An Exciting Day in PA Records Is At Hand

The long awaited release of the Pennsylvania Birth & Death certificates is at hand.  According to James Beidler’s column in the Lebanon Daily News the big day is, fingers crossed, April 17th.  Read James’ article here for the full details of the staggered rollout of the records online at ancestry.com.  For those of us with Pennsylvania relatives this is a big day.  We’ve gone from death certificates being private records not available to the public, to making them public records 55 years after death.  In honor of this day we are going to discuss the 2 GenDetective reports I have sitting on the corner of my desk waiting for opening day.

pa_death_index_goodWhen Pennsylvania initially released their indexes for their PA Death records collection, I immediately dug into the indexes. I identified my relatives who died in Pennsylvania by year, and then located them in the state indexes.  I believed there was no way I would be able to afford to request death certificates for all of the aunts and uncles (5 pages worth of names), let alone the first cousins.  In anticipation of the release of the actual death certificate images on ancestry.com I printed out my list of relatives whose:

  • death occurred in Pennsylvania, between the years of 1906-1924
  • death event references my Death Index: Pennsylvania Death Index source

This wonderful report created my research list, and can be found in GenDetective 2 underpa_death_index_miss the title “People with this source for this event in state during these years”.  I also ran the companion report “People without this source for this event in this state during years” in order to identify the additional relatives whose death I had not been able to confirm in the Pennsylvania death indexes.  Between these two reports I have the list of people that I can locate quickly (I know their death certificate numbers) and the list of people I may have to dig into in order to find their death certificate.

What am I hoping to find in all of these death certificates?  I want to expand upon the family medical history by including all of the aunts and uncles causes of death, confirm residence, birth dates, parents, family relationships, all of the normal things I would look for in a direct relatives birth or death certificate.

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EMail Privacy

In my prior post we began a discussion on one of my pet peeves privacy and our email.  I believed that this topic would get a little more “press” with the NSA, Edward Snowden, etc.  The reality is that the government has no need of a subpoena to get access to a fair amount of information about your online activities, searches, websites you visit, emails you send, because you have no expectation of privacy in the first place.  The same Terms of Services and Privacy Policy you agree to when using Google or Yahoo or the majority of internet based companies, as well as all of their sundry services, state you accept that you have no expectation of privacy.   Of course, how many people actually take the time to read and understand the rights they are giving up?  Read about Google’s court defense here.

Is it any wonder that the federal agencies are baffled by all the fuss?  After all, you have given away your privacy rights, allowing companies to sell your private information for profit and now you complain about “Big Brother”?  Where’s the logic?

Since we are speaking about email, what are your choices:

  1. Use free email services sacrificing privacy
  2. Use email accounts from your service provider
  3. Use a free service that promises not to invade your privacy and sell your information

I’ve already shared my opinion about option 1, giving up all privacy; that’s a non-starter.  What about option 2?  Many of the internet service providers allow you to define multiple email accounts (sometimes called sub-accounts) so that you can have more than one email account.  My family has one for each family member and a general junk email address that we give out to sign up for special offers.  What if you need additional accounts or you don’t have an internet service provider?  Are there any options for you?  Yes, there are.

You have two choices.  You can use one of the few free services that guarantees, in writing, to respect your privacy:  outlook.com.  Outlook.com is a Microsoft offering, that comes with a guarantee of privacy.  I know how Microsoft makes its money; they sell operating systems (Windows), office and productivity applications (Microsoft Office, Project, Visio),  SQL Server, software development tools and other applications.  Microsoft doesn’t make money by selling my information, they make money by selling software.  Oddly comforting, but comforting none-the-less.

Your second choice is to pay for a premium email service.  Frequently these services cost between $19 – $25 a year, but they usually, come with a guarantee of privacy.  It may surprise you to find that many of these premium services are offered by the same companies that offer the free, no privacy email services.  However, be sure to carefully read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to be certain you are guaranteed your privacy.   Simply paying money for the service isn’t a full guarantee.

As in many things, “closing the barn doors after the horses have left”, along with “putting the genie back in the bottle” are all expressions that say it will be hard to regain our privacy.  In order to reclaim our rights, we may have to make tough choices and we may need to pay for some services that we used to use for free.

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Nothing in life is free ..

