, a research log and spreadsheets to aggregate cemetery and ship manifest data.
*The edit workaround is to select the entire text of the blog post from the published view of your blog, including the spreadsheet window, and copy it (Ctrl + C). Then create a new post, paste (Ctrl + V) into the Compose Mode window, and make your corrections in the new post. Add the title and labels, and publish it. Then delete the original post. Unfortunately, any comments on the original post will be lost.
May 1 Update: I was able to edit this post today in the normal way. However, republishing the spreadsheet in Google Docs and Spreadsheets to enable viewing of all pages, not just the Joseph Meyer Schulte page, did not alter the scrollable display in this post. To do that, I had to generate new HTML code to copy and paste into this post. All sheets are now viewable in the window above. Later, when I attempted another edit, I had problems again, which seem to be related to the spreadsheet widget and Compose mode. Publishing from the Edit Html mode rather than Compose mode seems to get around the problem.