Is a family history blog the best way to share your ancestral stories?
Think outside the book
When it comes to creating a family history keepsake to share your ancestral stories, most people think of books or binders. These are both great options but far from being the only ones. A popular alternative is to create a website or family history blog.
Unarguably, a beautiful family history coffee table book has a wow factor that is hard to replicate in other formats. The fact that it’s tangible, you can hold it in your hands and flip the pages as you get lost in the story, is powerful. However, it’s a significant investment (both time and money) and comes with its own unique set of limitations.
There is also the fact that your genealogy research never ends. There is always one more database to check, one more record to review, one more rumour to verify. So, what happens if you make a new discovery that changes what you knew of an ancestor’s life?
The truth is that writing, designing and formatting a book isn’t on the to-do list for every family historian. Still, they want a way to share their stories with loved ones and connect with cousins who they haven’t met yet.
Say hello to the family history blog.
If publishing your stories and discoveries online is something you’re comfortable with, then a family history blog might be a good fit for you.
It’s also a good strategy if you’re trying to find relatives and other researchers of the same lineage. As Patrish shared in her “Spotlight On…” tip, a website also acts as a business card for your research. So, even if you only share a few essential facts on select ancestors, your site will appear in searches after a while.
Not to mention that publishing online means you can get information out quickly. No more waiting on printers and the postie; you can share new stories as you discover them if you want.
Like posting on social media, blogging offers you the flexibility to upload content in different formats as often as you want. So, you can:
- update the content on your schedule
- include media such as photos, videos, audio
- add stories and links
- connect with potential cousins without either of you having to hand over personal contact information.
Get creative with your content.
Your blog can be whatever you want it to be.
- A place to share your genealogy discoveries as you make them.
- The home for a serial version of your family history that you publish one post at a time.
- Your research log and genealogy diary where you share updates and discoveries every research session.
I’ve been a fan of blogs for a long time and have tried different formats when sharing online. After moving to New York City in 2005, I started a blog to share my adventure with others. My next effort was in 2009, using a blog platform to publish chapters of a fictional (and never finished) story. Finally, I started this blog in 2017 to share tools, tips and talk about family history with you.
I love the flexibility and versatility of blogging. You’re limited only by your research, the technology and your imagination. And that technology is constantly evolving. In fact, my first blog only had the ability to publish text and a photo or two. In brief, that’s no longer a restriction as the possibilities continue to advance.
Still, depending on the platform you choose, you can create a family history experience that includes:
- video and audio interviews
- guest bloggers sharing recollections and memories
- your social media feed
- ancestral stories and photos
- live streams of your genealogy journey.
Not to forget the comments section, which is still a fabulous place to chat with others who share the same connections that you do.
Let’s talk a little more about writing a book and publishing it as a family history blog.
I’ve always been a big fan of serial fiction, whether it’s found — magazines, radio, or television. It’s a great way to tell a long story because it breaks up content into consumable sections. In turn, this is great for both the author and the reader as those shorter pieces are faster to produce and comprehend.
Intrigued by the idea of writing your family history as a book that you publish as serial non-fiction online? Here are some tips on getting started.
- Firstly, you’ll need to know what story you’re telling. One way to make it easy to get started is to focus on one ancestor and outline their story.
- Secondly, plan out how you’ll tell the story. For example, will you focus on one ancestor and one event per story? Or will you structure it as a diary, focus on a specific date, and capture all events that happened on that day
- Finally, with the structure decided, you’ll create the site and write your stories.
Example blog site
If you’re looking for an idea of how that might work online, I’ve put together a quick sample site using WordPress.com. It allows for three main sections:
Explain who you are, what your blog is about and how to navigate around it
Create a list of chapter numbers and names, and turn these into links once you’ve published each one.
An optional page to add all the names, places and milestone events in your stories, with links back to the posts where they appear. On the whole, this page may not be necessary if your site has search functionality.
The example chapters have approximately 3,000 words, and I’ve used a free WordPress theme with default settings to create the site.
You’re not limited to this design idea by any means but can use it as a starting point and see where your stories inspire you to take it.
Pros and cons of a family history blog.
Sites are becoming easier to build and maintain. Many platforms, such as WordPress.com, Wix and Blogger, offer free plans and step-by-step tutorials to make it easy to get your site live. Not to mention your good friend YouTube who has a tutorial for everything.
First, let’s start with all the reasons why this could be the solution you were looking for:
- Great for multiple authors.
- The wide variety of free themes (templates) are available to install and use.
- A plethora of tutorials online to help you create and customise your site.
- Most sites can be public or private.
- Free or trial plans mean you can test out whether or not blogging is a good story sharing format for you.
- Changing the layout is usually as simple as changing a theme.
- Fixing errors is quick and easy.
- No need for high-resolution images.
- Use labels, categories and tags to make your blog easy to navigate and search.
- Create relationships back to the websites or pages you are referencing by adding a link to it.
- Add links back to any images you are using online (always check the copyright first — if in doubt, leave it out.)
- Build interest and engage your audience as your write.
- A public blog can allow other researchers of that family line to find you and get in touch.
- Include a contact form for messages, so you’re email address doesn’t have to be public.
- Most blog platforms display posts from the most recent to the oldest. So that means your first post become last on the list.
- Images can be downloaded from your blog, so you may want to watermark them using Canva, BeFunky, Fotor or Photoshop software.
- Free plans don’t include a custom domain and may limit storage and website size.
- The only option to read the story is on a computer, tablet or smart device think of this as telling a story vs writing a book. Therefore, consider having shorter chapters, so it’s easy to read on a device.
- All images will need to be web-resolution (72 or 96dpi) and under 1Mb.
Free blog sites to get you started
If you need help setting up your blog, try the support centre first. Blogger, Wix and WordPress.com all have great support to walk you through setup and changes.
- Blogger. You’ll require a free Google account to use Blogger.
- WordPress.com. You will need a WordPress.com, which is free to set up.
- Wix. Sign up for a Wix account for free, and choose when to upgrade or if you need more.
TIP: Want to use WordPress.com but can’t see a free plan? You’ll find it above or below the paid plans. Of course, you can always upgrade later if you want but use the free version to see if you like the platform.
Your family history blog – an online hub for your discoveries
Heritage books are not a thing of the past, nor are they the right solution for every family historian. However, creating a blog might be the best fit instead. It’s a fun, alternative way to share your stories, especially if you:
- enjoy making online connections
- want to share your ancestral stories in a quick and easy manner
- don’t feel that you currently have enough content for a book
- want to experiment with different formats and types of content
- are collaborating with others on your family history
- wish to appear in google searches for specific ancestral names.
Also, sharing your heritage via a blog doesn’t mean that you can’t create a book in the future. Instead, use your blog as a way to compile and curate your families anecdotes, then collate them into a physical book when it suits your schedule.
In summary, a family history blog means you can publish stories and insights into your genealogy journey in a way that is flexible, searchable and published on your schedule. You choose whether to share short or long posts and if you want to upload with or without images. Fix errors quickly and easily, and update older posts with new information if you make discoveries that change theories and prove or disprove rumours.
The next step
Snag a copy of the S.M.A.R.T. Goals Worksheet to use for planning your family history blog or next genealogy project.