Blogging your tree

If you want to follow my suit, here are some pointers on how to do from the article I wrote which was published by the NZ Society of Genealogists in their July/August 201 magazine.

Blogging Your Family History

I’ve often wondered about publishing my family history, but I’m not organised enough to have a beautiful volume printed like other members of my family – apart from anything my research is not that focused!  Reading a distant cousin’s blog on her life in Christchurch, which included some of our mutual family history, made me think – that’s what I could do!

And so “My Family Annals” blog was born.  It reflects me quite a bit as it meanders around my family and often away.  Sometimes I write serious family history posts – usually a mixture of facts and how I found them and social history.  Other times I get a touch of whimsy – like my post on “Houses my family used to own”.

So what is a blog and how do you get one?

A blogs is a type of online journal.  People do them on all sorts of things – crafts, gardening, politics, travel, health etc.

To get one is easy and, importantly, free.  You start by finding a blog host.  Google ‘free blog’ and you’ll find a selection.  Two of the big ones are Blogger (by Google) and WordPress (open source) but there are many others.

How do you pick?  Have a look around their site and see if they explain themselves in a way you understand.  I use WordPress and have found it pretty user friendly and its Help useful.  Sign up for an account and then pick a format (you can always change it later or weekly if you so desire!).  Some formats are suited to wordy articles than others.

Most blogs have two types of submissions – pages which are permanent and posts which are usually listed chronologically in the order you posted them.  Pages are good for writing an ‘About’ page or listing the surnames you’re interested in or your favourite resources.  Posts are the stories of your family (and anything else that takes your fancy).  You can also categorize and tag your posts eg by surname or location.

WordPress is set up in a way not dissimilar to Word.  You have bold, italics and other formatting tools.  There are buttons to upload photos and video and to link to other websites.  You don’t need to know any html (internet programming language), but you can edit your page’s html if you do.

So is blogging for you?  Here are some advantages and disadvantages:

  Advantages

  • You can post on anything in any order or combination that takes your fancy
  • You can update information at any time – which is handy when those long lost cousins provide that snippet you’re been searching for for years!
  • It’s free and you can send a link to interested family members immediately
  • It could help the more tech-savvy younger generations of your family become interested in their history
  • It will help you find relatives who are also interested in your family (my blog turns up in the first dozen results of a Google search for people I’ve put on it with unusual names)
  • You can include links to other posts or further information – this can range from general information (eg Wikipedia) to specific items like newspaper articles or photographs relevant to your family
  • You can ask for information – it’s not as quick as a forum like RootsChat or Trade Me, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get

  Disadvantages

  • You need to have a reasonable level of computer literacy and easy access to a computer
  • All the information is in the public domain so anyone can see it
  • You will suddenly discover all the holes in your research (but view it as an opportunity to ask for the answer)
  • You can’t read it as a bed time story to your grandchildren
  • You will need to make the effort to back it up so you don’t lose what you’ve written
  • You can’t really publish a tree with lots of generations, but there are many other sites on the web that provide this facility

And if you finally get enough stories together you have a starting point for that lovely printed volume.

Tips for web etiquette and staying safe on the web.

  • Keep on topic – this is your blog on family history, not your latest creation from the workshop/sewing room – you can get another blog for that!
  • Don’t name anyone living unless you have their permission or you’re linking to their website or blog – this includes yourself – don’t give too much away
  • Admit it when you don’t know something – and admit it when you’re making assumptions about people’s behaviour or motivations
  • Treat your writing like a college essay
    • site your sources either by name (‘my Jones cousins’ will do for living people) or link back to the webpage you found it on (you can use links like footnotes)
    • indent large quotes
    • be consistent on how you format things eg I always have ship names in italics, always
    • proofread before you post – WordPress has a preview function which shows you exactly how your post will look – use it!
  • Remember copyright.  Don’t use photos or documents you don’t have possession of – link to them if they’re on the internet.
  • Get permission to use photos provided by other family members – it’s only polite
  • Less is more.  Story first, then the detail of your tree

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