Instagram for bloggers

Christmas chocolateI’ve recently started using Instagram, after an absence of a couple of years. It’s fun! Any photo you take looks better on Instagram –

  • it’s small, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not in focus
  • it’s square, so you are forced to crop the photo to focus on what’s important
  • you can quickly and easily make the colours brighter
  • you can change the colours altogether, so it looks like art or an old photograph

I find them Instagram photos very useful for blog posts. Here’s a post I just wrote about technology and the year ahead. When I went looking in my collection for the perfect illustration I found the one I took a couple of months ago of the old wooden escalators at Wynyard Station. Perfect!

CherriesYou can turn any photo into an Instagram work of art. You don’t have to take the photo with Instragram; you can select an existing photo as long as it’s on your phone or tablet, and then go to work on it. Here’s a photo I took a couple of days ago of the carton of freshly-picked cherries we bought on the way home from Melbourne. I opened Instagram and found the photo, then cropped it and made it more red. Dropbox then uploaded it to my laptop automatically.

OK, the closeup photos are not fabulous. That’s the fault of my phone, not Instagram!

When you are out and about with a phone that takes pictures, think about taking some photos of ordinary things – food, stairs, brick walls, windows and doors, clouds, trees – and then Instagram them when you get home to use in your blog. Easy!

Too many blogs

dreamstimefree_5226752I have four active blogs, and it is too many. I originally thought that having multiple blogs would allow people to get everything they need on a single topic in one place, and that is still true. My Fiji Genealogy blog is separate from my personal blog and my Social Media and Genealogy blog and my business blog, and so readers can go to one place and not be bothered by unrelated topics that do not interest them.

This reasoning is still valid, I think, but after all these years four blogs is just too daunting to keep updated on a regular basis. I have to come up with a blog post every few days, or weeks, on each topic, and it all got too much. The result has been that none of them get updated any more, as any of my regular readers would have discovered. There are so many excellent blogs out there that mine are not missed. Still, I don’t want to let them die, and I’m not sure what to do.

Perhaps I should develop a schedule, and post in each blog in turn every week. To be honest, I tried that, and it just feels like work. I started blogging because I enjoy writing, and I do still enjoy writing.

The lesson here, and I think there is one, is to just have one blog. Posts can be categorised and tagged, and readers can decide for themselves what they want to read without having to follow multiple blogs (or not!).


Why a blog is more attractive than a website

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you are better off publishing parts of your tree as separate articles in a blog than as a full family tree website as produced by most family tree programs. My reasoning will be demonstrated by searching for a name and a place that I am interested in for my own family history:

Google search

The very first result in this list is a blog post: 

Riley blog post

Compare that page with this one: 

Riley family tree website

Which one looks more interesting? Which one would look more interesting to someone who wasn’t all that interested in genealogy?

If I’d put a picture or two in the blog post it would be even more interesting.

So that’s two good reasons:

  1. A blog post about a specific person or family line will be higher in a Google search
  2. A blog post will be more likely to hold the attention of a casual reader

A third reason is this: I have my full family tree as a separate website as produced by Second Site, a program to turn my The Master Genealogist project into a website. Most of the enquiries I get from it are for people on the edges of my tree, people who have married cousins of my ancestors. I have no more information about these people than what is on the tree, but the researchers who find them get excited when they find the name and email me for more. Really it’s a waste of  my time and theirs.

Anyone who finds the names in my blog posts is really looking for my family, and we are usually related. Over the years I would say that as many real relatives have found me through my blog posts as through my tree, although of course I can’t count the people who find my tree, grab the information, and leave without contacting me.

Blogs make it easier for them to contact me, as there’s a form for comments at the bottom of the page.

So there it is. Write stories about your ancestors in a blog. Don’t just put your tree up and wait for people to find you.

Note: in case you’re wondering about the Google logo in the first image – it was the 46th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode, and Google was celebrating. And why wouldn’t it?

Social Media for Family Historians, 2nd edition

Social Media for Family Historians 2nd editionThe second edition of my book, Social Media for Family Historians, is now out. It explains what social media is; what use it is; and introduces you to more than 25 social media sites that can help family historians to communicate, share and collaborate with other family historians and with their own families.

It has been expanded and updated, with some sites removed that I no longer consider useful, and new ones added, such as Google+. The section on getting started with Facebook in particular has been greatly expanded, demonstrating the new privacy settings and layout.

