Writing family stories

Tonight’s twitter chat was looking at family stories and how to write them.

StockSnap / Pixabay

What is your ultimate goal with your writing? Does the title of your story attract readers?  A subsidiary question given people are saying they write for their descendants: How do you make sure your stories will be preserved into the future?

I try to write biographies of my direct ancestors to add to my blog and also WikiTree. But when I use photos it is usually about that event or person.

inspired by you @tasteach, I started writing biographies of my ancestors recently and it is fantastic for finding all the gaps in my research 🙂

Very true. I’ve indirectly shared data with WikiTree through my #familyhistory website & WikiTree users have copied and referenced that data

I think the ultimate goal of my writing is to record my research for posterity/my descendants. I’m not sure if the title of my story attracts readers. If you mean the title of my blog – well I hope it’s memorable!

my goal when writing my family history stories ( blog posts) is to record the stories of my ancestors, show how I researched and to share the stories with others and hopefully attract cousin bait!

Yes, hoping to attract those cousins too Sharn. To that end I listed in full names and dates of particular branch of interest on my website, but nothing so far – although by trawling through Ancestry trees I’ve done better on that line

my goal is to have a family narrative story for each of my immigrant ancestor couples. It is being written in Word and then I will PDF a copy for my website.

Two goals – writing as an alternative form of research/thinking, and sharing with others

I include the surname in the category of the post, but maybe I need to use more tags to help with readers finding posts

I always feel I never give this enough attention but usually by the time I’ve finished the post I’m so exhausted I just want to get it out there and am too tired to think of a decent title.

or place names perhaps – I often search on a surname in connection with a place

my ultimate goal is to tell the stories of my families and ancestors for their descendants. I don’t really ‘have’ story titles…

My goal is to record my family stories on the blog so they are archived for the future as I have nobody to take over my research.

I write biographies for my profiles on @WikiTreer, so there is no title, just the profile name. I do it to preserve the research that I have done.

Some of mine would be several pages in length. But what is stated is backed up by sources wherever possible, even for my own profile. I add personal stories whenever I can. My father (and more to add) wikitree.com/wiki/Dickson-4…

my ultimate goal when writing anything about #familyhistory is to leave something for my descendants. I really hope they get to see what has been recorded either via Pandora or the Blog to Books I’ve prepared.

Titles are always hard but I am trying to indicate who I am writing about and where they are from. I am not necessarily trying to attract readers, more to capture all my research into a readable story.

I have not started writing anything other than short pieces on my blog I would like to start writing more about those people I knew personally

I had my first article published in the NZSG last year “Felonius, Wicked and Diabolical?” Writing it helped me clarify the story of my 4X G-Grandfather

that’s a fabulous achievement Catherine and I love the title – very engaging 🙂

I have written parts of my life story, and want to write more once I finish my current batch of profiles. I have been asked to write an article about my famous Piper MacKay ancestors. Still thinking what to do for that.

does the title matter? It does to an extent. For a published book I think it’s useful to select a unique title…check libraries and Amazon. For a presentation it is more useful to have an intriguing title, if the subject matter suits it.

I do try to use catchy titles such as “ Who Killed Great Grandpa” and “ Kitty Keefe, Salad Oil Thief”. I find good titles attract more readers.

Documenting the research process is very helpful and is a dynamic citation as well. Cousin bait is a bonus!

I’m just lucky that mine has been preserved in Pandora but if it wasn’t I guess I would think about buying a domain name et al yes?

I think the way we write family history tends to reflect our reading preferences. I rarely read fiction although I have been known to get lost in the time and place of historical fiction from time to time but generally I read for information so …my predominant motive for writing is to pull info together and document as a narrative for my own benefit and for anyone who has a research interest in what I am writing about … that is, to inform rather than to entertain

We tend to focus on looking far back rather than in our own memory range. When we leave this mortal coil, those stories will be lost if we don’t record them.

To share stories I find about my family, and also to encourage others to write about their own stories. I often try to think of good titles to intrigue/entice readers, and sometimes it works!

Alex have have begun linking my blogs to my own domain names but I’m too am grateful that they are archived by The NLA Pandora website. We are very lucky

My titles vary from the obvious e.g., ‘Thomas Coop – The Roxburgh Years’ to the less obvious ‘All for Twelve Dozen Buttons’

Question about Pandora @nlagovau – do Pandora results come up in general Google searches?

Paul has written a great post about what happens when you become a death certificate.

My goal is to have my ancestors be gone but not forgotten.

An ultimate goal would be to find relatives interested in copies of the expanded research. 1927-1966: 3/4” in a wine-coloured duotang. 1982-currently: 19 binders of varying thicknesses

To make my research interesting to others and make sure the stories are shared.

My little goal is to turn research into interesting stories that people (particularly my sibs & nibs) *want* to read on my website. My big goal is to publish historical fiction based on my research.

Andrew has created a video and included in blog post which is actually the vocals from the video

Tumisu / Pixabay

What do you think the best medium is for telling family stories to include young people? Are Instagram, video clips, or podcasts more appealing than writing? Pros and Cons?

hahaha…maybe TikTok?

actually, this worked pretty well (excuse that it’s my first attempt so not perfect)… myhr.tg/1qhdnDoc

oh I am super impressed with this Chris. You must tell me how you added the extra photos. I feel so dumb. I just used the talking head and think adding other photos makes it so much better.

I loved the idea when I saw the moving photos in Harry Potter…so really want to do more. I just wish I had the right voices.

I think I just did it in the editing phase. I already had collected them for my family history. I also tweaked the script to make it flow a little more naturally. Go back and try to edit yours to see what you can do.

that is not something I have considered. Those are mediums that I am not used to using. I would have to spend time learning and then I’m not sure I could capture all the information I want. I would hope that young people would still read about their ancestors.

Well having done some research recently I can confidently say that it needs to have video and audio – a powerpoint presentation will do but the more dynamic the better to attract/include young people.

my personal preference is writing as it suits my style and more detail can be shown. For younger people who are used to quicker grabs maybe not.

I’m a big fan of short books with lots of pictures, including social history pictures. My children have read them time, and time again.

