2011 Family Tree 40

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

If you haven’t joined the genealogy blog scene yet, let me describe what you’re missing: Imagine eavesdropping on the best lunchroom buzz at a big genealogy conference. Smart, experienced researchers exchange advice and laughter-laced banter. Advice flies from every table: on French Canadian sources, on using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner. You tune in (or out) as you please; listen or comment at will. The speakers don’t mind — in fact, the more eavesdroppers, the merrier.

40 best genealogy blogs for 2011That’s the genealogy blogging world (aka “geneablogging”), and it’s grown up quickly. GeneaBloggers, a community site for bloggers and their readers, logged more than a million hits last year. The number of registered blogs doubled to more than 1,600 in 2010. That’s a lot of lunchroom chatter.

Thomas MacEntee, genealogy industry expert and owner of the GeneaBloggers site, loves this growth but isn’t surprised by it. “Genealogists helping other genealogists, especially newcomers, has [long] been a hallmark of our community,” he says. “Blogs are simply another means of helping the community to not only trace one’s roots, but to understand the importance of family history to our society.”

Want to read all these great blogs ASAP? Add all 40 blogs to your Google Reader account here.

Geneablogging is a win-win situation, observes MacEntee. “As a blog owner you get to tell your family, the genealogy community and the entire internet about your trials and tribulations in searching for your ancestors. As a blog reader, you can use blogs to find resources, locate records, and to connect with fellow researchers and even cousins you never knew existed.”

Last year, Family Tree Magazine honored 40 top-notch genealogy blogs. Readers have chosen their favorites again this year, with an expert panel weighing in on the judging. More than half this year’s winners are new to the Top 40, more evidence that blogs are on the rise. Whether you’re a blogophile or have yet to click and comment, you’ll find plenty of fascinating talkers and topics in this year’s Family Tree 40.


These are the “variety shows” of geneablogs. Find a little (or a lot) of everything here: news releases, product reviews, tips, finds, rants, raves, shout-outs and humor.

  • Clue Wagon: Whether sharing a tale of hiring a genealogy psychic or her funny-but-true tip on finding “missing” marriages in Las Vegas, Kerry Scott keeps her readers laughing and learning. Clue Wagon is “an absolutely refreshing blog,” writes one nominator. Another finds her “witty, funny, edgy, informative, educational and helpful, all rolled into one blog.” Scott’s a trip, and it’s worth the trip to her site.
  • Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter: Dick Eastman’s newsletter is “the daddy” of genealogy news feeds, as one fan puts it. He covers all the news immediately and thoroughly, and talks technology with expert authority and passion. More-than-daily content ranges from little-known research resources to archives in financial straits to advice for backing up your genealogy files.
  • footnoteMaven: This unnamed woman shares artifacts from days gone by — lyrics, poems, photos, illustrations and historical documents — to illuminate our ancestors’ worlds. (She’s not too highbrow for humor, though: check out her lyrics to “Good Citations,” to the tune of “Good Vibrations”). The Maven has a fun, smart voice of someone you’d want to join for tea.
  • Olive Tree Genealogy: Lorine McGinnis Schulze has been geneablogging since 2003, or the Middle Ages of blogging (“blog” wasn’t Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year until 2004). Near-daily posts cover sources, products, tips, and personal stories. One fan says that “the variety of her posts are of interest to anyone seriously involved in genealogy.” Bonus: Schulze’s companion site hosts free genealogy databases.
  • We Tree: Amy Coffin shares genealogy news, posts personal finds, reviews products, and cheerleads fellow family historians here. Fans love her creative ideas and a writing style they describe as laid-back and conversational. “She makes genealogy and writing fun, educational and interesting,” says one nominator. A librarian and experienced researcher, Coffin inspires her followers with practical savvy and passion.


Graveyard blogs bring cemeteries alive (figuratively, of course). Learn from cemetery lovers how to appreciate and understand the final resting places of your ancestors.