Today I want to talk about a pet peeve: personal privacy and email services.  I’m a techie, computer geek or nerd if you prefer, and this issue is finally making its way into the US legal system. You don’t get something for free.  There is always a trade-off or catch.  When a sale is offered by a store, I know it is:

  • To get me, the customer, in the door to purchase additional items
  • Or there could be a surplus inventory of something that must be sold

When I regularly shop in the same grocery store I may sign up for a shopper loyalty card.  I use the card at the register and in exchange I get:

  • Special sale prices & coupons
  • Free items, like a turkey at Thanksgiving
  • Points I can redeem for a discount on gas at the gas pump

If this is an exchange, what does the store get?  By tracking my purchases to give me special deals, I give them the majority of my food business.  I give up a little privacy, information about what I purchase, in exchange for special pricing and deals.  The store gets a loyal customer, and it stays profitable and in business.

What does this have to do with free email services?  There are many email providers, ones that give us the ability to electronically mail each other; the equivalent of sending a letter from myself to my sister.   Email accounts are frequently included as part of your internet service (subscription) from companies like Verizon, Comcast or NetZero.  Not everyone pays for internet service, so they may utilize email services from other companies.  When you switch service providers you lose your old email address, which is a hassle.  Instead of utilizing the email service provided by your new internet provider many opt for a free email service.  The best known providers of these free services are GMAIL (Google) or YMAIL (Yahoo), but there are many others.  What are you trading or giving up for this free email service?

The simple answer is your privacy.  Anything and everything you place in an email that you send from any of these free services or is received by someone using one of these free services is subject to: reading, categorization, classification and sale to any business or advertiser willing to pay for it, no matter how personal the information.

“Say it ain’t so Joe”.  We’re all familiar with this quotation, posed by a young child to Shoeless Joe Jackson, but am I sure?  Yes I am.  Google has said it many times, and even uses it as a defense in court!  The following are from different news sources, but none have grabbed the headlines, or attention, I believe the issue deserves.

If you pay for an email service, your communications are private and you have some level of privacy (see #3).  The question the courts are wrestling with is: what privacy do you have if you use a free email service?

  1. Is it similar to a letter sent by snail mail where only the sender and receiver are privy to the contents?
  2. Is there no expectation of privacy as Google claims?
  3. What expectations do you have in a mix-n-match situation (sent from paid to free, or vice versa)

Right now these free services believe definition #2 always applies and you have no privacy, and no expectation of privacy.  These service providers maintain that everything you do on the internet can be sold, because after all, that is how they earn money (and lofty stock market valuations), by selling everything you search, read, send or post on the internet!

What can you do?  Educate yourself!  Vote with your feet and speak out to Congress and other sources!  Our next post will look at some alternatives.

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What about my files and software?

xpThis is the final blog in a series that began by discussing the impending end of life for Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8, and the possibility of converting to a Mac. The goal of this series is education regarding the end of support for Windows XP and things to consider when purchasing your next computer.

Will your current software run on your new Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer?  Yes, most Windows software should run on your new computer.  Notice I said most.  Some older software may not run on your new computer.  You will need the apple_windowsoriginal software disks to install your software your software on your new computer.  You can transfer the data files to a new computer by copying them, but you must install the actual software programs.  Without the original software disks and accompanying license key, you may need to repurchase the software from the vendor.  If you are missing a license key, hopefully you registered the software, as most vendors will provide your original license key.

One of the notable exceptions to compatibility with Windows 8 is Microsoft Office.  Some of the older versions of Office will not run on Windows 8:

Windows 7 Windows 8
Office XP/2002       yes       no
Office 2007       yes       no
Office 2010       yes      yes
 Office 365       yes      yes

Some peripheral devices, specifically printers that are 3 years or older, may not be compatible with Windows 8.  In order to determine if your printer will work, visit the support website for your printer and see if a driver for Windows 8 exists.  These drivers are provided by the hardware vendor; as a courtesy some drivers are distributed with Windows, but they are created by the hardware companies.

