Category: Technology

February 26th, 2014

You May Already Own the Web Space to Build a Basic Genealogy Website

For those of you who have decided that building your own website may be the way to go, you’ll first want to know how a website works. It’s not as difficult to understand as you may think, and a basic knowledge of what a website is and how it’s presented on the internet will help you to get the most out of your personal site. One good thing about modern technology is that it continues to make it increasingly easier to construct a website without having many technical skills.

There are hosting companies that supply templates for websites to which you only have to add your information, whether it be in text or image form, and you simply pay them a monthly or annual fee to host your website. Some of these hosting sites are very advanced in the options they offer you as far as what you can post to your website, but some are very basic. Even the most advanced hosting sites however may not be able to convert your GEDCOM files or allow you to upload them. Let’s take a look then at what a website actually is, and how web pages and web space (internet address) relate to the scenario.

The Mechanics of a Website

A website is basically a collection of individual files that are stored on what is known as a web serve. A web server is a computer, usually quite a large one or combination of several, which has a permanent connection to the worldwide web. The server has the capacity to handle multiple requests from many different computers all looking for information on the internet. Large corporations usually have what is known as their own dedicated server, while individuals and smaller companies will rent a small portion of the file space on the server to house their collection of files, and consequently their personal web site. You’ll upload your files to the server as web pages, which in turn will compose your website. There are three essential things you’ll need in order to create your own website. They are:

Web Space – which will be your internet address
Software to create your web pages
Software to upload your web pages to your web space

You may also need separate software for uploading graphics and image files, but some software is capable of both. There is a variety of software for creating web pages, all you have to do is search something like “simple software for creating web pages” and you’ll be amazed at the choices you’ll have. The good thing is that you can use your home computer, and you may even be able to use your web browser to upload your web pages.

A Brief Description of Web Space

Most Internet Service Providers (the company that provides you with internet access) include an amount of web space in their subscription package. Before purchasing web space from an independent company, check to see if your own ISP includes this facility in the internet package that you have. Usually what they provide is enough to build a simple personal web site, however if you are planning on adding high resolution graphics or compiling your own databases, you may have to purchase additional web space, either from your current provider or another company. There are a number of companies that provide free web space regardless of which provider you’re using, however these companies often expect you to place advertising of their choice on your site. It is well worth investing in purchasing some web space so that you maintain full control over what appears on your site. For a small personal genealogy website though, what your ISP offers in your current package should be enough.

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February 5th, 2014

4 Common Technical Problems Your Browser May Encounter on Commercial Websites

The configuration of your web browser could cause potential problems during your genealogical search, especially on commercial sites. It is not possible for me to cover every possible situation you may encounter in this Blog post, but I can point out some of the most common problems a browser’s settings may cause, especially for beginners. If you don’t know what a browser is, it is simply the program you use to surf the net, i.e. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape etc.

Problem #1 – Cookies

Websites store bits of information about your likes and interests on your hard disk so that they can direct you to where they think you want to go on their website. Though marketed as a convenience to you in order to save you time, cookies are sales tools used by companies to get you to the pages where you’re most likely to buy something as soon as possible. But, they are a part of internet life, and we can’t avoid them. Ever wonder how your user name is already filled in when visiting your favourite website; cookies! Some browsers can be configured to reject cookies, which can make commercial and other pay-to-view sites unusable. To enable cookies in your browser, go to Tools, then Options, then Privacy, and there you should see a box to check with enable cookies or something similar, depending on which browser you use.

Problem #2 – Java Script

The main concern of JavaScript to the average internet user is that it allows a web page to validate whatever a user enters into an online form. If you ever wondered how a web page knows you’ve left a field blank when you’ve filled in an online form, it’s through JavaScript. Most sites provide instruction on how to enable JavaScript in your browser, as your browser itself should. In Mozilla Firefox for example, you click on Tools in your browsers toolbar, then Options, and then Content, which will give you an enable JavaScript option.

Problem #3 – Plug-ins

Plug-ins are small utility programs for your browser to use in displaying content on a website when its own built in programs don’t allow it. Most are fairly standard, such as: Flash, Shockwave, Adobe etc. Some websites however, have their own plug-ins for viewing some material. You’ll need to download the program from that website before you can view the data. Most are harmless and are provided for your convenience, enhanced pleasure and ease of usage while on their website.

