Earlier this year, during the NZ National Library’s family history month, I was asked to give a talk on Writing and publishing your family history. I felt a bit of a fraud really. I had written and published a family history book – Going Abroad – but it was way back in 1997. Since then, I have helped other people research and produce their books, but I haven’t been a practitioner in my own right for more than ten years. But Going Abroad was well reviewed when it first came out and sold well, not just to my own family. There seems to be some residual glory, because I’ve been asked to repeat my presentation in November, as part of a Friends of the National Library lecture series on the changing face of modern publishing.
During my first presentation, I mentioned the tremendous help now available on the Internet to family history researchers. There’s much more information and resources on the Net now than there was in the 1990s when I did my research.
One of my suggestions was that people starting a family history project should establish a blog. Not a general blog, but one devoted specifically to their family history project. It could be made public but it could also be a private blog restricted to people who have been given a password.
The blog is where you could tell people what you’re working on. You could request comment and input. People could respond in the comments section of the blog and even get a discussion going. They could also download files from the blog – for instance a draft family tree in PDF format, photos or scanned documents. Unfortunately only you, the blog owner, can send files to the blog, so other people would need to send their files to you via email, postal mail or personal contact.
You would need to be careful when putting an email address on a blogsite. The actual address must be disguised, or it will be harvested by ‘spambots’ and you’ll get a load of spam emails. There are various ways to make your address unharvestable and some are described here.
The blog would be used in conjunction with email. You’d email contacts to tell them something new had been posted.
If you run your blog on public blogging sites like this one (WordPress) or Google’s Blogger, it costs nothing – no setup costs, no ongoing costs. Well…you can pay a small amount if you want more sophisticated options and a large amount of storage space, but the free deal should be more than enough for family historians. I use the free service for this blog.
You don’t need special software. All your editing is done on the web page. It would help to have a broadband connection, though. Dial-up performance could be glacial.
I’ve not previously tried to make a file downloadable from my blog, so here’s a trial. It’s a PDF version of a family tree I produced some years ago. Download it here (250K). It’s not a bad demonstration of how a family tree can work as a PDF. Printed out, this occupies over 20 A4 sheets of paper. As a PDF it saves paper and it’s searchable.
Instructions for how to upload a file to a blog and create a download link for it are here.
Family historians could give themselves a web presence without setting up a blogsite. They could set up a website instead. But it would much more trouble and would probably look quite amateurish unless you’re already a web designer. Blog services like WordPress have done the hard work for you. They provide most of what you’d ever want and they make your blogsite look pretty professional even if you’re not. The ‘comments’ facility they offer would be difficult to set up on a standard website. They offer many different basic design layouts, you can personalise the masthead with your own photo and you can select from a variety of sidebar add-ons such as links to other blogs or websites, a search box, ‘This day in History’ and so on.
As well as helping your family history research, the blogsite would be a good place to promote a book or other printed material you might produce. And later, when people come through with inevitable corrections and bits of fascinating new information, onto the blog they go.