Voices of the Past Video Netcast: Genealogy Gems’ Lisa Louise Cooke on establishing roots in the social web

Coming up in this edition of the Voices of the Past Netcast, we’ll meet Lisa Louise Cooke. Lisa created and maintains Genealogy Gems–one of the world’s most popular genealogy websites. She’ll tell us about the learning curve involved in using online media, and how she uses the web to create a deeper connection to her audience.

Thanks for joining us. I’m Jeff Guin. We’ll have that interview in a moment. First, here are a couple of briefs about heritage in the online world.

National Parks on Expedia

Expedia is partnering with the National Park Foundation on a new Web site to help travelers enjoy their trips to U.S. national parks a little more.

The site at includes downloadable park maps and other content from the National Park Foundation, as well as information about lodging options outside the parks.

The content also includes suggestions for long weekend itineraries with stops at national park sites in Colorado, Texas and Michigan, and a series of stories called “Can’t-Miss National Parks.” The first five parks featured in the “Can’t-Miss” series are the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic and Yosemite.

The timing of the Web site launch was designed to coincide with the airing of Ken Burns’ new documentary on public television, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

Virtual Museum of Iraq

Italy is putting the Baghdad museum online.

The Virtual Museum of Iraq is designed to make some of the world’s most important artifacts accessible to everyone.

The site offers visitors the chance to walk through eight virtual halls and admire works from the prehistoric to the Islamic period, while videoclips reconstruct the history of the country’s main cities.

The site is available in Arabic, English and Italian.

Visitors can rotate some objects in the virtual museum to get an almost 360 degree view.

Italy contributed one million euros and provided expert staff to help restore the museum, creating a restoration laboratory in Baghdad and overhauling the museum’s Assyrian and Islamic galleries.

Present-day Iraq lies on the site of ancient Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the Baghdad museum boasts one of the best collections of ancient artfacts in the world.

Around 15,000 of the museum’s relics were carried off during a 48-hour looting spree in 2003 in the wake of the US invasion.

While around 6,000 works have been returned, many other pieces are still missing.

The Baghdad Museum Project is looking for international partners to help with its four-part plan to help save the museum. The program hopes to establish an online catalog to help locate the artifacts from the Baghdad museum.

It would also like to create collaborative workspace within the virtual Baghdad Museum, to allow international teams to work together.

Featured Voice of the Past: Lisa Louise Cooke
October is family history month in the U.S. And to celebrate, we’re featuring one of genealogy’s most prolific and beloved web personalities.

Lisa Louise Cooke has been passionate about family history since she was a child, looking at old family scrapbooks with her grandmother.  Since then, she’s turned that passion into a career.

She is the producer and host of the popular  Genealogy Gems Podcast, an audio and video genealogy show available in iTunes.

Additionally, she hosts the monthly Family Tree Magazine Podcast and videocasts for Family History Expos. I spoke to Lisa Louise Cooke recently, and here’s what she had to say about how she learned to use social media tools to promote genealogy.

Cooke: I think it wasn’t difficult because I was so passionate about it. It’s like when it hits you, this is the right way to go, this is the right medium, I know what my message is then it was like, there aren’t enough hours in the day. And so for 30 days I think I was doing it around the clock just eating up everything I could find in just terms of how do you podcast, how do you hook the computer up, where do you get a mic, how do you set up a blog, and I was constantly–if I wasn’t podcasting or setting things up myself, I was out running around and doing arraigns  and listening to other people on podcasts explain how to do it. And that’s why I think that within the month I was able to get it up and running. But the ideas have been formulating for a long time, and it is kind of the classic story of you can look back and your life and say, “Wow. Everything I have been doing up to this point has been about getting ready to do this.” Because everything from my theatrical background to producing videos to being on a television show and learning about interviewing, my passion for family histories, some of the teaching opportunities I had had in small class settings, all came together and it was like, “This is the time, this is the moment where it all gels.”

Guin: So here’s a scenario: Someone’s watching this and they’re inspired, and they are developing their own sense of mission, and they want to involve new media in it. What advice would you have for that person? How do they get started?