If you are purchasing a new Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer, make sure you create the restore media when you first turn it on.  Your restore disk is usually a CDROM (Windows 7) and a USB flash drive (32GB) for Windows 8.  The restore disks need to be created when the machine is first turned on as they contain the operating system and license key and are used in the event your hard drive crashes must be replaced.  Consider the restore disk a 10 minute insurance policy kept in a safe location.

installThere is one more topic to discuss.  How do you get all of your old software and documents, including your genealogy, installed on your new computer?  There are a few options:

  1. Install your software programs and then locate and copy all of your files to CD or flash drive and then reload on your new computer.
  2. Ask a techie friend or family member to help you with the task.
  3. Many businesses offer installation services and transfer services (Staples, OfficeMax, Best Buy, etc), even if you purchase your computer elsewhere.  Fees and the services offered vary, so stop by and ask for an estimate on setting up your new computer, printer and software.

I hope that reading this series has provided you with information and some of the options regarding the choices involved with replacing your Windows XP computer .

I make reference to specific Microsoft, Apple or other products.  These names are or may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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Instead of Windows what about a Mac?

xpThis is the third blog in a series where we discuss the end of life for Windows XP scheduled for 8 April 2014.  We’ve just discussed Windows 7 and Windows 8 and we will wrap up with What about my files and software?.  The goal of this series is education about the issues facing you, the Windows XP user.

While contemplating the purchase of a new computer, apple_windowsyou may want to consider a Mac.  You’ve heard Mac’s are easy to use and you won’t have to worry about a viruses and antivirus software.  Instead of choosing between Windows 7 and Windows 8, you may want to consider a Mac and Mac OS X.

What is Mac OS X?  If you are familiar with a Windows computer, Windows is the operating system (created by Microsoft) and the computer itself (the actual machine) is made by a company like HP, Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo or other manufacturer.  In the case of a Mac, the hardware (computer) and operating system (Mac OS X) are both supplied by Apple.

Apple products are known for being easy to use and do not suffer from some of the issues that Windows computers are known for.  However, there are a few myths that exist regarding the Mac.  The first is that a Mac can not catch a virus or be hacked, therefore Mac users do not need antivirus software.  I did say myth didn’t I?  I have a Mac, and yes, I run antivirus software on it!  Curious?  Check out these articles:

If you are considering a Mac do not make the move simply because you expect to be virus free.  Whether you are running a Windows or Mac computer, security is not guaranteed!

apple_windows2The second issue to consider: many peripheral devices from flash drives, external hard drives, mice, keyboards and printers are not always available for the Mac.  There are differences in the communication between a peripheral and the computer.  Products that are Mac compatible generally have a blue Mac logo on them; products without this logo usually will not run on your Mac.  You should take a look at your printers and other devices and determine if they will run on the Mac.  If you don’t have the packaging, visit the vendor site to determine if your device will run on a Mac. 

This leaves us with the software you use on a daily basis.  You will need to know if “your software” will run on a Mac; not all software is available for both operating systems.  Make a list of the software you use and can’t survive without.  Be aware that the majority of software companies will require you to purchase a new Mac version of their product.  Very few include both Windows and Mac versions on the same CD or in the same download.  Microsoft Office is also available for the Mac, but you will need to purchase a Mac license.

If your list comes down to one or two programs you can’t live without, such as your genealogy software, that are not available for the Mac, you can run Windows on your Mac using tools like Parallels, Virtual Box and Fusion.  Many Windows programs will run in these “hosted Windows environments”.  In order to make these tools work you will need to have a copy of Windows, just make sure it isn’t Windows XP or you’ll be right back where you started.

Our last post in this series will take a look at some of the software options for Windows 7, Windows 8 and Mac OS X.

I make reference to specific Microsoft, Apple or other products.  These names are or may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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Windows 7 or Windows 8?

This is the second blog in a series where we discuss the end of life for Windows XP scheduled for 8 April 2014.  This series will continue with Is a Mac for me? , finishing with What about my files and software?.

xpWith the end of life for Windows XP looming, you may have started looking at your options.  You have probably heard from many people who hate Windows 8 and Microsoft is scrambling to make things better.  What should you do?   You need to get rid of your Windows XP/Vista computer but don’t know which way to turn.  Today we will look at your choices for both Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Windows 7 is still available and of course, Windows 8 computers are in plentiful supply.  We’re going to start by looking at the availability of machines for purchase and some of the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Windows 8 is the future of Windows and Microsoft is currently working on update which promises to restore some of the missing features.  Many users, with traditional, non-touch computers hate it.  I have written about Windows 8 and have a hybrid laptop that I like, and many people that have touch screens prefer Windows 8.  Love it or hate it seems to come down to touch versus non-touch and how comfortable you are with change.  Windows 8 has the familiar desktop, and can be configured to be the main starting screen, but there is no way to get completely away from the metro style (square blocks) screen.  The metro screen serves as the central place where Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media updates are delivered, along with news and weather feeds.  At one glance, you can keep up with your pending appointments, new email, social media, breaking news and dangerous weather conditions.

