Family history how-tos, hints and humor abound in our picks for the top 40 genealogy blogs of 2013.
Creating and maintaining an award-winning family history blog takes genealogical savvy, a modicum of technical expertise, a way with words and pictures—and, above all, stick-to-itiveness. That last lesson came home to us as we reviewed past winners and contenders in our annual “Family Tree 40” roundup for this year’s best-blogs list: Even a fine blog, alas, can become moribund after a few years, or at least distressingly sparse in its postings.
It’s little wonder that even the best blogs run dry sometimes. The life of a genealogy blogger, after all, can be a constant tug of war between writer’s block and the urge to blog, writing about research and doing research, online life and real life with all its daily demands and distractions.
So as we celebrate this year’s crop of 40 award-winning blogs, let’s tip our collective hats to these bloggers who stick with it and keep sharing their wit, wisdom and family history finds with us. Their rewards are modest by modern Silicon Valley-ish standards: the praise of readers who pause to comment, the satisfaction of ever-rising click counts, the occasional precious connection with a distant cousin, the pleasure of helping a fellow researcher. And of course, for these select few, the honor of being named to Family Tree Magazine
’s top 40 blogs.
In making this year’s selections, we paid particular attention to that stick-to-itiveness standard. What’s the point of bookmarking a blog or adding it to your RSS feed, after all, if fresh postings are few and far between?
Quantity doesn’t guarantee quality, of course, so we also looked for those sites that deliver a dividend to readers—whether in the form of timely tech news, essential advice or simply the feeling of sharing a quest to part the curtains of the past. We love blogs packed with information, but we also adore those brimming with the blogger’s personality. Those that manage to achieve both … well, they easily earn a spot in the list you see here.
When someone’s been there and lived to tell about it (in the form of a blog post), it makes your research a bit easier. Heed the wise words of these bloggers to learn about resources, discover tried-and-true techniques, and even avoid sticking your foot in your mouth, genealogically speaking:
• The Armchair Genealogist
: Writing your family history is a focus of Lynn Palermo’s blog, but the list of post topics at the top suggests the range of her interests, which also include Helpful Research Tips, Irish Genealogy for Beginners, Genealogy Conferences, Old Fashioned Recipe Collection, The Family History Blog to Book Project, Everyone Has A Story—Tell Me Yours, Family History Writing Contests, Mind Mapping for Genealogists and Self-Publishing Tools for the Family History Writer.
• Clue Wagon
: Funny and opinionated, Kerry Scott holds forth on subjects as diverse as “The Worst Question in Genealogy” and why “You cannot merge other people’s family trees into your family tree. Ever. EVER. NOT EVER.” This former corporate HR executive started blogging about how to get a job. Genealogists will be glad she now likes “dead people” instead: “Spending my time with dead people is awesome. They never send dumb chain emails or make you sit through three-hour meetings in windowless conference rooms. They don’t sexually harass each other, and you never have to fire them and then help them clean out their desks. Dead people rock.”
: A pioneer in sharing advice and news about genealogy, Pat Richley-Erickson has been “your friend in genealogy” since 1995. She shows no signs of slacking off—she finished 2012 with a whopping 410 posts.
: Chula Vista, Calif., blogger Randy Seaver has racked up nearly 1.5 million page views since 2008 for his lively posts delivering “genealogy research tips and techniques, genealogy news items and commentary, genealogy humor, San Diego genealogy society news, family history research and some family history stories.”
• Genealogy Tip of the Day
: Delivering exactly what it promises, Michael John Neill’s blog serves up short tips on a daily basis. His advice is no-nonsense and often inspired by his own experiences, with headlines such as “If You Didn’t Write It, Cite It,” “Did It Really Happen There?” and “Never Really Changed the Name.”
• Hidden Genealogy
: Jim Sanders started in genealogy to learn more about his grandparents, who all died before or not long after he was born. That led him to become an expert on “unusual and hidden records,” which he shares on this in-depth blog. Some posts follow up on that personal interest, such as his favorite, on identifying old photos, which was inspired by a 19th-century album containing more than 50 family photos. Other sources he’s uncovered (and posted or transcribed on his blog) include late 19th-century Connecticut grade school records, New Jersey city directories, funeral cards and old Pennsylvania newspaper wedding announcements.
• Midwestern Microhistory
: Though Harold Henderson focuses on “genealogy and family history in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, and neighbor and feeder states,” you can learn a lot from him even if your ancestors never came near the Midwest. For one thing, he covers the Allen County Public Library in Indiana, one of the nation’s top genealogy research meccas. For another, his clear, common-sense writing imparts valuable lessons, often from his own research experiences, about techniques you can use to push backward into your family’s past wherever they lived.
