Having a genealogy blog can beneficial in many ways, but it can also feel daunting to start one. Here are some tips to show you how to start your own genealogy blog.
Benefits of Having a Genealogy Blog
Writing about your ancestors can be a way of analyzing what you know about them. It makes you take your notes and put them into something cohesive. When you do that, you might just find some gaps in your research or some inconsistencies or conflicting information.
Blogging can be a form of “cousin bait.” You put the information out there and wait for it to attract others who are researching the same family.
It’s a way to preserve your research. It gets it out of your genealogy software and into a format that is readily accessible to others. You can also take your blog posts and turn them into books.
Know Your Why
There are other ways that you can analyze your research, set cousin bait, or preserve your research... so why blog? That's a question you need to answer for yourself. Do you want to share family stories and photos? Do you want to share information about your ancestors? Do you want to teach others how to research? Are you a professional genealogist and are hoping to attract clients or a genealogy society that wants to engage with current members and prospective members? Are you wanting a creative outlet?
The only "wrong" answer to this is "Because everyone else has one." Blogging is an ongoing endeavor, one that takes time and energy. If the only reason you want a blog is because it seems like everyone else has one, I suggest you think long and hard before starting one.
What Is Your Focus?
There are countless ways you could blog about "genealogy" or "family history." Do you want to highlight your ancestors? Do you want to focus on your research process? Do you want to share genealogy news or your opinions about what's going on in the field?
List Specific Post Ideas
Before you create your blog, take some time to come up with 8-10 specific blog post ideas. Don't have something general like, "I want to have a post about my great-grandfather." What about him do you want to write? Have a more specific post idea like "Great-grandfather Smith deserting from the Civil War."
If you can't come up with 8-10 specific blog post ideas or you really struggled to get there, you might want to re-think the focus of your blog.
How Often Should You Post?
There's no one correct answer for this. My best advice is to come up with a schedule that works for you, one that feels comfortable and that you can maintain.
You do NOT need to blog every day! It's better to post less frequently, but have higher quality than to publish "something" just because you "need" to.
Blogging isn't something you do once and you're done. It's something you'll do over and over again.
Naming Your Blog
There are two parts to the name of your blog:
- The name, which appears at the top of the blog
- The URL, which is what people will type to get to your blog
You can change the name of the blog (the part that shows up at the top) any time. The URL, on the other hand, is much harder to change.
If your blog is on Blogger or WordPress.com and you haven't paid for a custom domain name, your URL will be example.blogspot.com or example.wordpress.com. You'll pick the part before the first period ("example").
Remember that the URL will be one word (no spaces and you should avoid dashes and underscores). Be on the lookout for "hidden" words that created when you take a phrase and mash it all together into one word. (Pro tip: have a 12-year-old look at it. If he or she starts giggling, there's probably a "hidden" word that you don't want!)
Don't get hung up on this step, but do spend some time come up with various ideas, as your first choice might already be taken.
The two biggest free blogging platforms are Blogger and WordPress.com. Both are free, though they each also have add-ons you can pay for, like custom domain names (URLs) and extra storage. However, you can do them completely free.
Blogger, owned by Google, is a bit easier to use. WordPress.com has a little bit of a learning curve, but it has more functionality. You might want to look at some online tutorials to get a feel for each before deciding which one you want to use.
Pages vs. Posts
Blogs are made of pages and posts. Think of posts like individual articles (like the one you're reading right now). Most of what you'll be writing will be posts. Pages are meant for static content, like an "About Me" page (which I highly recommend you create).
What's Your Style?
It can be difficult to find your "voice." Almost every blogger struggles with that at some point. You'll find your writing style as you blog more. You'll discover what feels right to you. If you don't want to write in a scholarly style, don't. If you don't want to be casual, don't be. It's up to you.
Who Is Your Intended Audience?
One of the first rules of writing is "Know your audience." Are you writing for family members (including those you haven't yet met)? If so, you'll probably write differently than if you're a professional genealogist who is trying to attract clients.
Keeping your audience in mind will also help you choose your post topics.
Advice from Experienced Genealogy Bloggers
I asked a group of genealogy bloggers what advice they would give or what they wish they knew when they started. Here's what they said:
- Amanda Pape of ABT UNK suggested having multiple ways of contacting you other than leaving a comment on a post
- Diane Gould Hall of Michigan Family Trails said that it's important to post links to your blog on social media. People can't read your posts if they don't know about them.
- Melissa Barker of A Genealogist in the Archives recommends using images in your posts
- Sue Thomas McNelly of Kindred Past recommends having a blogging calendar/editorial calendar to help plan your posts
- Elizabeth Handler of From Maine to Kentucky recommends keeping your blog posts short; tell a story.
- Randy Seaver, the mega blogger from Genea-Musings, suggests using your blog for crowdsourcing. Blog about a problem and ask for input!
- Mags Gaulden of Grandma's Genes and Lorine McGinnis Schulze of Olive Tree Genealogy both recommended to be consistent. As Mags said, "It's not the amount of blogs that you, but the quality."
- Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist said, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." So true!
- Devon Lee of Family History Fanatics, Jill Ball of GeniAus, and Pat Richley-Erickson (better known as DearMYRTLE) all said: Just do it!
You might also want to check out GeneabloggersTribe.com, a network of genealogy bloggers.
I love the observation by Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock of Treasure Chest of Memories. She didn't know when she started blogging, "That I'd love it so much and that blogging would open so many doors for me."
How about it? Are you starting a genealogy blog? Feel free to leave a link in the comments!