What’s it all about?

“What’s it all about, Alfie?”

“What’s that, Ann?”

“All that blogging nonsense you talk about. I don’t have time for that. You mustn’t have enough to do”.

If the essence of this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. Some months ago James Tanner at Genealogy’s Star, Randy Seaver at GeneaMusings and Jill Ball at Geniaus were wondering why we struggle to get some fellow genealogists to understand that blogging about our family history has any value. I’ve even had similar responses from librarians in family history areas.

The world is your family tree oyster with blogging. Edited image from Office Clip Art.

Blogging lets you communicate with genealogists world-wide.

I’ve been pondering the topic since then and reached the conclusion that the majority of genealogists/family historians just don’t “get it”: they think we’re just talking about our breakfast or where we met our friends for dinner….what might be called the early-days-of-Facebook syndrome.

So what’s my solution? I think we need to reframe how we refer to our blogs. Instead of just using that one-word shorthand (a kind of jargon) that geneabloggers understand, and other don’t, we should try these types of options in response to “Ann’s” questions:

“I write and publish my family history on the web”

“I write my family stories and share them on the internet”

“I write my family history and share it world-wide”

By reframing it and calling it by the content of what we’re actually doing, it gives the activity a clear weight. We are writing and publishing our own and our family’s stories as an alternative, or a prelude, to writing a formal manuscript. Along the way we gain other benefits, and I shared my experiences a while ago in this post.

I recently started re-reading a book called How To Write History That People Want To Read[i] written by two Australian (women) Professors of History. (By the way it’s a great book!) Having been thinking about what we’re really doing when we blog, this paragraph leapt out at me:

Even if you are working alone, writing history need not be a lonely and isolated activity. We encourage you to mix and talk to other people, to share your ideas and your writing with them, and to be interested in theirs. Learning about the past is, in the end, a collective activity, as we build on the work of those who went before us, and share with our peers, friends and colleagues the trials and struggles of our endeavours.

Although it was written for a different context it seems to capture all the reasons why we blog and why it’s an appropriate activity for people who take their family history seriously. So many of us may be unable to attend conferences or meetings depending on where we live or our family circumstances. We may live in places where few people share our interest. Blogging meets those needs and helps us share our research and our writing with others. By reading other people’s blogs and making comments it becomes a dynamic process.

Some benefits of blogging.

My view is that responses to comments are equally valuable as it lets our readers know that we hear what they’re saying, appreciate their involvement (especially navigating that wretched CAPTCHA business), and gaining a level of interaction that’s missing when comments get no response. You’ll notice that this little sketch I did last year has arrows going in two directions: we need our blogs to be responsive and dynamic.

What do you think? Would changing how we talk about blogging alter people’s perception of what we do, and perhaps encourage them to either read blogs or start their own?

This is my 400th post since I started blogging writing my family history online in late December 2009. It seemed an appropriate time to discuss my views on this topic.


[i] Curthoys, A and McGrath, A. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, page 12.

RootsTech -Bewildered and Bemused -but resolved

After listening to five of the seven online video-streams, I was thoroughly bewildered by all the choices: so many strategies, so many concepts to absorb. If I felt like this after such a small smattering of talks, I can’t begin to imagine the impact of listening to all the sessions live. Or the thrill of meeting delegates from so many places. It must have been incredibly stimulating.

So why am I bewildered and bemused?

Having started my research in advance of the digital era my records are a mix of hard-copy, written notes, digital files, hard-copy or digital photos, super 8 film, video film and so on.

Where to start with ensuring its all preserved, put online, kept up-to-date and accessible for future generations? How long will that take (how long is a piece of string)?

A prevailing assumption throughout the talks was that everyone’s research is predicated on recording our family stories and I’m sure that is the intention of every family historian. But how successful are we at doing this? The very bower-bird habits that make us love the hunt for new clues, names and locations, tends to inhibit us from actually documenting our stories….we’re never really “finished” on this trail of ancestors, so we can’t write/record it, can we? This is possibly our greatest weakness as we collect our maze of information which may be indecipherable to even our closest kin if we don’t draw it together.

Lynn at The Armchair Genealogist http://www.thearmchairgenealogist.com/ has a great blog to help anyone kick-start their family history: to paraphrase Ancestry “you don’t need to know what you’re going to write, just start writing”. Again the strategies are important, but getting started is the first, most important, and somewhat scary step. Lynn has also challenged fellow family historians to commence their project this month, and even though we’re half way through February, there’s nothing to stop you beginning now, using her posts to help you along.

Each of the RootsTech speakers I heard challenged us in different ways:

1.      To include newbies in our enthusiasm for our obsession, sorry, hobby.

2.      To ensure we keep us with technology, and ensure our own archives remain accessible to the new technology

3.      That we need to have a web presence if we want to spread the word about genealogy generally but our own family research in particular

4.      To volunteer to digitise or index records for all to access

5.      To maintain the security and integrity of our records

6.      Get our stories “out there”

  To respond to Carole Riley’s twitter challenge (@CaroleRiley):

My own take-home messages from the video-streamed sessions were:

1.      The importance of actually recording our family and personal stories, for current and future generations: that’s what all the online resources are provided for. Blogs do provide a great way of sharing our information.

2.      The importance of keeping our digital archives in multiple locations, selecting the right format to use, and to review and update the format regularly. (A lot of work in this one).

3.      The potential influence of family historians on archives and libraries and in particular the digitisation of records.