1. Publish books through a service that adds ISBN numbers. 2. Donate them to libraries / societies around your country. 3. Make the copies available to family members for purchase. 4. Submit a digital copy to FamilySearch’s book collection. 5. Submit a digital copy to the Internet Archive.

it really depends on how young. Our GenZers are vocally social; so make it like a phone message. Older? A series of old letters in IG, an informative blog post, a call out on FB to identify old photos. Younger? A photo collage turned into a puzzle.

re privacy. I’m currently writing about my relative & his involvement in the death of another man. I’ve decided there’s no need to go into the details or name the deceased, in case his descendants see it.

There’s a lot to be said about oral history and telling younger people stories. These can range from bedtime stories based on fact to discussions around the kitchen table. Ideally with a print copy for future memory keeping.

Like people of any age group, won’t young people have a variety of preferences? Many young genies blog and clearly enjoy writing, while others also host podcasts/YouTube videos

TikTok or Instagram are probably more suitable for younger people to engage with family stories. Not sure where videos or podcasts fit. Cons: older gen family historians are less comfortable with those media.

Maybe we need to try and offer a mix? Write the blog posts, but also link to them from a ‘quick bite’ on instagram or Tiktok?

Brilliant suggestions Maggie. I think this is the way to go moving forward. A bit like appetizers and then a main course if people want to know more.

Young people? I’ll be happy if my younger brothers & sister listen to our stories. During lockdown, a captive audience, I prepared a PowerPoint presentation & invited them to a Zoom meeting. Went well. Instagram, FB, Twitter, etc are links to website

My nephew has started working on @WikiTreers after reading my profiles. Today he has done two. He reads stories to his young children. I will suggest he reads the profiles to them. Hoping his daughter, my one-year-old namesake, has the genealogy gene.

Personally I prefer writing blog posts but sometimes I have included slideshows in the post or an actual clip from an interview eg soundcloud or equivalent

The best way to engage young people is probably podcasts, YouTube, Instagram. I don’t think they are interested in reading blogs these days. Generalising here.

I think there is probably a range of preferences within any given age group with regard to preferred medium so I don’t think there is necessarily a best medium as such.

I would say podcasts but remembered my daughter once fell asleep at the lunch table while I was in full family history sharing flight…

my children don’t read my blog posts online but they do read my blogs on book form when they visit and I leave them on the coffee table!

How do you write about emotions or place to make your stories and ancestors more engaging? How do you deal with ethical and privacy issues that arise as you write?

To add emotions to my story, I reflect on what was I thinking and feelings at the time an event happened. To add emotion to a story about an ancestor, I add family context and social history.

I.E., Imagine a woman on her wedding day seeing an empty pew where her youngest brother should be sitting. The sibling she helped raise after her mother’s death was in the Pacific Theater during a bloody battle. (Instant emotion.)

Not sure I have the wording proper: I try to put myself in the situations. For example, I am “Tommy” writing to my sweetheart, fm Amiens during #TheGreatWar not knowing this will be my last letter to her.

I tend to be more focused on getting the facts and context right so do pay attention to time and place … Not so focused on emotion or motive … don’t want to impose my 21st Century view of the world on people from another time and place.

I agree Jane! It may seem obvious to us how they’d have felt but maybe it was wildly different eg they may have been thrilled to leave a difficult family dynamic behind, or get away from the claustrophobia or a village. We can’t know with any certainty.

I am finding this discussion about emotion very interesting as I get the points about not knowing/editorialising/projecting – but at the same time, can’t escape thinking about emotions/motivations

Place is a lot easier. Descriptions and using pictures to get ideas of how it looked at the time our ancestors lived there. Ethics and Privacy – this should be at the forefront of any writing and getting permission of those written about.

100% agree! Place is easier too because we can refer to historical records or other sources.

I have deliberately not included material that I have found even though it is in the public domain as I am writing about distant cousins often. Their close family may not know. I lean to the cautious side for information

My #AtoZChallenge family stories this year are mainly fact based, Recording research works in progress. Stories will be added to the facts later

I don’t tend to include emotions in my blog posts unless it’s to point out how someone might have felt experiencing something. Or unless they left a diary telling me!

Visiting an ancestral place either virtually or on the ground can help when writing up a story. Using sensory descriptors can really help. I’m personally cautious about attributing emotions which will be coloured by our own views.

It’s a tricky line, isn’t it? I tend to err on the more factual side, but perhaps that makes the stories a little duller?

Leslie Albrecht Huber does this brilliantly too in her book The Journey Takers – imagining her ancestors at the time, as well as following with documented events, and her own research journey.

I was very pleased with my imaginary story of George Kunkel’s last day before emigrating. Even got a thumbs up from the local historian. I could explore emotions, smells etc.

Yes that’s what made Devotion by Hannah Kent so great huh? The attention to detail and the excellent imagination combined with thorough research.

Yes I agree it was very good and a non-genie cousin commented on learning about the migration. Even so, need to know that not all experiences were the same: era, place, religion etc.

Lots of questions here. Emotions if they are not your own stories and reactions are hard to convey as we tend to put our own emotions on our ancestors stories. We can only imagine the emotions our ancestors felt.

Depends on where writing. In this article for PROV I noted ‘I have omitted the real trauma behind [their stories] because it would feel like exploitation to share everything I have learnt about my family.’  prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collec…

To which I add that I haven’t worked this out in the in-depth writing I do hope to share publicly. I have a book on my TBR pile called ‘Privacy and the Past’ & I really must read it

Getting signed privacy permissions from every living person in my book was one of the two biggest nightmares along with copyright. I’d tend to cut it off at the grandparent level if doing it again – fewer alive.

I wrote about how my g g grandmother would have felt as she undertook the long journey to Qld from Germany unmarried and pregnant

I don’t write about current generations and generally stop with my great grandparents. That way I feel that I can write about their struggles and help family to understand why their lives were so hard.

My stories are more fact than fiction so rarely gets emotional. I try to add more description by having researched place and time.

Ethical and privacy issues are tricky. I try to think how I would feel if someone wrote something like that about me. You need some distance between you and your subject – I’m talking time. Hopefully those nearest and dearest have left this mortal coil

Emotions are hard unless you have their own words to describe them. Ethical & Privacy are easy, follow the ISOGG guidelines.

such a good question. I don’t know really. I guess I try and put myself into my ancestor’s shoes. I try and think about all the senses to make it authentic.