You may discover new ways to communicate using Sykpe and SecondLife; social networking sites such as Facebook and Google+; blogs and microblogs such as Twitter; sites for sharing family trees such as Ancestry and MyHeritage; sites for sharing photos and videos such as Flickr and YouTube; and community information sites such as wikis and social bookmarking.


1. Introduction
– About this book
– My experience
– A warning
2. What is social media?
– The internet
– Self-publishing
– Social media
– Mobile computing
3. Why use social media?
– Advantages
– Disadvantages
4. Communication
– Chat
– Social networking
– Blogs
– Microblogs
– Virtual worlds
5. Sharing
– Family trees
– Photographs
– Videos
– Social cataloguing
6. Collaboration
– Wikis
– Documents
– Questions and answers
7. Dangers
– Risks
– Some simple rules
8. What are you waiting for?
Appendix 1. How to get started with Facebook
– Sign up for Facebook
– Using Facebook
Appendix 2. How to get started with Blogging
– Find a host
– Create an account
– Name your blog
– Set security
– Create your profile
– Select a design
– Start writing!
– More advanced blogging

You can buy it from Gould Genealogy, and I hope you do!

Tumblr for Family History Societies and Libraries

I think Tumblr is a great platform for a blog. You can share enormous photos, links and news, and the format is large and easy to read. It’s perfect for a family historian who doesn’t want to do a lot of writing, or only occasionally.

Here is an example of a Tumblr blog (mine):

Tumblr blog It's Your World

If you click on the picture you will go to my Tumblr blog.

What does this have to do with family history?

Now this is a personal blog and it’s not just about genealogy, so I need you to use your imagination a bit. Imagine you can

  • share a few pictures of historic photos or documents
  • tell a few stories about what you have in your collection
  • tell stories about what other researchers have found to solve their research problems
  • explain what your society does
  • have a link over on the side to let people know where you are and how they can join

The way Tumblr works, and the reason it is so popular and easy to deal with, is that what you share takes centre stage. Pictures are not tiny little things that you have to click on to get a bigger image; it’s right there in all its glory.

You can also reblog the posts of other people, to create more interest, although I wouldn’t go overboard with this. There is someone on Tumblr called librarianista who shares magnificent photos of libraries (and cafes near libraries, such as the one above). There are historic photos and retro fashion photos, all of which can add interest to a family history society blog, to encourage people to think about the context of the ancestors’ lives.

The more popular blog sites are Blogger and WordPress, and these are the best if you want a lot of control over the layout of the words and smaller pictures within the text. This blog, for example, is written in WordPress.

The advantage of Tumblr is its ease of use and the fantastic way it displays images. They are BIG. Images are what get people in, no matter what the post, but if the blog is mostly images people will stay and look, and keep looking. And that’s what you want.

What, share all our photos for free???

I have heard the argument many times from family history societies – why would we give away our images for free on a blog? I am not proposing you put everything up there. Just a sample is enough. After all, you are not going to attract people to the society to see the photos you have if no one knows they are there.

Once you have a blog, you need to link it to your society website, and vice versa. The point of a blog for a society or library, in the end, is to get people interested enough to go to the website for more information, and perhaps to join.

This post was inspired by this post at Mashable about using Tumblr for non-profits. Whenever I see something about ‘non-profits’ I think ‘societies’. You can read the post at


After writing this post I came over all enthusiastic and created a new blog on Tumblr called Social Media and Genealogy to demonstrate a bit of what I am talking about. It’s more for family historians than societies, but it may give you a better idea of what such a blog could look like than the ones that are there now.

Family history societies using social media

Trees and cloudy skyI have written previously about how family history societies can use social media and why I think they should. Social media is a great way to connect with people and let them know what you offer, especially people you may not otherwise reach.

I would love to start a list of societies that use social media – Facebook, Twitter, a blog, Flickr, YouTube, and so on – and put it on this site somewhere. Currently the list is so small that it seems almost counter-productive, but I am willing to try it.

If your society uses social media in any way, or you know of a society that uses it, please let me know.

Blog overload

Google homepage reader bubbleThere are a lot of great blogs out there, and I try to follow as many as I can. I usually learn something new in every one of them – sometimes about genealogy sources or methods, sometimes about the person writing the blog or the family they are writing about. Blogs are a great resource.

