Archive for the ‘Follow Friday’ Category

Follow Friday:

Saturday, May 1st, 2010


The folks at have been our booth neighbors this week in the NGS Exhibit Hall. It’s their first genealogy conference as an exhibitor and they’re getting an enthusiastic response from attendees. I’ve only got a few early impressions of their startup at this point, but from what I’ve seen, I think they’re building something that’s going to make a big impact in the online genealogy space. Here’s why:

  • AppleTree is aiming to build a single comprehensive “family tree of the world that “we all belong to”, echoing the vision of NewFamilySearch and several private companies.
  • Their founder Scott Mueller is a serial entrepreneur, the veteran of several startups that have seen successful exits.
  • AppleTree has earned venture backing from a top-shelf VC firm, which gives them the runway they need to hire talented people and develop crucial features at a rapid pace.
  • AppleTree’s business model appears to involve a combination of advertising and paid media hosting, while the basic tree functionality will be free to users for the foreseeable future. This differentiates them from Geni, which has pursued a slightly different freemium / virtual goods model and largely avoided ads to this point.
  • They appear to be working hard on integration with NewFamilySearch, claiming “We are the only way to link media with people, events, locations and sources in New FamilySearch.” The folks at Photoloom would dispute that point, but such competing claims are to be expected.

I’m excited to see energetic and visionary new startups tackling the goals that AppleTree is going after. I think they’re worth paying attention to, and they’re my Follow Friday recommendation for this week.

Follow Friday: John Newmark’s “TransylvanianDutch” blog

Friday, April 9th, 2010


Thus far, I’ve tried to avoid writing “Follow Friday” posts focusing on bloggers who’ve already been recommended by others. Today I’m breaking with that tradition. Randy Seaver highlighted John Newmark’s TransylvanianDutch (TD) blog back in January. Like Randy, I’m a fan of John’s blog title, his Amanuensis Monday meme,  and his “Weekly Genealogy Picks” posts (I aspire to become one of John’s picks someday.) In this post I’ll offer some additional reasons why I think you should add TD to your blogroll or feed reader.

Breadth, Depth and Humor, Too

Here are some things I particularly enjoy about TransvlvanianDutch:

  • John covers a lot (a lot!) of different geographic areas and ethnicities in posts about his own research: Transvlvania, of course, but also Hungary, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Canada, the UK, plus Missouri and Illinois. St. Louis gets a lot of attention, which suits me just fine since I have ancestors from there who I need help with.
  • Though he writes many short and breezy posts, John occasionally goes into long-form mode and gives extensive details on a particular research technique, historical event, or record collection from his archives.
  • TD boasts several nice topical indexes in the left-hand side bar: you can easily search the blog by surname, locality, or geneablogging meme.
  • In addition to the main blog, John has a link bar across the top of his homepage that leads to several helpful resource compilations, including specific ones for Illinois and Missouri resources and another that lists sources specific to his own research. Browsing through these, you get a sense for John’s own research process.
  • His writing style is approachable, uncluttered, and often graced with gentle touches of humor.
  • His posts tend to contain a generous supply of links worth following.
  • He shares types of records that other blogs don’t tend to mention, including interviews, poetry, music, and themed lists of names from censuses.

All in all, by following TransylvanianDutch, you’ll be getting quality genealogy content that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

Follow Friday: Mavis Jones and her “Georgia Black Crackers” / “Conversations With My Ancestors” blogs

Friday, March 26th, 2010


I tend to use three primary criteria in picking genealogy blogs to add to my Google Reader subscription list:

  1. Are they fun to read? [Like most of us, I like to be entertained!]
  2. Do they teach me new skills and resources that can assist me with my own research? [I'm acutely aware of how much I have to learn to become a more serious amateur genealogist.]
  3. Do they lead me to crucial local repositories and researchers that I think Genlighten users should get to know? [Forgive me for thinking strategically from time to time!]

Both of Mavis Jones’ blogs, “Georgia Black Crackers” and “Conversations With My Ancestors” meet all three:

  • Her posts are well-thought out and organized, divided up into bite-size chunks, yet still flowing comfortably from one idea to the next. Even when she’s covering fairly technical topics, her writing remains warm, personal, and engaging.
  • I’ve learned a lot from her about Ancestral DNA and about Slave Schedules. Hers are the first posts on genetic genealogy that I’ve actually been motivated to read all the way through. Perhaps that’s because they’re written from the perspective of someone new to the field, as I am. Also, it was her recent posts mentioning Slave Schedules that got me to look to see if my Merryman ancestors from Baltimore owned slaves. Though it was highly unpleasant to discover that they did (more on that in another post) it was information I needed to learn eventually, and it was Mavis that motivated me to do so.
  • Mavis is from North Carolina, and she keeps separate blogs about her paternal (North Carolina) and her maternal (mostly Georgia) ancestors. Both of them feature attractive designs, lots of photos, and in-depth step-by-step discussions of her research processes. Her posts show a great deal of care and attention to detail. She highlights key resources (both online and offline) and even mentions knocking on doors in communities where her ancestors lived in order to get to know them better.

