Genealogy meets the blogosphere: Using social media for family history research

More people use technology to advance family's history

By Hillary Bowler

Mormon Times

Published: Thursday, July 14 2011 8:00 a.m. MDT

Getting started is easy. It doesn't take an HTML-proficient computer whiz to pull off creating a blog.

Cooke emphasized the fact that platforms like Blogger and Wordpress make it so simple, a blog can be up and running within 10 minutes. Bloggers "literally just plug things in," she said.

Many genealogy bloggers are experienced and have already blogged on other topics.

"I already had a personal blog, so moving my research onto a digital platform was a natural progression," Magno-Veluz said.

"It can become addictive," MacEntee said. "I have 13 myself."

It might be easier for current bloggers to try a new kind of blogging. But according to new blogger Cason, those new to the idea shouldn't be afraid to try it.

"Blogging can be anything you want it to be," said Cason, who just has the one blog. "The purpose of mine is to just share what I have with my family."

Blogging tips

Cason chose to make her blog available to the public. Because of this, she's gained more followers and connected with people outside of her family.

"Privacy is a big issue … They're (potential bloggers) right to be concerned," MacEntee said, pointing out that privacy issues seem to be a hindrance to some people who would otherwise start a blog.

However, he was quick to remind that it's possible to make blogs available to family and close friends only. Ericson suggested that bloggers should be mindful of privacy whether it's a private or public blog. It's good to be careful of just how personal some of the posted information gets.

With these things in mind, a blog must have a focus. Many genealogy blogs are what are called "surname blogs," or blogs where people post certain names and familial lines they are researching so that they may connect with others searching the same things.

But family history blogs aren't limited to just that. For example, GeneaBloggers contains blogs based on headstones and obituaries, specific cities or counties, heritage from certain countries, blogs by certified genealogists on their professional research or blogs that offer services to complete your genealogy for you.

"Everybody out there is an expert on something," Cooke said.

Ericson pointed out that a lot of families start blogs simply based on the goings-on of their families currently.

"Over time it becomes a documentation of their recent family history," he said. Ericson also suggested using other social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to connect, record and reminisce with family and friends.

Whatever the blog is about, when it's up and running, it's important to stick with it.

"If you really want to maintain interest, you really have to post on a regular basis," Ericson said.

MacEntee suggested following prompts put on sites like GeneaBloggers to help with consistent posting. "Wordless Wednesday" is a common one. Bloggers just post some kind of self-explanatory photo or image. "Tombstone Tuesday" and "Treasure Chest Thursday" are some other ideas.

Magno-Veluz is currently following GeneaBloggers' "52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History" on her blog. That contains prompts like "restaurants" and "vacations."

Consistent posts are important, but Cooke believes having an RSS feed is particularly vital. RSS feeds allow blog readers to subscribe to a blog so that they are emailed whenever something new is posted. Cooke explained in her instructional videos how simple it is to set up the feed.

Most importantly, Cooke, Ericson, MacEntee and Magno-Veluz all agreed, are the key words in your blog.

Cooke suggested asking yourself, "What would other genealogists be thinking about?" She said it's necessary to "sprinkle" key words, or the kinds of words people will be searching, throughout posts in order to get hits. The more hits a blog gets, the more the blogger can share with the world.

It's all yours

"There are no rules … Think of it as your own journal or diary," MacEntee said of blogs. "You set the rules. It is a blank canvas, a tabula rasa, you would say."

"Be gentle with yourself. There's no contest here," Cooke said. "It has to be right for you at your pace so you'll enjoy it."

If you've been working on finding ancestors, consider posting your information to a blog. See what happens.

After just a few short months, Cason already has 17 followers. "People will find you," Cooke said.

To search the list of GeneaBloggers blogs, visit www.geneabloggers.com.

To access Cooke's instructional videos, visit the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/ GenealogyGems.

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