google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: May 2014

The Empress of Ireland: The Forgotton Tragedy

Fog rolled in across the St. Lawrence, unannounced, and quickly as it often does.  On May 29th,
1914, a few minutes before 2 in the morning, that fog would play a pivotal role in the collision of the luxury passenger ship, the Empress of Ireland, and a coal ship, the Storstad.

The Empress of Ireland had been docked in Quebec and had set sail for Liverpool, England, carrying on board 1477 souls. The Empress was 167 meters (550’) long, and 20 meters (65.5’) wide.  It had 40 lifeboats, to accommodate 1686 people, much more than the necessary requirement.  There were 24 life buoys with 2212 life jackets of which 150 were for children. They also had the Marconi wireless telegraph system and the most modern under-water iceberg detecting sonar. Despite all their security measures, it was no match for the thick fog and the collision course with the Storstad.  Sailing a few hundred kilometers from Quebec, the Storstad carried 10,400 tons of coal, bound for the city of Montreal when it struck the Empress of Ireland. 

Fourteen minutes after impact, the Empress disappeared underwater and 1012 lives perished including 134 of the 138 children on board. The sinking of the Empress of Ireland was named Canada’s Titanic, but its magnitude and significance to Canada’s history and maritime history was soon overlooked with the start of World War 1, 30 days later.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the largest maritime disaster in Canadian history, and much is being done to help rectified this forgotten tragedy.  A commemorative website has been established to acknowledge the events and pay tribute to the lives lost. You can learn further about the tragic events of May 29th, 1914, read in great detail about the accident, the history of the ship and view the passenger list for that fateful evening. The website provides us a glimpse into the lives of some of the passengers on board.  However, and even more importantly, the stories page, offers an opportunity for descendants of the passengers of the Empress of Ireland to share their stories about their ancestors and to connect with others.

In 1964, divers rediscovered the Empress and purged many of its artifacts from it's dark grave. Today, some of those artifacts have found their way to museums.  The site is now protected from any further diving.

To mark this historic anniversary, starting today, a 3-day event is planned in St.Luce, a small village just offshore of the maritime disaster. A commemorative coin and stamp will also be unveiled today in honour of the event.

If you have an ancestor who was on the Empress of Ireland that fateful night, you definitely want to check out this website. If you are fascinated with Canadian history, maritime history or learning about the lives of those on board, I encourage you to visit the website, The Empress of Ireland 1914-2014.

If you plan a visit to the area, you can take an excursion out to the historic site where the Empress of Ireland rests and view images of the ship via underwater sonar.

You may also be interested in visiting Canada’s Titanic – The Empress of Ireland, an exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa. The exhibit runs from May 30th 2014 – April 2015 and commemorates the ship that brought thousands of immigrants to Canadian soil. You’ll experience the events of that historic night, see artifacts from the ship and absorb eyewitness accounts including the memoir of an eight-year-old girl who survived this life-changing night.

If you can't make it to the exhibit, you can purchase an online a copy of their souvenir book,

Canada's Titantic - The Empress of Ireland by John Willis, which can be purchased for $9.95 on the website for the Canadian Museum of History. 

No longer must the tragedy of the Empress of Ireland be deemed forgotten, and rest assured the names of those lost in the waters of the mighty St. Lawrence on May 29th, 1914 have found their place in Canadian history.

Evernote and the Family History Traveler

Evernote is a popular choice for family historians. It’s been well documented as an excellent tool
for research. As a family history writer, it is also very much a part of my writing life. I outlined in detail how I combine Scrivener and Evernote to create my personal workflow for writing family stories, in my ebook Getting Ready to Write.

However, today I want to look at Evernote as a travel app for your next family history trip. Regardless of whether it’s a one day trip to an archive or you’re crossing an ocean to an ancestral hometown, the Evernote app can be an incredibly useful tool in organizing and preserving your trip information and memories.

Let’s break it down for a moment and dream we are heading over to France to research our family lines. Here’s how you'll organize your trip in Evernote, essentially creating your own travel app. 

