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

Monday, July 7, 2014

What is the relationship of bloggers to genealogy?

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 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.


  1. Hi, James. One thing that now also needs to be recognized is the contribution of genealogy pages on Facebook. I went from an award-winning blog, Tracing the Tribe - The Jewish Genealogy Blog, to Facebook with a group of more than 4,500 talented amazing people from around the world who are always helping others with research challenges. The Facebook page is Tracing the Tribe - Jewish Genealogy on Facebook. This community assists with translations in various languages, posting of relevant articles and discusses at length many issues concerning genealogical research that we face. Although the blog is on hiatus, the Facebook presence of Tracing the Tribe is going strong! All Tracing the Tribe's previous blogposts are still available at
    with best wishes,

    1. Hmm. That's really interesting. Thanks for that insight.

    2. there are two other magazines still being published on Genealogy which are: Family Chronicles and Internet Genealogy. Both are in the paper form and digital form.

    3. I totally agree with the premise that FaceBook is replacing some of the blogs and, in fact, it appears to be replacing the old RootsWeb mailing lists. I still subscribe to several mailing lists relevant to my research but they now have little activity whereas the 3 or 4 FB groups that have replaced them are extremely active.

  2. James Tanner, you mention: "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."

    Is it possible that the apples (authority), oranges (qualifications) and pears (pairs: parent responsibilities) have accidentally gotten mixed?

    Dictionary definition of genealogy as a noun; plural noun: genealogies; suggests a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor.

    Pears ( (pairs: parent responsibilities) center on the concept of being an ancestor, who has lines of descent. According to ancient, natural rights of fatherhood, the natural patriarch, with co-equal wife support, had primal responsibilities of providing sustenance for their posterity, as well as keeping records of their family history and genealogies. Ergo, all members of the human family, by or in itself or themselves; intrinsically are "genealogists" because they descend from ancestors.
    Genealogy defines who we are, why we are here, where we are going. That anyone can do genealogy is thus a definition of humanity, as each seeks to find out his or her self identity, by reviewing the past. This delineation of "genealogist" is defined worldwide by local cultural norms, religions, and inter-family relationships over generations of time. Written Tablets: hobby - honor (remember) father and mother.

    This is clearly distinct from apples (authority: avocation), which is too, an area clearly distinct from oranges (qualifications:professional work).
    Genealogist apples (authority: avocation) are diffuse in identity according to the government and religious approval that allows them to function in the first place. These are already categorized on a global basis, in various legislative / religious acts, by the formation of local societies and groups; self-regulating units or individually approved by family organizations. Genealogist oranges (qualifications:professional work) are publications, learning opportunities and teaching venues, given results oriented credibility, within the general population, and sparsely supported at present, due to inconsistencies, by academics.

  3. Hi James,

    You've got a lot of interesting ideas here! I think it seems natural for genealogy and blogging to go together. With the increasing digitization of various records and documentation that help us find our lineage, it makes sense that everyone has started blogging to share their finds. Additionally, you've got Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter filling out the online presence of many genealogists. I think forming community is the biggest aspect of genealogy blogging, and that it's such an important thing in the often solitary endeavor of learning about heritage.

    It'll be interesting to see where the next ten years take us in the realm of genealogy. Various tools are popping up to augment the traditional genealogy process. Parts of the field are getting more focused on preserving family stories instead of facts (both of which, I think, are equally important!) and an emphasis is being put on creating a legacy for future generations. I think these are positive strides in the field and can't wait to see where the field of genealogy goes in the next decade.

  4. I disagree with Facebook replacing the blogs. I have a presence on both Facebook and my blog as "Nutfield genealogy". I have followers on Facebook, but nothing compared to the thousands of hits I get every day on my blog. I am able to write longer posts on my blog, with more detailed genealogies including biographies and sources. Apparently there still are people who like to read a good genealogy report every Saturday that includes source material, as well as other daily posts on genealogy topics. I can link to those posts on Facebook, but I can't present them in a decent fashion (just a few tantalizing sentences). However, I do get more comments via Facebook, and there is more back and forth between me and other readers and genealogists than I have on my blog. Comments have dropped significantly on my blog, even though the number of hits continue to climb. After five years of blogging, I don't see an end in sight yet.

    1. My experience is similar except I do not get that many comments on Facebook.