Blogging – Ins and Outs, Dos and Don’ts

Lunenburg County, Virginia courthouse

As you know, I’m always encouraging everyone to commit those family stories to paper, and from that to electronic publication. Why?

  1. First, because if you don’t, who is going to? No one else has your perspective, your experiences or your voice.
  2. Second, think about how grateful you would be to have something like that from your grandmother, or great-grandmother, or great-great-grandmother. Or even her neighbor or fellow quilter or church member – because it would reflect day to day life at that time and place.  You would understand her life better through that window.
  3. Third, because you can utilize the information to inform people of DNA matches (within the bounds of privacy of course), as I do in each one of my 52 Ancestors stories. Every single of those stories has some sort of DNA aspect, even if it’s just begging for testers in that line.
  4. Fourth, it provides you with the opportunity to share new research, and correct old research that has perhaps become ingrained in your family stories, and needs to be weeded out.

The bottom line is that these stories function as cousin-bait – and those cousins may have more information, pictures, stories and DNA that you don’t have.

Given all of the encouraging I’ve been doing, I was pleased to receive a note from my cousin, Robin, asking about blogging. She wants to start an ancestor blog (yippee) and before doing so, asked me the following questions:

  • Five things we need to know to create a good blog?
  • The five biggest mistakes we need to avoid?

Now I have to tell you that one of the things I like best about Robin is that, being a (retired) lawyer, she knows exactly how to ask questions to get the information she needs. She also really knows how to research and sharing Estes research with her over the years has been a true joy, even though our lines diverge several generations ago, in the late 1700s, back in Lunenburg County.

Yep, that’s the Lunenburg Courthouse in the photo above, of significance to both Robin and me.

Can I tell you a little family secret?

I probably shouldn’t tell you that Robin’s ancestor’s lived on F***ing Creek. And yes, that’s exactly what you think it is – and it’s not Fishing Creek.  I didn’t believe that at first, being just sure it was someone’s bad handwriting in the deed records, or a bad transcription, but after seeing the original, that’s exactly what it says, in several deeds.  After seeing the original, I learned to trust Robin’s work – it’s impeccable – although she struggled with exactly how to record that name for posterity.  By the way, that creek has now been renamed Modest Creek if you’re looking for it on a current map – because I know you’re off Googling this right now.

But wouldn’t you just love to know HOW it came to have that name in the first place? Robin’s ancestor’s journal might have told us that – if they had written a journal.  Perhaps the neighbor’s journal would have said….if they had kept one. Today, that journal might just be a blog.

Maybe someone just referred to the creek by that very descriptive adjective so often that the name just stuck. For example, “yea, that f***ing creek is flooded again.”  Too bad no one recorded that oh-so-interesting tidbit.  You may not have that particular creek in your family history, but I guarantee, you have something every bit as intriguing!!!  So, record it!

Ok, back to Robin’s questions.

Blog Versus Website

One of my friends decided to do a website for her genealogy group. She selected Weebly as a free platform to create a website, and when she was finished, she e-mailed me to ask me how I “got that e-mail part” to work. I asked what she meant, and what she really wanted was a blog, not a website, because she wanted people to be able to subscribe to receive articles when they were written.

Blogs do that – meaning provide a platform and tools for automated e-mails to subscribers of articles. Websites don’t.  With WordPress, you can create both a blog AND a website, and a blog within a website, or just a blog – but with a website builder that is not blogging software, you can’t.  So don’t get confused before you even get started.

People subscribe to blogs either via e-mail or RSS feeds. Websites, people visit.  You can have both a website and a blog with WordPress, but you can’t have both without blogging software.

Creating A Good Blog

Blogging Platform – I’m a huge fan of WordPress. I chose WordPress in 2012 after comparing WordPress and Blogger, the two premier blogging sites to utilize. One of the ways I made my decision was that I looked for “how to” articles for converting “WordPress to Blogger” and “Blogger to WordPress.”  As it turns out, there were a lot of people looking and providing instructions for how to convert TO WordPress and very few wanting to convert FROM WordPress.  Another factor was that a couple of my friend bloggers could never get photos to work correctly utilizing Blogger.

I chose WordPress and I’ve never regretted that choice. Their product is great, their support, which I’ve needed very rarely has been responsive and accurate.  I couldn’t ask for a better experience.

Education – Anyone who knows me knows I hate to read the manual – generally because I have to slog through so much I don’t care about to get to the part I do care about. But in this case, it’s worth it.  I bought the WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson and I loved it. The great thing about the Dummies books is that they are arranged so that you don’t have to slog through things you don’t need to get to what you do need.

Don’t like books?  There are also lots of Youtube videos available. Just remember, anyone can produce a Youtube video and put it online, so the content may or may not be high quality, accurate, up to date, or what you need.

