Blogging Your Family History
by Thomas MacEntee | Mar 6, 2010
You may have encountered a "blog" during your last search on Google or a genealogy colleague may have mentioned an article they read on a well-known family history blog. You keep hearing the term blog and wonder: "Am I missing out on a way to improve my research?" or "Can a blog help me connect with other genealogists?" Before these and other questions can be answered, lets learn more about family history blogs and whether having one is right for you.
My Personal Experience With Blogs
I began blogging in late 2006 as a way to capture my mother's stories about our family. This was a difficult time for us since Mom's early-onset Alzheimer's Disease was quickly advancing. Not only was I able to set down in writing these great tales that she told during holidays and get-togethers, but I also found a new outlet to deal with the frustrations of seeing a parent die in slow motion.
Having a blog meant not only telling the stories, but also interacting with readers who left positive and encouraging comments. Soon I was part of a community and in contact with others who not only were researching their family history, but some even had parents with the same debilitating disease. We shared our trials and our triumphs as well as advice. With my blog I was able to tap into a community of folks willing to help out - whether it was genealogy or just to vent my frustrations.
What Is A Blog?
The term blog is an abbreviation for "weblog" which is a type of website created and maintained by a person. Similar to an on-line journal, a blog contains posts similar to pages in a diary or articles in a magazine. A post might contain information on a genealogy event such as a conference or a recent find during a genealogy research trip. The types of posts found in a blog vary based upon the type of blog.
Why Have A Blog?
If you were to ask any person currently blogging about their own family history or about genealogy in-general, you would probably hear one or more of the following responses:
- Research: there are many instances of genealogists breaking down brick walls simply by posting information in their genealogy blog and having a search engine like Google pick it up for others to find. There are similar stories from researchers who read genealogy blogs: they find information about ancestors which was previously unavailable via databases, archives, etc.
- Sharing with family: for some, their family can't understand the research data in a genealogy database or a notebook. Family history information can be presented in small segments on genealogy blogs.
- Connecting with family: many people have located cousins simply because of a genealogy blog. Some are cousins related going back eight or nine generations through a common ancestor. Others are first or second cousins about whom there was no information until they found a genealogy blog and tracked down the author.
- Writing: having a genealogy blog helps improve your writing style and it helps put dates, facts and figures into a readable format.
- Marketing: genealogists, genealogy companies and genealogical societies leverage the social networking power of blogs to publicize services, products and events.
- Connecting with genealogists: many have found new ways of connecting with fellow genealogists through their blogs. Some of us are newly retired and are looking to build upon our genealogy hobby. Others are limited (either due to geographical isolation or physical limitations) in the opportunities to connect in-person with other genealogists. (image source: U.S. Library of Congress)
What Type of Blog Should I Have?
The types of genealogy and family history blogs are many and varied including those dealing with technology, old photographs, research tips, and more. The most popular type of blog is one dealing with an individual's own family history.
As a new blogger, creating a site about your own family complete with photographs and family stories is the best approach especially if your goal is to involve other family members. As you progress, you can include posts about research, display family trees, note birthdays or anniversaries and more.
What About Privacy?
By their very nature, blogs are public and can be accessed by anyone and everyone. This doesn't mean that you and your family are left exposed and everything is out in the open. Here are some options for protecting your privacy:
- Before posting information about living family members - especially photographs of nieces, nephews or grandchildren, ask permission. Rightfully so, many parents are wary of having images of their children floating around on the Internet.
- It is possible to have a private blog - meaning access is only granted to family members who have the right password to read the posts.
- Make sure you moderate comments from readers - every blogging platform has a way to do this. You should always review comments made by others before they are posted to your blog.
One Blog or Many Blogs?
Once you've selected a blog type most new bloggers start to have concerns as to whether or not they need more than one blog. The thinking goes something like this: "Well if one genealogy blog is great, then two or three will just be fantastic!"
