Archive for the ‘Genealogy blogging’ Category

The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started this blog post back in November, but put it on the shelf. Thomas MacEntee’s recent post (see below) has inspired me to post it, with some small changes.

This past spring the world discovered that, at some point in the past two or three years, there had been a significant change in the way news is delivered and spread. Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, and the United States learned of his death–not through television news or CNN or a Presidential press conference–but through Twitter. The microblogging “social” website had scooped all of the traditional news outlets.

This is not the only evidence that Web 2.0 (as it has traditionally been called), the “social web,” has caused an incredible paradigm shift in many areas of life. Even my grandmother is on Facebook!

A similar paradigm shift seems to have occurred within the past two years in the world of genealogy.

Signs of the New Paradigm

The first mention of this change was in a post by Joan Miller written this past spring, shortly after the first RootsTech conference. On 15 April 2011 Joan posted “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies” in her LuxeGen blog. In this post, Joan wrote:

We are the New Somebodies.  Yes, in our industry we Genea-Bodies are the New Somebodies. Why?  Because a Nobody could become Some Project’s biggest cheerleader. Just look at the royal treatment the Official Bloggers received at Rootstech. (I was one).  Jay Verkler, Anne Roach, Paul Nuata et al knew what they were doing when they engaged the Genea-Bodies. We Genea-Bodies have a voice.  A collective voice.  A passionate voice.  And we talk about our passion. We blogged and tweeted and Facebooked our little hearts out about Rootstech.  Because we wanted to; because we felt the cause was warranted. And in part, because we had been noticed.  We had a job to do.  We were reporting on Rootstech! And not just the official bloggers, but all of us Genea-Bodies. We became Rootstech’s biggest cheerleaders because we cared and we were engaged.[1]

At the time, this blog post, and a comment on it by professional genealogist Marian Pierre-Louis, inspired a long discussion about professional genealogy and its place within the larger genealogy community, among other topics. This discussion also directly inspired me to resurrect my long-neglected blog (formerly called “Tricks of the Tree”) as this current blog.

Yet it took several months for me to realize the full impact of what Joan was saying.

On 15 October 2011 the genealogy website announced that it had commissioned a duplication of a seminal 2007 survey conducted by The site then invited five genealogists to comment on the survey results: David E. Rencher, of FamilySearch; Randy Whited, a member of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Genealogical Societies; Amy Johnson Crow, CG, a professional genealogist and genealogy blogger (formerly Amy’s Genealogy, etc.); Thomas MacEntee, of Geneabloggers; and Caroline Pointer, author of the For Your Family Story blog. In all of their announcements about the survey and the accompanying “Genealogy Roundtable” of blog posts, described these five as “five of the genealogy community’s top thinkers.”[2]

I doubt it is coincidental that three of the five genealogists chosen write popular genealogy blogs. This is a perfect example of the paradigm shift in genealogy.

The Old Paradigm

If you are not familiar with the American Society of Genealogists, here is a little background:

The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was founded in 1940 by three distinguished academicians—Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Meredith Colket …. An honorary society, ASG is limited to fifty life-time members designated as Fellows (identified by the initials fasg). At the time of its founding, nothing existed to certify competent genealogists nor was there a method to honor significant achievement in the genealogical field.

Election to the ASG is based on a candidate’s published genealogical scholarship. Emphasis is upon compiled genealogies and published works that demonstrate an ability to use primary source material; to evaluate and analyze data; to properly document evidence; and to reach sound, logical conclusions presented in a clear and proper manner.[3]

Among other accomplishments, the American Society of Genealogists founded the National Institute for Genealogical Research (NIGR) held annually at the National Archives in Washington, D. C., in 1950, and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) in 1964. They also publish two prestigious genealogical journals, The American Genealogist and The Genealogist. Past Fellows of the Society include such legends of genealogy as Donald Lines Jacobus, Milton Rubincam, Harry Wright Newman, Dr. Gaius M. Brumbaugh, Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., Noel C. Stevenson, Richard Stephen Lackey, and Marsha Hoffman Rising.