Sometimes, though, if I haven’t been reading them for a while, it’s difficult to catch up. The bigger that number of unread posts gets, the less I feel like going in there and tackling them. It becomes overwhelming.

Your blog reader is there to help you, but for it to be useful it must be manageable. You can mark posts as being ‘read’ if you really don’t feel like reading them and know you won’t get back to them anytime soon. Remember, they’re not gone; they are still in the blog itself. They are just not in the queue demanding your attention.

If I come back to my blog reader after three or four days and there are 500 posts waiting for me, am I going to read them all? Sadly, the answer is no. There are only 24 hours in a day, and most of them are needed for other things.

I subscribe to new blogs, or newly-discovered blogs, as I find them, and the list gets longer and longer. Sometimes you have to be ruthless. Every now and then I cull my list of subscribed blogs.

Here are some tips for managing the out-of-control blog reader:

  1. Categorise the blogs you subscribe to. That way you can only read your favourites if you are pressed for time, or you can restrict yourself to the ‘genealogy’ blogs and save the ‘social media’ and ‘how to’ blogs for another time.
  2. Unsubscribe from the blogs with a much higher count of unread posts than the others. Chances are that there are a lot of posts that you would normally skip, so think about whether it’s worth wading through them to get to the occasional interesting post.
  3. Are there blogs there that you feel you should read but never get around to? It’s not school, and there won’t be a test afterwards. Unsubscribe from them.
  4. Some blogs have multiple ways of letting you know that they have just published a new post. If you tend to find new posts through Facebook,  Twitter or email then they are just cluttering up your blog reader. Unsubscribe.
  5. Some blogs only publish the first 100 words or so in the reader and if you want to read the rest you have to go to the blog itself. I tend not to. Unsubscribe.
  6. Decide on the best way to read the blogs. I use Google Reader, and I use it in different ways depending on how big the backlog is. I prefer to use the Google Reader widget on my Google homepage, as in the picture above. One click to open the post, another click to close it. Easy. If I have a big backlog I will go into the Reader itself, so I can see how many posts are outstanding for each blog. More recently I’ve been reading them on my Android phone. No clicking, which can aggravate the arthritis on bad days, just tapping and flicking the finger.
  7. Remember the blogs that you have just unsubscribed to are still there, and you can go back and browse them at any time. Keep them in a list of bookmarks, or a bookmarking site like Delicious.

Blogs are there for your enjoyment and education, and it should be enjoyable to read them. If it isn’t, do something about it!

Social Media for Family History Societies

DoorA lot of large companies and organisations are using social media to attract new customers and members, and to keep in touch with the ones they have. Those that don’t are learning how to do so.

I think small volunteer organisations like family history societies should do the same. It is even more important for societies to use low-cost ways of reaching people that cost little more than the time of a regular volunteer or two.

Most family history societies have at least a basic website so that people searching on Google can find them. Every society needs a website, a blog, and a Facebook presence at the very least, and perhaps a  Twitter presence if you’re up for it, although this is not essential. If you don’t already have a website you can build a combined website and blog all at once.

The website is where you get people to join your society. It is your window to the world. The website is the most important presence you have. The blog shows them why they should join and helps them feel part of a community of like-minded people. The blog points to the website and keeps the website interesting to existing and potential members, and to search engines like Google. The Facebook page points people both to the blog AND the website and keeps them in contact with you and each other on a daily basis.Your Twitter announces your posts on the blog and the Facebook page and leads people back to them.

Let’s look at each element in a bit more detail.


A blog is a specialised website that allows you to write short articles that are usually date-stamped. The articles, or posts, appear on the front page, or homepage, in reverse order, with the most recent one at the top. Posts are usually categorised and tagged so that they can be searched more easily. A blog can also contain pages, which are static web pages that are reached by links in a menu, like a normal website. This is where you might put things like contact details, membership benefits and so on.

You need a blog to publicise what the Society does and what information you have, and to help people get to know you and see why you are worth paying money to join. Blogs are searched by Google, and if you post regularly you will be higher in the search results, and you will get to more people who may never have heard of you before.

The person or people who create the posts should be the ones who know what is going on within the society. It’s no good appointing someone from outside who isn’t involved in the new things that are going on. If the organisation has staff they should be involved, and if not then one or two of the organising committee.

