Joys of Geneablogging

This week I’m celebrating 11 years of blogging. Blogging has changed a lot over the years, but one thing hasn’t changed – the ability to make connections. Thanks to blogging I’ve met a number of cousins who also share a passion for genealogy. Many of them have generously shared their research. I also have personal relationships with experts in all areas of genealogical research who are always ready with a helping hand. And I can walk into a genealogy conference just about anywhere and be surrounded by old friends – even if I’m seeing them for the first time.

Blogging is easy and affordable – many blog platforms are free. Two things make them effective cousin-bait. First, they are very search-friendly. Search engines can find even the most obscure blog post, especially if they include tags (keywords) for surnames, events and locations related to the story. Second, just about every blog platform includes a commenting system allowing readers to leave notes. Comments are often where connections are made.

From a society perspective, encouraging members to become bloggers also builds an online community for your membership. The combination of writing, reading and commenting helps build relationships and expands your research support system beyond your monthly meetings – even beyond your local area since your distant members can easily participate.

The problem with the commenting systems built into blogs is that each is different. Because comments are also spam magnets, most bloggers require commenters to log in before posting a comment. This can be a frustrating experience and can discourage commenters. However, there’s a new commenting system called Disqus that can solve many of these issues and provide a platform that both bloggers and commenters can enjoy.

Disqus comments on Tumblr.

Disqus comments on a Tumblr blog.

Here you see Disqus comments on a Tumblr blog. Tumblr doesn’t have its own commenting system so Disqus makes this delightful blog platform even more fun. As you see here, comments can quickly become conversations. Not only that, but Disqus supports rich media as well as text. You can include an image, video, Soundcloud audio and even tweets in your comments.

Comment with image

A Disqus comment with included image.

It gets better! Disqus commenters have their own profile at the Disqus site and can view, reply and manage conversations at multiple blogs from one location. Disqus will even notify you when your comments generate replies or others join a conversation. You don’t have to wander from blog to blog to see if anyone has added a comment. It’s all collected and delivered to you. You can even follow other Disqus users if you wish.

Disqus user profile

A Disqus user profile

The combination of a Tumblr blog connected to Disqus gives your members a mini social network where they can document their research, share family photos and stories and connect with others for support. The primary advantage of these platforms over social networks is that the user enjoys more control and has fewer distractions.

How can your society benefit from all of this? First of all, you are helping your members take advantage of the many benefits of geneablogging. You are also building a network of bloggers who can help you get the word out about your society and upcoming events while demonstrating that you have an active and involved membership.

Coming soon – a society guide to geneablogging with Tumblr and Disqus.

Flickr 411

Are you using Flickr to encourage your membership to digitize their photo collections and post copies online for safe-keeping? [See The Flickr Archive.] If so, there are a number of Flickr-related projects the society can sponsor that will help your members learn more about their family history. My favorite is something I call Flickr 411 and it was inspired by Flickr Commons.

Flickr Commons Florida page

The Florida State Archives at Flickr Commons

The Library of Congress kicked things off Flickr Commons in January 2008 with a pilot project to collect more information about the photographs in their collection. They posted a number of photos on Flickr and invited the public to come view them and, if they knew anything about a photo, they were asked to add tags, comments and notes using the tools built into the Flickr platform. A report on the program released in October included these statistics:

As of October 23, 2008, there have been:

  • 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
  • 79% of the 4,615 photos have been made a “favorite” (i.e., are incorporated into personal Flickr collections).
  • More than 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
  • 7,166 comments were left on 2,873 photos by 2,562 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
  • Less than 25 instances of user-generated content were removed as inappropriate.
  • More than 500 Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) records have been enhanced with new information provided by the Flickr Community.

Today, more than 90 institutions from around the world share their collections in The Commons. The British Library has posted more than a million photos and graphic images – most of them as public domain images.

How can you do something similar? Easy – just build a Flickr group, invite your members to add photos they would like to learn more about to that group, then start advertising the group publicly to attract visitors. Encourage those visitors to add any information they may have about individual photos. You’ll be surprised at the results.