As noted above, there are always fifty Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. Some of these names are instantly recognizable by most genealogists: Elizabeth Shown Mills, Christine Rose, Helen F. M. Leary, Melinde Lutz Sanborn, Thomas W. Jones. These and the other Fellows, both past and present, are the most influential genealogists in United States genealogy history.

The rise of a genealogist’s career to become a Fellow often involved writing and publishing extensively, a long career in client research, frequent lecturing, and, in more than a few cases, revolutionizing some aspect of research methodology. Since 1964, this also usually entailed achieving the status of Certified Genealogist. Unlike most societies, ASG is not an organization that anyone can join. To become a Fellow, one must be nominated by a current member and then accepted by at least 80% of the voting members at the annual meeting. In other words, these are the genealogists that “the genealogy community’s top thinkers” consider “the genealogy community’s top thinkers.”

Do you cite the sources that you use? Thank members of the ASG.

Do you research the neighbors and associates of your ancestors, using cluster genealogy? Thank members of the ASG.

Aside from the five highly-visible Fellows named above, though, how many of the fifty current Fellows can you name? Do you recognize the work and accomplishments of John Frederick Dorman, Peter Wilson Coldham, George Ely Russell, or Henry Z. Jones, Jr.? [HINT: They are all currently-living FASGs.]

How about the names DearMYRTLE, Thomas MacEntee, Dick Eastman, or Randy Seaver? [HINT: They are not FASG, CG, or AG.]

The paradigm shift has occurred based on the exponential growth of the online genealogy community. Many new genealogists are learning to research by reading blogs.

Geneabloggers have become viewed as “experts,” without following the traditional path followed by earlier generations of genealogists: submitting a case study to a peer-reviewed journal like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, or The American Genealogist, or getting certified through BCG or accredited through ICAPGen. (In other words, prove your expertise by allowing your research to be judged by other experts.)

The new paradigm is that the most influential genealogists are those that are most skilled with social media, not necessarily those that are most skilled at research. This is not to say that any specific GeneaBloggers or Bloggers-in-general are not good researchers. From what I have read on their blogs, the skill level of bloggers runs the gamut. Among the geneablogging community are the greenest of newbies and the most experienced of professionals. Quite a few professional genealogists (myself included) and Certified Genealogists (myself included) also blog.

I am proud to call myself a “GeneaBlogger.” The geneablogging community is a perfect representation of the genealogy community as a whole.

But is this really what we as a community need?

Do we need experts that represent us, or experts that are more skilled than us? Experts that we can learn from?

Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a good thing or a bad thing?

On 14 December 2011 Thomas MacEntee of the Geneabloggers blog and online radio show wrote, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?” In this post Thomas writes,

When I first got started in the online genealogy community, I was too concerned with how bloggers and others appeared to vendors as well as other entities.  I’m sure they thought we were rambunctious, sometimes out of control, and sought to destroy rather than build alliances. I sometimes focused too much on how we looked to outsiders.[4]

Almost single-handedly Thomas has led the charge in gaining respectability for genealogy bloggers. To be sure, there were blogs and bloggers around before he got started in his quest–folks like DearMYRTLE, Dick Eastman, and others. But Thomas has been a true geneablogging evangelist, and not only raised the visibility of smaller bloggers but also brought bloggers together as a community.

From where I stand, the Genealogy Paradigm Shift has both positive and negative aspects.

As noted by Joan and Thomas, the online genealogy community–Geneabloggers, and the denizens of Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life, as well as other sites–have a voice that is being heard.

The community has been mobilized to promote genealogy conferences and websites and software programs. The community also works to inform each other about issues like records access, especially the recent changes to the Social Security Death Index.

Genealogy blogs can also be used to educate about research techniques, experiences, etc. This is the main goal of the blog you are currently reading, as well as many others.

