Fab Forty
3/1/2010
Votes are in for the Family Tree Magazine 40 Best Genealogy Blogs. Come with us into a wonderful online world of family history news, research tips, encouragement and more.
I just can’t resist a good genealogy blog. I’ve learned some great research tips and techniques, chuckled over fellow family historians’ research foibles and sat in awe of beautiful ancestral tributes.
 
What started as a trickle of genealogy bloggers a few years ago is now a flood. Which is why, when we wanted to do an article about the best family history blogs, we needed your help. Last fall, we had a round of nominations, then voting (click here), and we ended up with eight categories and 40 genealogy blogs our editors and readers highly recommend for your family history edification. That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t other stellar blogs out there—see below for “runners-up” and blog finders. (Thanks to those who backed my Photo Detective blog, Family Tree Magazine’s Genealogy Insider blog, and the Genealogy Gems News blog from Family Tree Magazine Podcast producer Lisa Louise Cooke, but these weren’t eligible to win.)
 
Some of the writers you voted for are innovators in online genealogy; they had blogs long before it was popular. Others are relative newcomers. Some are daily posters; others write less frequently. Each has a unique style and personality that keeps readers coming back.
 
Let’s rip open the envelope and reveal readers’ favorite genealogy blogs (listed alphabetically). And the winners in each category are …

All-around
These super-bloggers post frequently about every genealogical topic under the sun. Each one has his or her own specialty, so you’ll want to check out all of them.
 
You can count on Jasia Smasha for beautiful prose and compelling stories of her Polish heritage, but she also writes on up-to-the-minute topics such as genetic genealogy and genealogical societies’ membership. For the past three years, she’s hosted the virtual Carnival of Genealogy—a monthly event in which bloggers post about a specified topic. A Family Tree 40 voter called Smasha the “genea-glue” for geneabloggers.
 
What, you may ask, is a footnoteMaven? The tagline for this beautifully written blog explains that it’s “someone who’s dazzlingly skilled at inserting a citation denoting a source, a note of reference, or a comment at the foot of a scholarly writing.” Fans love this mysterious blogger’s citation savvy, design skills and storytelling ability. One said, “I guess I missed the class on footnotes in school, so this blog is a great learning tool for me.”
 
Consider this genealogy blog central, thanks to Thomas MacEntee, who keeps things humming with tech tips and advice for bloggers, industry news, geneablogger profiles, and blogging event calendars (for example, Black Sheep Sunday, Madness Monday, Tombstone Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday). See page 44 for some of MacEntee’s advice for bloggers.
 
Legions of fans love longtime super-blogger Randy Seaver’s news updates, software and website reviews, family tributes, personal research reports, society meeting recaps, weekly Best of the Genea-blogs lists and more. On weekends, you can join in his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun blogging prompts—it’s on many a blogger’s calendar of can’t-miss events.

Cemetery
These stellar bloggers explore the mysteries shrouding graveyards, tombstones and burial practices.
 
A voter said “This is the ‘mother blog’ to a fast-growing group of people documenting local cemeteries, their inhabitants and all things related to graveyards and funeral customs.” The stories are fascinating, the documentation effort impressive and the contributors a most interesting bunch.
 
Blogger Midge Frazel (a charter Graveyard Rabbit) visits cemeteries armed with a camera, then posts the pictures and inscriptions. She offers excellent advice for documenting your own ancestors’ graves. The catchy title of this blog is based in family history—several generations of stone carvers inhabit Frazel’s family tree.

Corporate
Genealogy businesses are taking full advantage of blogs’ potential to reach customers on a personal level and gather their feedback. Voters chose one familiar company’s blog as the best of the bunch.
 
Much more than a sales tool, this blog offers Ancestry.com members news on new records and site enhancements, plus search tips and member success stories. Ancestry.com staffers do a good job of responding to comments (though comments on a post are closed after two weeks).


Genetic Genealogy
With a topic as confusing as genetic genealogy can be, it helps to have someone who can translate the mumbo-jumbo. Bloggers to the rescue!
 
