Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tips for New Family History Bloggers

So you're thinking of starting a family history blog?  Read on for a few of my observations and experiences.

This post is an adaptation and expansion of similar ideas shared in May I Introduce to You..., my interview with Gini Webb which was published in June at GeneaBloggers.  I'm offering this separate post because several readers said they would find it helpful.

These ideas are the result of my own experiences with success and failure after creating this blog in 2009.  I fumbled around a lot when I first began because I didn't know anything about blogging and only a little more about family history.  I'm still learning about both.  Please use what's helpful to you and forget the rest. 

Choose your blog host.
  • There are several free blog platforms available, including blogger and wordpress, but there may also be others.  You will need to create an account to start a blog.  If you have a gmail or any other google account, you can use that for a blogger account.
  • Looking at others' blogs and noticing what type of account they have may help you decide which blog host you want to use.
  • Realize that most blog templates can be customized using your choice of colors, images, etc.

Choose a title.
  • Before you begin your blog consider choosing a title that can have the same url.  It might take several tries to find a blog name that's not taken but be persistent.  It will be worth it in the end.  You may have noticed I didn't do that:  my blog's name is "My Ancestors and Me" but the url is nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.  I started my blog before I knew what I wanted its title to be and then it was too late to change the url.
  • Yes, you can always change the title of your blog but not the url unless you begin a new blog.

Consider the layout of your blog.
Blogger (and probably wordpress, too) offer different templates (the background of a blog) and layouts (the arrangement and spacing of columns, their width and number on a blog).  You can notice them when you look at others' blogs.  Scroll to the bottom where the name of the template is usually identified.
  • A simple format is great for a family history blog.  It lets readers focus on the content of your posts and not be distracted by extra "stuff."
  • Choose a post area width that isn't too wide.  On my first layout, at right, I used all the width that was available.  It wasn't until months later when I saw my blog on a different computer that I realized readers had to scroll side to side to read posts.  I quickly changed it, at right below.  You can read the post about the change here.  It takes a lot for me to stay on a blog that I have to scroll horizontally to read.  
  • Choose one column on one side of your post area or possibly one on both sides.  Think about what you will put in those columns.  Will one be enough or will you need two?
  • When choosing background and font colors keep the contrast strong enough that the words will be easy to read.  Sometimes light letters on a dark background vibrate and are difficult to read for very long.  Similarly, blogs with light grey writing can be difficult to read and cause eye strain.  Remember that you will have people of all ages with all kinds of abilities visiting your blog.  Make it easy for everyone to read what you write.
  • When choosing the font remember that sans serif fonts such as Verdana, Trebuchet, and Arial are easier to read on a monitor than fonts with serifs or fancy fonts.  Choose a sans serif font for your posts and, if you want fancy fonts use them for dates, links, and gadget titles. 
  • Consider font size.  Choose at least 12 pt or possibly even 14 or 16 for your post area.  Small is easy enough to read on paper but large is much easier to read on screen.  
  • In blogger you can always go back and change the layout if you find it isn't quite right. 

Blog Content
  • Decide on the purpose(s) of your blog.  Perhaps your only intention is to share memories of your grandparents; or post census records of your direct-line ancestors; or maybe you want to post a variety of topics.  With purposes in mind at the beginning it will help you decide on blog posts and keep you on track with blogging.  You can always reevaluate later and make changes as you become more experienced with blogging and/or family history research.
  • Write about what interests you in your family history.  Your enthusiasm will shine through in your posts.
  • Posts do not have to be long to be good.  Most people don't have time to spend 20 minutes reading a blog post so brief posts can be very effective.
  • Proofread your posts before you click the "publish" button.  Catch those spelling errors, mistyped numbers, and stray punctuation marks.  (This tip comes from personal, negative experience!)
  • Use labels to help readers identify similar post topics in your blog.  Notice the labels others use in their blogs and choose what you might think will be most helpful and effective for your blog. 