Free vs Paid – WordPress offers free blogs and paid blogs. What’s the difference?  The free sites have a few restrictions – but they may be perfect for you.

First, they will have ads on your site that you can’t control. You may not care, but then again, you might.  Your site might not have ads until it gets popular.

Second, you cannot have your own domain name – meaning a name that you pick yourself. This is an example of a genealogy site that I created for the Speak Family Association through WordPress that is a free site.  You can see that the url for the blog is through WordPress.

https://speakfamily.wordpress.com/

This blog is an example of a blog I created where I purchased the upgraded package for $99 per year that includes the ability to select a domain name of your own choosing, assuming no one else has already selected that name.

However, you can always move from a free to a paid site with a new domain name – BUT – any links to the old site name will no longer work.  If you think you may want your own domain name, it’s best to do it in the beginning.

Third, free sites are restricted in other ways. For example, you have a limit on the amount of space you can utilize for photos and such.

This blog provides a good description of the differences, including the chart below.

WordPress choices

In my case, the Speak Family Association site is the Beginner or free site. This blog is the Premium site and once I use my entire 13 GB of space, I’ll need to upgrade to the Business level – but I still have a long way to go.

One last point to ponder in favor of the free blog platform. If you have a paid blog, and you should suddenly meet your demise, unless you’ve left the important information with someone, like the signin ID and password, AND unless they contact WordPress and change the contact e-mail to their e-mail address, and they pay the yearly fee, your blog will become ancient history in less than a year after you do.  A free blog, on the other hand, will be out there “forever,” whatever that means in today’s technological world.

To Host or Not to Host – You can host your own website, meaning on your own server. If you don’t know what you are doing – don’t. I don’t. I utilize WordPress hosting and have never regretted that choice.  Translated, this means that you’ll want to select the WordPress.com and NOT the WordPress.org choice.

Experiment – I started a “test blog” that I could have fun with, not publicize, and delete if necessary. It also allowed me to experiment with themes, pictures and how to combine words and graphics.  Themes, in case you are wondering, are free “formats” for your blog that allows your header at the top, sidebars, etc.  Yes, there are themes that are available for purchase as well, but all of the ones I use are free.  You’ll need to experiment to see which one fits your needs the best.

I didn’t want to experiment on my “real blog,” appearing like the novice I was. Plus, I had always wanted to do this particular quirky little project – Things That Are Pink and Shouldn’t Be. And yes, please feel free to send me pictures.

Pitfalls

Lack of Focus – I have a total of 6 websites, blogs or a combination of both. Most of you don’t know that.  Why?  Because each blog should have its own focus and flavor.

Here are 5 of 6 of my blogs. The sixth blog is omitted because I have set it up as a private “family blog,” primarily for when we travel.  No, I’m not putting everything out on Facebook for the world to see – but I do want to share with my family so I created a private blog.

Speak Family Association – free – https://speakfamily.wordpress.com/

Native Heritage Project – premium – https://nativeheritageproject.com/

Things That Are Pink and Shouldn’t Be – free – https://toopink.wordpress.com/

Victory Garden, Day by Day – premium – https://victorygardendaybyday.com/

DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy – premium – https://dna-explained.com/

Rambling vs Composing – The good and bad news is that you have no editor.

When I wrote for a technology magazine, some years ago, I had an editor with whom I had a love-hate relationship. My work was proofread and dissected with a magnifying glass and tweezers.  Therefore, I rewrote a lot AND my column had to fit into a specific column space on the page, so I had a word range to hit.  So she made me stop using works like so, therefore, but and however. (Take that Judy.) But Judy was right, every one of those words could be omitted from this paragraph without changing the meaning one bit.

On your own blog, you can ramble all you want – but if your users can’t follow your logic or get bored, you’ll lose their attention. If you use poor grammar, incorrect (or no) punctuation, or misspell words, you’ll drive some of your readers insane – and you won’t appear very professional or accurate – calling into question the quality of the information you are providing.

Some of my articles on DNAeXplain are long, and I realize that, but for the reader who is engaged in that topic, they are necessary – because they are an educational sequence. My editor would probably disagree.  But certainly not all articles are lengthy and I break long articles apart with section headings, relatively short paragraphs, lists, charts and bullets.

My editor used to always ask me, “does it really need that” and “what does that word or sentence add?” “Is that really in the right place.”  Yep, I loved/hated her, especially since I hear her in my head now!

Photographs and Graphics – While it’s easy to compose in a word processor (I use MSWord), because you can just copy/paste, for the most part, into WordPress, that doesn’t work for pictures and graphics. It also doesn’t work for a lot of special characters, fonts, colors, etc.  Now, there may be a way to handle the special fonts and such, but it hasn’t been important enough for me to figure it out.

