As you become involved in genealogy, you may be surprised to learn that there are several genealogy magazines, in addition to the formal genealogical journals. We only hear about one or two of these paper publications from time to time in the genealogical community. One of the oldest of these publications was the Everton's Genealogical Helper. This magazine was published from 1947 until 2009. For a while, it had an online edition. During its heyday, it was over 300 pages long and contained a wealth of information. You might also learn that before Ancestry.com became the huge online database that it is today, it also started as a magazine. The company started in 1983 and focused on book and magazine publication. The Ancestry Magazine also discontinued publication in 2010. Notwithstanding this attrition, there are still a number of genealogically oriented magazines printed on paper. Foremost is the Family Tree Magazine, which has survived, I speculate, because of its online presence. Of course, there is American Ancestors magazine and a few others, that continue to publish in paper format.
It is obvious that paper-based newspapers, books and magazines are undergoing some major transformations. To a great extent and probably continuing in the future, books and newspapers are being replaced by online versions of the same or similar publications. They are rapidly going the way of paper telephone books and other directories. But what about magazines?
It would be easy to claim that online Blogs are the functional equivalent of magazines, but that would be an oversimplification. At one point, Everton's Genealogical Helper had around 200,000 monthly subscribers. As I mentioned, it had 300 pages of advertising, genealogy articles and other information. Where would we find that kind of content today? I don't think blogs can be blamed for the demise of the magazines. I think that magazines and newspapers could not compete because of the move to online advertising. Both magazines and newspapers had a huge paper related overhead. Their revenue was based on subscriptions and advertising. Very few magazines could keep publishing based on subscription revenue alone unless, like the Arizona Highways magazine, for example, the publication is subsidized by some company or government agency. You might not be aware, but Arizona Highways has an online edition, a television show, sells books, calendars and other related items and has an active travel/adventure business. Clearly, successful magazines today have branched out into a variety of both online and off-line business ventures. Those that lost their advertising base are no longer being printed.
Presently, there are thousands of genealogy blogs. What is the function of these online publications? Why do they seem to be prospering and expanding? Are they a replacement for the print publications? Why do people read this blog or any of the other ones online?
I have written about the diffuse identity of genealogy. There is no real clear definition of a genealogist or even of genealogy itself. It is an amorphous sort of avocation/hobby/profession that seems to defy clear delineation. It was very clear when I became a lawyer. It was when I passed the Arizona State Bar Examination and got sworn in as an attorney by the Arizona Supreme Court. Up until that day, I was not an attorney. After that day I was an attorney. But when did I "become" a genealogist. I commonly claim that I have been "doing genealogy" since 1982. Did I automatically become a genealogist at that time? Since I am neither accredited nor certified, am I still waiting to become a genealogist? I am still in the law school equivalent of genealogy? Sometimes I think that is the case, but that is another story.
I had been working on my own family history and genealogy for over 24 years before I started writing this blog going on six years ago. My first genealogy blog post was on 21 November 2008. That first post has had a total of 47 views. Why did I start writing about genealogy and why am I still writing? I think these questions go to the heart of the relationship between genealogy and blogging and the past relationship genealogy had and still continues to have with magazines. As an aside, news about genealogy is almost completely ignored by traditional paper publications other than the magazines that exist. I am not ignoring the existence of the genealogical journals, such as American Ancestors Journal or any of the other scholarly publications. They fill a vital function in the genealogical community. My question is why and how did blogging become a vital part of genealogy?
I think the real reason genealogy bloggers have thrived is because collectively, they form a basis for a world-wide genealogical community. I am often (painfully) aware that when I write, I am talking to the entire world. Although I am presently sitting in a small town in Utah, looking out my window at green trees and lovely flowers, I am really talking directly to people all around the world. When a magazine or newspaper is published, it goes to its subscribers. Blogs are sitting out there on the Internet. If you happen to search for a term that I have incorporated into one of my blogs, you will find me and be immediately part of my readership. No subscription is necessary. Of course, if you want to follow (habitually read) a blog, you might want to "subscribe" for convenience, but that is not a necessary part of the experience. Whether you read one post or many, is entirely determined by my writing and whether you are engaged by what is written. Whether or not a magazine continues publication is based on circulation and advertising. I am gratified when someone reads my blog, but as I started out, I kept writing, not because I had people reading what I wrote, but because I needed to write.
Blogger are the Hyde Park Speakers Corner of the world. We write because we are driven to write. We do this whether or not anyone reads our writing. If I were to go to Hyde Park, I could stand on my chair or box or whatever and start speaking. If anyone listened, it would be entirely based on the content of what I had to say. This is exactly what is going on with blogging. It is the content and it is the fact that this content is not available anyplace else or in any other format. If you want to hear what is going on in genealogy from day to day, you have to read the blogs. You will never get these insights on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, books or any other media. In the purest sense, the Internet has created a new, unique and very vocal media outlet. One that only existed in a place such as Hyde Park before.
So, every day, I can get on my soap box and write away. Why then is there some relationship to genealogy? Because those of us who write about genealogy live it. We breathe it. It is our lives and we are compelled to write about it. Could I be a genealogist and not write? Of course. Would I write about something else if I were not a genealogist? Hmm. That is an interesting question.
Does genealogy need bloggers? That is another interesting question. I think the online world of genealogy needs bloggers to give coherence to the mass of data and maddening stream of stuff that is generated by the Internet. I often think that is was unfortunately presumptuous and pompous to name my blog Genealogy's Star, but in reality, that name comes from a long line of print publications. In fact, one of the oldest newspapers in Arizona is the Tucson based Arizona Daily Star. There is also the Indianapolis Star, and many, many other "star" named newspapers. I saw my function more as a columnist than a news reporter. I liked the idea of reporting the news, but I could not refrain from doing so without commentary. Isn't that a function that is needed in genealogical community? I think so or I wouldn't still be writing.
One last note. Do I write to an audience? Literally, I have no idea who reads my blog. From time to time, a few people will mention that they read one of my blog posts and I do get a few comments, but I am literally writing to the world. If people like what I write, as I mentioned above, I am gratified, but regardless I keep writing. In this case, I happen to be a fanatical genealogist and so that is what I write about. But to a great extent, I think blogging is developing and refining the online genealogical community. We are literally shaping the future of genealogy.