First make a stack for your trip. A stack is basically a collection of notebooks or files. Give this stack a name, call it France Trip or whatever fits your fancy. Each one of the notebooks in the stack will house a different group of items for your trip.

Here are the various notebooks you can create in your France Trip Stack.
Travel Documents and Contact Information
Travel Journal

Make a shortcut for this file so that when you open up the Evernote app on your smartphone the Stack will be easily available, no hunting for it. While you have the app open on your phone go into

Settings àPremiumàOffline Notebooks

 In here, you have the ability to designate which notebooks you would like to access while offline. This comes in handy if you’re traveling internationally or somewhere that you may not have Wi-Fi access.  While you are in the premium settings you can passcode protect these files giving you extra security.  These are both premium features, along with extra storage, the ability to search within documents, note history and shared notebooks. If you’re not a premium user and on a budget, Evernote has a budget friendly $5.00 a month option, just revert back to your free version after your trip is over.

Now let’s take a look at what we will file in each of these notebooks for your family history trip.

Travel Documents and Contact Information
  • A scan of your passport
  • Confirmation emails from hotels
  • Car rentals agreements
  • Contact information and emergency numbers
  • Immunization records
  • Airline ticket
  • Receipts
As you begin making your travel plans keep a digital copy of all of the above items in your travel documents notebook.  A great way to reduce the paperwork you carry with you, or if you still feel more comfortable with a piece of paper then feel secure knowing you have a digital copy should the hard copy go missing. Of course, you must carry a hard copy of your passport, but keeping a back up in your Evernote app is a little added insurance.

Even your airline ticket can be saved into Evernote, no paper required. Check in online, and save your digital boarding pass to Evernote. When you get to the airport open up the Evernote app on your phone and scan your digital boarding pass at the handy kiosks to print out your luggage tags, a great way to avoid lining up.  Even passing through security and customs, just show them your phone opened to your boarding pass; really, I’ve done it, very easy.  I know it’s hard to break away from the paper but it can be done.

While on your research trip, photograph all your receipts as you go. It helps you keep a handle on your expenses and your budget. If your trip is business related, all the more reason to scan your receipts into Evernote and keep them organized.  No more searching for missing receipts at the end of the trip when you need to declare them to customs or your spouse.

Do you forget where you parked in the airport parking lot? Snap a picture of the location markers before you leave so you can find your way back to your car a week or two later, save the picture in your travel documents.

Renting a car, take a photo of the car from multiple angles before you leave, including the license plate and scan the paperwork right into your travel document notebook.

The camera options include capturing post-it notes, documents, and business cards as well as your typical photo, making it an easy one-step process located within the Evernote app.

  • To- do lists
  • Maps 
  • Reference information 
  • Transporation Maps 
  • Restaurant recommendations 
In this notebook you can keep a day by day plan of your trip. You can keep various to-do lists, The Must See, Like To See and If There’s Time lists. It’s always good to prioritize your time before you leave. I believe in having a plan that has room for flexibility.  

In this notebook, you can file articles and guides you been reading prior to your trip. Save them for easy reference to times, ticket prices and locations. Keep maps, town maps along with any transportation maps you require such as buses, trains and subways.  Include in this notebook, a list of recommended restaurants with addresses along with the archives, museums and cemeteries you wish to visit–with location and hours of operation. The itinerary notebook is a great place to save anything and everything having to do with your sightseeing activities for your trip.

Research Notebook
  • Research plan
  • Documents
  • Pedigree charts 
  • Group sheets 
In this notebook you want to keep all information about your planned research. Start with a well thought out and identified research plan. Include group sheets, documents, pedigree charts and any information you may want to reference during your research. Take as much as you like no weight limit here, no heavy binders to carry. If you wish you can have more than one research notebook, consider designating a different notebook for each surname or ancestor you will be researching on the family history trip. If you already have a research notebook set up, you can temporarily relocate that notebook into your Trip Stack for the duration of your time away, no need to duplicate your work.