  • Association of Graveyard Rabbits: This unique blog and online journal represents the efforts of several “graveyard rabbit” cemetery enthusiasts. Weekly posts introduce fellow members and link to all their articles. The journal promotes graveyard research and preservation. You’ll see names of other top 40 bloggers here: Gale Wall of Digital Cemetery Walk (next) is the managing editor and footnoteMaven is the creative director.
  • Digital Cemetery Walk: “Every stone has a story. And they are waiting to be told.” This is Gale Wall’s motto for a blog that shares images of gravestones and cemetery plots, the stories behind them, and thoughts inspired by traipsing through cemeteries. Her posts are informative, inspiring and often poignant. See her Cemetery Bookshelf page for a great list of resources.
  • Escape to Silent Cities: Tammi Thiele’s lifelong passion for cemeteries shows in her writing and photography. Her young but prolific blog boasts near-daily entries with beautiful images and plenty of cemetery lore (such as tombstone trivia) and biographies of the deceased. If you aren’t already a fan of cemeteries, Thiele will make you one. As she states on her site, “The best way to learn about neat cemeteries are from the [people] who love them.”
  • Granite in My Blood: “Graveyard rabbit” Midge Frazel blogs about family gravesites and her ancestors’ stories, but her posts often have wider appeal. She freely shares lessons learned (do your research before cemetery visits) and opinions on genealogy products. One fan writes, “The blog contains beautiful photos and interesting tips and info on cemeteries, genealogy and family.”
  • Gravestoned: This anonymous blogger is fairly new to the scene, but gives expert commentary on gravestone iconography and epitaphs. Gravestoned takes beautiful photos of markers, researches the origin of poetic inscriptions, and offers examples of similarly themed stones. The author participates regularly in the GeneaBlogger daily theme “Wednesday’s Child,” with posts on infant and child graves.


Technophiles and luddites alike can learn from experts who chat about what’s new and improved in the go-go-gadget genealogy world.

  • Ancestry Insider: On this blog, you’ll find an insider’s perspective on genealogical data giants and FamilySearch. Having been employed by both organizations, the anonymous writer generally supports what they do, but is the first to comment (in a funny way) when things could go better. One fan doesn’t “know what I would do if [this blog] wasn’t around; it gives the best info on what is happening.”
  • Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog: Dienekes Pontikos blogs on “the study of mankind from a biological and cultural evolutionary perspective.” Thousands of readers tune in from around the world. This isn’t a Genealogy Genetics 101 class: He assumes you know the science. Even if discussions on haplotypes lose you, you’ll be fascinated by his coverage of the oldest human populations, their movements and interactions.
  • Genealogy’s Star: James Tanner specializes in serious, discussion-generating posts on topics genealogists feel passionately about. His blog covers large-scale data and technology topics, technical issues such as copyright and source citation in genealogy, and everyday concerns such as researching in a dysfunctional family. Readers love his “common-sense point of view” and “advice and guides that are useful for the not-quite-so-technologically savvy.”
  • Moultrie Creek Gazette: Denise Barrett Olson organizes her prolific posts in different sections, similar to a newspaper. Content centers on her family and regional research, but her Digital Toolbox and Digital Publishing columns offer straightforward technology articles for any genealogist. Her fans love her project ideas (click on Projects under Digital Products) and respect her expertise: “If Denise doesn’t know about it, it isn’t worth knowing.”
  • Renee’s Genealogy Blog: Renee Zamora blogs for the Latter-day Saints family history scene (a passionate population of family historians who attach religious significance to their research efforts). She frequently posts on happenings in the online genealogy world, with an emphasis on FamilySearch, RootsMagic (for whom she works) and Utah events. She often publishes news releases with her own commentary attached.


Like attending the fish fry down at the Irish-American club or playing dominoes in the park with your hometown neighbors, reading good heritage blogs puts you in touch with friendly and fascinating folks who offer insight into your own long-gone family.