I like to use photos where I can to help visualise the story. Diaries can also do that if you find one written by someone else who was on the same ship or lived in the same place.

Before writing anything about a living person on my blog, I get their permission first. Most don’t mind and then they read the post and tell others about it.

dweedon1 / Pixabay

What techniques or tools do you use to get your creative juices flowing, find time and get motivated? What stops us writing about our ancestors and overcoming road blocks with our story-telling?

I’m looking forward to learning some (from the others here). I’m very slack, and have only written a few blog posts. My problem is that I always have too many projects ‘on the go’, so not enough time.

I realize that there’s no such thing as writer’s block in family history writing. With a timeline and the correct focus on the writing process, my problem is time, not a lack of creative juices.

I follow 2 mottos: 1. It is what it was. So, tell it as it was. 2. Know your audience (during the editing phase). Older audiences can tolerate more specific details so long as it’s not a hit piece. Younger audiences need truth but only enough to get the sense.

What stops …? Work, family, yard work, car repairs, medical appointments, power outages, and no ink for printer

After doing the family history diploma at UTAS I knew my stories would be factual rather than fictional.

My family stories are factual Sue but I do enjoy writing fiction as well. There’s just never enough time!

Some people are very good at fictionalising fact without crossing the line into fiction but, like you I am more comfortable with fact … sometimes including assumptions but clearly identified as such

Use a theme to collect the stories around for publication. Time… Well that’s a whole nother thing and I wish I could make some more. Most of my writing is talks, so I try to include family in these.

I used NaNoWriMo to get started on my novel #TheOnlyLivingLadyParachutist got a jumble of 20,000 words down in a month and then spent years finishing it

It seems harder for me to write my own story than to write about others. I have an outline, but keep changing that.

I tend to write directly on the blog what information I already have. Then I research more to find the bits that make the story more interesting using newspapers etc.

I’ve written more since I decided I don’t have to be ‘finished’ researching someone to write up what I have. I’m very visual, so having a photo or a map to get me started is easier than words on a page sometimes.

Thank you for raising this VERY important point Lorna. Many people have mentioned PLACE tonight and yes, sometimes I can’t get going with my writing until I’ve looked at a map or photo of the place.

Joining a non-genie writing group or doing a class can be a great help I think

I have a goal of 2 profiles a day at present as I work through my 700 @WikiTreers profiles again adding to them. After that I could add new ones, but I have other tasks I want to do – scanning my overseas slides (NZ ones have been done) and writing my story.

I overcame a recent roadblock by changing my ancestors’ names to something completely different. I’d written about my grandparents and found I was too emotionally attached to write about them, so I detached by making them “different” people.

I also focused on the 7 people with the ‘best’ stories, all interlinked. Having thought about them as ‘characters’ with emotion helped me a lot. I did a ‘character’ workshop with fiction writer @KateForsyth – brilliant help!

I tend to be inspired to write while researching something that interests me and I think would make an interesting blog post

I had a major mental roadblock when writing my book. I solved it in the end by writing an imaginary description of my ancestor’s last day before emigrating, using what I knew of the village, and clearly said it was fiction.

Perhaps a possible road block is the desire to have it complete and of course that never happens. You can always add more later just get something done before it is too late.

Yes I agree Shauna. We think we have to wait until we’ve solved every gap and answered all the questions. Better something than nothing. I can imagine how much more nuance I could have added to my book if Trove had been available – but I just write it on my blog.

I tend to write directly on the blog what information I already have. Then I research more to find the bits that make the story more interesting using newspapers etc.

When I had more time, I loved the Geneabloggers prompts – useful for coming up with shorter blog posts. Now, it might be a brickwall I have, or have broken down, or a story, or a photo, though I find it more difficult to set aside the time to write

Having a regular time to write probably helps though doesn’t always work for me. Motivation varies and sometimes accepting that and working on another aspect is a necessary diversion. Having a clear idea of your goal and why you’re doing the writing helps.

When I was doing well (pre-pandemic) I set myself a small goal of 200 words a day, every day, c.1400 in a week. Didn’t make it the first day, but sat down on day 2 and didn’t end up missing a day for 6 months. I LOVED writing & seeing the word count go up

Setting dedicated writing time and sticking to it. Trying not to do additional research but that is often difficult. Get a first draft down quickly and then edit and improve from there. Don’t think to hard, just get it down.

I wish I could claim professional sounding techniques but I just love researching and blogging. If I get stuck I use memes. You never think you have done enough research and of course, you are right, but time waits for no woman. Just do it.

I tend to reflect on a topic I want to write about…either mud-map it or just cogitate. My subconscious helps to tie it together overnight. The hazard is lying awake with ideas surging around the brain.


Finding and solving gaps in our research.

Remembering that stories are important in family history, not just the birth, death, marriage dates and places. So how do we find information to fill in the gaps in the stories was what was discussed at this #ANZAncestryTime chat.

422737 / Pixabay

How do we identify gaps in our research? Is it important to do so?

I use timelines to work out where I need to look for more info eg school records, employment records etc

If you use good desktop software it may have a way to let you know what is missing

I am currently redoing my database and have queries to help find what is missing.

I have two ways of identifying gaps: (1) is writing up my research which makes clear where I’m missing information. (2) checking against my preferred sources to ensure I’ve included them.

To find gaps in knowledge/evidence about an individual … start writing up what you know about them as a sourced biographical narrative. This soon highlights the gaps which you can then set about trying to fill

Starting with what you know is a great tip Jane @Chapja It’s much easier then to see the gaps

Yes, Jane, I can get on board with this method, because my goal is a story, not a full database.

I like to try to fill in the gaps in my research. Often when traditional family history records leave gaps you can fill them using newspapers. DNA has helped me also

Love me a good timeline! Plus checklists, making sure I’ve covered at least all the basics.

