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.

26 thoughts on “What’s it all about?

  1. I know exactly what you mean Pauleen. It’s all about how you package the concept and that first 15 vital seconds where you lose or enthuse the person you’re in conversation with. Almost like needing a “dinner party” version of what you do so people don’t look blankly at you or excuse themselves and move away.


  2. I find some people seriously ‘internet resistant’. I know there are people who read my blog and never comment. Ever. And they know me in person. That I find incredibly strange. The reason I blog is no one in my immediate family is interested and I’d go crazy if I couldn’t communicate with someone, anyone, about my research. I also detest CAPTCHA and can be heard yelling at the screen ‘do you want my firstborn child????!!’.


    1. I guess we all blog comment, and connect because we get something from it…not least a community of like mindd souls. Thanks for commmenting Fi and all your tweets too. I think my exclamations are shorter!


    2. Apologies for butting in but am wondering if some people have had as much trouble as me in making a comment on your Blog Fiona? Something we discussed on “twitter” some time back. Am wondering if you’re also having a similar prob with commenting on my Blog, cos there’s been no comment there from you either. Is there some sort of technological glitch happening, do you think? … Cheers, Catherine.


      1. Hi Catherine, I know people have had trouble commenting on my blog and I also sometimes have the same problem with the blogs of others. That’s why I’ll often tweet or +1 the post, ‘cos I can’t comment. With blogger, refreshing the page may work. Otherwise, I think it’s the internet fairies 😉


  3. I have been on a self-imposed hiatus for the last month or so — too busy, you know. However, yesterday I realized I was getting stagnant, irritable, fretful. Why, I was missing the lively input from my fellow writers of family history — and in missing that comradery, my own writing was suffering. And so, this morning, I find your wonderful post and the book quote which sums up why I was feeling angst. Thanks, and good to be back, reading and writing family history.


    1. welcome back Joan…lovely to see that you have emerged from the chrysalis of all that publishing effort 🙂 I agree our online mates give us lots of sustenance and glad you liked the quote..itbreally spoke to me too.


  4. I like that. From now on I will tell people I am writing my family history online and that takes up a lot of my time instead of saying, I spend a lot of my time blogging. And congrats on that 400th post!


  5. Fascinating post Pauleen. My eldest often talks about how so many of his first year Uni students are reluctant to fulfill the course requirement of setting up a blog.
    For me, it all gets back to the reason for blogging. I started on this path 9 months ago as the most useful way of sharing the “nitty gritty” of my Ancestors lives, with ALL of their descendants, especially those from whom I have become estranged, or never met, before I too “fall of the twig” and the stories are lost forever. My target audience is NOT those outside the family, however it’s been a joy to meet up with like-minded people who actually like what I write, although it’s not directed at them. What a surprise to have “distant family” making contact and then being able to link them. NO! I do not use my blog as “cousin bait”.
    The dynamics of the Family History/ Genealogy community, esp here in Oz, is a fascination in itself 🙂 … Cheers and thanks Pauleen, always…


  6. Thanks for your comments Catherine. I agree that some/many posts may be written with a different target audience in mind (certainly how I approached the A to Z). Cousin bait isn’t necessarily a goal but may well be a happy outcome 🙂 Interesting about your son’s peers…fear of writing? don’t have something they’re passionate about?


    1. Sorry to have misled you Pauleen… The son I was making reference to is a University Lecturer and those reluctant to fufill the course requirements, of setting up a blog, are his students. Seems to me that this fits with your notion of negative connotations surrounding the concept of a Blog. Cheers.


  7. ha ha ha… no his older brother. Both employed at the same Uni. We refer to them as “the brothers Habel” and chuckle about how confusing it could be for colleagues & studentts. i.e. totally different personalities and also subject areas 😀


  8. Can’t believe that this post came when it did. I was writing a blog post about “Why?” meaning why we do what we do, write and blog family history. I hope you won’t mind if I use a quote from this, with proper attribution of course, and a link to your blog. This is a great post, actually said what I feel but never actually voiced. I’m writing my family history on a blog for later publishing for my family. I don’t have as much experience as you do,so I’m glad I found you!


    1. thanks for your comments Bettyann and happy forthe link. I only have limited internet access right now so will look at your blog when I’m back in internet land.


  9. My blog, sorry, internet family history writing IS there as “cousin bait”. Well, really, I am writing up my research so that other people across the world who also might be working on the same people/person might find me and we might be able to collaborate. Two heads are better than one, and all that. And it has been very successful drawing out other researchers!


  10. Cassmob, thanks for a great article! Reading both the article and comments gave me a chance to realize why I blog. I began as a way to put the stories behind the facts on “paper” so to speak, It has also evolved into a variety of “cousin bait”. I am excited when someone reaches out and comments or has questions about my blog. It helps to re-invigorate my research. Thanks for helping me take a fresh look at why I blog.


    1. Thanks Donna..I’m pleased that this post “spoke” to you. Many of us seem to start wriring just to get our stories out there nd then we find how sustaining it is to connect and share with our peers.


  11. I think you bring up an interesting point. Especially if you are female, you mention the word “blog” and every one assumes you are one of those “mommy bloggers” who has a million affiliate ads all over your page, and you spend your time looking for shopping deals. I love the idea of rewording it.


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