Using a Flickr group for this project offers several benefits. First of all, your members maintain full control over their photographs. They decide which photos they want to share and can move them in or out of the group at any time. Plus, in addition to the standard comments feature found on all Flickr photo pages, groups also offer a discussion forum. This is a great way to get a conversation going.

The key to this project is promotion. Give your group(s) prominent visibility on the society web site – with links – along with articles describing the project and success stories as they happen. Include information about the project in your newsletters and on your social media sites. Remind members about it at meetings too.

This project will only cost you some time, but the benefits – to both the society and your members – can be tremendous. Your members will discover that Flickr offers more than just an affordable way to protect their photo archives while the society expands the benefits of membership to potential online members researching ancestors in your area.

Creative Commons: Some Rights Reserved

If you look at the bottom of this blog’s sidebar, you will see the Creative Commons graphic and license text. Follow the link to the license information and you will be pleasantly surprised that the license text is written in plain language. There is also a legal version of the license at the Creative Commons site and machine readable version (so search engines and web apps can identify licensed work).

While I do want credit for the works I create, I don’t mind if others use my works in their own creations. This is especially true in my family history projects. That doesn’t mean you have unlimited rights to my publications or postings or that you can claim them as your own. Creative Commons offers the flexibility to create a license that suits my needs. For example, the short name for my license is “attribution-share alike” which means you can use my stuff if your work includes credit to me and the work you create using my stuff will also be licensed to share to others. I don’t limit the number of copies you can have, keep you from giving my work to someone else or make you ask my permission to use my stuff. All I want is credit for my efforts and that you don’t try to lock my work up by including it in an “all rights reserved” copyrighted publication.

The beauty of Creative Commons is that it gives you the flexibility to determine how your work can be distributed. There are several different options you can incorporate into the license you use. Will you allow commercial use? modifications of your work? How will others attribute the work to you? At all times you retain copyright to your work.

Whether you are building an original work and including family treasures or offering scanned copies of existing photos and documents, Creative Commons gives you the opportunity to choose how those works can be used by others. Visit the Creative Commons site to learn more.

Quick and Easy Signs

Do you need a sign or placard to announce an upcoming event? You don’t need to hire a graphics designer or spend a lot of money on fancy software. Put your presentation graphics software (PowerPoint for Windows or Keynote for Mac) to work instead.

Creating a sign in Keynote.

Creating a sign in Keynote.

Here you see a graphic call for articles sign that was created using Keynote. The photograph was sized to cover then entire slide, then the text was layered on top. Anyone familiar with digital scrapbooking apps will be right at home using either Keynote or PowerPoint to combine text, photos and embellishments to build the sign. You also have the ability to “draw” boxes and other shapes, add shadows, frames and other design elements.

Once your sign is ready, use the program’s export feature to export it as a photo file. Both Keynote and PowerPoint support exporting a single slide from a presentation file. If you look at the sidebar on the left, you’ll see it contains several other slides. These are signs created for other purposes. This one file can also serve as an archive of graphic elements.

The signs you see in this example were all created for use on my society’s web site. I created each sign at a print-level resolution but reduced it to web resolution as part of the export process. If I should later need to print a sign or placard, I can go back to my original and print directly from the presentation file. I’ve also had success sending a presentation file to a print service (our local office supply store) to print my signs in larger sizes. The text scaled up beautifully and the photo quality was quite acceptable.

Look for affordable royalty-free or commercial use graphics and fonts to support your efforts. For example, there’s a Premium Fonts package of more than 1,500 commercial use fonts available in the Mac App Store for $30. Another great font resource is MyFonts.com.

Test drive your presentations software to see how you can combine photos, text and graphic elements to build your own signs. Dig around in the formatting and image-editing commands to discover how versatile these apps can be. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Blog Platforms: Tumblr

Tumblr is part blog and part social network. Owned by Yahoo, it is a free and easy way to connect with your membership and keep them informed.  Tumblr favors short-form posts over the longer ones found on platforms such as WordPress. As you can see in the video below, it makes sharing photos, videos, links and other media easy to do – from home or on the go.