Windows 7 is more like Windows XP especially when compared to Windows 8.  It has the familiar desktop but at first glance may look very different from Windows XP.  However after a few days usage Windows 7 should start feeling familiar.  There are many small changes that may cause frustration as computers have changed in the years since Windows XP was released.  Some changes may seem dumb, like change for the sake of change, while others may be due to enhancements in security and privacy protection.

apple_windowsCan you compare Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers side by side?  Unfortunately, no.  Your best bet is to talk to friends and family who may have Windows 7 or Windows 8 computers and check them out.

Windows 8 computers are available everywhere you shop, in store and online including from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba.  If you are shopping for Windows 8, please consider the touch screen option as many things are easier to do in Windows 8 with a touch screen.

Windows 7 computers are mostly sold out in stores but you still have the option of shopping online.  Several manufactures including HP, Dell and Toshiba do have a few laptops and computers available that run Windows 7.   You will pay a premium for these machines as they are in high demand from like-minded users choosing not to move onto Windows 8 and are in short supply.

Love your XP computer or hate it, with Windows XP arriving at end of life, you should make a change, and the longer you wait the more at risk your information is.  One option you may be considering is switching to a Mac which we will cover next.

I make reference to specific Microsoft, Apple or other products.  These names are or may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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End of the line for Windows XP

This is the first blog in a series where we discuss the end of life for Windows XP scheduled for 8 April 2014.  This series will continue with Windows 7 or Windows 8, followed by Is a Mac for me? , finishing with What about my files and software?.  The goal of this series is education about the issues facing you, the Windows XP user.

xpEach month Microsoft releases updates for Windows via Windows Updates which includes XP, Vista, Win 7 & Win 8.  These updates include fixes for errors (bugs) and security patches.  As of April 8th there will be no more fixes or security updates to Windows XP.  So what’s the big deal?  After all, your Windows XP computer has been running well, all of your programs work, it doesn’t crash, you like XP and you may have heard bad things about newer versions of Windows.

The security updates are the real issue.  As soon as a new vulnerability is discovered, the “bad guys” will be looking for all of those Windows XP computers to exploit.  Unfortunately, the criminals will be working overtime to locate security holes and find ways into your computer.  They know that there will be no fix to keep them out, no one riding to your rescue, making your computer a sitting duck, just waiting for someone to find it, and wreak havoc.  How bad could it be?  That would be up to the criminals and common incursions include, but are not limited to:

  1. Stealing your identity, including your banking information, and worst case your money
  2. Leaving a virus that locks you out of your computer, ransoming it back, and then erasing your files (FBI/Interpol viruses)
  3. Using your computer to attack other computers (bots)
  4. Disable your antivirus software and remove all security so other hackers can exploit your computer
  5. Erasing your hard drive, just for fun

While we can debate the merits of whether Microsoft has an obligation to fix a vulnerability after 13 years (XP was released October 2001), this is a no win situation. Microsoft has moved this date several times, and they have stated this is it, no more extensions.  Over the past 13 years Microsoft has built better protections and security features into the newer versions of Windows.  Issuing patches for an issue on XP is more involved and convoluted than it is on Windows 7 & 8, and there are just more vulnerabilities in XP.  In the end, it is a cost and staffing issue; maintaining XP is a drain on corporate resources.  Additionally, many software vendors have announced they will no longer support Windows XP, following Microsoft’s lead, including some antivirus providers.

The first thing you need to do, before you do anything else, is run Windows Update and get all available updates downloaded and installed on your computer.  It is not clear if you will be able to get the already published fixes after April 8th.  In addition, if you wait until the last-minute, many others will be doing the exact same thing.  Avoid the traffic jam and get your updates now.

Now what do you do?  What are your options for a long-term solution?  Windows Vista computers are no longer available for purchase.  Windows 7 computers can still be purchased, but usually not in store, only online.  Windows 8 computers are available but you’ve heard bad things about Windows 8.   The next articles will explore the options so you have a better handle on the options.

I make reference to specific Microsoft, Apple or other products.  These names are or may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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