Susan Petersen: How I Hack Genealogy

Susan Petersen

[Editor’s Note: I insisted that my colleague and friend Susan Petersen be the subject of our inaugural How I Hack Genealogy interview series here at Hack Genealogy. Why? She doesn’t realize it but her work in the genealogy community is an inspiration to me. Recently retired, she is one of many genealogists who’ve succeeded by being “open to success” and seeking out opportunities. Susan works to understand and embrace technology, then puts her own “special spin” on its various uses. This vision has allowed her to inhabit the genealogy space actively and passionately.]

After 40+ years in public service, I heard the phrase, “but we’ve always done it this way” more times than I can count. There is a segment of the genealogy community that is, literally, stuck in the past. And that does not refer to their ancestors. I get very frustrated with genealogists who lack vision and who adamantly refuse to embrace any form of modern technology. Within the next two decades, this should be behind us as future generations have grown up with technology and expect to use it in everyday life.

About Me

Name: Susan Petersen

Title or position: Freelance Writer and Blogger; Genealogy Speaker

Website or Blog: (web site has links to all of my blogs)

Other social media links:

Age: 62

Location: Nebraska

Technology I Use

Hardware (computer, laptop): HP Envy laptop (2013), Dell netbook (2010), iPad 3 (2012), Epson Perfection Photo Scanner (2013); FlipPal scanner (2010), GiiNii scanner (2012), GPS for road trips (2010), iPhone 4s (2012)

Cloud storage: Dropbox is my main storage option; I also use Amazon Cloud and Box.

Backup program or routine: Dropbox automatic file synchronization, backup to external hard drive monthly.

Printer: HP Photosmart Printer

Are you “paper” or “paperless” or in-between?: Mostly digital.

Email program: Gmail; I don’t download email

Smartphone model: iPhone 4s

Fave mobile app: Dropbox, because I can carry my research and photos everywhere.

E-reader: Kindle Fire, Kindle Paperwhite, iPad for magazines

Web browser: Chrome

Calendar program: CalenMob app synched with Google calendar

RSS feed reader: Newsify and Feedly apps for iPhone and iPad

Photo storage and editing: Photoshop Elements 11 and Microsoft Office Picture Manager (for quick cropping and resizing)

Fave social media: Facebook

Genealogy database program: I enter all of my research data on; I use Family Tree Maker 2012 only as a backup, synching data about every six weeks.

Music player: Amazon Cloud Player for iPad (it also synchronizes with the Roku video streamer); I listen to audio books via the Audible app; Podcruncher for listening to genealogy podcasts.

Blog platform: Blogger

Other tech stuff : Most of my tech toys have been replaced by iPhone and iPad apps that do the same thing. Microsoft Office OneNote is my preferred note taking tool.

Genealogy and Me

Number of years involved in genealogy: Started about 1978, but took long breaks from research. So, I’ve been active about 15 of those years.

Professional or non-professional?: Non-professional in that I do not work for clients;

What I do (describe your role in the genealogy community): I view myself as a disseminator of information and as a facilitator who brings people together via online communities. I serve on the board of directors and as publicity chair of my local society and belong to many local, county and state societies across the country. I also speak about genealogy to societies, library and community groups. I’m a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Genealogical Speakers Guild.

What I enjoy most about genealogy and family history: Discovering the stories about my ancestors’ lives. I also enjoy working one on one with beginning genealogists – to steer them clear from making mistakes and in finding those first few ancestors – the key to getting them hooked on genealogy.

What annoys me most about genealogy: People and societies who use only the methods of the past and refuse to embrace any form of technology and demonstrate a lack of vision.

Genealogy super power: Not sure if it’s a super power, but I’ve always been an early adopter of new ideas, methods, products and technology.

Biggest advance in genealogy in the last five years: The increase in the number of digital records available online; the speed with which the 1940 Census was indexed by volunteers.

What will always stay the same in genealogy: That our ancestors will remain dead and that genealogists will always continue to search for information about them.

What will need to change in genealogy: Over the next couple decades, all genealogists will have grown up with technology since their childhood and the fear of computers that has intimidated many of the older genealogists will no longer exist. No longer having to persuade people to use technology should advance genealogy at much faster rate in about 20 years. Technology is not an obstacle; it is an essential tool.

My vision for genealogy in the year 2020: That one central online archive of photographs, documents, records, indexes, family histories and books will exist for public use.

Closing Thoughts

My Secret Hack for Genealogy: My iPhone is my portable genealogy research tool which is with me everywhere, whether I planned to do research or not. My family tree is instantly accessible via the Ancestry app; all of my documents and resources are accessible via Dropbox; there’s a flashlight app which I’ve used when going through dark archives; there’s a camera and scanner app to capture documents; I can do audio or video interviews; I’ve texted friends and shared research findings while on site at a library. It is truly my all-in-one tool for genealogy on the fly.

Advice to a beginning genealogist: Genealogy begins at home. When you discover a scrapbook, diary or other compilation of records, keep them intact in the order they were assembled by the owner.

Advice to a “lifer” genealogist: Keep an open mind and think outside the box.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

5 Comments on "Susan Petersen: How I Hack Genealogy"

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Thomas! I’m honored to be selected as your first interview subject on Hack Genealogy. I look forward to what your new site has to offer the genealogy tech community.

  2. Congratulations Thomas and Susan on a terrific first interview. Susan, I love your forward-thinking attitude about genealogy and tech. I love my iPhone as well for genealogy.
    Thanks for sharing how you hack genealogy.
    ~ Kathryn

    • Thank you for the kind comments, Kathryn! Thomas has another great adventure going here on HackGenealogy and I was honored to be included in the concept from the beginning.

  3. Susan, thank you for sharing a few details about yourself here, and letting myself and others know more about how your use technology for your genealogy. It’s is wonderful to get to know the people behind names I see online regularly. 😉

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