Problem #4 – Compatibility

Some genealogical websites have been around since the birth of the internet, and consequently may not be compatible with the latest version of some browsers. Other web designers insist on developing sites compatible with only one particular browser, which you may have to download to browse that site or access any of its information. The main browsers can all be downloaded for free, so there’s no reason for not having the latest version of them all, unless you have an old computer operating system or limited memory space.

If you experience problems with online data sources that are not fixed by the things mentioned here, most provide an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, and commercial sites usually have a Help page and accompanying customer support contact information such as their email address and phone number.

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January 29th, 2014

The Pandigital Portable Scanner – Is it Really a Magic Wand?

If you have seen somebody wandering around a graveyard and pointing a strange looking object at the tombstones, you have probably spotted a genealogist with a wand scanner. Wand scanners are becoming increasingly popular amongst genealogists. Not only are they portable and can be easily stored, but they are great for taking a quick scan of an image, document, or as the person alluded to above, headstone inscriptions. They are a bit of an investment, averaging in price around $100, but they can be a formidable weapon in your genealogical arsenal.

The latest scanner to hit the market is the Pandigital Portable Wi-Fi Wand Scanner with Feeder Dock. It has received rave reviews online, though some consider it a bit pricey at around $120. I myself had the chance to try out the Pandigital Scanner (S8X1103), and was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer. It is slightly larger than some portable scanners I have used before, but more compact from many on today’s market. It’s also rather light, only weighing one pound, seven ounces, and taking it out of or placing it back in its dock was a cinch.

The great thing about any wand scanner is that you don’t need a computer to make use of its scanning properties. The S8X1103 has its own internal memory (128MB), or you can use a microSD card (those small flash memory cards you find in cameras or cell phones). Although the Pandigital scanner doesn’t come with a card, it does support cards with up to 32GB of storage.

Before we got going (we were headed to the cemetery to scan headstones), my friend showed me how simple it was to prepare the scanner for action. It lifted very easily out of its dock, and we simply inserted the rechargeable battery that was already fully charged. The battery is recharged by connecting it your computer with the USB cable they supply, or it recharges automatically when its resting on its dock. There is also some software that comes with the scanner , and if you have a computer its well worth installing it, as it helps you to convert your scans into a video.

Scanning the S8X1103

When we got to the graveyard and began scanning, I did find one niggly little bug. The scanning part was fine – quick and easy, but changing the settings was a bit confusing. It was easy enough to change the settings – the menu is well organized and easy to follow, the problem was that the scanner doesn’t confirm the changes you made. I wanted to change the file settings from JPG to PDF, and when I did the screen still showed that the scanner was set to JPG. When I did the scan however, it became a PDF file. Only after scanning the menu then showed it had been changed. 

The menu is though, pretty straightforward, and you can change other settings such as the resolution and from color to black and white quite easily. The default settings for pixels is 300 ppi (pixels per inch), which is adequate for most purposes. If you want to change the pixilation however, you can choose 600 ppi for both manual and wand scanning, and 1200 ppi for wand scanning only. You can view your scans on the 1.8 inch color screen, or it can be connected to a tablet PC or Smartphone via Wireless. It’s nice to be able to check your scans right away in case they didn’t come out or you missed something, and you can check them on the LCD display immediately after scanning.

The scans themselves were the quality of a snap-shot, but I found they suited my purposes of recording inscriptions just fine. We did a few documents in PDF form, and they were a little bit difficult to make out on the LCD screen, but after I viewed them using the scanner software on my computer later at home, I found them to be just fine. The one thing that holds the Pandigital scanner back is the Page manager software that comes with it. Though it is capable of placing multiple scanned pages into a single PDF, when converting the data to text, it creates a separate file for each page. 

If you already have software comparable to the Page Manager software that comes with the Pandigital Portable Scanner, the portability, lightness, and ease of use could make it a good choice for you. The same applies if you’re willing to invest in better software than what comes with it. Overall, using the S8X1103 was a positive experience, I’m thinking of maybe investing in one myself. Honey…!