  • Acadian and French-Canadian Ancestral Home: Lucie Le Blanc Consentino tells the stories of Franco-American forebears, including ill-fated Acadians — descendants of French colonists settling in present-day Nova Scotia. Posts include transcriptions of documents, personal stories, and historic events. The blog is “an absolute treasure trove of information for Acadian genealogy,” writes a nominator. “It’s clear that Lucie is a fastidious researcher who’s passionate about her work.”
  • Georgia Black Crackers: Mavis Jones puts 20-plus years of ancestor searching to good use in this blog about her maternal ancestors. (The name, suggested by her mother, is a tribute to the Atlanta Black Crackers baseball team of the old Negro League.) She posts moving tributes as well as transcriptions of historical documents. Written with both family and a larger audience in mind, Jones offers “great advice and information to her fellow African-American genealogists,” according to one fan.
  • Help! The Faerie Folk Hid My Ancestors!: Those with Irish ancestry will love Deborah Large Fox’s blog. She knows Irish and Irish-American records, terminology and culture, and shares tons of tips, brick wall strategies, links and visuals. Fox posts her own family traditions and research adventures, including perspectives learned from across the pond. A fan of this blog calls it “common sense, easy enough to read and entertaining.”
  • Luxegen: Joan Miller is a long-time genealogist from Calgary, Alberta, who took her family research online several years ago. Her site has pages on most regions of Canada, but a nominator loves her “emphasis on prairie provinces. This is one of the few blogs that mentions this region of Canada.” She talks about regional conferences and family records, and even answers readers’ questions.
  • Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog: Though there are several great Jewish roots blogs, this is the one nominators raved most about. Journalist Schelly Talalay Dardashti “does a great job of balancing the Jewish with the genealogy,” comments one fan. “She brings together information from individual Jewish genealogy societies, JewishGen, non-genealogical Jewish resources, and non-Jewish genealogical resources.”


How-to blogs offer great tips and advice when your research slumps or hits a brick wall — and the five winners in this category have especially great guidance.

  • The Armchair Genealogist: Known for the Ultimate Guide to Writing a Family History blog series, Lynn Palermo has great how-tos for computer-wielding genealogists. Topics range from organization to source citation, records to recipes. “Lynn’s writing is clear, concise and helpful,” writes one fan. “The layout is reader-friendly. She offers suggestions in a variety of genealogical research areas.”
  • Family Curator: Denise Levenick, aka Penelope Dreadful in the Shades of the Departed online magazine (this category’s Panel Pick), writes as herself in this informative but personal blog. She favors how-to family archiving topics such as duplicating documents and photos. As one fan puts it, “She knows her curating.” Levenick also easily segues into personal research and travel, offering lessons and motivation for any genealogist.
  • Genealogy Tip of the Day: Every genealogist should subscribe to this blog. Its bite-sized tips are practical and universal, and the daily pace keeps family history on your mind. Many of author Michael John Neill’s tips come from his own mistakes — you’ll occasionally see a “don’t do this!” He also authors Casefile Clues, a weekly subscription newsletter on serious methodology.
  • NARAtions: Stay up to date with projects, policies, personnel, and records at the US National Archives with this blog. Look especially for the Family Tree Fridays posts about specific genealogical records. NARAtions makes the National Archives less intimidating and more accessible, because the more you know, the more you’ll get out of its 9 billion documents on file.
  • Shades of the Departed: Gorgeous antique images accompany regular posts on how photographs help genealogical researchers unpuzzle the past. Written by footnoteMaven (honored in the Everything category), the blog accompanies a free bimonthly e-zine penned by multiple contributors and edited by the Maven.


Use these blogs to meet the locals. Find great insider information and connect with those who know your ancestors’ neighborhoods like their own.