Travel Journal
  • Pictures
  • Notes
  • Audio recordings 
Now that you used the Evernote app to plan and prep for your research trip consider its capabilities for capturing your memories while on your trip.  This is really where I found it to be huge breakthrough in my travelling routine.

 I love to keep a travel journal. As a writer, a travel journal is so important to capturing the sights, sounds and smells of the world around me. Of course, if I’m travelling to an ancestral hometown, a travel journal is a great tool to record my journey while I walk in my ancestor’s footsteps. Even if it is just a single day jaunt to a nearby archive, I love to note the environment around me. It fuels my writing on every level, regardless of whether it’s a blog post, article, family history story or fictional writing.

The one problem with travel journals...

They are a task. I don’t like to carry a journal on my day to day excursions. I like to write in my journal when I get back to the hotel at night. Sometimes that can be an overwhelming chore when you’re exhausted from a day tripping around town.  Usually, I have the best intentions but exhaustion sets in especially after a couple of days and writing at night becomes an impossible feat. I convince myself I will make some notes in the morning, then that becomes sporatic, one day turns to two and then the days start to blur. The idea of keeping a travel journal can be a very romantic notion. However, I needed to get practical and smart with my time and technology has given me that ability.

Evernote allows me to save pictures, notes and record audio recordings immediately into my travel journal notebook. If I’m too tired to write in my journal, I can always snap a picture or add an audio note on the go that will help me recall my day. With the Evernote feature, I can create notes on the go, not too many, I want to live in the moment but just enough to capture the information I need that I can easily expand on later when I'm rested. 

There are two ways you can set up a travel journal.

 As I’ve suggest above, as a separate notebook, tag your notes with country, city and type of note (restaurant, landmark, archive)


Create a notebook for each city or country you will be visiting with more detailed tags.

Here’s some things you can save in your travel journal.


Within the Evernote app you can take a photo that will be logged immediately to your travel journal. Snap photos of attractions, food, people, signs, research and save to your travel journal. Make a quick annotation and comments at the time or review them later that day either with a text or audio note.  Evernote will auto-tag the picture with the date and location.

Touring always provides plenty of insightful information on historical plaques,  I like to take a picture of the plaque so you can recall what you read later.

In your travel journal, don’t forget to take lots of pictures of food, wine bottles and the new favourite beer you had at that cute little pub. Take pictures of local or quaint stores that you may want to share with family or friends later, on Facebook or in your family history blog.  Of course, you must document the people on your trip, not only your travel companions but the locals you meet along the way, including the researchers at the archives, the museum curator, local shop owners; they all add substance to your memories and your travel journal.


With the audio app you can also record the voices of those locals, (with their permission of course)whether it's a tour guide, distant cousins, a museum curator or local genealogist who has plenty of information to share. No mad writing genealogist required, with a click of a button you are saving your audio file directly into your travel journal.

After the Trip
Once you've returned home use the Places feature on the home screen of your phone app to view your notes and their locations. All notes, whether it’s a picture, text or audio will appear on a zoomable map of the world. Tap the pins to your notes and relive your memories.

Evernote is a great tool for planning and recording your next family history trip.  It gives you the features to create your own travel app specific to your trip. Use it to document the sights, sounds and impressions of your trip, keep your plans organized and documents safe but most of all capture your memories of your next family history trip using Evernote

How have you used Evernote in your family history travels? 

On-Demand Publishing: A Comparision for the Family Historian

Once upon a time, publishing your family history book was a monstrous task. There was a time when we were regulated to a local print shop, where costs were high and having to stock and sell a book was a major investment. For many, the idea of printing a family history book was out of the question. Times have changed and technology has revolutionized the printing industry. There are numerous options available to the family historian today. No longer do authors require a large layout of cash or are forced into managing and selling a large inventory of books. Now we can print only what we need or not at all, allowing individual family members the ability to buy a book right from your on-demand publisher.