What I did need to figure out was how to deal with pictures. Here’s my secret to success.

I drop pictures into my word document where I want them to appear in the article, then label them underneath, like the courthouse picture above. I then save the picture to “my pictures” with that title (right click, save as).

When you copy/paste your article into a new blog posting, the words “Lunenburg County, Virginia courthouse” will copy over, but your photo won’t. You’ll need to click on the “add media” button to upload that photo from your system just above those words in your blog article – to make it look just like your Word document article.

Screenshots are another challenge. What’s a screenshot?  That’s when you want to take a picture of something on your computer screen.  Every picture in this article, except for the courthouse and the picture directly below, is a screen shot of my computer screen, after cropping and resizing a bit.

I simply take a screen shot (prnt scr button or alt+prnt scr button) and then (right click) paste the results into my document, just like a picture, using the same technique. Generally, after saving the image to your computer, you’ll need to do some sort of editing (generally cropping) before uploading the photo to WordPress.

I use MS Office or MS Paint for photo editing, depending on what type of editing I want to do. Both are free with the Microsoft Office platform and easy to use.  MAC people tell me it’s even easier on that platform, but I’ll have to take their word for that!  You’ll need to become familiar with some basic photo editing software so you can at least crop the ugly from the edges of photos, screen shots and old documents.

Spreadsheets are the last challenge. I use these a lot in the genetics arena.  You can copy/paste from a spreadsheet as a picture.  Check the paste options.  Once it’s a photograph in your word document, just treat it like any other photo.

paste as picture

Ok, now you see why I wanted a trial blog, right?

Really, it’s not difficult – but there is a bit of a learning curve. I’d say less than a day if you purchase the book.  It’s actually very easy and WordPress steps you through the process.

You can probably do it in less than an hour or two if you just want the basics, so I don’t want to discourage anyone.

Automated Spam Software – Do NOT, and I mean do NOT either disable or forget to enable the automated spam filter provided free by WordPress – Akismet. All blogs are targets for spammers.  There’s an entire industry out there built around this sleezy practice.  Akismet grabs most of them and you’ll never even have to look at the spam.

This is a screen shot from my DNAeXplain blog dashboard.

Akismet saves

I want you to notice that Akismet has intercepted almost a million spam comments.

My blog has been in existence almost 4 years (3 years 11 months) which means Akismet has saved me from over 21,000 spam comments per month, or over 700 per day. People post all kinds of website links that are certainly not in your best interest and often contain malware that is harmful to anyone who clicks on them.  Akismet grabs most of them, but can’t always tell, because some people are shifty.

Allowing Automatic Comment Posting

In light of what we were just discussing regarding spam comments, never, ever enable comments to post without your approval. There are generally three options.

  • Approve nothing, meaning let all comments post without approval (bad).
  • Let comments post once you have previously approved a comment from this poster (spammers know about this).
  • Approve all comments before they post. This is the option I use.

The good news is that WordPress e-mails you the comments so you can just click to approve, trash, or report as spam – and you can do it from your phone too.

How do you know if the comment is genuine if it just says something innocuous like “great article?”  Look to see if they have a domain name, which is reported to you by WordPress.  Now, I didn’t say to click on the domain name.  Often, just the name or location will tell you all you need to know.  So, my advice is to never click on the domain names.  If in doubt, don’t let the comment post – it’s that easy.  You’ll develop a sense of what is a valid comment and what isn’t.

post comment

Here’s an example of me replying to a commenter.  My comment is a comment as well. You can see my domain name and my e-mail address, plus the IP address is shown below the commenter’s e-mail address, so you have several tools to help make your decision.  Generally, you’ll know immediately from the content.  And let’s face it, there some comments that are from legitimate people that you may not want to let post through.

Summary

I hope you have found this useful, and that you will give blogging a shot. If you think it’s “just for young people,” it isn’t.  A lot of retirees use blogs as their online voice, and if they knew how easy it was, a lot more would be using this technology.  It’s truly not difficult, but like most things, a little preparation makes for a lot less frustration and a lot more enjoyable, and successful, experience.

And don’t forget, because it is online, it’s easy to fix an error or add something later. In my case, it’s a lot easier than finding the file in the file drawer where no one else can see or share the info.

I love blogging because I believe genealogy as well as genetic genealogy is about sharing and collaboration.  Robin’s blog is up and going already and she has published 5 new articles.  Isn’t there something you’ve been meaning to write about?

21 thoughts on “Blogging – Ins and Outs, Dos and Don’ts

  1. The timing of this blog entry is impeccable! I was mulling over the idea of starting a blog and your post has alleviated a lot of my fears and uncertainty. Thank you!