Blogger Blaine Bettinger is genealogist with a PhD in biochemistry, and he incorporates knowledge from both realms to explain cutting-edge scientific information in a way you can understand. It’s a common-sense approach to the complicated subject of genetic genealogy.
 
Heritage
Blogs are among the best places to get research advice for particular national or ethnic backgrounds from those who’ve been there, done that.
 
This self-proclaimed evangelist for African-Ancestored Genealogy and a photo restoration artist, Geder posts stories related to genealogy but also pieces on general history. His posts aren’t just words, but pictures and videos as well. Geder also contributes to Shades of the Departed, a winner in the photo category.
 
Chris Paton’s focus may be Scottish genealogy, but his frequent updates on research news have broad application. “I think this is the best British genealogy blog I’ve found,” a voter said. “The articles have a Scottish bias, but it also covers important information from the whole of the British Isles. It’s updated regularly with well-written articles that have relevance to genealogists worldwide.”
 
A lovely photo of the Irish countryside hooks you the moment you land on this blog. The blogger—a self-described Hungarian/Croatian/Irish-ancestored woman named Lisa—offers research tips and compelling stories of Irish life. The Small Leaved Shamrock is home to the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture; Lisa’s links to participants’ posts.
 
Multitalented, multilingual genealogist Stephen Danko writes primarily about Polish and Lithuanian research, but there’s something here for everyone. Danko “has taken us on his genealogical adventures for several years now and has allowed us to watch his growth as a researcher, all of which has been a service to the community,” wrote one voter. He sets a standard for documentation by posting document images, their translations and source information. He also offers research advice, such as deciphering Latin notations in genealogical documents.
 
Schelly Talalay Dardashti’s passion for Jewish genealogy comes through every post. Since August 2006, she’s written on genealogy news and resources, research strategies, Jewish history, museums, and her experiences tracing her own Jewish ancestors through Belarus, Russia, Lithuania and Spain.

How-To
The blogging community is eager to share success strategies, online search tips and ways to bust through ancestral brick walls. These are some prime places for how-to genealogy help.
 
Denise Barrett Olson’s tech-focused blog is a must-read for anyone trying to keep up with technology and genealogy. Posts cover topics as diverse as Google Wave, Skype and e-books on Lulu. A Family Tree 40 voter called Olson the go-to person for anything technical, adding, “Her blog is where technology and genealogy intersect in clear and easy-to-understand language.”
 
The Genealogy Guys—George G. Morgan and Drew Smith—are popular lecturers at genealogy conferences around the country. This pair of accomplished genealogists takes a different tack with their blog: They use it to publish liner notes for their free podcasts and videocasts, in which they answer questions from listeners, interview the folks who bring you new products and organize genealogy events.
 
Feeling overwhelmed by the glut of information on the web? You’ll love Michael John Neill’s quick tips. The short bursts of information give you tasty tidbits of genealogical research help, such as noting whom your ancestor bought land from, or figuring out the method behind the madness of a courthouse index.
 
Researchers who work with the firm ProGenealogists share strategies, opinions and difficult genealogical problems they’ve solved. You’ll find a wide range of posts on topics such as copyright, getting to the bottom of family legends and tips for naming electronic files.

Local & Regional
Library staff, genealogical and historical society volunteers, and individual genealogists are eager to let you in on their local research secrets. These are prime examples.
 
Even though I don’t have California roots, this is one of my personal favorites—you get a feel for this community that hangs together to solve genealogical problems. Society member Kathryn Doyle delivers news about the group, as well as local genealogy events and resources. On Wordless Wednesday, you get a peek behind the scenes of the organization.
 
Kudos to the staff of the Sandusky (Ohio) Library Archives Research Center. They’ve raised the bar on presenting local history in an interesting way. Posts on the town’s past citizens, places and events—accompanied by photos, articles and other ephemera from the library’s collection—practically make this blog an online encyclopedia of history.
 
Harold Henderson draws on his family’s history in several Midwestern states to offer regional research tools and techniques—with lessons for those without Midwestern roots, as well. His conversational writing style makes each post a pleasure to read.