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June 18th, 2013

How to Use Facebook for Genealogy

Do you know how to use Facebook for genealogy? Many of us spend hours everyday either logged in or being active on the world’s largest online community, but how many of us take advantage of its genealogical potential? It should really be a no-brainer. Facebook has massive potential for connecting with relatives and other researchers. The potential for sharing information is incredible, yet many of us don’t know how to effectively use it to expand our genealogical horizons. It’s really as simple as searching, and you’d be amazed at the wealth of genealogical information and contacts that are out there just waiting to connect with you.

I am by no means an expert on Facebook, but I have come across some very valuable genealogical resources there. For one thing, there are lots of genealogical groups that have Facebook pages. I have found the National Genealogical Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, JewishGen, the Genealogy Society of Ireland, and many other well-known and respected genealogy groups and societies. If there is a specific society or organization that you like or want to follow, simply type their name in the search window in the Facebook toolbar at the top of their page and you’ll know instantly if they have a Facebook presence.

Many of the society and genealogical group pages on Facebook allow you to post on their wall, so it’s easy to leave a message as you would on a message board. Other members or fans can view your post, and will be able to reply to any queries you might have. Another benefit of these pages are the photos and links to valuable information they post. Some pages such as the Pennsylvania Genealogy Research group have a section just for research resources, and many have an Events tab where you can view upcoming events form around the world such as seminars and conventions, or even events happening online such as webinars and tutorials.

Create a Facebook Page to Share Youth Own Story and Resources

If you want to build your own Facebook page you can easily do so. This is especially useful if you have a genealogical product you wish to sell, or even if you just want to share your family tree and genealogical data. The procedure to begin creating a page is;

  1. Click More at the bottom of the right column on your Facebook homepage. (Underneath the ads.)
  2. Click Create a Page
  3. Click one of the boxes to choose a category for your Page
  4. Choose a subcategory and enter the required information

All you have to do after that is to agree to the Facebook terms of use policy and you’re on your way to creating your own Facebook Genealogy page. Once you create your page you can use the Notes option to share stories, research notes, or anything else you wish to! Your page can also be a great place to share your family photos and announce any events you might be planning such as a family reunion.

If you are researching a specific surname, look for other Facebook genealogy pages that are doing the same. It’s also a great idea to like as many other genealogy pages on Facebook as possible. Don’t do too many at once however, as Facebook might consider you as spammer. Pick 5 or 6 pages everyday and Like them by clicking their Like button. Whenever you like a page, make a short comment on their wall, and invite others to visit your page. This will give you more exposure, and increase your chances of connecting with other researchers or even family members searching the same surname as you.

There are also many Apps on Facebook such as I Remember, which allows you to create a memorial page for a family member or friend. Live Roots features a specialized index listing well over 200,000 resources, though some you have to pay for. Mundia is’s app designed to help genealogists find ancestors who are listed in existing family trees or message boards. We’re Related and Family Links help individuals to find family members who are on Facebook and to share information with them.

As you can see, Facebook has great genealogical potential. Next time you log-on, spend some time investigating the many different genealogical aspects and applications. You never know, you might bump into someone you’re related to!

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May 21st, 2013

Future Proof Your Family Tree

Imagine spending years to build your family tree only to find out in the future that your files are not compatible with modern technology. The challenge for present day genealogists is not so much to keep up with technology, but to anticipate future developments. You may be quite adept at utilizing the latest mobile apps and cloud computing sites, but have you future-proofed your family tree by considering how to keep your stored data compatible with what might be available or unavailable in the future?

It would be a terrible shame after spending years researching your family history, to find that the data storage system used to record your info is no longer functional or manufactured. With so many people using modern technology and cloud computing options to upload genealogical data and photos, imagine how much information would be lost or inaccessible if current platforms are replaced by more advanced technology. The potential loss of so much data could impact genealogists of all levels, from the professional researcher right down to the individual just beginning to trace their family tree.