  • Brooklyn Historical Society Blog: What a wonderful glimpse into the lives and times of early Brooklyn, NY. Multiple authors post on research resources, local history and personalities, and other topics of interest to those with ancestors in Brooklyn. It’s a great model for other genealogical societies for blogging on both modern community and history.
  • California Genealogical Society and Library Blog: In November 2007, Kathryn Doyle launched this blog after determining that her society needed to “go virtual or perish.” Certainly the society is experiencing a long and healthy life, if its active blog and extensive website are its vital signs. Local events and member stories are top topics.
  • Eastern Washington Genealogical Society: This site is all about community: It shares frequent news and information with a small but involved group based out of Spokane. Find a great page of links for those researching roots in eastern Washington state.
  • New York History: History writer John Warren posts frequently (averaging nearly twice a day in 2010) on New York state’s history and historical organizations. Find out about resources, conferences, tours, preservation projects and more. the blog is a great resource for genealogists who want stay informed about New York research resources and heritage tourism.
  • Sandusky History: This blog reads like a fascinating, ever-changing local history exhibit. The Sandusky Library Archives Research Center posts content from its collections, focused on Erie County, Ohio, with plenty of images and text. Detailed category tags make it easy to search by specific topics.


Get inspired by the fresh perspectives and enthusiasm of “newbie” bloggers. Careful, though: They might inspire you to start your own blog.

  • Climbing My Family Tree: Who says an Army wife with five kids doesn’t have time for ancestor hunting? Jennifer’s entries are enthusiastic, frequent, personal and full of finds (many cached in GeneaBlogger daily blogging prompts). Her site is laid out beautifully, and she posts plenty of eye-candy images.
  • Have You Seen My Roots?: Cheryl Cayemberg is blogging her way to genealogical accreditation. It’s easy to root for the efforts of this redheaded mom of two if you follow her blog, as she posts frequent finds and other fun stuff.
  • Heritage Zen: Cynthia Shenette’s “ultimate quest” is “to find two ancestors with the same surname who actually spelled their surnames exactly the same way” — quite a task, given the unpronounceable surnames she lists. Her fascinating entries range in topic from circus women to entangled Eastern European immigrant groups.
  • Journey to the Past: Brenda Leyndyke began tracing her roots a few years ago in an effort to help her father write his autobiography. Her newsy blog focuses on four family surnames and is packed with sources. One fan loves the ancestor biographies, Civil War pension records posts, and local history content from Battle Creek, Mich.
  • Old Stones Undeciphered: Lisa Wallen Logsdon is a philosophical geneablogger who posts thorough research and plenty of it. She shares both the research journey and family stories. Her posts offer inspiration for anyone wanting to write up their research, but not sure how to do it.


It’s personal with these bloggers, whose primary motivation is to share their ancestors with the living.

  • Greta’s Genealogy Blog: Her tagline reads “seriously obsessed with genealogy since 2005,” and it shows. Along with original content, Greta Koehl rounds up posts she loves from other family history bloggers and shares them with her sizeable following. (Be sure to check out her links to Texas, South Carolina, and black history resources, too.)
  • Little Bytes of Life : Elizabeth O’Neal began this well-followed blog in 2007 in search of community, as she lives far from any major genealogy library. Today she considers her blog “cousin bait,” and freely shares well-researched family history finds and fascinations.
  • Mississippi Memories: Janice Tracy’s a great family storyteller who weaves all her sources (family stories, photographs and research finds) into compelling tales. She posts most frequently on her Attala County, Miss., relations, and a good deal of local lore works its way into her entries.
  • Nutfield Genealogy: Veteran researcher Heather Rojo combines interest in her own family and her locale in this research-rich blog. As Captain of the New Hampshire Mayflower society, she includes plenty of genealogical goings-on around New England and beyond.
  • West in New England : Bill West is a bookseller who shares research findings, commentary, brick-wall frustrations, and plenty of GeneaBlogger daily prompts. His genealogical use of GoogleMaps is exemplary, as are a few long-running series of posts such as “A Family Reunion of Sorts” and “Granduncle Clarence Remembers More.”

Ready to join in the conversation? As you visit this year’s Family Tree 40, remember: Blogging’s not an exclusive club. These and thousands more geneablogs are just waiting for you to eavesdrop.

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From the July 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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