Learning Research Tips from International Genealogy Blogs

Learning Research Tips from International Genealogy Blogs

Our Q&A will help you get the most out of blogs about international genealogy research and records.

Q. What’s in genealogy blogs and who writes them?

A. Blogs are like an online diary: a series of chronological entries or “posts.” This format makes them more informal and less comprehensive than what you’d find in, say, a published guide to German roots. But that doesn’t make blogs any less valuable.

“I love reading genealogy blogs because there are so many great writers out there who share their knowledge of history, geography, research resources, how-to tips and tricks, and all that tech-related stuff,” writes Tessa Keough in Scandia Musings & More. “Not to mention all those great family stories.”

Genealogy blog authors are a diverse group. Most, like Keough, are amateurs out to share their enthusiasm and findings with the world. They also might use their blogs as a research journal, a way to develop search strategies and a collaboration tool. Other bloggers are professionals who give free advice to help others and attract clients. Some blogs are based out of local institutions such as libraries.

Q. How can I find a blog about my ancestral homeland?

A. First, take our “world tour of blogs” and check out those that interest you. As you’re browsing a blog, look for a blogroll—a list of other blogs the writer likes. For example, the blog we’ve listed for Argentina links to the Spanish-language blogs Genealogía Blog and Lo Nuevo en Genealogía.

The GeneaBloggers website, run by industry expert Thomas MacEntee, also can help you find blogs. From the home page, search Blogs by Type. MacEntee also recommends using Google Blogs. Enter genealogy or family history and the language, country or region. MacEntee advises typing search terms in your ancestral language: España instead of Spain, nacimientos instead of births. Finally, look for blogs on the websites of archives, libraries, and genealogical and historical societies, such as the Borders Family History Society blog.

Q. What if I’m looking for a specific topic or a place in a country?
A. It’s common for international blogs to focus on one topic or subpopulation, such as cemeteries or Jews. The Association of Graveyard Rabbits has links to blogs on Australian, Canadian, Dutch, British and international Jewish burial grounds. Jewish blogs from around the world include Jewish Ancestors? (Great Britain) and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando (Canada).

You may find a blog dedicated to a specific province or town. For example, Paulstown History and Genealogy focuses on one Irish town; Thames, NZ Genealogy Resources, a city in New Zealand; and Annapolis Royal Heritage, a community in Nova Scotia.

Q. What good is a blog written in a language I don’t know?

A. Foreign-language blogs can be packed with firsthand knowledge of local sources and history. Some blogs have web translators embedded in their sites; all you have to do is click a link for English (or an American or British flag). If you don’t see a translator, paste the blog’s URL into a free web translator such as Google’s. The translation may be a bit rough. If you can’t glean the meaning but it seems important to your research, contact a genealogical society dealing with the area or look for someone who speaks the language.

Q. How reliable is what I read in a blog?
A. As in any genealogical research, MacEntee says, “you have to consider the source.” He looks for information about the blogger, which may be on a separate About page. Also look for a “posted by” name at the bottom of a post.

Verify news and resources a blog reports on by following the links or instructions given, or running a Google search. If you want to know more about an image or historical information lacking a stated source (for example, the blogger’s own memory), politely request more information in a comment.

Q. How do I get the most out of a blog?
A. Explore it. Read current and past posts (at the bottom of a page, you should be able to click on something like “Older Posts,” or see links to earlier posts on the right or left side of the blog). Click on “tags” that categorize posts by topic so you can read all entries relating to, for example, marriage or parish records.

Make it easy to read future posts by clicking the appropriate button to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed, which will send posts to your blog reader. You also can opt to receive an email alert when the blogger publishes a new post.
Don’t be shy about interacting with the author. Most bloggers love comments on their posts, so ask questions or share a related experience from your research. “Collaborating is a key to success for anyone who is researching in Greece,” says new blogger Carol Kostakos Petranek. “Records are hard to come by, and writing letters in an unfamiliar language can be daunting. Working with others who are in the ancestral village, or who have experience obtaining records from the village, is so important.”
If the blogger is located where your family’s from, you might even look into hiring him or her to do research for you. “It may be more efficient for the blogger to pull a record for you than for you to travel there,” MacEntee advises.
Q. Will I find relatives mentioned on a blog?
A. It’s not common, but it’s not impossible, especially if the blogger writes about the same small town your ancestors are from. Within about two months from Dave Lynch’s first post on 200 Years in Paradise, a long-lost relative said hello in a comment.
Lorine McGinnis Schulze, who’s been blogging for nine years at the Olive Tree Genealogy blog, also has reconnected with relatives this way. “[My] most recent connection was with a man who was searching for his great grandfather,” she says. “He happened upon my blog post containing the obituary of his great-grandpa, my great-grandfather’s brother. He shared a dozen photos of ancestors with me.”

If your family lived in that blogger’s ancestral community within living memory, it may be possible to connect with neighbors who remember them. It’s worth posting a detailed question with your family’s name (including maiden names), address, occupations, known affiliations (such as a church or school) and when they left.

Q. If a blog hasn’t been updated recently, is it still worth reading?
A. Though the blogs described here are pretty current, any blog can be useful long after its most recent entry. News and links may be outdated, but most of the history, family data and information about  records will still have tremendous value.

 For example, South African History and Genealogy, which was active from 2006 to 2009, still contains excellent information not easy to find elsewhere. So does Genealogy in Finland.

From the July/August 2012 Family Tree Magazine