 I get asked all the time what company I would suggest for publishing a family history book. I have my favourites, but I thought I would take a look at what I consider the top three;, and

In order to provide a good comparison, I created a family history book and walked through the process with each company to compare their costs and policies. Remember, this book is a private family history book. Most of you asking me for my opinion are not looking to sell the books to the general public, but instead, you are looking for an on-demand publishing company that will do a professional job, in a reasonable cost effective manner for your private book. 

 This chart is not for those of you who wish to sell the book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple etc. for commercial distribution.  If you’re looking for commercial publishing that would require a completely different chart with different parameters for such a project. 

The book we chose to create was a 12 x 12 square photo book with image wrap cover, 100 pages, standard paper and placing an order for 60 books to distribute to family and looking at the cost of each family member purchasing their own directly. I would normally not choose a 12 x 12 square, I prefer landscape but this was the only size consistent across all three companies. Each company offers a variety of sizes but for this comparison we will choose a consistent size. Don't be miss lead by photo book, you are capable to adding as much text as you like. Here’s how the companies compare, and below my chart you’ll see some notes and thoughts on this comparison.

Base price (20 pages)
12 x 12 landscape
Additional Pages
.60 each 
.45 each
.83 each
Total cost per book
Bulk Discounts for 60 books
$79.55 (U.S. only) **
Shipping Cost for 60 books
Unavailable U.S. Only ***
1 Book Shipped standard
Shipping Time
(Includes production time)
9 to 14 business days
7 to 11 business days
7 to 11 business days
Bulk Savings
3% discount starts at 15 books
15% discount starts at  20 books
20% discount starts with 10 books  
Privacy and Permissions
Private access
Private access
Private access

 *Shutterfly does not provide imagewrap cover design.
**Shutterfly does not provide bulk discounts to orders shipped outside of the United States and therefore a cost was not available to me. 
***This is for standard shipping; some companies provide faster delivery options for an added                     cost

Notes and Thoughts

1.    Quotes First, let me start my saying in the case of Lulu and Shutterfly, I had to create a book and in some cases take the order right to the checkout stage to get all the costs involved. With Blurb I was able to get quotes for the book and shipping without actually having to create a book.
2.     Cover- I was disappointed to find out that Shutterfly did not provide Imagewrap covers. Imagewrap covers, allow you to fill the cover with an image from edge to edge and lay your book title over top. 
3.     Pricing - The difference in pricing really enters into how many pages you require and the number of books you will be ordering. Don’t base your decision on the base price alone. Once you start adding pages, various covers and premium paper the pricing starts to change. Take the time to figure out the pricing right down to the shipping before you begin. Give yourself a budget and work within that budget to avoid adding pages and creating a book way outside of your price range. Keep in mind there will be shipping and taxes in some instances.
4.     Privacy and Permissions – after investigating each of these companies, they all provide privacy and permission settings so that you can restrict who can see your book and who can order it. With living members in some family history books, some readers are concerned with material being widely accessible online. This doesn’t seem to be a problem. They all have the ability to restrict access to the book and remove the book from your account once you are done ordering.
5.     Offline vs. Online Software– With Shutterfly and Lulu, you create your book online at their respective websites, while Blurb allows you to download the software and create the book on your own computer without requiring internet access. I found this to be an advantage, however, with the online software you can work from any computer, which may be preferable to those who work from multiple computers. Blurb also has software that works with Adobe InDesign and Lightroom.
6.     Shipping Costs – Shutterfly was the only company that could not provide a bulk discount to Canada, if you’re within U.S. you are fine. Both Blurb and Lulu recognized that I was a Canadian customer and directed me to their Canadian site. Shutterfly considers Canada to be a International customer and charges shipping rates accordingly.

Hope this helps you next time you’re ready to print your family history book.

Do you have a company you would like to see in this comparison. Let me know in comments. 

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of and use as my choice for family history books. However, all the information in this chart is accurate and unbiased; like you,  I was just as interested to see how the top on-demand publishing companies compared.