Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Using Zoom for Genealogy
The current pandemic social distancing has resulted in the cancellation of genealogy conferences, society meetings, Family History Center operation, and many other interruptions in the normal availability of socialization and training. We have been laid off from the Brigham Young University Family History Library now for a couple of weeks and almost all my presentations have been canceled. However, the recent popularity of the video conferencing program has had an impact on the availability of meeting online. We have had the opportunity to meet family members regularly online using Zoom and we have conducted business meetings online and I have just done a webinar for the BYU Family History Library using Zoom. See the following:

Locate Your Ancestors' Graves Online

The basic program is free and it is free for participants in a meeting. The free version of Zoom will allow the person originating the meeting or conference (the host) to have up to 100 people at a time online. You can also have an unlimited number of meetings but the duration of the meetings is limited to 40 minutes. You can see the other limitations and the features of the paid versions here on Zoom Meeting Plans for Your Business.

I watched a couple of online video tutorials about the program including an extensive one from my local public library. With this introduction and a little back-and-forth tinkering, I was able to successfully host a number of meetings.

Now, what about genealogy? I am used to spending many hours a week helping patrons in the BYU Family History Library and I can see that Zoom could provide that same support on a one-by-one basis or even in a class session. With my Pro version of Zoom, I can see up to 49 people on the screen at one time and host up to 100. This would easily cover most of the support situations I normally have at the Library.

Basically, the host sets up a meeting time and sends out an invitation that has a login and a password. You can hold a meeting without a password, but that has an element of risk that someone not intended will disrupt the meeting. The host goes online at the specified time and attendees log on and attend the meeting using their computer or smartphone. There are simple controls for muting people and attendees do not have to participate by video.

I am not begging for things to do, but I do miss presenting and helping patrons. I have been contacted recently about presenting a class via video conferencing and I am really at a loss to understand why every organization from the Libraries to Societies to Family History Centers aren't taking advantage of the availability of this free service. The most complicated part of the whole process is setting a time and contacting the potential participants which you would need to do anyway with an in-person meeting.

Time to get going folks. We need to stop being obsessed with the virus and get on with our genealogy. If you don't know how to contact me already, you can leave a comment with your email address. I will not publish your email address online unless you specifically instruct me to do so.

Just another observation, there are a number of other programs that work for large groups, for general broadcast, and have different features but right now Zoom is capturing the market.


  1. James, I would like to attend one of your Zoom genealogy meetings. It is fine to publish my email.
    Judith Richards Shubert

  2. James, I finally found the uninterupted time to focus on my dna connections. That has relly kept me busy with newly found relatives. Many buried within a few miles of my grandkids in Michigan.

  3. I have a question about Zoom or any similar type programs.

    I want to use the meeting program to teach a genealogy class. The problem I am having is that all of the programs I have tried requires those who would like to join using a ipad/iphone/andorid or other type of portable devices to download an app. Most of those who I am teaching have a very difficult time downloading anything especially trying to install an app.

    Is there meeting type program that will just let them just click or touch the link I send them to join with out any requirements to join or download an app?

    Thanks for any suggestions.