Of course, it is impossible to completely anticipate what sort of technology the future might bring, but there are certain things you can do to avoid negative consequences while at the same time preparing for future opportunities. For instance, if you have a digital photograph that had survived for 20 years on your hard drive and a traditional framed photo, which would you choose to keep? Amazingly enough, the traditional, framed photo might be the wiser option! Because technology has the capacity to change so rapidly and drastically, present day hard drives could possibly be obsolete at some point ion the future, and you might not be able to access the digital version of your photo. You can rest assured however, that there will still be methods of scanning traditional photos to digitize them, as different as they could be from current scanners.

As technology advances, file formats change and the platforms with which they are accessed change with them. It is possible for developers to have the mentality that “no one uses that file anymore,” and so omit conversion options for that particular file type in their programs. Suddenly an entire file type is no longer accessible with modern gadgets and you’re stuck with files of that type and no way to view them. Particular media can also become obsolete. A case in point would be the floppy disk. How long has it been since you’ve accessed one?

Steps You Can Take to Future-Proof Your Data

It is of the utmost importance to constantly upgrade your hardware and applications. You might feel that it is expensive to do so, but failing to keep up to date will cost you more down the road when you need to purchase a completely new version of an application. Updating your hardware is a much better option than purchasing platforms to convert your old data files. Rather than buying a floppy drive to add to your system, convert the data on them to CD, DVD, or diskettes. An even better option is to store them on an external hard drive. Keep current with what modern genealogists are using, and look for low-cost or free alternatives when you can. The point is, not to wait until it’s too late to convert.

You are actually future-proofing your data whenever you scan a document or photograph, but whatever you do, don’t throw away the original. Try to keep as many original documents or paper copies as you can, and maker use of dehumidifiers and acid proof paper as often as you can to ensure their longevity. Whenever you do save photos and other documents, save them as JPEG, PDF, or TIFF files to ensure their digital longevity. Slides and home movies can also be transferred to a digital format, and many stores such as CVS, Walgreens, Target, and Wal-Mart offer this service at their photo counters.

If you have old cassette recordings of interviews and such, you should also have them converted to digital format. There are many home and small recording studios that can do this for you, and it is relatively inexpensive to do so. Even CD’s and DVD’s will only realistically last 10 years or so. If you have data stored on aged disks, you should transfer it to a newer one as soon as possible. As an extra-cautionary measure, back them up on an external hard-drive, or upload them to an online data-storage service.

When you’re storing any digital files, try to avoid compressing at all costs. Once files are compressed the format is often lost, and there are other issues that could prevent access as well. Back-up drives are very inexpensive these days, and you can purchase external drives with 2TB of space for under $100.

It’s impossible to be one hundred percent prepared for every possible scenario, but you can take steps to ensure that your family tree will be available to future relatives who may have technology we never dreamed of!

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April 23rd, 2013

Great Gadgets to Help With Your Genealogy Project

The recent death of Steve Jobs, one of the original founders of Apple Computers, got me to thinking of how the wonderful technological inventions he gave to the world can benefit genealogists. Of course the computer itself is these days integral to the research of genealogists; the internet contains a goldmine of material, and its organizational capabilities are beyond compare. But there are other gadgets such as the iPad and iPod that some family historians might not realize can be extremely valuable genealogical tools. Previously such instruments may have been unaffordable to the average genealogist, but as competition soars, thankfully prices descend, and many family historians can now benefit from the array of gadgets available.

There are other items as well such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that might not be so well known to the masses. Even little ole technology illiterate me has learned to make use of much equipment I thought I could never master. The truth is once you’re over the initial fear of technology and learn to make use of these implements; you won’t want to work on your project without them. Besides, they can save money and time, so what might seem like an expensive purchase is n fact a wise investment.  This Blog is especially for those who may not yet make use of as much of the digital technology that is available to us, or may not even be aware of some of the items at hand, so forgive me if I begin with the most common contraptions; digital cameras, scanners, and image editing software.

Digital Cameras, Scanners and Image Editing Software

When digital cameras first became available they were expensive, but as their popularity has soared and the technology behind them improved, they have become quite affordable. They are excellent tools which the genealogist can use for photographing fragile documents, tombstone inscriptions, or even the locations where your ancestors once lived. Of course the immediate advantage of a digital camera is that you can view the picture immediately, not having to wait for development to see if the picture turned out. This can be extremely important when photographing such things as tombstones, for which visits may be rare and expensive occurrences.