Cooke: Education. Educating yourself and know that there are a lot of free options out there to educate yourself. I mean there are some great books and things, but life keeps going on and you want to try to get as up to speed as possible as quickly as you can. I tapped into a lot of podcasts, I just went in there and I did key word searches on how do you do this, how do you do that, video, podcasts, whatever. And I would typically find somebody who had great information. So constantly educating yourself, thinking about what your message is. You really can’t be everything to everybody. In fact, I was just interviewing a blogger on my family podcast, and she was saying, “You know, you can’t be so and so, they are already there, you know? Don’t try to mimic somebody else, but take what your strengths are and use that. And then decide what the focus of your message is. And also one thing I have just been using lately when I wrote my courses for the university was YouTube. People, particularly older folks, tend to get nervous about going onto YouTube because there is a lot of stuff out there that they don’t want to see. I’m with them on that, but if you use that search box you will be able to hone right into what you are looking for and you bypass all that stuff. And so when I was looking for these different topics that I was writing about, I would go out and throw a key word out into YouTube and I would find somebody who produced a video about it and I got a little snippet here and there, and I was able to reference that and give that to my students. My gosh, I just took up knitting. Couldn’t figure out how to do a yarn over and I went and put up “knitting yarn over,” and there was somebody showing me how to do it on the video. So that can be applied to anything. And there is a lot of great people producing content, and every single day there is something new. So it’s always worth going back and checking. I dunno, does that answer your question?
Guin: It certainly does. And I think it’s important for people to realize as well for people doing that knitting video probably had a $300 camera from Walmart. It doesn’t take a lot of money or fancy equipment to produce this stuff. So I guess what would be valuable if you could just share some of the equipment you use.

Cooke: It’s evolved over time. I have started out with one of those little $10 RadioShack microphones, you know, the little plastic ones. Very quickly realized I didn’t like the sound of it, and I went and bought a podcasting kit, which had the microphone and that type of thing on Amazon and have upgraded from there. And that brings me back to when you are trying to learn how to do some of this stuff, you think I do want to do a blog or I do want to do video, go out and find somebody that you think is doing a terrific job. And watch it. And look for the details. Don’t worry about all the big picture stuff that they are talking about. I really believe that it’s in the details. That’s where the real connection happens, and the quality happens. And then right now I have my new Macintosh, which is kind of the video, auto center. I have my old PC that I finally got a new flatscreen for. I had my laptop because I do go and I do do presentations. Last year I invested in my own projector so now I can say, “Yep. I can go to a seminar,” and I can be set up to go. And my latest is my Boom, I guess you can call it a Boom for my mic. Before it was always on my desk, and you know, I would go crashing and it would hit the floor, and I would bump it and that kind of thing. Now it’s on a Boom. It looks like like it does in a radio station. And I think it was a $100, but it seemed like an extravagance to me. I waiting a long time to spend the money on it, and it is a godsend. That and the popscreen for the microphone. So, like you are asking me, if you hear somebody you think is doing a great job or you like their video. You’d be amazed. People are so helpful. I email people all the time, “By the way, can you give me an idea or an clue or whatever,” and people are always willing to share. That’s one of my mottos: ask, ask, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask, all they can do is say, “No, I’m too busy.”
Guin: And that’s the great thing about the web, you can ask people all over the world. You’re not limited to just your local area.

Cooke: I had a podcaster in Australia contact me and say, “Oh, I heard your podcast. Loved this, loved that, but you might tweak this to get the sound better.” And he had been doing podcasts for two years, so it was amazing.
Lisa Louise Cooke speaks nationally on genealogy topics. She is also the author of the book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies as well as the Genealogy Gems News Blog.You can listen to more of our interview in the Voices of the Past audio podcast on the shownotes site and on iTunes. 

And our shownotes site is also the place to find out more about all of the stories we’ve told you about today. That’s all for this edition of the netcast. In the meantime, we’ll see you online.

2 thoughts on “Voices of the Past Video Netcast: Genealogy Gems’ Lisa Louise Cooke on establishing roots in the social web”

  1. Wow Jeff

    I’ve listened to a few of your audio podcasts but this is the first video I’ve seen. This is really slick.

    I’d love to know some of you background? Do you come from a professional tv background and is you studio borrowed from a professional organisation? If not and this is all made at home, it’s defiantly the slickest video podcast I’ve seen short of old media and The Onion.

    Well done 🙂


    1. Thank you Ian. Most are done on a green screen in my workshop with a Kodak Zi8 and some super-hot halogen shop lights from Home Depot. iMovie or Final Cut Express are the programs I use. Strictly a self-taught amateur for video. That is the great thing about the web today.


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