• Mississippi Memories
: Much like Midwestern Microhistory (above), Mississippi Memories takes a relatively narrow slice of genealogical geography and uses it to explore universal research techniques. Posts in recent months have tackled “Genealogy and Adoption,” “Crossing the Color Line” and “If Only The Walls Could Talk ...” (house history), as well as blogger Janice Tracy’s own family stories and finds.
• Olive Tree Genealogy
: A blogger since 2003, Lorine McGinnis Schulze shares “tutorials, genealogy book and app reviews, genealogy news, genealogy specials and more.” Recent topics range from tracking down death records to genealogy events and conferences to DNA testing for Native American Heritage. Special categories of posts are Sharing Memories, Cemetery Walks and Soldiers’ Items Found.
As if there weren’t already enough websites, databases, software, hardware, apps and social networks to send a genealogist into a technology tizzy, now you’ve got “the Cloud” to contend with. Thank goodness for these savvy bloggers, who guide you to the best family tree tools for your search:
• Ancestry Insider
: Despite its name, this savvy, well-designed blog gives readers the inside scoop not only on Ancestry.com
but also on that other online genealogy giant, FamilySearch
. It’s packed with tips and news as it pursues the mission of “reporting on, defending and constructively criticizing these two websites and associated topics. The author attempts to fairly and evenly support both.” That author remains anonymous, though the blog notes with tongue in cheek, “He has been an insider at both the two big genealogy organizations, FamilySearch and Ancestry.com. He was Time
magazine Man of the Year in both 1966 and 2006. And he really is descended from an Indian princess.”
• Ancestry.com Blog
: This official blog isn’t all corporate puffery, though it does deliver the latest on new offerings from Ancestry.com. Its frequent posts also range from research tips (one recent topic covered American servicemen in Australia) to reports from outings such as the recent “Great, Great, Great Grand Adventure” following a family’s research tour from coast to coast. It’s not without humor nor too full of itself.
• Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter
: Though veteran genealogy newsman Dick Eastman’s coverage ranges far and wide, he’s especially expert on all things digital. Perhaps that’s because his newsletter began 17 years ago (yes, you read that right) with an email to about 100 members of the Genealogy forums on the now-long-defunct CompuServe online service. Nearly two decades later, he’s still at it, posting several times a day in “the DAILY genealogy technology newsletter for genealogy consumers, packed with straight talk—hold the sugar coating—whether the vendors like it or not!”
: Think of Thomas MacEntee’s site as the blog of genealogy blogs. You’ll come here (as we did in seeking candidates for this compilation) to find what’s new and noteworthy in the ever-growing world of genealogy blogging. Thinking of starting your own blog? Check out MacEntee’s resources and daily blogging prompts.
• Genealogy’s Star
: Though not strictly about technology topics, James Tanner’s blog is a go-to site for the latest news along with tips on getting the most out of genealogy tech (and avoiding technological overload). New posts are constantly popping up—as witnessed by the 713 posts here in 2012 alone.
• The Genetic Genealogist
: The latest technological twist in genealogy isn’t online but in our DNA, and who better to explain it than blogger Blaine Bettinger, a genealogist with a PhD in biochemistry. As he explains his mission, “The Genetic Genealogist examines the intersection of traditional genealogical techniques and modern genetic research. The blog also explores the latest news and developments in the related field of personal genomics.” If you want more of Bettinger’s clear and commonsensical insights, you also can download a free ebook, I Have The Results of My Genetic Genealogy Test, Now What?
• Moultrie Creek
: Denise Barrett Olson’s long-running blog has broadened beyond its technology focus to also include tips on topics as diverse as cemetery artwork and archiving family keepsakes. But you’ll also find plenty of plugged-in info on digital storytelling, creating great iPhone photos, family-cookbook apps, research management tools and other tech-y topics.
• Renee’s Genealogy Blog
: Writing from the Latter-day Saints family history perspective, Renee Zamora keeps readers up to date about online genealogy. Of course, she’s a go-to blogger about the LDS’ FamilySearch website (such as thorough coverage of new records indexing projects), but you can also keep up with MyHeritage.com, Fold3.com, Ancestry.com and other sites here. Zamora knows this world from the inside, as she works for RootsMagic.
These genealogists have a special way of helping us appreciate cemeteries for the genealogical havens they are: full of names and dates, historic statuary, and spots to contemplate the lives of ancestors committed to the earth long ago.
