Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No Big Deal

Bloggers may become infatuated with themselves as a group and begin to believe that the world revolves around their sun. To counter this impression, I had a rather large class at the Family History Expo in Colorado Springs with dozens of genealogists. In talking to the class a little before it was formally underway, I asked whether any of the class participants had ever heard of my blog. Zero. Total Silence. Later, it turned out that one person, who came in later, had read my blog. With that very limited market analysis, I am guessing that blogging has yet to penetrate the vast genealogical community (in the very inclusive sense) in any meaningful way.

To add to the concept of humility, I returned to the Mesa Family History Center to teach my class on Monday and had one participant. So much for fame and glory.

As a matter of fact, during the two days and four classes at Colorado Springs, I was repeatedly asked "What is a blog?" No, really, the question came up again and again. There was not so much any interest in blogs or blogging, just a total lack of awareness that they even existed. The Expo was well attended. The participants were enthusiastic, interested, and happy to be there. Overall it was a total success. But the comments concerning blogging got me thinking again about living on the Internet.

There is that scene in MIB, where Agent K gets tired of the whole game and starts to notice the stars in the sky. Perhaps, rather than quitting like Agent K, as bloggers we need to look out and see the stars, or in other words, see what we can do to be more inclusive of the general population of genealogists or people interested in their family history? My impression, as I continue to think about it, is that blogger read blogs. An example, from someone I know quite well, is my wife. She is not a blogger. She reads blogs, but only very selectively. She has certain ones she follows, like those written by our children, but more than that she reads only a few that have caught her eye over the years. The ones she chooses do not happen to be any genealogy blogs even though she is interested in genealogy. It is sort of like which books you read and which shows you watch and like. You make a choice of what media you consume and extending that beyond your comfort zone is rarely done.

Outside of the genealogy circles, I find almost zero awareness of the entire online genealogy community (again in the most inclusive sense). Genealogists have a tendency to see the world through genealogy glasses, just as gardener see the world through gardening glasses, fishermen see the world through fishing glasses and so forth. Jay Verkler, past CEO of FamilySearch was quoted by Dick Eastman as saying the following:
Jay made a comment that sticks in my mind: "Genealogy must be a collaborative experience." After all, our ever-expanding number of genealogists is focusing on the same pool of ancestors. FamilySearch is developing new software tools and methodologies to assist in this collaboration. One change is that genealogy is changing from an activity done by individuals to a group collaborative effort.
As genealogy bloggers aren't we more like little radio stations broadcasting out to a world that isn't listening? Where is the evidence of collaboration? Where is the group effort? Maybe we need a bloggers coop or other organization? Maybe, we just need to keep doing what we are doing right now and keep expanding the reach of the genealogy bloggers and that over time, we will have a greater and greater impact on the entire genealogical community?


  1. James

    Great post and I find the same encounter, perhaps not so much at the larger national conferences but more so at the events I do for smaller genealogy societies.

    There are several factors involve, in my opinion:

    1. There is an entire group following bloggers that don't engage them via comments. Nor do they show up at genealogy events. You can call them lurkers but my traffic data shows that they are out there.

    2. An entire group of readers are seeing my blog data out on Google and the other search engines. I may not know how they are using that data since they don't leave feedback but I trust that they do find it and find it useful.

    3. The age/tech demographic is at play here especially for those who attend genealogy events. This is why we need to continue to present lectures that demonstrate what a blog is, how they can be used, the blog types etc. Even if new blogs don't get created because of that lecture, I am happy that folks understand what a genealogy blog is when they see it.

    Finally, I do think that blogging is in decline overall - not just genealogy - because many people are on Facebook and other social media sites that don't require much brainpower to use. Blogging is a serious commitment. And reading a blog requires you to spend more than 10 seconds reading something - reading for comprehension.

    1. I really enjoyed reading both this post and Thomas' response. I currently have two family history blogs and manage one that I started for our local genealogical society. We struggled from the very beginning when people repeatedly asked, "What is a blog?" I feel like from a society point of view that we've made a lot of progress over the past year. When members find out they can have new posts automatically sent to them in their email box or by an RSS feed, they seem to appreciate it. We also have well-recognized publications, but they are quarterly. At times, you really do want to get the word out in a more timely fashion.

      As for my personal blog, I acknowledge that I probably have under 20 regular readers. However, people are constantly finding me through the blog. In the past few weeks, I've had three people contact me because of a blog post. In one case, the person contacting me said he was shocked to find a picture of his great-grandparents wedding on my blog. As a result, as typically happens, we shared our information and pictures and are now trying to set up a face-to-face with others I know are part of his extended family.

      So if we acknowledge that we don't have a lot of people following us, why do it? I feel like this is my legacy and a gift to my family. I had many of the pictures and artifacts and had years of research under my belt. What was the best way to share it? I feel that blogging has not disappointed me in any way. A side benefit has been the fact that it makes me realize that I may have a missing piece and force me to go get it in order to write a coherent post.