Thomas Macentee and many of the other bloggers are also active in the offline genealogy community, in organizations like the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the Association of Professional Genealogists, as well as hundreds of smaller historical and genealogical societies worldwide. Many of us started as genealogists, before we were “online genealogists” or, as Thomas phrases it “hi-def genealogists.”

A new generation of genealogists has already started to be born. They are not genealogists first and online genealogists second. They will be raised under the new paradigm, and may start by thinking that “everything is online.” Even once we dispel this notion, we will have to deal with another issue that is far more frightening.

The “online genealogy community” that everyone is so fond of is replacing the traditional local genealogy community. While the GeneaBloggers website lists a few thousand genealogy blogs, with about a dozen or so new ones every few weeks, genealogical societies across the country are literally dying from a lack of new members.

You might ask, so what if those old local societies disappear? We have the GeneaBlogger community or that Facebook group to support us.

Moral support, yes–definitely. Research support, far less:

  • GeneaBloggers do not generally scour every cemetery in a specific county and publish full listings of the gravestones. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers do not abstract all of the obituaries of some small county newspaper from the mid-19th century and publish them. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers do not maintain genealogical libraries containing decades of work on local families. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers cannot go back to 1965 and reproduce the resources that were transcribed by the local genealogical society before that big hurricane or tornado hit and destroyed everything.

These resources can only remain available as long as we continue to support the societies that provide them.

Every single one of us, as genealogists, lives somewhere. Are you a member of your local genealogical society and/or your ancestral genealogical society?

I would like to ask–even plead–with other geneabloggers to devote at least one post to a local genealogical society. Not the big ones like the National Genealogical Society or the New England Historic Genealogical Society, but a county genealogical society. Describe the society–its meetings, its accomplishments, its publications. If you are a member of more than one local society, write a separate post about each one.

And if you are not a member of a local genealogical or historical society, please join one. It can be the one where you live, or one on the other side of the country, where your ancestors lived 200 years ago. But pay your dues, write for the newsletter, and help these societies stay alive.

The future?

Many bloggers might think to themselves, “I’m no expert. I never claimed to be one.” But to a new genealogist who stumbles onto your blog because it came up in their Google search, you may be viewed as one. Though writing a blog feels like writing in a private journal, this is not the case. Blogs are public. Geneabloggers are quickly becoming the public face of genealogy.

The online genealogy community needs to recognize this. We need to join the genealogy community as a whole. This must necessarily move beyond simply joining your local society. Treat your blog the way you would treat anything else done publicly. Put your best face forward. You don’t have to change your voice to sound professional, or anything like that. But at least cite the sources that you discuss in your blog post. Try to learn new techniques and apply them to your research, then write about what you learned. Not only will your ancestors thank you for that, but so will those new genealogists who look to your blog for guidance.


[1] Joan Miller, “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies,” Luxegen Genealogy and Family History blog, posted 15 April 2011 ( : accessed 1 November 2011).

[2] Michael Katchen, “Survey shows family history knowledge declining despite growing interest,” blog, posted 15 October 2011 ( : accessed 1 November 2011).

[3] “The Society,” American Society of Genealogists ( : accessed 1 November 2011).

[4] Thomas Macentee, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 15 December 2011 ( : accessed 16 December 2011).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new ‘experts’?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 16 Dec 2011 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]


Why do I blog? Why do you blog?

Despite the best of intentions at the end of October and beginning of November, I have not been as successful at keeping up with my NaBloPoMo blogging goals as I had hoped. Taking the time to focus on blogging brings with it a reassessment of my blogging goals.

Why do I blog? What are my goals in writing this blog? There are several:

1. The genealogy blogging community is a brilliant group of genealogists representing a true cross-section of the genealogy community as a whole. There are amateur (“hobbyist”) genealogists; professional genealogists; Certified Genealogists; Accredited Genealogists; genealogists in the North, South, East, and West; international genealogists; genealogists of all races, all nationalities, and all ages. The two things that we all share are a love of genealogy and a devotion to blogging. Through our blogs, we are able to hold a conversation about genealogical issues, share our experiences, and both teach and learn, in a way that was impossible before. Being a part of this conversation is important to me.