When there is no digital camera available, scanners can be used to digitize traditional photos. These are electronic devices that have also come well down in price, and there are models such as the Wolverine PASS-100 that are battery powered and small enough to pack in a briefcase. I have read four reviews of this model and they were all complimentary of it. It is also one of the more reasonably priced scanners on the market at around $70.00.

Once an image has been digitized, there is editing software available that can enhance it. Defects like cracks and spots on those old family photos can be removed, making for a clearer picture. Make sure that you always keep a copy of the original when you alter a photograph however, as this will ensure you have a backup if something goes wrong in the editing process.

Personal Digital Assistants

Palm Pilots as their affectionately called by those in the know, are becoming increasingly popular with genealogists. There are several software programs such as Personal Ancestral File (free download) that are compatible with them, enabling the family historian to take their entire family history with them wherever they go. These pocket sized instruments fit handily in your purse or coat pocket, and are great for note taking and checking off your research to-do lists. An excellent model is the Tungsten T5 which is one of the less pricy options, and one of the easiest to use.

Global Positioning Systems

These handy devices can pinpoint your position to within 15 – 20 yards. They are particularly useful for recording the locations of graves, ancestral homes, unmarked cemeteries and other important geographical locations. Some genealogical software programs allow you to record the latitude and longitude of significant places, thereby preserving that information for future family historians. In addition, when travelling or researching in an unfamiliar or foreign location, a GPS can help you to get where you’re going safely and speedily.

Removable and Portable Drives

Portable hard drives are becoming increasingly useful to genealogists. They are now available in capacities that even home computers didn’t have ten years ago, and are especially useful for copying files from a PC to a laptop for a research trip, or for simply backing up your files. Some are available in the size of a keychain; therefore you can take many of your files with you when wishing to share what you’ve accomplished so far with family or friends on their home computer.

IPods and IPads

Probably the most modern of all the electronic gadgets that can be useful to genealogists, both have their unique uses. has recently released a software program specifically for use with IPads. Their software allows you to display multi-generational family trees, share photos, and display records with the touch of your finger. IPods are handy if you wish to take along a genealogical tutorial with you. There are many record or repository specific tutorials available to download online, so when you’re visiting that archive, you can simply plug in your headphones and research with the step-by-step help of an expert.

Hopefully you will see the benefit that modern technology offers to us as family historians. Of course you don’t need all of this equipment to research your family tree, but they all have their particular value, and can make researching and organizing your project much more efficient – and fun too! Aren’t sure what you want for Christmas, how about asking Santa or that special someone for an IPad!

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April 9th, 2013

How Ad Blocking Can Shut the Door on Free Genealogy Resources

Many of us use ad-blocking software for personal convenience; after all, if we have no intention of clicking on an ad, why should we need to view them? I have used ad blockers myself in the past, but only recently did I find out that they can actually damage the credibility of a website, and thus its place in search engine results. For all of us interested in free genealogy resources, it is crucial to understand how this works, because by using ad blockers on certain websites we could be shutting the door on those free resources and making them more difficult to find.

Many Sites Such as Depend on Advertising for Revenue.

Advertising revenue is how we are able to provide the many free genealogy resources that we do. Many ads are paid on a per view commission, and running an ad blocker when you visit sites that serve those ads consumes their resources (including bandwidth) without providing them with the revenue they need to keep operating. It is very much the same as eating at a restaurant and then leaving without paying for the food you ate. Imagine how many restaurants could stay in business if half the people visiting them left without paying!

For the first two years that was online, there were no ads whatsoever.  However, as the site grew, our operating costs in the form of infrastructure, bandwidth and resources also grew.  So to continue providing as many free resources as we could, we had a choice to make, either start running ads or shut down the site.

When You Block Ads on a Website, the Chain Reaction Can be Devastating.

Yes it can result in the loss of jobs, but more importantly, it can lead to a decrease in quality content, and consequently a decrease in precious free genealogy resources. Sometimes the only option a website that suffers a loss in advertising revenue due to ad blocking has is to run advertising that may be considered intrusive. It is not by choice that any website runs such advertisements, but a matter of survival.