?BloggerA blog can be set up and hosted on a free site such as Blogger or WordPress very easily. Blogger is owned by Google and allows you to sign in with your Google ID. WordPress is open source and a bit more flexible. If you already have a website you may be able to install the WordPress software directly and link the website to it. My own websites and blogs are all WordPress installations on my own sites. You have much greater flexibility and range of templates because you can upload them, change them, even create your own. You can design your own logo and put it on the top of the pages.

It’s not necessary to do all that though. If all that sounds too hard go with a free site. You can always move all your posts into a new blog later if you change your mind.

The naming of the site is also a consideration. It is easier for people to understand if you have a domain name that reflects the name of the organisation. The domain name is the bit after the ‘www’ in a website name, so the domain name for this website is ‘’.

looks better than

A domain name is like a company name in that you can choose anything you like as long as no one has already claimed it. There are a lot of companies that will allow you to choose and pay for a domain name. The cost is only about $20 for two years, so there’s no excuse to not have one.

Your posts can be about many things, for example:

  • what is happening in the society
  • what new indexes or information you have (or what’s already there – a ‘featured’ database or collection)
  • profiles of members or volunteers
  • news in the wider genealogy world

You can become their source of information about new developments in the world of genealogy as well as in your more specialised area of interest. You can ask questions of your readers and members, and get them to engage with you by leaving comments. It really works!


Once you have a blog, you can give it, and the website, wider exposure by creating a Facebook page. If you are not on Facebook yourself it might be time to start, as it is easier to start the page when you already know your way around at least a little.

SAG Facebook pageA few societies in Australia and elsewhere have Facebook pages, such as the Society of Australian Genealogists, the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, and the Southern California Genealogical Society. You can post general news about the Society or the website at any time, as well as whenever you publish a new blog post. Asking questions gets them talking and keeps your society and its activities in their minds.

When you publish a new post on your blog you can set it up so that it is automatically posted to Facebook. It’s a good idea to do this, as a lot of people will see it first in Facebook instead of reading it in their blog reader.

In Facebook you are trying to attract followers – people to ‘like’ you. Once they are followers anything you post will appear in their feed, so your message is directly in front of them. I have found that by far the best way to build followers is to post often. I try to post something every couple of days at the very least – usually a link to an interesting site or blog post, or a question to get people engaged in answering or giving advice. More is better – the more you post, the more followers you will have. It is as simple as that.

I’ve tried paid Facebook advertising and it is not worth the money. Perhaps genealogy is too specialised to work well in Facebook.

I have found that Facebook is better than a blog for engaging people to leave comments, but the blog is better for attracting newcomers. They are two different things and they work together. Ideally you will have both.


Twitter is like a blog except that you are limited to 140 characters. It is most often used to send out links to blog posts and websites, and for direct communication. Twitter is the best place to see what’s new, and to get quick answers and advice. It is far more useful for genealogy than most people realise.

Twitter works much the same as Facebook – you have followers, and they get your posts in their feed. Posts are called tweets. The more you post, the more people will follow you. Your followers may retweet your tweets to their followers, thus reaching more people. Twitter is different from Facebook in the level of privacy. Tweets are all public, unless you send a direct message to a specific person, whereas Facebook allows you to restrict your posts to followers, or specific people. As a society looking for members you wouldn’t restrict them, but it is useful to remember.

You can set up your Facebook page and your blog to tweet automatically, which is what I do.

I have 5 Twitter accounts, which I run from Tweetdeck, which is a 3rd-party application that allows me to show the different accounts in separate columns, and post from one or many accounts at once, all from the one place. It’s the only way I can manage all the different Twitter accounts without having to log on and log off each one in turn.

There are many, many more users of Facebook than Twitter. Twitter seems to me to be better for networking and communicating with other researchers, repositories and libraries quickly.

Unless you are already comfortable with Twitter I would leave it alone for now, and we can come back to it later.

Where do we start?

If nothing else, start with a blog. No question.

When you have a few posts under your belt you can expand into Facebook, or you can launch both at once. The website can have a link to show people how to follow you on Facebook.

Start a blog. Now!

