Genealogy meets the blogosphere: Using social media for family history research
More people use technology to advance family's history
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SALT LAKE CITY —"I'm just kind of flabbergasted that you found me," said Margaret Cason, a genealogy blogger from Bountiful, when called for an interview. "I'm not accustomed to having anything I do found by anybody else."
A number of people have found Cason's blog, "Their Hearts Shall Turn," since she started it in March. It's likely that even more people will connect with her and follow her entries now.
Cason first started her genealogy research after a Sunday School lesson in her LDS ward particularly struck her with the importance of finding her ancestors. When she attended a RootsTech conference in February and learned about technologies to advance her research, she made the transition to the blogosphere.
Cason has since joined a listing of roughly 2,000 blogs related to genealogy and family history on GeneaBloggers.com. Browsing through the collection, you'll find quite the variety. Some may think that genealogy is just a "Mormon thing," but Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Baptists, atheists, etc., find a common interest in studying and finding their ancestors. While the blogs listed on GeneaBloggers are predominantly in English, there are some in Polish, Spanish, Dutch, French and Norwegian, just to name a few. You might even find one that's multi-lingual.
Genealogy and technology: A perfect match
Jim Ericson, product marketing manager for FamilySearch and a proponent of social media for family history, said that genealogy has been "entrenched in technology as technology has evolved." Genealogists have jumped onto the computer and Internet bandwagons in the past; it's time they join the social media world, he said.
"Genealogists seem to be 55-plus, so right away they don't see the merits of having a blog," said Thomas MacEntee of Chicago, founder of GeneaBloggers. But, he added, people are starting to recognize that blogs and other forms of social media work for genealogy — and they work really well.
"What you're really doing is populating the Google search engine," said Lisa Cooke of San Ramon, Calif., founder of Genealogy Gems, a company that offers instructional materials about genealogy.
Cooke also released a series of videos on how to make a genealogy blog. When information is posted on a blog, someone using any search engine can find what's been posted.
"One of the nice things about blogs and social media is that it allows people to share (family history) more broadly," Ericson said. Personal findings can be easily accessible to others.
Social media is really all about connecting, and for genealogy, it can even mean collaboration.
"I have met a second cousin who I never knew existed," MacEntee said. "She found my blog."
Mona Magno-Veluz, a blogger from Manila, Philippines, has connected with countless people through both her how-to and personal family history blogs. One of her favorite connections was with a fourth cousin whose search for an ancestor's name led him to her blog. It turned out that ancestor's house had been preserved and is one of the oldest homes in the Philippines.
"There are many, many stories of people finding their relatives on the pages on my blog," Magno-Veluz said via email, echoing the sentiments of many genealogy bloggers and countless stories of meeting distant relatives or collaborating with others in work on the same surnames.
Such connections can prove valuable in getting help as well.
"The genealogy community is very helpful period, but especially the bloggers," MacEntee said. He went on to explain how one can simply post a question to their blog or write a post about something they're struggling with. Other bloggers or even genealogists post helpful information in the form of comments on the blog post.
Creating a blog
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."
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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