How can a society put Tumblr to use? Yes, it can be your society’s home page, but it can be a lot more. Here are some examples:

  • News center. It’s easy to post links to other content on the web, making it a great news platform. Use it to keep your members updated on the latest deals at the subscription archives, upcoming webinars, free resources, interesting books and tips.
  • Special Interest Group. Tumblr supports multiple contributors so it can be used to support special interest groups within your society. Combine it with the Disqus commenting system and you have your own mini social network.
  • Social Network. Tumblr is a great platform for beginning bloggers and the built-in reader makes it easy for members to follow each other’s blogs. Once again, adding Disqus to the mix kicks the conversation into high gear.

Tumblr supports mobile blogging with apps for both iOS and Android phones/tablets and offers features like multiple contributors, private sites and custom themes. Your account supports multiple blogs too. It’s all free except that there’s a growing body of custom themes you can purchase for use on your Tumblr. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of free themes too.

Check out the sidebar here at the Society Journal and you’ll find a feed of the latest posts from my Genealogy 101 Tumblr. Click any link and you’ll be taken to the site.

Want to learn more? This guide has everything you need to get started. And you can’t beat the $1.99 price tag either. Click on the cover to get your copy.

Make History Personal

How often I have wished I had asked Aunt Mary about that handsome young Sailor hugging her in that photograph … We all regret the missed opportunities and unasked questions. Then, almost in the same breath, we complain about the lack of interest our young relatives have about their own history.

Why is it the younger generation’s responsibility to know what questions to ask – let alone ask them? Aren’t the older generations responsible for their children’s education? Family history should be a priority in that effort. By including family history, those extraordinary ordinary people who were our ancestors will make learning history a personal experience and encourage them to learn more.

My history books taught me that the Civil War battles at Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee, were the death knells for the Confederacy. At the time my main interest was passing the test. Then I learned that my great grandfather fought and was captured at Franklin, spent the rest of the war as a POW at Camp Douglas, Illinois, and then walked home to Georgia. Once I had a family connection to the war, I wanted to understand how it affected their lives. It then became personal.

Although my mother, aunts and grandmother made sure we kids knew this great grandfather fought in the war, it would have been easy to expand our knowledge and interest. We spent many summers on the family farm in Georgia just a few miles from the Chickamauga battlefield. My great grandfather’s unit fought there too. It would have been a great adventure to wander around the battlefield, discover the many monuments honoring his unit and learn about his unit’s actions during the battle. With a little more encouragement, we may have gone on to learn about the other battles and his capture.

My point here is that it is our responsibility to share our family history and make history personal for the generations following us.

How can we do this? Here are some ideas:

  • Visit battlefields, home towns and places where your ancestors lived. During a recent visit to the Chickamauga battlefield, a ranger looked up my great grandfather’s unit and then provided us with a map showing where each monument and marker was located. We spent a delightful afternoon tracking down those markers. It would have been even more fun if the grandkids had been with us.
  • We did have the grandkids with us on a day trip to Spaceport at Cape Canaveral. I told them about watching Apollo 11 launch from the beach in St. Augustine and their mother told them about coming to the Cape to watch a shuttle launch. Now those exhibits became much more real to them.
  • Do your kids like to read? Historical novels are even more fascinating when there’s a connection to an ancestor. The same is true for movies. All it takes is a little comment mentioning the connection to spark an interest.
  • Blog the stories your research discovers. My nephew never met his paternal grandparents so he enjoys the photos and stories I’ve posted about them.
  • Create photo/scrap books with lots of captions, ephemera and short stories. It’s quite easy and affordable these days to “publish” small, customized histories as gifts.
  • Develop research challenges/contests to encourage the kids to learn on their own.

It doesn’t have to be a momentous event to add a personal perspective. Something as simple as watching History Detectives and commenting on how you found one of your ancestors through research could inspire them to discover how fascinating family history can be.

Got some suggestions to add to the list? Tell us about them in the comments. We’d love to hear them!