Photo courtesy of  devonsun at Dreamstime

Social Media for Family Historians

Social Media for Family HistoriansMy first book, Social Media for Family Historians, was published in late 2010 by Unlock The Past. It explains what social media is; what use it is; and introduces you to more than 25 social media sites that can help family historians to communicate, share and collaborate with other family historians and with their own families.

It covers new ways to communicate such as Sykpe and SecondLife; social networking sites such as Facebook and GenealogyWise; blogs and microblogs such as Twitter; sites for sharing family trees such as Ancestry and MyHeritage; sites for sharing photos and videos such as Flickr and YouTube; and community information sites such as wikis and social bookmarking.It explains in some detail how to get started with Facebook and blogging.

1. Introduction
2. What is Social Media?
– The Internet
– Self-publishing
– Social media
3. Why use it?
– Advantages
– Disadvantages
4. Communication
– Chat
– Mailing Lists and Forums
– Social Networking
– Blogs
– Microblogging
– Virtual Worlds
5. Sharing
– Family Trees
– Photographs
– Videos
– Social Cataloguing
6. Collaboration
– Wikis
– Social Bookmarking
– Documents
– Questions and Answers
7. Dangers
– Risks
– Some Simple Rules
8. What Are You Waiting For?
Appendix 1. How to Get Started with Facebook
– Sign Up For Faebook
– Using Facebook
Appendix 2. How to Get Started with Blogging
– Find a Host
– Create an Account
– Name Your Blog
– Set Security
– Create your Profile
– Select a Design
– Start Writing!
– More Advanced Blogging

You can buy it from Gould Genealogy, and I hope you do!

A good reason to write a blog

Blog posts are a snapshot in time. Just as a photograph can tell you a lot about someone, so can a blog post, even when they talk about seemingly trivial things. Even memes, those things that seem to go around like a craze in primary school, can be meaningful.

I have been sorting through old drafts that were never published, and I found this one from October 2008:

Ten years ago I was:

  1. Working on the implementation of a new computer system to prepare for Y2K
  2. Sharing our new house with my sister’s family until theirs was ready to move into
  3. Wondering how long my mother’s new marriage would last (not long)
  4. Planting Australian natives in the garden
  5. Spending too much money

Five things on today’s to-do list:

  1. Give the cat his antibiotics (done)
  2. Call my Dad to see how my step-mother is doing (trying)
  3. Go and see my step-mother in hospital
  4. Meet an old friend for lunch (will do)
  5. Do some neglected housework (not done)

Five snacks I enjoy:

  1. My sister’s brownies
  2. Yoghurt
  3. A banana, or some grapes
  4. dry-roasted cashews
  5. Did I mention my sister’s brownies?

Five places I have lived (in no particular order):

  1. Beautiful leafy Hornsby in Sydney’s northern suburbs (for the last 20-odd years)
  2. Dubbo in Central Western New South Wales (where I grew up)
  3. A flat in Rockdale in Sydney’s south (while I was at uni)
  4. A semi-detached house in inner-city Stanmore (when I was finishing uni and starting work)
  5. Suva, Fiji (for about 6 months when I was 12)

Five jobs I have had:

  1. Salesgirl at Woolworths Variety when I was 14 or 15
  2. Sales assistant at Angus and Robertson book store in Dubbo between school and uni
  3. Bar attendant at a couple of southern Sydney pubs while I was at uni
  4. Clerk for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs for a couple of years when I finished uni
  5. Computer programmer at the gas company

Five places I would like to visit:

  1. Ireland – Northern Ireland and the Republic
  2. The National Archives of Fiji
  3. Namibia (again)

None of this will have any significance for anyone outside of my family, I suspect. For my close family, however, it may mean a great deal. Not only does it say to anyone who is interested some details of my past and present life, but it has some bearing on other events that had great significance.

I suspect that I didn’t finish the post because of what was going on at the time. I did talk to my Dad about how my step-mother was doing, and I went to see her in hospital every day and sat with her while my sister, her daughter, raced home to get things done. We moved her home when the hospital could no longer do anything for her, and after a few days she passed away, in her own bed with her family around her. Only 11 days after I wrote this.

It still hurts that she was taken so soon. 60 is young, these days. Her father lived much, much longer.

I also remember meeting the old friend for lunch. He told me a trick to do with parking near the hospital before the afternoon peak hour.

It was a shock to read through this post after all this time. I thought I would share it with my family, and anyone else who is interested.

Adi, Christmas 2007