• The Association of Graveyard Rabbits
: This blog is the hopping headquarters for a network of “graveyard rabbits” (and their own associated blogs) dedicated to transcribing tombstones and documenting local cemeteries in words and pictures. As such, it gives digital ink to a variety of interesting voices while offering insight into broad trends in cemeteries of yesterday and today, as well as fascinating facts about cemeteries around the world. You even may be tempted to become a “graveyard rabbit” yourself.
• Digital Cemetery Walk
: Where else can you find a headline like “Dead Bodies by Mail”? Gale Wall shares cemetery stories as well as photos of her regular cemetery walks, backing up her belief that “Every stone has a story. And they are waiting to be told.” Kansas researchers in particular will want to check out her posts, but there’s something here for everyone who’s fascinated by final resting places.
• Granite in My Blood
: A charter Graveyard Rabbit, Midge Frazel shares tombstone photos and explains what she learned from each stone—along with the mistakes she made along the way, which can be equally instructive. Her blog’s title is more than metaphorical: Frazel’s family tree includes several generations of stone carvers.
Think you’re the only one researching roots in your ancestors’ tiny hamlet? Turn your search for company to the genealogy blogosphere, where you’ll find those tracing roots of all stripes. These genealogists excel at sharing their ethnic roots research in informative, inspiring ways:
• British Genes
: Keep up with the top stories and events concerning British Isles ancestral research from Irish-born, Scottish-based family historian, author and tutor Chris Paton. He covers websites such as findmypast, archives, events and conferences.
• Finding Eliza
: Through family photos and old newspaper clippings, Kristin Cleage Williams tells the story of the family she’s been researching since 1963. Reading her blog takes you into the personal side of the civil rights movement—her father was a prominent minister—as well as efforts to combat segregation in the early part of the 20th century.
• Geder Genealogy
: We can’t explain the mission of this blog from George Geder, a photo-restoration artist and self-proclaimed evangelist for African-ancestored genealogy, better than his own post: “Geder Genealogy is really about helping you to think about your genealogy and family history; developing your personal memoirs; and recording your oral history using examples from George Geder’s family tree. Geder Genealogy is sharing some ideas, tips, allegations and attitudes, for and about Persons of Color, needing examination and exploration. George Geder is all about Expression, Inspiration, Ideas and Information!”
• Genealogy Canada
: This daily blog about Canadian genealogy, heritage and history is crafted by Elizabeth Lapointe, a member of the Ontario Genealogical Society and editor of its newsletter. Though not technically an official blog of the society, this newsy and tip-filled site reads like a lively one.
• Help! The Faerie Folk Hid My Ancestors!
: That charming blog title gives you a taste of what you’ll find in Deborah Large Fox’s posts about Irish and Irish-American genealogy: research tips and news delivered with a lively touch. She also blogs about preserving and sharing family stories at Spilling the Family Beans
• How Did I Get Here? My Amazing Genealogy Journey
: In this richly illustrated blog, Andrea Kelleher takes readers step-by-step through her explorations of her African-American ancestors. Mixed in with her genealogical adventures are posts about her immediate family and interjections about the non-genealogical realities of life (“Whoah! Have to get dinner on the table folks. Mr. Wright Hammond is going to have to wait for another day.”).
• Nordic Blue
: Norwegian-American genealogist Chery Kinnick shares family stories and ancestral research from Minnesota, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and of course Norway. But even non-Norse visitors will be entertained and enlightened by her posts, such as the tale of “Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs” that were served on the Christmas Eves of her childhood.
Keeping up with genealogy news and resources can be a job unto itself (just ask our editors), and these bloggers from genealogical organizations do it exceptionally well:
• Brooklyn Historical Society Blog
: This quaint site is like a trip back in time to the Brooklyn, NY, of the past. Monthly map posts and weekly photos accompany breezily written yet carefully researched and hotlinked narration on topics as diverse as food trucks, Brooklyn’s Parade Ground and volunteerism.
• Eastern Washington Genealogical Society
: You don’t have to be a member—or live in “Spokane, Washington, USA, and the Inland Northwest”—to get something out of this newsy society blog. Posts frequently address larger questions or share what members’ lessons from their own research or from guest speakers. The list of links is also worth a visit.