For brickwalls I use mindmaps (from FreeMind) to review and identify what I might have missed

I love creating mind maps. I picked up that tip at Rootstech a few years ago. It’s amazing what can jump out at you as missing

Mindmapping – you could do this with pencil and paper I’ve also used Freemind Mindmaps for preparing museum exhibitions What’s really nice is that you can collapse sections or open then up

Using a research log or prompt sheet can help to identify gaps

To visualise gaps in tree … the DNAPainter ‘Ancestral Trees’ function enables you to visualise tree completeness so you can decide where in your tree you may want to focus next – dnapainter.com/#trees

I create detailed timelines for individuals and families – it’s a great way of spotting both gaps and connections I hadn’t noticed before. Creating bios for Wikitree also made me go back and look for things I’d missed, so I could tell a coherent story

As Australia doesn’t have its census records available, we have to utilise different record sets and not get caught in the decennial gap trap.

Identifying gaps in our research is important if we’re to gain a full view of the lives of our ancestors. Learning what records are available for place and time, and using them, is critical.

I find using a spreadsheet to set down timelines of each person useful. Columns represent list of possible records they would be in, when I locate I tick it in the column. Records BMD parish records and census.

As with so much in family history, it’s finding what is most intuitive for each of us that helps productivity.

When looking at gaps in our research we need to look at regional, national and world events to see how they affected our families.

Ancestry’s DNA match colour coding and DNA Painter’s chromosome mapping have filled gaps for me

When new records become available work through them to ensure you have not missed someone GRO site helped me

I use timelines. I include place as well as dates. For example, is it possible that my research people were in e.g. New York for 1910 census and then enumerated in England a few months later in 1911? (Yes, it is, but confirming it opened new avenues)

Yeah Sophie’s “negative space” is basically the same idea, although her approach is more colourful. I’d like to be able to do a 3-D version that layers people on top of time/place. Best I can do for that is Visio/process maps

Visio is a lovely little microsoft package – very easy to use. I also use it for presenting smaller family trees – extracts

It was inspiration from the talk given by @ScientistSoph on Negative Space that really started me thinking more about this topic, including mapping events. Read her blog post here. parchmentrustler.com/family-history…

timelines are really helpful, as is writing up a person’s life. Often realise I’m missing something crucial.

Interesting how many of us find narratives helpful to identify missing research.

I tag my Legacy trees as I find supporting sources so I know which ones I need to find.

i do a timeline sheet in my Research Log (Excel). I add date in first column then age, event and place for each person in the family with a diff colour for each person. Then i can scroll and see where each family member was on a date.

Different formats for diff research questions, but usually just a table in a Word document – year in one column, date in next, then a text field with whatever info I want to record. I find that little bit of visual organisation just enough to work for me

Ancestry’s DNA match colour coding and DNA Painter’s chromosome mapping have filled gaps for me

Yes … Delay no further! DNAPainter has so many useful tools and functions to help find and fill gaps in our research

I have loved DNA painter since Jonny Perl first introduced it at a RootsTech conference. He is brilliant

something I do with my students often is get them to fill out a blank direct ancestor tree just to see where they’re missing bits.

viarami / Pixabay

Do you use a timeline to identify research gaps? Do you use your genealogy program, Excel or another program?

I use mainly Legacy but sometimes go with spread sheet

Funny you mention it, because I created one today about a great grandfather, using a table in WORD. I’m including citations from the many sources I have found about him. He never seemed to stay in one place for long – trying to put all the pieces together.

Those wanderers can be a lot of work to trace. I have a few of those. Timelines do help to see where they’ve been

I have a bigamist who disappears after he serves time in Victoria. Not found anywhere yet.

I suspect some bigamy with my American born Adams 2xgt gddad too. Disappears from Grafton & NSW. Then emerged close & shared DNA matches descended from Tassie man of same name who appeared in Tassie little after Grafton man disappeared. Same man or close family?

I find that now I am writing up the family histories (part of my downsizing project) I am finding gaps and then I just fill them as I go. If I can

Yes writing narratives is a great way to find gaps in information … it also helps to spot inconsistencies in the information you have too

I can be in the middle of a blog post about an ancestor and realise I have a gap. Then it’s off down a rabbit hole before I finish the blog post. That’s where I am now

Writing is the best way to spot gaps! Writing seems to trigger all sorts of analytical processes in your brain that regular research does not.

Yes, and why it takes me so long to finish a blog post, let alone a research report for myself (loved your presentation on that!)

I found an infant death in Ireland following naming patterns and a gap in the births.

Tracing 19th century Aussie wanderers, it’s helpful to put the gold rushes on the timeline. A ‘missing’ person may have gone to try their luck. Check other colonies.

Good tip Brooke to add to the timeline. Also perhaps expansion of an occupation eg railway construction?

Gold rushes impacted just about everybody’s family – follow the gold. One of mine moved from Sydney to Victorian goldfields then up to the Gympie rushes in Queensland and finally over to the Western Australian gold rush. Over generations and not all moved.

Yes, my West Coast NZ gold rush ancestors all started mining life in Victoria. Most of them left family there, though contact has been mostly lost. I hope to re-establish some one day!

Another one of my mining families ducked across to Reefton for a while then back to Queensland. Have to look both sides of the Tasman

I realised one of mine did when I mapped the births of all his (many) children. Another way of spotting gaps. Map the babies.

This timeline was created for a specific research question: where was she living when she got pregnant with her children who were born out of wedlock? The timeline helped me formulate a hypothesis about the probable father, later confirmed with DNA.

My genealogy program allows you to export any query to a spreadsheet so you can work on it outside the program

Freemind is what I use for MindMaps thewindowsclub.com/freemind-free-…

Timeline but also my online tree with Ancestry where I can see on their facts or story what might be missing

Also when I write my biographies I have particular sections of their life to include which means I might need to do more research with newspapers etc to find that info

combination of Excel for checklist and offline family tree program for timeline. This then helps with writing up in more details in a blog.

If I’m looking at a timeline, I will use Excel to analyse what I have and what I’m missing. I always use date, month, year in separate columns. Alternatively I use Word document gaps. I don’t use my genealogy program for this.

my genealogy program is good for seeing gaps in the research plus you can add notes and reminders. I used to have lots of sticky yellow notes but using a program helps keep me focused.

I will write or look for other queries to identify other gaps once I have added census information

While I don’t always use a timeline I do identify gaps as I write up my research. I am using a timeline for my troublesome McSherry family. I also compare my checklist of record sources to see what I might have missed.