2. I am a writer. I have been writing for publication since I was 19 years old, though at that time it was unrelated to genealogy. I love to write. Since becoming a professional genealogist, I have written quite a few articles for magazines and journals, and several books. But I still want to write more. Writing this blog is for me like a runner starting his morning with a daily jog. It lets me write about subjects that I am passionate about, as well as subjects that I am still learning about or want to learn more about.

3. No other blogs share this blog’s focus. Other professional genealogists blog, and I love their blogs. There are other blogs focusing on specific aspects of professional genealogy, such as genealogical writing or education or even blogging. But my goal in creating this blog was to bring information about not just genealogy, but also running a small business, writing, lecturing, publishing, and other aspects of a professional genealogist’s life. These other subjects do not often appear in other genealogy blogs. Why should professional genealogists have to look outside of their community for information and guidance relevant to their careers?

Every time I write a single post, I have a reason.

So this is why I blog.

Have you thought about why you blog?

NaBloPoMo Update – How am I doing at the halfway point?

This month, as I have done the past two years, I vowed to participate in NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. This year, I actively (more or less) write not only this blog, but also two columns for the Examiner: “National African American Genealogy” and “Baltimore Genealogy & History.” Three venues, 30 days = 90 articles.

So, how I am holding up?

Not nearly as well as I had hoped by now.

Through 15 November, I have posted the following number of articles in these three columns:

  • Planting the Seeds: 13 articles (not including this one)
  • National African American Genealogy Examiner: 7 articles
  • Baltimore Genealogy & History Examiner: 4 articles

Fifteen days in, I should have written and published 45 articles, but I am only at 24!

I have only missed a day in this blog, but have not been quite as active over at the Examiner.

The funny thing is, I scheduled out most of the month in both columns. I just have not written the articles. Of course, I still have 15 days to catch back up. So be prepared for some extra articles over the next two weeks.

Is this cheating? Maybe, but since I do not have to answer to anyone but myself and my readers, I think it will be acceptable.

5 Ways to Manage Your Blog (or Blogs)

Since this is National Blog Posting Month, I thought it might be a good time to discuss managing a blog.

As a full-time professional genealogist, time for my blog is often limited. I do not always have the ability to write every day. Occasionally I do have a great idea, or an issue arises, that I simply feel compelled to write, right at that moment.

More often, though, I find myself without the time to write. Or worse, I have an hour or so to write, but my mind draws a blank. What should I write about?

This month, I have challenged myself to post a new article every day. To three separate blogs. That comes to 90 articles that I will have to write and post over the next 30 days. I tried this in 2009 with one column, and managed to post about 2/3 of the required 30 articles. I tried again in 2010 with two columns, and only managed to post about 1/2 of the required 60 articles. So what makes me think I will succeed this year, with 90 articles needed?

This year, I am managing my blogs a little better. For me, the most difficult part of managing a blog is coming up with fresh and interesting content every day. Here are a few ideas that might help you:

1. Brainstorm post ideas. In an earlier post I mentioned one of my favorite blogs, Litemind. One of the posts on this site describes the “List of 100” brainstorming method. I have done this quite a few times, for numerous brainstorming sessions: potential articles, potential books, potential lectures, etc. Generally speaking, in a list of 100 you will find a bunch of ho-hum ideas, a bunch of repeats, a few ridiculous ideas, and several gems. By creating such a long list, you force your brain to move outside the box–past the everyday, ho-hum ideas; past the just plain silly; and into the best ideas. You may find only 15 great ideas in that list of 100. With 90 articles needed, I will probably have to post a few ho-hum ideas, but hopefully there will be some great ones too!