      And I agree -- based on the stats, more people stop by than I know.

  2. Concept of humility is noted! For me, humility is better than the despair of reaching no one. I do see a group effort among tweeps as we share sources and insights. I've attended so many helpful webinars! Learned a lot. Also information comes through forums and the like, with patience. I agree with your last sentence--keep doing what we are doing and hope it grows. Thanks for this post, which combines realism with hope. And BTW, I'm signing with my blog address. : = }}

  3. As a new genealogy blogger, I'm sad to hear Thomas' assessment that blogging is in decline. I wonder what we can do to change that. Perhaps I can do my little part at a meeting sponsored by our local Genealogical Society next week. I'm one of the presenters (my focus is on Indexing) and have been asked to bring handouts, etc. Perfect opportunity for a handout about genealogy blogging. :)

  4. Jim, I guess if I don't comment you will not know how much I appreciate what you are doing. I have attended two Mesa Genealogy Expo and have really enjoyed your presentations. I have also taken about six classes at the Mesa Family History Center taught by you. They have all been very helpful to me and your knowledge of various parts of genealogy is wonderful. I look forward to many more. After the last class on Google+ I gave also enjoyed your postings. Keep up the good work. Myron Taylor

  5. Then there is the huge group of bloggers attending the Southern California Jamboree. They think they own the place! Acting like children, etc. I almost wasn't going to attend this year, but there are couple of interesting lectures that I think will be of benefit.

    1. Shaz

      Thanks for the input about the "huge group" of bloggers at SCGS Genealogy. I'd appreciate it if you could contact me personally at with your concerns. I organize the group of bloggers at various genealogy conferences and it is important to me how they are perceived. I work hard to make sure that the bloggers have an important function and presence at all genealogy events. However, I'm not responsible for the actions of individual bloggers.

      I'm a big believer in the freedom of expression and that is what blogging is about - the ability to speak one's mind about genealogy, family history or other topics. I believe the bloggers do well to represent the genealogy community and to reach out to both the existing genealogy community and to the newcomers.

  6. I used to read blogs as a "lurker" (as Thomas describes), and finally decided to do some commenting or +'ing to show that someone/me had read the blog and found it interesting for various reasons.
    I'd like to write a blog, but am still mulling over my purpose in doing so. Likely it will be for my family, and whoever else may find it, like far-flung cousins. And a blog could provide me with a platform to enjoy one of my other passions, writing. I learn a lot from blogs, and when teaching beginner classes, I suggest 3 or 4 blogs for people to read and see if they like them or find them useful. Some do, some don't. I believe the more computer-literate people are more likely to follow or search for genealogy blogs.
    A very interesting post, James. Keep posting.

    1. Celia,
      I for one really appreciate your comments and I am thrilled to know that you read what I write. I'm one of those rooting on the sidelines for you to write a blog -- but meanwhile, your comments are often as meaningful and insightful as any "post" would be.

    2. Celia,

      Like Kathy I so appreciate the positive reinforcement I get via your comments on my blog and Google+

      You demonstrate the collaborative function of the blogging platform by initiating discussion with your comments.

  7. James,

    Great post. I think if someone lands on one of my sites and they are very much aware they are on a 'blog', then I've not done my job as a blogger very well.

    I've definite purposes for each of my blogs, and I've worked very hard to get them the correct exposure that they need. The most important concept for writing is to know your audience.

    A person who is blogging purposefully is supposed to know who their audience is and blog to and for them.

    If I read a very good book, I don't care whether it's non-fiction, fiction, a novel, etc. I just know it is a book.

    If I read something good online, it's not important whether it's a blog, a traditional website, or a forum.

    What is important is that I've marked a way to get back to the writer who has entertained me, taught me something, etc.

    What is important for a blogger is that they know how to market their blog to their intended audience.

    I don't believe blogging is on the decline. I think good purposeful blogging is hard to find.

    ~Caroline Pointer

  8. In my experience the problem is way beyond not being aware of blogs. Most of my family, more distant cousins and friends are barely aware of what a computer is and what it can do beyond email. It astounds me that people are willing to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into a machine for email. And maybe Facebook.

    Typical scenario is not knowing the difference between downloading a program and installing it.

    If one more person asks me what a 'search result' is I'm going to scream.

  9. Interesting post and comments. Like Celia, I was a lurker the first 6 months. I enjoyed reading and learned so much from the blogs out there. I listened to Lisa Louise Cooke's podcasts about blogging and attended a SLGI presentation about blogging and gave it a whirl. I have two blogs (easier to break down my family research by sides).

    I find that I enjoy the research and writing, although it is a time commitment, especially when you wonder if anyone is reading. I don't know how you encourage comments but I notice notice that people read it (from Google Analytics). Taking my example, I oftentimes read but don't always leave comments.