News & Resources
Blogs have taken their place beside (and sometimes before) traditional media as a means of news distribution. Rely on these blogs for updates on the genealogy industry.
 
This mysterious blogger keeps his identity a secret, substituting a “Simpsonized” self for his profile picture. Not a bad idea when you’re a current or former employee of the two biggest genealogy organizations in the countr—Ancestry.com and FamilySearch—and your blog offers news, straight talk and in-depth analysis on both. The voter who said this summed it up nicely: “It’s the place to learn about a variety of genealogy topics and hear news you can’t get anywhere else.” 
 
Pat Richley-Erickson’s long-lived blog, which has roots in her DearMYRTLE Family History Hour podcasts, lives up to its tagline: practical, down-to-earth advice for family historians. “Myrt” reports on genealogy news and events, answers questions, and has added a “docu-challenge” with questions based on the accompanying document.
 
Dick Eastman started his e-mail newsletter back in the early days of the internet and converted it to a blog in 2004 (you still can pay a small fee to have the “Plus Edition” delivered to your inbox). Because Eastman has a background in computers, you’ll find plenty of helpful articles on genealogy computing and software, plus more-than-daily postings on genealogy industry news and events.
 
Longtime genealogy insider and all-around nice guy Leland Meitzler writes about every genealogy topic under the sun—from new online databases to the historic photos found under a bridge in Fort Worth, Texas. As one voter put it, “He includes news from everywhere. I’ve learned about new resources from his blog before I heard about them through my local genealogy clubs.”

Photos & Heirlooms
These lovely-to-look-at blogs focus on saving and sharing the stories behind precious old photos and treasured objects.
 
After finding herself with a trunk full of her grandmother’s things, Denise Levenick wanted to share what she’s learned about cataloging and caring for them. If you’ve ever wondered what to do with the stuff you’ve inherited, stop by the Family Curator for some answers.
 
This photo-focused blog is by the talented footnoteMaven (whose Graveyard Rabbits blog also was a hit with voters). You’ll find her Twice Told Tuesday’s reprints of historical photography articles a hoot. Her Weekend With Shades blog-magazine is a fantastic collection of her own and guest bloggers’ posts about family photos and documents. footnoteMaven also hosts the popular Smile for the Camera blog carnival that has bloggers writing about photos. Be sure to check out the lively “I think she’s dead” series of posts (linked on the right frame) about what may or may not be a post-mortem photograph.

Personal & family
Most blogs exist as much for the bloggers as for readers. These writers use their blogs as a way to preserve family stories, records and photos—with plenty of personality and research tips thrown in.
 
Miriam Midkiff shares her own research triumphs and challenges, genealogy news and advice for you in posts on topics such as state censuses, digital archives in the United States, and getting more traffic to your blog.
 
This anonymous blogger, a school bus driver in her nonvirtual life, writes about relatives (living and dead), family stories and photos. On the right of the blog is a handy list of indexes to names in her posts and her Carnival of Genealogy contributions, plus her “best of” posts.
 
Vickie Everhart profiles relatives and relates her research in this beautifully designed blog. Memorial images accent each posting on a family member and each begins “On this date in our family history … ” We especially like the archive links organized by century, so you can read posts about family events during the specified time frame.
 
You’ll feel like one of Sheri Fenley’s family when you read her tongue-in-cheek stories about her relatives and research. She manages to combine hilarious Halloween costumes and genealogy in the post.
 
Greta Koehl speaks from her heart in this blog that follows many GeneaBlogging prompts and some of her own invention, including Memory Monday (a memory from her own life) and Family Newsletter Friday (her research updates).
 
Cheryl Fleming Palmer’s gorgeous and colorful blog is as much fun to look at as it is to read. Like many of the winners in this article, she’s another Graveyard Rabbit, but in this blog she focuses on family history challenges and participates in GeneaBlogger fun.
 
This blogging newcomer—Herstoryan started posting in September 2009—shares mainly photos and records of her ancestral women. Herstoryan’s Hearth posts share excerpts from household guides and cookbooks of the past.
 