Sidebar Content 
  • Include some sort of brief bio about yourself and possibly a photo.
  • List the surnames you're researching.
  • Make it easy for readers to contact you by using a contact button or giving them your email address (adapted so spammers can't click it and send you spam).
  • A search button allows readers to search for topics or surnames in your posts.
  • A translate button is helpful to those who read your blog but may not speak your language.
  • You may want to include a list or cloud of labels so people can click on it and read other posts on that topic.
  • Previous posts, either as a list or as a gadget, will encourage your visitors to stay a little longer and read one more post.

Join the Community
One of the benefits of blogs (as opposed to websites) is that comments allow interaction.  Blogging is more fun when you know people are reading what you write.  I've received many helpful suggestions because of comments from other family history bloggers.
  • Become a GeneaBlogger by asking Thomas MacEntee to include your blog in his new blogs post on Saturdays.  (Wait until you have a dozen or so posts so people will catch the flavor of your blog when they visit.)
  • Read others' blogs and leave comments.
  • When people visit your blog and leave comments on your blog posts, respond to them with a thank you or, if they've asked a question, answer it.  And then pay a call to their blogs and leave comments.

Most of all, enjoy the time with your ancestors and sharing what you're learning about them.

Another post, Blog Layout:  10 Simple Tips at A Beautiful Mess, offers some additional excellent suggestions along with graphics to illustrate.


© 2014 Copyright by Nancy Messier. All rights reserved.


  1. I'm so glad you mentioned font style and size. I've visited blogs where I can't appreciate WHAT they've said because I've been distracted by the appearance or difficulty of reading.

    1. Yes, I've had that problem, too, Wendy. I think most of us want beautiful blogs, and that's important, but I think maybe legibility is most important in a family history blog, at least if we want people to do more than look at images.

  2. I do like your own blog layout, Nancy. Great advice here, thank you.

    1. Thank you, Dara. I used the images just as a comparison about width. I know there are many templates and arrangements that work really well.

  3. Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/07/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-july-4-2014.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thank you, Jana. I appreciate my post being included. I hope you had a great Fourth!

  4. Great post, with some very good practical advise!

  5. A nice post Nancy. I too have mentioned it in this week's Saturday Serendipity.

    1. Thank you, John. How kind of you! I appreciate it.

  6. Thanks for this post Nancy. I appreciate your good advice and having it easily referenced for the future. You are really good at this I hope you know! Who knew that I would enjoy reading about your ancestors.

    1. You're welcome, Kathleen. I chuckled when I read your comment because I was the same way when I first started blogging. I think most family historians enjoy talking and writing about their own ancestors more than reading or hearing about anyone else's and yet, when you find a well- written blog (or even just a post or two here and there) it can be interesting. I don't know that I'm so good at it (I don't really have very many regular readers) but I do enjoy writing. Thanks, again.

  7. Great advice! Most important to me (when I'm exploring a new blog and trying to decide if I want to follow it) is layout - is it easy to read; proofread - too many typos drives me nuts; and a separate page with a list of surnames and locations, if that's applicable to the blog.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Yes, yes, and yes, I agree with all three of the things you like to see in a blog. Another aspect of a blog that I appreciate is clear writing that doesn't create confusion in my mind. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  8. Nancy~
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I remember the hours I spent balancing a copy of "Blogging for Dummies" on my knee, leaning over my Jurassic desk-top, trying to type and re-reading everything at least 16 times! Finally, I got the idea to set up a duplicate or "lab rat" blog where I could try out new things and widgets and settings without killing my "real" blog. As a matter of fact, I just deleted the good ol' lab rat recently. It was kind of like separating from my security blanket!
    Good Post!
    Kassie aka "Mom"
    author of also unmatched url and blog named "Maybe someone should write that down..."

    1. Hi, Kassie --
      You're welcome for the trip down memory lane. I think a lot of us do the second, private blog so we can keep our real blogs "clean." I still have mine but I haven't used it for a few years. I keep thinking there might come a time when I'll want to try out something without going public with it. I usually learn by reading but for some reason, I didn't do that with blogging. It was all trial and error (with lots of errors!).

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

  9. Just popped in , Nancy , via Jenny Lanctot's blog. Lovely colors and design, Great article on blog building. Thanks fo rthe Ohio/ Pennsylvania links.

    1. You're welcome for the Ohio/Pennsylvania links. I'm always on the lookout, especially for my families' counties. Thanks for your kind words, too.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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