    I do think that a blog (online journal) helps you think through research and write your stories (the big favorites with my family are when I write about grandparents or great grandparents and tell their story with photos and documents). Putting this out there helps me and my family members.

    Finally I don't know that blogging is in decline as thought by Thomas MacEntee, but I do agree that I oftentimes comment on Google+ rather than on the blog because of all the hoops you have to jump through on some blog sites. Since I have Google+ open and so many cross-post their blog there, it is easy to click to and read from the stream. I do not use Facebook for my genealogy and while I have Twitter and Pinterest, rarely have the interaction that I enjoy on Google+. There is a great deal vying for our attention and sometimes all the social media gets us away from some of the primary reason we are "doing it" - genealogy! But all in all, it is a great time to be a genealogist. More community with more interaction - how do we achieve it without having the tail wag the dog?

  10. As a computer-centric person I tend to forget that not everyone lives in the same world. Until I get slapped up the side of the head with a question like (and I swear I did not make this up):

    What's Google?
    What's a 'link'?

    For anyone wanting a first, second or third career as a teacher, there's nothing but potential.

  11. James,

    You are a star in the blogging firmament. Just keep on doing what you do so well and eventually people will find and follow your light.

    Interesting points, everyone, but I disagree that blogging is on the decline YET but newer and more exciting platforms will replace blogging in the future.

    Certainly people in the genealogy mainstream are not aware of the benefits of blogging and social media but are these the people we want to embrace? What about the younger people out there who are just dipping their toes into genealogical waters. What do they do? They put an ancestor's name into Google, find some links and then land and are hooked by the 'cousin bait' on our blogs. I find this happening on a regular basis.

    I remember Curt Witcher's inspirational presentation at Rootstech 2011. He suggested we need to look to the future and think about genealogists of the future - they will not be turning up to local halls for face to face genealogy meetings and trotting down to the local library to use Ancestry etc on the library's computers but using the tools they are comfortable with on their personal portable devices to interact with the genealogy community and its resources. If we keep collaborating through blogging and other social media tools we will be there to welcome them.

  12. I have this point drummed into my head just about every time I get together with my local genealogy "posse." I forget that they don't read the genealogy blogs and follow genealogy news like I do (even though I am a very struggling blogger, read a lot and follow genealogy news), and they are very surprised when I tell them "this, that, or the other" is happening, records are coming out, or that something might be a good resource to pursue.

    I think that there have always been genealogists like these bloggers that are at the heart of the group, they are just more noticeable now when they can be found online from my living room and I don't have to go to a major conference to see them/hear their thoughts.

  13. A very thought provoking post! I still remember the first blog I read and I read it daily. It was a food blog. I was fascinated because it was about fermentation of various types of food. The photographs were creative and beautiful.

    I realize I take blogs and blogging for granted. I expect everyone to know what a blog is and to be a reader of blogs. But deep down, I know it's not true. Their loss...

  14. James, I've found your blog post most interesting and enjoyed reading the comments by others. I'm a lurker (of sorts)but do read at least 10 genealogy blogs regularly. Don't have a blog of my own, but I will try to be more active in commenting than I have in the past. Want to do my part in encouraging those who write the blogs I read to know I appreciate their efforts!

  15. I have just started blogging about my family history after researching it for years and then it occurred to me that others blogged their family stories, and so I have found a large group of other interested people.

    I think Twitter's attraction is the 140 characters or less; nearly instant, not too much to think about, follow a link.

    Facebook allows for a great number of people to see your post and very little effort, Google + the same features w/Twitter hashtags thrown in to aid the search engine.

    It may be true that blogging has lost it shine but it has its place.

    I find writing for public consumption is more challenging than I expected but I am pushing forward.

    Thanks for the post.

  16. I couldn't agree more. I've been working on my own family's ancestry for years but have just started getting into the huge online world of genealogists. And I'm excited about it. There are so many great people and great blogs. It may not be for everyone but I'm excited about it.

  17. I'm in the process of basically starting three blogs simultaneously. Needless to say Thomas' perspective is disheartening.

    I've personally been trying to do a good job of commenting on posts I find helpful or interesting but I too am guilty of lurking. And to be honest, most of my blog reading is the product of links I find on twitter or via the few blogs I follow regularly. I can't say that I've stumbled across a blog post in my research - ever. Maybe we are not make the best use of tags and keywording? Maybe how we've set up our blogs isn't as search engine friendly as we think?

    I certainly beleive there is a generational issue involved. I think blogging has value and I've personally gained a lot of knowledge using Twitter. But, I am struggling to understand how to make the best use of platforms like Facebook and Google+ to promote myself and my business. And who knows what new platform will be the next big thing three months from now?

    I'm early forties. In my own family, the generation above me shuns the technology and the social media but is interested in the genealogy. The generation below me is engrossed in the social media but has no interest in the genealogy. Where do we go with that?

    All questions, no answers. Sign of a great post. It leaves you thinking. Thank you James.