Here at we try to minimize aggressive advertising, but it must be accepted that such ads are sometimes necessary.  We decline offers from advertisers with ads of a questionable nature on a regular basis.  You as an Internet user however, can minimize the need for intrusive advertising by simply not blocking regular contextual ads, at least on the websites you love and use on a regular basis.

Websites May Start Charging to View Articles and Resources

Another issue that arises when you use an ad blocker is your free resources, are no longer free.  Many websites whose visitors use ad blockers have set up “pay walls” so that anyone who wants to read an article or download a PDF, must first pay a fee to view the information or a fee to download the information they need.  Imagine paying for every article you want to read? To me, that does not sound like a better option than simply not blocking ads.

Subscribe to Sites That Offer an Ad-Free Experience

An option to blocking ads is to subscribe to a website that offers an ad-free version for members. A lot of time, talent, and hard work go into creating and maintaining websites. With sites that offer free genealogy resources that hard work includes hours of tedious research to locate and verify data before sharing it with you. As we surf the internet we sometimes forget that behind every website is a team or teams of various proportions, ranging from the individual to complete corporations. Many of those sites depend on advertising to various degrees, and because a huge number of internet users block ads, many have had to cut staff, content, or completely shut down because of losing their ad revenue.

If you use a site regularly and benefit from its content, don’t block ads. Show your appreciation of their hard work and research by subscribing if they offer.  Most people don’t block ads maliciously; they don’t even realize that they are harming the sites they love. The only way many websites that offer free genealogy resources can afford to do so is by making revenue from the advertisements on their pages. Keep those ad-blockers off, and you’ll keep the door to those free genealogy resources open.

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March 26th, 2013

New Genealogy App to be Released!

Genealogy just keeps getting better and better. I just found out that a Utah-based firm is going to be releasing an APP they say will change the face of genealogy research. At a trade show in Cincinnati, Ohioon February 10, 2013, Otter Creek Holdings, the subject company, introduced a genealogy gathering tool that it states “could render QR codes almost obsolete”! The tool is an APP designed for smart-phones called LegacyTec, and allows you to photograph headstones to access online information about the person in the grave.

Many gravestone manufacturers now attach matrix barcodes to their headstones so that relatives or genealogical researchers can scan the code with their smart-phones, and then access an interactive online memorial page. These monument pages are extremely valuable genealogy resources, and obviously have a place in the future of genealogy. They allow families to personalize their memorial pages and update their information. The LegacyTec APP however will allow anyone to pull up a genealogical webpage on any gravestone in a cemetery. You simply need to point your smart-phone, shoot, and Voila, instant information.

The APP doesn’t need the marker to have a matrix barcode, that’s the really great thing. All it takes to connect a researcher to an online genealogical profile of the deceased person is a relatively good photo of the gravestone. At least that is the goal of the developers. The company’s vice-president, Hudson Gunn, admits that building such a custom platform for such a task is a bit of a logistics nightmare. They seem to have overcome those complications however. Rather than searching millions of records at a time, this APP uses GPS metadata from uploaded photographs to filter the search by location, usually by city or cemetery.

It’s really interesting how it works. The APP first narrows the search to a couple of hundred locations in the area using image recognition technology. The APP then compares the uploaded image of the headstone to an existing gallery of gravesite monument photographs. The company uses the huge database from around the internet, including their own website, which continues to grow in leaps and bounds. But the technology used is only half of the applications recipe for success.

The other element that could make this APP so useful is the number of contacts in the genealogy world that the company’s CEO, Devin Taylor, has appropriated over the years.  The APP would be useless without having access to a genealogical mega-database, andTaylorhas convinced, and to partner with him. This is exciting news for the genealogy world, especially those who like the new technological advances and gadgets that are being produced.

The APP is also designed to increase its own genealogical databases as individuals use it. When someone photographs a headstone somewhere, they are asked if they want to create a record for that person. As each user does this, the database will continue to expand, by as many as seven million people by the end of this year according to Mr. Gunn.

As an added benefit, the APP doesn’t include advertisements, so kudos to Otter Creek Holdings. The APP is expected to be ready for download in the coming week, so stay tuned for news at the News Feed at

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