I’m constantly using timelines and use Legacy family history software. Occasionally I use excel for timelines

I look at my genealogy software & files for reference, but I create it in MS Word.

Pexels / Pixabay

What key facts do you include in your timeline? What records do you use to fill the gaps?

vital records (including addresses/occupations on children’s births), the census, any known migrations.

after looking at all possible records I then look at newspapers and overseas records. Sometimes the ancestor could be a witness or informant in a record.

BDM, children, grave or cremation, residences, any info from Rolls or Census records, newspaper stories

It depends on time period – early 19c Irish ag lab/working class leave very little trace in records so there are often big gaps, especially if they never married/had kids. Newspapers/migration/institutional records may fill gaps but often have to accept gaps

If I could just fill in the gaps in my lots of Irish ancestry I would be very happy. Wills have been useful

If you can find them, if they survive – I’ve yet to find more than a calendar entry and that for only a handful of people. The swines!

So inconsiderate of them! 🙂 I got my English 4GGF’s will. One line sums it up: “to my beloved wife, executor of this will, all my assets” – thanks Grandpa!! 😀

I like to record as many facts as possible in my timelines from cradle to the grave. I also include major events like war, famine, depression, pandemics. These events can trigger ideas for more records to search

If I am trying to find someone who is missing I will search in Newspapers or look for them travelling

Censuses and BDMs are the anchor points. Otherwise it could be anything – church records, entries in the street directory, newspaper reports, appearances as witnesses/registrants on other BDMs, court records – as long as it can be tied to a date

I like to track my ancestors’ locations, and kin, where possible to get a full picture of their lives. For immigrant ancestors I also want their immigration records – where available.

At the moment I’m including day, month, year, event, location, notes and citation. I’ve used newspaper articles, police records/gazettes, BMD certificates, electoral rolls. The guy I am researching went interstate and overseas enough to confuse us all!

Birth, Deaths Marriages, other key events in the life of the person. Also historical events at a certain time, for context

Trove is great for filling gaps we didn’t know we had – totally unexpected events and activities. I like to use Education, land, occupation, military records, immigration, clubs/societies inter alia.

I include every event for which I know a time and place for that ancestor. So vital events, military service, prison time, births of children, etc.

My excel sheet columns include for the names such First & Mid Name, Last Name, Full Name then vital record dates. The ID for the person. I split the dates to a columns for date, month and year. Finally the columns for the specific data I’m working with

vital records (including addresses/occupations on children’s births), the census, any known migrations

www_slon_pics / Pixabay

Can you give examples where you or others have successfully plugged research gaps?

One thing that timelines can hide is contradictory activities. eg An ancestor is recorded being in one place for his child’s birth, & having a business. a legal case showed he was also working on the gold fields a distance away: there were regular coaches.

lots of those for my Dickson family. Currently working on Rev Dr David Dickson’s children A few more than in official bios

I used timelines to disprove a family legend (two men) but extending the FAN (family, associates, neighbours) research actually demonstrated there was a foundation for the legend – multiple timelines.

another TL piece: sometimes, not often, RC priests recorded both birth and baptismal dates. RC baptisms usually took place ASAP but there was a 6 week gap. Made me look more closely at godparents. They’d travelled quite a distance, another chink in brickwall

I used timelines to disprove a family legend (two men) but extending the FAN (family, associates, neighbours) research actually demonstrated there was a foundation for the legend – multiple timelines.

Our genimate @luvviealex wrote recently about her life in 12 censuses. It made me think more closely about my own presence in the records and how I wish I’d been able to see my parents’ and grandparents’ census returns.

Tried this today in a timeline but discovered it left out great chunks of our lives even our overseas postings, seems we were always in Aus. Made me think of ancestors gaps

Exactly! I don’t want to share all the nitty gritty but I think it can help highlight the challenge for the next couple of generations while privacy rules apply.

How cool! I have never been enumerated in a census in my life. The Netherlands stopped taking them in 1971 since we have a continuous population registration and they know where we live. 👀

Using DNA Trove BDMs to help adoptees to find their bio families and Collins Leeds method too

My longest running project is the collection of Electoral Data from NZers in my tree. Add another cousin to my tree creates gaps for Electoral Roll entries. Having such a large collection of addresses helps with a diverse range of other research questions

Trying to find out what happened to a woman from when she returned to Scotland in 1868 until her death. For that time period looked at censuses, deaths in her family & mapped them in time & space. Found her. Went to live with her son in England & she died there.

Timelines have been very useful me to find out where ancestors were fighting during WW1. I start with enlistment date and place and then do a timeline of their war service

I hadn’t thought do to a wartime timeline. what a great idea @SharnWhite I intend to do it

It helps to know what battles to research Jennifer and what war diaries to look for

It is always worth looking to see if there were births before a marriage one turned up this week not a relative but the person they married was

I have been trying to find out how a man in Bathurst met a woman in Hill End and how she had 4 children to him. There were no family connections between the places. Today I found on Trove his license to drive a coach from Bathurst to Hill End.  Yes unfortunately he never married her. I must do a timeline to see if his coach trips coincide with the births! I expect they did

Doing a timeline of where members of a family were in census records helped me to find a missing person

I find researching between the census records for missing children has turned up a few who died young

using census records – when I can’t find them I try all variants – Price was indexed as Grice – sometimes gaps are caused by indexing errors, bad handwriting or human error

Or search by a family member with the most distinctive first name. That worked for me.

All of my ancestors start in UK. When they emigrated to New Zealand, I found them passenger lists and rest of the information in the newspapers, even when they then moved to North America, especially the journalist ancestor, which was the subject of my blog

I’ve set up web pages with blog post sections for all my ancestral lines- sometimes cousins read these and make suggestions that I’ve missed something or drawn a wrong conclusion

My ancestors lived in a place in the Netherlands that kept mill tax records in 1700s that listed everyone in the household. I used these to see when children entered the household and prove that one child was baptized under a different name than used later.

I’m using a spreadsheet of every single event I can find for my McSherry family in the hope of breaking down my mysteries. Very clear for a 25 year block, then nada.

Timelines + checklists = winner!