I recommend using the K.I.S.S. concept (Keep It Simple, Stupid) when creating your first blog, whether it be genealogy-related or not. This means only starting out with one blog and here's why:
- Concerned that you might be trying to cover too much in your blog? Don't be. Many first-time genealogy bloggers start out with a "catch-all" blog which covers their family history, genealogy research and more.
- You should allow yourself time to understand the process of blogging and creating/posting content consistently. Too many blogs means that you'll soon lose interest in one or more of them.
- Focus on building a readership and when the time comes, if you create a new blog, those readers will likely follow you to your new blog.
- Over time you'll gain a better understanding of topics for your new blog and narrow the focus of your current blog.
Choosing A Blog Name
Just like choosing a name for your child or a pet, you want the name to be special, have meaning and accurately describe your blog. Try to choose a name that is unique and doesn't copy the name of another family history blog (to avoid confusion). Many new bloggers work a family surname or two into the title. Others come up with cute or funny names using the words ancestor, genes, tree, etc.
Which Blogging Platform Is Best?
Before you can create your family history blog, you must decide where to create it - meaning at which website or blog hosting service. This service is called a blogging platform and is often provided to users at no charge.
A blogging platform contains all the tools needed to easily create a blog and to produce content - known as blog posts - on a regular basis. Popular blogging platforms are Blogger (which is part of the Google family), WordPress, TypePad, LiveJournal, Tumblr and Posterous.
Selecting a blogging platform can be difficult if you don't know which features of a blog are important in meeting your goals. The right blogging platform depends not only upon the "technology comfort zone" of the new blogger but also the blog type.
Blogger: By far the most popular blogging platform including those created by genealogists and family historians, Blogger is part of the Google family of applications and services.
- Advantages: free, very user friendly, and easy to use; easy to change "look and feel" through templates and gadgets; integrates with other Google applications. Recommended for the first-time blogger and individual family history blogs.
- Disadvantages: not as robust or as sophisticated as other blogging platforms; limited number of templates and add-ons compared to other blogging platforms. Not recommended for potentially complex blogs such as genealogical societies, one place studies, etc.
WordPress: A popular blogging platform for those who feel comfortable with web technologies and when a more complex blog with robust features is desired. If Blogger were a PC, WordPress would be a Mac.
- Advantages: free version available although works best with a paid hosting service; extensive number of stylish templates and widgets; many third-party plugins and tools available for free. Recommended for blogs that require many features such as genealogical society blogs and technology blogs.
- Disadvantages: free version is limited in terms of changing "look and feel" via templates and widgets; must have paid hosted site for full WordPress experience; requires solid technical skills. Not recommended for the first-time blogger.
Choosing A Blog Template
After selecting a blog name, selecting a blog template is the last step before actually creating your blog. As a new blogger, it is recommended that you stick with the preset templates provided by your blogging platform. Select one that closely matches your blogging format preferences above but don't be surprised if you must forego one or two of your formatting choices in order to find a template that works. And don't forget that you can always change templates once your blog is created.
Create Your Genealogy Blog
Follow the step-by-step instructions of your selected blogging platform and you should be able to create your own blog in under 5 minutes!
Don't worry that your blog looks plain compared to other family history blogs. Keep in mind that even the most advanced blogger started out at the same point that you did. A good genealogy blog with lots of readers is not built overnight - like a vibrant and colorful garden, it is carefully and constantly fed and tended to.
Create Your First Blog Post
Create your first post - an introductory post describing you, your blogging goals, your family history - and congratulate yourself on getting started!
Don't be afraid that you'll be running out of ideas for blog posts. Many family history bloggers participate in group activities with other bloggers such as posting about the same topic on specific days. These daily blogging themes include Tombstone Tuesday (bloggers post a photo of an ancestral gravesite and give the details about the person buried there) and Treasure Chest Thursday (post a photo of an heirloom and tell why it is important to your family).
Whether you are just starting to explore your family's history or you've been an active genealogy researcher for the past 20 years, having a blog can greatly expand and add depth to your family history experience. You'll find that not only is it possible to advance your own research efforts, but you'll soon be part of a larger community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about their family history and sharing it with others.
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