18 February 2012

Gen Podcasts: Shpatseer!

Introducing an occasional blog series identifying online locations of genealogical knowledge in both audio and video podcasts with an emphasis on Jewish genealogy. 

A few weeks ago there was quite a bit of traffic on the JewishGen Discussion Group (a Jewish genealogy online moderated forum) about remote access to Jewish genealogical society presentations.  There are some recorded online, but they are hard to locate. 

This got me to thinking about my past year of genealogy education: I’ve spent innumerable hours with my iPod listening to audio podcasts about genealogy. Truth be told, many of the skills that Jewish genealogists need to be successful may be found on podcasts that do not necessarily cater to the Jewish population. Why I’ve even found things of interest listening to genealogy podcasts about Black slaves and slave holders, and 18th Century New Englanders [none of my ancestors were even thinking of coming to America until the 1880s, so my family is blameless – and also mostly clueless!] – but I digress.

I listen only occasionally to video podcasts. When I do listen, I tend to select them to acquire knowledge about a particular subject or skill. Video podcasts require that I sit in front of my computer rather than traipse around the neighborhood, as I usually do with audio podcasts. Sitting in front of my computer is, indeed, a hardship. I prefer traipsing (shpatseering): exercising the body and the mind – one cannot get more healthful! But, there are just some things that one cannot absorb while pursuing one’s target heart rate. And, after all, I do consider myself to be a visual learner. 

I think every genealogist who wishes to learn more should be exploring the web. And explore one must, because while audio podcasts are easy to locate through the wonders of iTunes, one cannot say the same for pre-recorded video podcasts.  There are many providers and no comprehensive directory.

A podcast is essentially an audio (like a radio show) or video file downloaded to and stored on one's computer.  One may be listen to or watch some of them as they are "broadcast" or streamed.  But the one's I will be discussing are available for storage and easy retrieval at one's leisure on one's computer. Most podcasts are grouped into shows or series with a host. New episodes are available fairly regularly.

The retrieval or download process involves a podcatcher: software (e.g., iTunes, Juice) that allows one to download media files and, if desired, transfer them to portable media players (iPods or any mp3 player). 

Those who create podcasts usually have associated webpages or blogs where one may find show notes: information about each episode that may include the episode summary, guests resumes and links to topic-related websites.

There are thousands of recorded podcasts available on just about any topic imaginable and new ones are coming online every day. In genealogy, there are podcasts to suit most tastes and a variety of ethnic and geographic interests. There are none, at this point, solely dedicated to Jewish genealogy, but many have episodes that would be of interest to those researching their Jewish ancestors. In addition, more and more societies, organizations and commercial enterprises are offering individual audio and video podcasts of live seminars or lectures  or online seminars (called webinars) for free, for a fee or for a paid membership.   

The royalty of podcatchers, iTunes, is also probably the most effective directory for recorded podcasts. If you don't already have it on your PC or Mac, download it at the Apple iTunes website. Once it is on your computer, you may go into iTunes, enter the iTunes Store, and search on a subject, say, "genealogy" or "family history."   The initial results will be general to the iTunes inventory of music, videos, books, podcasts, etc., so be sure to click on "podcasts" under the filter option to focus the results. Experiment with "iTunesU," as well - there may be some interesting more academically-oriented shows. 

Search results will indicate both shows and individual episodes. One may download individual episodes or subscribe (for free) to the shows.  By clicking subscribe, one has access to all episodes of a show. If the show is still producing new episodes, one will be guaranteed to receive new episodes as they become available. You'll find that there are many defunct shows stored and available on iTunes. Be sure to check these out, as well.  The fact that they are no longer in production, does not necessarily reflect on quality.

Other options for finding podcasts include (the old standby) Google search,  Podcast Alley, Podcast Directory and Podbean. And don't forget YouTube.com. Individual videos and YouTube Channels (groupings of episodes by one provider) relevant to family history are numerous. A recent search on "genealogy" filtered by channels showed 563 channels.

Geneawebinars is an excellent blog for upcoming online live (slide/video) seminars in genealogy. Unfortunately, many of these are offered mid-week and mid-day, making it difficult for those of us who are unavailable during the work-week to listen or watch. A few are available for download after the live presentation. And while iTunes seems to have nearly cornered the market as an audio podcast directory and does include some video offerings, there are many video podcasts on the web that are not listed on iTunes. The Learning Center, for example, at FamilySearch.org, has several hundred lessons in audio and video formats. These are, for the most part, not loaded on YouTube or available via iTunes.

In posts to follow, my intention is to identify pre-recorded genealogy educational opportunities from a variety of sources available for download to ones computer and portable player. If you know of or your organization offers recorded online audio or video podcasts (free or behind a membership wall) that would be of interest to readers, please let me know.

In the meantime, find and download some family history podcasts on your computer.  You may listen to the shows while sitting at your computer or transfer the show to your iPod (or other MP3 player) and shpatseer.

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