Blog posts relating to the topic

Kerrie Anne – using mindmaps,

Alex – my life in censuses,

Legacy – mindmaps webinar,

Sue – examples of biographies written,

Readers: How do you find the gaps in your research? How do you find the info to fill those gaps?

Blogging your family history

Blogs from those family historians participating in tonight’s chat

Jennifer – family history blog, one place study blog, fitness blog

Maggie – a kiwi in search of her ancestral tribes

Maggie – first post about her genealogical resolutions in 2011

Jill – her jottings

Pauleen – family in Australia and links to other blogs with migration stories

Sharn – anecdotes and tips, convict research, jottings

Jane – Memories – thoughts- musings – findings

Jane – Warts and all -post about herself

Alex – an Australian family historian recording her research for prosperity

Brooke – writer and family historian

Hilary – family ancestors and cousins

Paul – his school years part 1

Liz – blog about local history run by a library

Debbie – new blogger

Geneabloggers tribe – prompts for writing posts

Genealogy blog party – add post link relating to topic of party

Sue Adams including photo analysis and digitization

Also check out the blogs linked here on the sidebar of this blog

What is a blog?

General information about blogging platforms – pros and cons

Using WordPress – two versions .com is free or .org is self hosted

I use WordPress because it was easy to set up and use. I didn’t try any other platforms. Their app is really great and easy to use. My only complaint is that I don’t like their new block editor.

Yes, I’m still using the classic editor, really need to get to grips with the block editor!

I don’t like it either although slowly adjusting (as with Trove upgrade) Biggest problem has been in trying to edit some pre-existing pages (rather than posts) Layout got garbled and I have been unable to ungarble it

What is a block editor and how does it work pls.

Anyone know how to copy the whole post as you are writing it? I can only copy a block at a time.

I use WordPress.org with @elemntor page builder and a growing collection of plugins!

I use self-hosted WordPress. I think it’s important to have your own domain, so you’re not depending on other companies’ business decisions and build your brand on your own turf. Plus, WP is full-featured and affordable.

Free version is exactly that but the downside is your viewers are plagued by adverts within your posts, the upgrade should only be an option that you choose to upgrade, it’s not forced #ANZAncestryTime there are higher levels than what I pay but these would be for business users

I use WordPress, self-hosted as it gives me more freedom to tinker away. I love the WordPress community and support out there. You can always start with a free WordPress-hosted blog, and move to self-hosting later if you wanted.

I use WordPress but the paid version. Started off with the free version until I was established, the pain with this is the adverts, I pay £36 a year and this removes the adverts and allows access to some better themes etc

I host on my own site using WordPress dot org. It does cost more however has hundreds of plug ins that give more functionality. Top 3 @yoast SEO, @akismet Anti-spam and a broken link checker.

Using Blogger – if you have a gmail account then you already have a blog allocated to you

I use Blogger. It’s not as pretty or professional looking as WordPress but I’m all for user-friendly platforms and Blogger fits the bill in this regard.

I use Blogger Alex as it was more user friendly when I began 12 years ago and I wasn’t a technology minded as I have now become. I like the ability to be creative with its look too

while I like the clean look of some WordPress templates which I use for three blogs over 7 years I find the Blogger platform I have used since 2006 for multiple blogs more friendly, flexible and totally free

I agree with @geniaus about using Blogger because of the simple-to-modify templates and the #Free cost. I want to spend my time blogging, not learning new technology 😉

Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

Getting help and courses or manuals

A course on personal blogging using Edublogs and WordPress teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/personal-blogg…

Manual for wordpress https:// easywpguide.com/wordpress-manu…

Support if using google’s blogger setup support.google.com/blogger/answer…

Another tip for #genealogy bloggers – Learn the lingo. A blog is the publication (like a book or magazine) and a post is like an article a magazine or a chapter in a book

ddimitrova / Pixabay

Why blog and essential elements for writing posts

Essential elements depends on who you are writing for but using categories and tags help navigate the blog posts. I began blogging in 2007 while teaching using edublogs which is a version of wordpress

Try to use more than just writing and photos, add interviews using soundcloud etc or make slideshows on a topic

Excellent points Sue! Mix it up. Oral history interviews is a brilliant suggestion and yes, slideshows can be very effective as the SAG Friday afternoons have proved.

Tools that can be embedded in blog posts or sidebars help.edublogs.org/popular-web-to… not only for Edublogs

Initially I started blogging after I retired in 2008. I still wanted to blog and realised that blogging about #genealogy would let give me plenty of content for posts.

I’ve just had my 10th blogiversary. When I first started I had no idea what I was doing or why but I thought it might be a good idea. I loved reading genealogy blogs

Don’t forget to write about yourself on your blog. One day your descendants may be researching YOU

I have actually done that, split my life into parts and have written about my childhood years up until I left school so far

Janet Few – suggested writing about your life in Census time which was a pretty neat meme I thought

That’s a pretty good way to do it, not many people actually feel comfortable writing about themselves, me included, it’s not the easiest thing to do but so important!

writing about a childhood theme can offer perspectives on “then and now” even when no descendants are involved.

I started blogging because I wanted to reach new clients but also because I wanted to make connections with others (cousins and wider #genealogy community)

I started a website/blog to have somewhere to put my writing about family history. I started it about 2 years ago (link in bio 😉 Essential elements: 1. Entertaining stories 2. Easy to navigate/search

started blogging this year as I was inspired by others blogging about their research. I had Facebook group setup for family members but not everyone was on it but the blog provided info in nicer relatable format. And share with wider community and friends

I think family history blogs can be whatever interests the author, be it story telling, research tips or letting others know what is new or happening in the family history community. A blog has to be for whatever purpose the author chooses for it

One of the recommendations often given to beginners is about “writing for yourself”. To enjoy it you must like your blog genre

this is such an important point. It’s a bonus if other people read the blog. You really have to enjoy the writing/composing/process itself.

First thing I check out on a blog is the page about the author – credentials, reason for blogging etc Also important to have good navigation on your blog. Maybe have list of other bloggers you follow on your sidebar

A #Genealogy blog is like a first draft of #FamilyHistory. When I actually write an ancestor bio, I check my blog to see what I said about that person and which visuals I used, plus which links I included. Gives me a head start in writing for the family!