2. Read other blogs. What are other bloggers talking about? Many of my blog ideas start as responses, or “my perspective,” on things that other bloggers have said. Sometimes it is a response to a blog post as a whole–sometimes it’s just a single sentence that inspires an entire post. Sometimes just the act of reading gets your creative juices flowing enough that you come up with an idea of your own. If you want to see the best genealogy blogs, I would recommend Randy Seaver’s weekly “Best of the Genea-Blogs” posts, posted every Sunday on his Genea-Musings blog. Randy reads a lot of blogs, and manages to find the best of the best every week. Read these, and you will be forced to kick it up a notch.

3. Keep a list of blog ideas. Many of the best ideas come when you are busy with something else. For example, I often come up with an idea for a blog post while I am working on a client report. There is simply no way that I should stop what I am doing to write that blog post at that time. I could wait–and risk forgetting about the idea before I do find the time to write it. Or I could keep a list of ideas, so that when I have time to write, all I have to do is look at my list, pick a topic, and write. I keep two lists: one on paper for those times when I am not near a computer, the other as a text file on my desktop. That list is definitely going to come in handy this month.

4. Create a blog calendar. Once you have a list of ideas–from brainstorming, reading other blogs, and recording ideas when they come to you–you should schedule out your posts in advance. Since I am scheduling ideas for three separate blogs/columns, I created a table with four columns. The first column is for the days, 1 through 30. Each one of the other three columns is for one of my blogs. Then I just write the topics for each day into the calendar.

5. Participate in a few memes (but not all of them). There are several blogging memes available every day for genealogy bloggers. If you wanted to, you could easily post every day just by following a different meme every day. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Before I ever started writing a blog, I was a blog reader. Memes lose their attraction pretty quickly. If you are not providing good, quality content every day, you may lose some readers. And if you don’t have any readers, is there really any reason to write? Instead, pick one or two of your favorite memes, but no more than one or two days a week. Personally, I love “Follow Friday” and “A Friend of Friends Friday.” Both of these are on Friday, so I have to alternate or use different blogs to participate. In my blog calendar, I can mark off every Friday to participate in one (or both) of these memes. This saves a little time in trying to come up with a unique topic for these days. But it still leaves me with six days of content that is not attached to a meme.

And here’s a bonus tip:

6. Write your posts in advance. Some blogging platforms, like WordPress, allow you to draft your posts in advance and schedule them for publication later. Take advantage of this when you have time to write. Instead of just writing one post and publishing it immediately, write two or three (or however many you have time to write), and schedule them for later publication.

Do you have any other ideas for managing multiple blogs?

November is National Blog Posting Month

November is upon us once again! Do you know what that means? Its “National Blog Posting Month.”

I first learned of National Blog Posting Month (“NaBloPoMo”) in 2009. At that time, I was only writing my “National African American Genealogy” column on Examiner. I asked other genealogy bloggers to join me in the celebration. That month, though I was unsuccessful at posting every day, I managed to post quite a few articles:

How did I do that first year? There are 30 days in November, and I posted 19 articles. Not bad, but not perfect.

Between November 2009 and November 2010, I started writing a second column for Examiner: the “Baltimore Genealogy & History” column. When NaBloPoMo came around, I decided to try to write an article every day for both columns! Once again, I did not achieve my lofty goal, but I did make (in my opinion) a noble effort:

Two columns, 30 days. Should be 60 articles, right? Well, I managed to write 31. Only about half of them.

So this year I still have both Examiner columns, and now I have this blog as well. Thirty days, three blogs–that’s 90 articles! It’s going to be difficult, but I will try. We’ll see how well I do at the end of the month.

Anyone else want to give it a shot?

Guest Post: Locating Clent manorial landholdings and SLIG, by Sue Adams

The following is a guest post written by Sue Adams, the winner of my SLIG Blogging Contest Contest! This post originally appeared at her blog, Family Folklore.

Having recently completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, I have been looking around for further educational opportunities.

As my diploma dissertation was a study of manorial land records between 1712 and 1927, of Clent Manor, Worcestershire, England, the “Advanced Research Tools: Land Records” track presented by Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) 2012 peaked my interest. The course runs from 23-27 January 2012.