  2. Speaking of spreadsheets, I know very little about how to use one. I see that you often use them to organize matches, etc. Are there step-by-step instructions anywhere?

  3. I continue to be struck by how willingly you share your knowledge and expertise. Your generosity is an example we should all model. I’ve been struggling with how to share info with our family that I’ve gathered on our family ancestors for a few years. I’m not sure I’m ready for a blog but I save all of your posts in an email file so I can refer back to them when I’m at a point to use them. Thank you so very very much, Roberta.

  4. Love your blog. You offer such solid truly helpful information. I started a blog a few months ago about my journey in discovery through genetic genealogy.. Now you’ve given me inspiration to start another blog about the ancestors themselves.

  5. And, I promise you, once in England I saw on a sign, F- – -ering Lane. I wrote it down because I did not believe it.

  6. My daughter and I ran across that creek in the old land patents and we laughed until we cried! No one believes me when I tell them about it. I’m glad you posted that, Roberta. Thanks for the memory and the laugh. I needed it.

  7. As it turns out, we decided to start with just a website, and plan to graduate to blogging when we think we MIGHT know what we are doing! So far, it’s touch and go, but we went with WordPress following your lead. So far, only one Estes article. http://Www.digupdeadrelatives.com. I’m writing about the Lunenburg Estes next, and want to appropriate your great photo of the courthouse, please! In exchange, I will send you some of our Modest Creek Farms pickles, herbs and jellies! 😆
    Your Cuz,
    Robin Rankin Willis

  8. Wow! You’ve created some great blogs but this one is a work of art! In the computer and internet world, people are all over the map when it comes to modesty. Some of try and claim a bit of knowledge, some of us go ahead and admit we don’t know beans about it. As a computer professional who spent the last 20 years of my career at a data communications help desk, I’ll readily admit I’m one who doesn’t know beans about it. I maintain 2 personal genealogy websites and 2 blogs (plus a couple DNA projects) but I usually don’t know what I’m doing. I guess a lot and get angry. You’re so right. WordPress is the way to go. I installed the software at my hosted website and followed my web host’s instructions. I still get annoyed with formatting but that’s something that’s pretty much universal – has to do with character sets, datacom, and such. The point with WordPress is dummies like me don’t need to know much, just follow the instructions and you’re off! But being able to read helpful instructions from real experts like you (yes you are too!!!) is where the real learning begins. Thank you ever so much for your generosity in sharing your knowledge. Always, helpful, this one is a real keeper.

  9. It is so hard to get family members involved. I opened a Facebook page for my Mom’s side, the Renfro clan. We have found a few lost branches of my Granddad’s generation, but most folks just read and don’t contribute. Some of it is just not thinking they have anything to say, and a good part of it is just human nature to read and go on, getting to it later. There isn’t a later if you don’t write it down. I have my first grandchild, a lovely young lady named Naomi after my Mom, who was named after her Grandmother,, who was named after her Grandmother. My kids roll their eyes when I start to tell old stories, so I have opened up a journal entitled, “Dear Naomi”. I am writing down everywhere I’ve been, what schools, what places I’ve lived, people I remember, etc. My life history, and anything my Grandparents passed down to me. She may roll her eyes when she gets old enough, but at least she won’t have to say, “if I had only asked my Granddaddy…”.

  10. Roberta, I have to say thank you and you are a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot from you about blogging and genealogy. I’m hoping to get back to work soon on my genealogy blog (Lineage Hunter – https://lineagehunter.wordpress.com/). I haven’t been able to do anything about genetic genealogy, much as I want my spouse or one of the boys to test. You’re right about WordPress, they do make it easy. All the best!

  11. Pingback: Recommended Reads | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

  12. I write a family history blog and strongly recommend that others consider writing one, as well. It’s a great way to share your stories, photos and research and save them for posterity. It’s also connected me with dozens of new cousins, all of whom found my blog via a simple Google search and then contacted me to share additional info about ancestors. Multiple brick walls broken!

    The great thing about blogging is that it enables you to write about your history in small doses. Writing that big book about the family seems daunting, but a blog post is easy enough to generate. Before you know it, those small blog posts add up to a lot of information. I plan to eventually compile my posts into a book for family members to keep.

  13. I’ve started doing a little blogging. It started out as a series of photos that I posted on Facebook for Throwback Thursday and then a cousin started a WordPress blog and invited me to join. I mostly post photos that I’ve retouched and write up a short bit of information about them. Sometimes I include DNA as well. Just exploring a bit now. Maybe I’ll get more focused one day, but maybe not. Sometimes I feel like writing more than others. Then other times I just feel like writing about my sock monkey!

  14. Pingback: Writing Ancestor Articles in 12 Easy Steps | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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