I started my blog because I wanted to tell the stories of my ancestors and share those stories with distant cousins, I was never going to write a book, so this was the next best option

Blogging is a great way to record stories and unlike a book you can go back and edit or easily write a sequel

That’s a great point Sharn, never thought of it like that, a book will@always be finished, whereas our research and family trees never will

I have posted updates on some of mine and it is easy to link the 2 posts

eBook about ideas for post writing and improving your audience etc

Blogging to share family stories and like @geniaus I wanted to continue blogging after retirement so started a new one for sharing #familyhistory and having decided I’d never get around to a book, blog is best

I started blogging to help me focus my research and encourage me to write up what I’d found. Essential elements: readable and accessible content. That’s it. There’s a lot more you can add, but I think that’s what it’s all about really.

It wasn’t long after I started blogging that I realised I would never have time to write that book about my ancestors. So my blog became the place to tell the stories so that they weren’t lost forever

Essential elements for #genealogy blogs : intelligent, impeccable, inspiring, illustrated, individual.

Blogging essential elements: 1. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. You get better with practice. 2. Write in your own voice / be genuine. 3. Understand your audience. 4. Pick a platform that works for mobiles. 5. Finding time for #blogging. And so on

Essential elements are engaging writing, good pictures/design to attract attention or be visually appealing, solid research quoting verifiable sources, good advice, and connected.

Do you stick to a strict word count when you blog?

If the post is very long, either needs cutting down for clarity or splitting over 2 or more posts. Series of related posts can be linked with tags and encourage readers to come back for more

I have 16 in draft form 🤪🤪 they all won’t make the cut though

I decided I’d write what the story needed rather than try to cut it short. It becomes my reference record for the future. If some are too long, so be it.

athree23 / Pixabay

Important when setting up theme etc that it is responsive to all browsers and phones etc.

My blog using Edublogs suewyatt.edublogs.org Navigation across top but also other ways to search on sidebar

I had blogged with a Tasmanian Devil toy while I travelled during my long service holidays but seriously began the family history blogging in 2014 when doing the UTAS Diploma of family history

I think it’s important to share a little about who’s writing the blog so the reader knows who’s talking to them and gets credibility. Content is then king and every blogger will have their own voice. Citing sources also validates content.

I have an “About Me” on my blogs Jennifer. Though it possibly needs updating now.

Just thought of another essential for bloggers. Don’t be anonymous. Let your readers know who you in an About me page or widget.

This is a fun tool to use to incorporate into an appropriate blog post tombstonebuilder.com

I write mainly for myself and family so my focus for narratives is predominantly informational. The blog is public on the off chance something may useful to someone. If it is, you are very welcome! If not then I feel better for having written it down

When you need some ideas and stimulation the Challenges are good to look at such as a-to-zchallenge.com

I started to write for my family. They were happy to read stories about their grandparents/great-grandparents. They are less interested in more distant ancestors. Now, I hope to attract distant cousins too, to share knowledge and research ideas. I now also write for myself, to record my research. Blogging has become part of my research methodology.

I love the geneablogging themes, used them a lot when I first started out, a great way to get inspired. Wordless Wednesdays are a favourite!

I decided to write a genealogy blog to publish my ancestors’ stories & hopefully find cousins. My blogging is split across 2 websites (own family history & #OnePlaceStudy). Time is a big issue for me. Not enough of it!

Another app is the WordPress app for mobile devices. Great for answered comments. You can blog while away and no need to take a computer although I find a full sized keyboard easier for typing.

I have a contact page on my site. I’ve had a few messages through that. (My blog post comments play up a bit on Squarespace, so luckily I’ve got the contact page.)

I am not a traditional family history blogger and blog less than I used to but a blog is a great source to host your write ups and obviously share with others

I find blogging has its peaks and troughs (in terms of ability/desire to post) but it is there and you can always go back to it.

Writing can help you sort out your research – what is missing, strategies for moving forward and more – but indeed also time and motivation

Liz this is such an important point. The process of writing down your research forces you to stand back and evaluate it and your process. Thanks for reminding us of that.

I was studying computer science and was trying to learn how to build a website. I chose genealogy as my topic because that was my hobby (now profession). That was in 1993. Initially it was a links collection, turned into a blog in 2005.

trevoykellyphotography / Pixabay

Benefits of blogging

Blogging has delivered a cornucopia of benefits : friends, fun, family connections, fans; education, energy, enrichment, opportunities, overseas travel

I have found blogs so useful for keeping me in touch with the international community and about conference presentations that I may have missed.

Benefits: Feel good moment when a reader said: ‘I must say for the first time this article brought life to names in my family tree and for that I thank you.’

Let’s not concentrate on the past when blogging. We #genealogy bloggers should also be sharing our stories and thoughts for future generations. My feeble attempt is here ballau.blogspot.com I hope it’s of interest to my descendants.

Writing often helps us see the gaps in our research, encourages us to explore other aspects of history (social, local, medical etc) & to see connections between people, places, events.

I also use social media to share about my blog posts. @travelgenee on twitter, facebook, pinterest and instagram. Plus @canva to create images for the blog and social media.

excellent point Fran! They all feed each other, no?

Yes, birds of a feather. I also share across social media platforms and enjoy reading what you have to say when you post. GeneaBloggers FB page is another way to discover new #Genealogy blogs and meet genies.

I’ve only blogged about one line of my family who are part of a major research/biography project. It’s brought a few unknown cousins out of the woodwork. Great to connect with them. Gold in that some had photos

I’m constantly amazed at the previously unknown cousins who contact me. I’ve done quite a few collaborations over the years with cousins from afar who I met through my blog

My #Genealogy blog has been excellent #CousinBait, attracting more than a dozen cousins to get in touch over the years. Don’t forget to have a mechanism on the blog for readers to contact you!

What will your next blog post be about? My next few posts will be about: A convict ancestor & his London family Marriage laws in colonial NSW Favourite podcasts for a family historian

So good to plan ahead – and schedule posts too

I’d love to be in that situation. Usually, I like to write a weekly post, though often only make it only by the skin of my teeth, and sometimes not at all

great ideas. I must create a list so I get motivated rather than faffing thinking what to write, run out of time and  don’t then blog!

