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August 13, 2008

Organizing and Remembering Passwords

I've been thinking a lot about passwords. It seems more and more websites require a login (username and password) to use their facilities. Of course as genealogists many of us already belong to subscription websites like,, Genealogy Today and so on - all of which require a login. Google mail and other mail services need a password. Online banking is also password protected as are E-Bay and other auction sites.

We all learn pretty quickly that it is not a good idea to have one password for all our important or private areas of the internet. Instead we are urged to create separate passwords for every spot we visit. We're also urged to not record these passwords, but at the same time, told to guard them carefully and not forget them!

As my password list began to grow (and being the webmaster of over a dozen sites as well as volunteer list admin of dozens of mailing lists and message boards) just adds to that list!) I realized I had to come up with a method that would allow me quick and easy access to my safe-guarded areas.

My husband uses post-it notes. They are stuck all over his desk shelves. For me that doesn't work as it takes too long to find the one I want. Plus I don't like the clutter and the fact that anyone coming into our computer area has easy access to our "stuff".

I tried writing mine in an address book. Nope, I didn't like it as I couldn't keep the sites in alphabetical order within the letter category. I also ran out of room under one letter and had to expand into a letter that was incorrect. For someone with only a few passwords this might be a viable option but not for me

In desperation I bought Digital Personal Password Manager. It's a cool little device that you hook up to your computer. Then you teach it your fingerprint and your passwords. Whenever you go to a password protected site that you have "entered" on the device, you simply press your finger or thumb on the red pad and bingo your password is entered on the site and you are in.

At first I liked this method but I quickly began having problems. many times the fingerprint reader would not accept my finger! I had to move it, adjusting it ever so slightly, rolling it one way and another until it would take. My husband loves his, it works like a charm every time! But for me it was a dismal failure.

[Photo on left is an invented password and username, it's not the real one!] Finally last year I hit on what for me works beautifully. I use a roladex. The roladex allows me to create one card for each site. I can make changes as needed, I can change my password, record what credit card I used to buy a subscription, etc. I can buy extra roladex cards if I need more. I can insert a card so that the sites are in alphabetical order. When a card gets too full of scribbled notations, I can toss it and start a new one!

I'm the Roladex Queen now and I can't say enough about how much easier my online life is since I started using it.


Thomas MacEntee said...

I had the same problem remember passwords and I went to and reviewed the Freeware offerings.

I went with ALPass v2.74 and I've used it for about four months now. I think it is great - whenever I go to Ancestry, Footnote, Ebay etc., it pops up and has the credentials ready. I click the Fill button and I am all set. There are several security features built in that I really like.

I posted abou this program back in May:

TamuraJones said...

Writing down passwords in a rolodex is even more accessible to curious visitors than post-it notes are, especially after telling the world that the rolodex is the place to look :-(

Consider a virtual rolodex. There are many password keeping application that require you to remember just one master password to view and edit your encrypted password database.

These databases are also ideal for recording registration details such as serial numbers, paspoort numbers etcetera.

Quite a few synchronise their database with Palm or Windows mobile devices, on which you will of course need the same password to view or edit it.

- Tamura

Genealogy Blogger said...

Thomas, thanks for the tip about ALPass v2.74. I'm off to read your blog post now.

Tamura, good point about curious visitors and my Roladex system, except that they can't see it walking by my desk.

They'd have to rifle through it and to look through it would require more unsupervised time alone than visitors to my home ever have!

And when I'm away, the Roladex is securely locked in our safe - and the Security System is on. :-)

Tex said...

I use the Rolodex method, too. I know it's not all that secure, but no one uses my desk at home but me and I have this sort of fatalistic approach to these sorts of things anyway.

That said, I may check out Thomas's software tip.

Brenda said...

Thanks for the reminder that I'm another who should clean up her act. For now I think I'll stay with a paper method that can be hidden away out of sight. OK, I'm a luddite.