Although my study focused on land inheritance, I had originally intended presenting results by mapping land holdings belonging to individuals or families. However, faced with vague property descriptions, I realised this was more difficult than I had anticipated. Of the copyholdings bought, sold or inherited by the Waldron family of the Fieldhouse, I could locate less than half. Below is the map that I did not include in my dissertation because of these difficulties.

The Fieldhouse itself was easy (no 13), it is marked on current maps and the listed building records confirm that the house was built in the 1750s. Some fields that were enclosed and first granted by the Lord in 1788 were described well enough for me to work out their location relative to roads and adjoining property (nos 1-7). Descriptions referring to ancient field names that so not appear on any maps are more difficult, but I managed to find an archaeological report that gave approximate locations for a few names like Kitchen Meadow, Long Meadow and Wallfields. So I could approximate the locations of land (the rest of the nos on the map) with descriptions like the following example:

“three pieces of land called the Halfmoon Hills containing about sixteen acres two pieces of land adjoining called the Wallfields containing about eight acres and Meadow called the Kitchen Meadow containing about six acres and one Meadow called Long Meadow containing about four acres and one close adjoining called Ollerpiece containing about two acres in Upper Clent”

Winden Field is a place name that occurs frequently in the manorial court records, but I do not know where it was. It is thought to be the name of one of the open fields dating back to the medieval farming system.

Occasionally, land descriptions refer to the tithe map. In Clent this dates to 1838 and records the landowners who were liable to pay tithes, a tax collected by the church which supported the clergy. None of the land owned by my study family is directly linked to the tithe map in the court rolls, but it may be still possible to correlate the two.

So what does all this stuff about English land records have to do with and course on American land records? Well the problems are similar and the SLIG course offers some tools applicable to land records anywhere. The Strathclyde program is biased toward Scottish research and records (it is a Scottish university!), which some think a disadvantage for English based researchers. However, I benefited from seeing how English and Scottish records differ and the comparison has deepened my understanding making me a better researcher. American records will be different again, and that is interesting.

As I am based in England the main expense of attending SLIG is the airfare. However, as RootsTech (2-4 February 2012) and APG Professional Management Conference (1 February 2012), follow a few days later, I could attend all three. Now the airfare seems a little less extravagant!

About Sue Adams: My interest in family history was ignited by the death of Raymond Coulson, a cousin of my paternal grand-mother.  Tracking down the beneficiaries of his estate got me hooked and led me on to research the tales passed down the generations.  The story continues …

Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Blogging Contest Contest

The 2012 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy will be held from 23-27 January 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Institute is one of the premiere educational programs for genealogists in the country, sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association.

Earlier this week, UGA announced a contest for those wishing to attend the Institute. The prize will be a waiver of tuition fees for the winner. In conjunction with this contest, I would like to also offer my own contest. (Details below.)

The official rules of the UGA Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Blogging Contest are as follows:

Step 1: Write 500 words or more on the topic of why you want to attend SLIG. Include which course you would like to take, and whether you have attended before. Please include the link when referring to SLIG’s website.

Step 2: Post a link to your blog post on the UGA/SLIG Facebook Page ( before midnight (Mountain Time) on Saturday, October 15, 2011. If you are not on Facebook please send an email to and we will post the link on Facebook for you.

Step 3: The winner will be randomly chosen using, and announced via our Facebook page on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

In conjunction with this contest, I would like to offer the following contest:

  1. For those who might be interested in entering this contest, write your contest entry (see the above instructions), and email it to me at by 8pm Eastern on Friday, 14 October 2011.
  2. I will be the sole judge and will choose the entry that I think is the best.
  3. The winning post will be posted as a guest post on this blog (and therefore also read by many new readers) shortly after this contest ends. I will post the link to Facebook for you.
For more information on the SLIG Blogging Contest, see their blog post at
Good luck!
UPDATE: Just to clarify, if you already have a blog of your own, you can enter the SLIG Blogging Contest yourself. I will consider bloggers who have submitted their entries to my contest, but I intended my contest to allow non-bloggers a venue by which they could also enter.
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