Ideas come to me as I research my family history. When I find something interesting I want to write about it

No calendar for me either. When I have an idea I start a draft or if I have time write it then and there.Sometimes I schedule ahead or post immediately. A calendar would put too much pressure on me.

Just had a contact today from a person who found a surname in my earlieryears.blogspot.com Important to add email contact for those who do not want to comment. Make commenting easy! #ANZAncestryTime I use email icon generator services.nexodyne.com/email/ to avoid email spam bots

Friendships made with other bloggers, readers and previously unknown cousins was so unexpected to me when I first started blogging

Remember that #genealogy blogging isn’t just about family stories. Genealogists use blogs to share news, post reviews, discuss issues, seek help, share announcements and more. Let’s not be narrow when we talk about blogging for #genealogy

I have found blogs so useful for keeping me in touch with the international community and about conference presentations that I may have missed

This is what my blog became so I removed the family posts to another blog

I love reading blogs that share genie news and announcements. Along with family stories of course

Does anyone else download their blog posts to a Blog to Print format? I’ve been doing it with mine and think it’s worthwhile. Belt and braces 😉

I find the most interesting ancestors often have no descendants, perhaps more time to do other things! Plenty of Genies out here to read blog instalments if you do get going with your life history!

Also the best bit about research takes one to different parts of the world. Blogging about a cousin from abroad or moved around the globe shows how small the world really is..

it is very important to own your own content. This is why I cannot recommend sites like Wix or Weebly. A social media policy to consider what you publish on sites like FB, who can join in, expected behaviours, etc can get you thinking before an issue happens

Create an account on a blog reader to subscribe to all the blogs you like to follow such as feedly.com

I would advise any new blogger to read as many different blogs as you can then read even more! List what you like, what you dislike, from a visual perspective and a written one! Research counts as we know, write what you want, how you want

Excellent advice Paul and what I myself did when I started and there are far more blogs around now than all those years ago. Follow other blogs too

Remember your audience is small in the beginning. Mainly supportive friends and family so mistakes are forgiven.

Whatever you do try not to “waffle” if a post is longer than it needs to be people stop reading before they get to the end and may miss things

My top tip is to go read other family or local history blogs. What do you like about each one? What do you not like? Then think about what content you’d like to share, and who you’re writing for.

Weekly prompts from Julie Goucher – Book of Me

Share your posts via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to find your family and community

WordPress offers videos and webinars about blogging. Societies offer classes from time to time. Lots of great bloggers out there eg The Legal Genealogist. Geneabloggers Tribe for tips and topics. Sepia Saturday themes

there’s lots – Geneabloggers for a start which provides lots of prompts. Sepia Saturday is a great prompter as well as is the AtoZ challenge. Free photo sites eg Pixabay and Facebook groups e.g. Australian Local & Family History Bloggers.

a blog allows larger stories that are always accessible. I would still have the FB group as some people really like it so you can give notifications of things on the blog, have discussions when working together, etc. They can compliment each other.

Connection to a wider genealogy community, sharing of stories, information, collaboration, help, friendship, plus it’s my family history preserved and ready to share with family anywhere in the world

Book recommendation from Jennifer for memoir writing

Although this is an important point. Keep it focused. Don’t moan about your poor customer service experience with a utility company on your genealogy blog! I have a Medium blog for anything else I need to express online

main benefit so far being able to share info with everyone and family members they felt more connected as it was more personal to them.

Revitalising your blog is a good idea. Every so often I give mine a new look.

One of the main benefits of blogging is connecting with distant cousins and other researchers. And also, it helps clarify my thoughts and research processes – I often sit down to write a blog post and then go off down a rabbit hole following a lead!

Decide who your audience is – who are you writing for? and what your intention is – what do you want to achieve with your blog? – It can be for whoever you want it to be for. It can be whatever you want it to be.

Feel more connected to the genealogy community as a whole, met so many new friends from blogging, not just genie friends, find it therapeutic, not found as many cousins as I had hoped, if I am honest and it’s FUN

while people mentioned in a blog post may be indirectly connected to my family, some of my stories have helped others with their family history

pixelcreatures / Pixabay


Adding photos where you might not know the people or place or event, can allow your readers to take part on the blog by leaving comments.

And I think responding to comments is so important to acknowledge our readership.

You can build up a network, make great connections and, importantly, you’re not just talking to yourself. Yes, they can be time consuming to respond to, but worth it for interaction.

I haven’t enabled them on mine but am going to be expanding my content & offerings soon, so will consider then

If you want to build a community then comments are important. However you do need good anti-spam plugins or you will have so many comments that require managing, dumping and waste time.

Comments are essential as Fran says, I have met some genuinely wonderful people by just engaging with their comments, some really good friends now

Connecting with other bloggers has been a huge benefit. Being a Rootstech Ambassador through blogging has been wonderful too

I used to try and comment on every post I read. I felt if someone bothered to write it I could comment. Now if often fail as sometimes WordPress does not like me logging in and I loose the comment or cannot leave it. Frustrating

If leaving a comment, highlight and copy before you hit the submit button. Easy then if comment doesn’t go through first time

I’ve found spam only appears on older posts and most valid comments are on new posts. So my set-up allows comments on posts written in last 10 days to post automatically. & Spam is more easily managed.

I usually end my post with a question so my readers can comment as well

I find it very frustrating to read an interesting blog and not be able to comment. I don’t think it encourages people to read your work

Something to remember 

I blog when I can. Sometimes I’m prolific and other times I don’t have time to write at all. I don’t think it matters as long as you enjoy it.

Tips from Carmel

  • Use simple language
  • Add sub headings
  • Break up text with paragraphs, bullet points, lists, images
  • Compress images so blog post loads quickly
  • spell check
  • About page
  • Make it easy to comment
  • Subscription options
  • No pop ups
  • Search friendly
  • Respond to comments

Reminder from Fran: I’m happy to do the GDPR for everyone. I had a privacy policy on my work & personal blogs years ago before they became common practice. I like it simple, open and transparent. So many policies are technical and legal claptrap now days

Readers: Do you have a family history blog? If yes leave a comment and include the URL so we can visit and read your posts.