A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, Canadian blogger Janet Iles brings a pro’s perspective with posts on topics such as the genealogical proof standard <researchergal.blogspot.com/2009/02/gps-exhaustive-search-necessary.html>. She also posts about her search for family and her non-genealogical life.
 
Self-proclaimed “GeneaHistorian and native Hoosier” Becky Wiseman covers a range of topics from personal and family history to travel and photography. Meet the women in her family in her “Mothers and Grandmothers” post.
 
This former teacher named Elizabeth writes about genealogy news, lectures she’s attended, how-tos (such as adding watermarks to digital photos), family stories and other topics. Clear writing, gorgeous photos and an attractive layout reminiscent of a scrapbook draws a reader in and won’t let go.
 
There’s so much to like about Luckie Daniels’ blog offering heartfelt coverage of her family history, illustrated through plenty of pictures and stories. This descendant of emancipated slaves from Washington, Wilkes County, Ga., also writes about African-American history and genealogy, and adds a personal touch to GeneaBlogging themes with her “Wordy Wednesdays.”
 
This blog contains Texan Amy Coffin’s chronicles of her “adventures in genealogy.” You’ll find her picking apart the clues in genealogical documents, participating in Surname Saturday and Wordless Wednesday, and sharing snapshots of her non-genealogical life.
 
Bill West finds genealogical inspiration in some creative places. Last November, he challenged genealogy bloggers to get inspired by poetry from their ancestral places. You can link to posts by those who rose to the challenge (click here).
 
Donna Pointkouski’s heritage is German and Polish, but she offers research tips you can use no matter where your family is from. I particularly like her photos—such as these WWI veterans—and her map-illustrated Surname Saturday posts.

I’m in awe of the creativity, family history sleuthing skills and technical knowledge of the folks in this list. There’s so much research advice, genealogy news and brick wall-busting guidance to be had on blogs—and if you add your favorites to a blog reader (watch a video for instructions on setting up a reader), all that content comes to you. Best of all, because genealogy is contagious, reading about others’ family history will inspire your own ancestor search.
 
More to Love
Of course, these 40 winners barely scratch the surface of genealogy blogs worth reading. Below are more we’ve added to our burgeoning blog readers. Look for blogs related to your heritage, your genealogical interests and the places you research here and here (search or click Genealogy Blog Roll for a categorized list).

The Chart Chick

Elyse’s Genealogy Blog
Everything’s Relative 
Finding the Flock 
The Genealogue
Olive Tree Genealogy Blog
Polly’s Granddaughter
Renee’s Genealogy Blog
Seeking Michigan
Think Genealogy
 
Getting in on the Action
Inspired to start your own genealogy blog? It’s simple and—with services such as Blogger and WordPress —free. As you get started, keep these guidelines in mind:
 
Select the right name. Spend time coming up with a catchy, unique name for your site. Remember, there are thousands of genealogy blogs. Also, it may be difficult to change your blog’s name at a later date, especially if it’s tied to the URL.
 
Be kind to your readers. Like genealogy in general, blogs about genealogy have an older audience. Select a template that’s not too busy and has a white background with black text. Bump up the font size to at least 12 points. Make navigation easy to use and obvious. Don’t litter your sidebars with distracting widgets.
 
Understand copyright laws. Some people believe all words and images on the internet are free to use on their blogs. Not so. It’s your duty to fully understand what you can and can’t use in your posts, even with attribution to the original source. Visit the Stanford Copyright & Fair Use Center for more details.
 
Stay on topic. Keep the content of your genealogy blog focused on genealogy. If you also like politics, or you want to share music or craft projects, consider starting a separate blog. Most genealogy bloggers have at least one additional blog, if not more.
 
Ask permission. When posting photos of or stories about living family members, remember to get their permission, particularly for photos of your grandchildren, nieces or nephews. Parents are extremely sensitive—and rightly so—as to what’s revealed about their children on the internet.
» Thomas MacEntee

Tip: Read all the blogs you love in one place by signing up for an RSS reader such as Google’s. On each blog, click the RSS button to add it to your reader.
 
Tip: When you’re plumb out of blogging ideas, use the prompts in the Family Curator’s free, downloadable Blogger’s Almanac.
 
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