: If you expect a blog from the National Archives to be dry and officious, think again. This upbeat, often surprisingly personal blog invites readers into the archives, and even asks for help, such as tagging records in NARA’s online catalog. Recurring weekly themes include “Family History Fridays,” “Tag It Tuesdays” and “What Are You Working on? Wednesdays.” Posts grouped as NARA Staff Favorites reveal hidden treasures not only at the main branch in Washington, DC, but also in regional archives (which get their own category in “NARA Coast to Coast”).
• New York History
: A long list of contributors makes this unofficial blog the place to find news about the Empire State’s history and history-related organizations. Topics might include conference reports, old murder mysteries (“A Backcountry Murder in Lake Pleasant”) and an essay on WWII stories from the New York Historical Society. Daily updates link to the latest news from the New York State history scene, whether “Battle Over Historic RR Corridor” or “Police Find Loaded 1700s Cannon.”
• Sandusky History
: Now a three-time honoree in our best-blogs roundup, this richly illustrated site from the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center
will make you wish for kin in Erie County, Ohio. Posts read like a local history lesson, on topics big and mostly delightfully small, such as: “Stephen Wallace Dorsey, Sandusky Tool Co. Superintendent and US Senator,” “Albert H. Robrahn’s Tailor Shop,” and “40th Anniversary Meeting of the International Union of Operating Engineers.”
• Seeking Michigan
: Can you do a blog that’s mostly pictures and captions? This lovely and informative stream of old photos from the Archives of Michigan (and other collections) proves the answer is yes. Much more than mere eye candy, the “Look” blog shares the stories of images as diverse as an 1813 British cartoon depicting the capture of American General Winchester; the belated 1905 return of the body of Michigan’s “boy governor,” Stevens T. Mason; and WPA “No Depression” Christmas cards.
Making one’s family tree interesting to those not hanging from its branches is a feat for a genealogy writer. The family tales of these bloggers engage us with words and images, and offer useful bits of research wisdom:
• Climbing My Family Tree
: Enthusiastic blogger Jennifer is “an Army wife, a homeschooling mom, an obsessed genealogist, a photo enthusiast, an avid traveler and a self-professed bookaholic.” Besides chronicling her research, this lively and lovely blog serves up posts such as “Shopping Through the Ages,” “Family Tradition: My Ancestors Farmed a Monastery” and “The Most Confusing Land Division I’ve Ever Come Across!” Every Tuesday is a new tombstone post, and the week starts with Amanuensis Monday, featuring transcriptions of records such as divorces and deeds.
• Heritage Zen
: While sharing her own research into her Polish, French-Canadian and Acadian ancestors, Cynthia Shenette aims to help others “following the path to greater genealogical awareness.” Her quest is frequently illustrated with photos, not only as art but also as lessons, as she walks readers step by step through analyzing and extracting information from family pictures.
• Into the Briar Patch
: Blogger Mariann S. Regan grew up in North and South Carolina, where most of her relatives still live. As slaveholders, her South Carolina ancestors “lived inside a psychological briar patch of American history,” which Regan explores in this literate and often literary blog. (No wonder—after graduating from Duke University, she earned a doctorate in literature from Yale and became a professor of English at Fairfield University in Connecticut.)
• Journey to the Past
: Even if you don’t share the surnames Brenda Leyndyke is researching, you’ll learn a lot of genealogical technique from her posts such as “Why Samuel Poor DID NOT Die in the War of 1812” and “Where in the World is David Watt?” along with her in-depth “ancestor biographies.”
: Blogger Becky Wiseman is a GeneaHistorian, native Hoosier and former globetrotting member of the US Navy. Now in its sixth year, her blog offers “a bit of family history, genealogy, research tips, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my interest!” Among her most popular posts last year were “Their Magnificent Old Home,” about the home of a brother of her third great-grandfather and “There were three brothers who immigrated ...”—a rare case of that old genealogical yarn actually turning out to be true.
• Nutfield Genealogy
: Heather Rojo’s frequently updated blog feels like a visit to New England. “Nutfield” is now known as the towns of Londonderry, Derry and Windham, NH. Rojo also chronicles her finds in Massachusetts and Maine, “with a smattering of Nova Scotia.” Currently the secretary of the New Hampshire Mayflower Society, she’s also a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the Londonderry Historical Society, the New Hampshire Historical Society, the New Hampshire Society of Genealogists and the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists. So you know you’re getting New England genealogy from someone well steeped in the subject.
• St. Vincent Memories
: Step back into the past of one of the oldest settlements in Minnesota in this richly illustrated and heartfelt blog. Since 2005, St. Vincent Memories has been bringing to light the history of the author’s hometown and surrounding communities.
From the May/June 2013 Family Tree Magazine