Already in the few months I’ve been reading her blogs, Mavis has taught me a great deal. I suspect she’ll do the same for you, and I heartily recommend you explore both of them and add them to your feed reader.

Follow Friday: Tim Agazio’s Genealogy Reviews Online

Friday, March 19th, 2010


Tim’s was among the first blogs I subscribed to via RSS back when I first started blogging in July of 2008. I figured with a title like “Genealogy Reviews Online“, his blog would be a good model for what I hoped mine might eventually become.

Since then, though I’ve written the occasional genealogy-related review, I’ve mostly ceded that blogging topic to better-qualified writers like Tim who are willing to spend the time it takes to really explore a website or software package and give it an in-depth treatment.

Giving “Contrarian” a Good Name

Tim’s blog isn’t just about reviews. He spends a fair amount of his posts talking about his own research efforts, and as a result talks a lot about military history, Italian records, and DNA/Genetic research.

What keeps me coming back to his blog, though, is his willingness to take a somewhat contrarian view on genealogy-related topics. Most of the geneabloggers I encounter (Tamura Jones and Randy Seaver being the obvious exceptions) post reviews of new genealogy sites or services (or reality TV shows!) that they like, but Tim’s quite happy to write about resources and commercial entities that he *doesn’t* like and offers well-articulated reasons for his opinions.

Credibility and Authenticity

Tim also writes about blogging as a source of income and offers a tasteful selection of advertising/affiliate links on his site. That’s not something I see myself doing, but his implementation of it is one of the most innocuous I’ve seen.

Something about his writing and his content selection gives off an air of credibility and authenticity that is common to the best blogs I’ve found. Others seem to think so too… he’s got way more RSS subscribers than I do and he gets a consistent stream of thoughtful comments on his posts.

If you don’t already read Genealogy Reviews Online, I’d recommend you do — Tim’s unique take on genealogy and the web in general will leave you better-informed than you were when you came.

Follow Friday: Joe Beine’s Genealogy Roots Blog

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

fair_angelsRecently on Genlighten we’ve had an influx of new users registering for the site and posting lookup offerings. While most of them represent exactly what we have in mind — local researchers visiting nearby repositories to retrieve and digitize records that are only available offline — some have gone in a different direction than we’d like to see.

These “lookups from online sources” have offered to look up records for a fee that are already available on Footnote or the FamilySearch Record Pilot for free. We see nothing inherently wrong with this (presuming the client is made aware of the free alternative should they wish to search it themselves) but it doesn’t really fit the vision we have for Genlighten.

Genlighten is all about Offline genealogy records

Just as Footnote calls themselves “The place for original historical documents online” we’d like to be, in part at least, “the place to get help retrieving original offline historical documents”. That’s how we’d like to position/differentiate ourselves relative to our competitors. It’s become obvious that we need to spell that out more clearly on our site and in our promotional materials, and you’ll see us doing that in the weeks and months ahead.

In the meantime, one of the things we’re now doing is reviewing each new lookup offering we get before letting it go “live” and making sure that the records the provider offers to search aren’t already available online for free. A great place for us to go and check this out is Joe Beine‘s marvelous sites listing birth/marriage records and death records available online. [He has several other sites worth checking out for other record types as well.]

Joe’s performed a tremendous service for genealogy researchers everywhere. He’s constantly updating his sites; when he does, he lists those updates on his Genealogy Roots Blog. You won’t find a lot of posts here about Joe’s own research or on the usual geneablogging memes — just high-quality links and actionable advice on places you can find the records you want (usually for free!)

If you’re not already following Joe’s blog, I encourage you to do so… you’ll come back again and again and find stuff you never would have guessed was online.

Follow Friday: Beth Bandy’s “Farms, Creeks & Hollows” blog

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

beth2My main mode of discovery for new genealogy blogs lately has been to look through the most active and interesting people I follow on Twitter and pursue their “Web” links to see what they point to. I’ve often been intrigued by “ResearcherB”‘s Tweets so tonight I visited her blog for the first time. It passed the “frequently updated, original content, quality writing” test, and I’ve added it to my Google Reader subscriptions. Here’s what I like about Beth Bandy’s blog, “Farms, Creeks & Hollows.”

  • The frequency of her posting has increased steadily since she began her blog last August. She’s already reached the stage where she’s posting new discoveries and insights daily… that’s a level that it took me a year-and-a-half to attain.
  • She’s researching in localities that are of interest to me, like Massachusetts, Kentucky, New York, and Northern Ireland.
  • There’s a strong theme of mystery and problem-solving to her posts, which draws me in and makes her narratives entertaining to read.
  • Beth’s got plenty of photos and documents to share, including a bunch she brought back from a recent visit to the FHL in Salt Lake. I look forward to hearing more analysis of her finds there.

From her Twitter stream, it looks like Beth’s involved in her local genealogical community as well, volunteering to help a local historical society digitize its photo collection and fulfilling Find A Grave requests.  To me, that sets her apart and makes me even more interested in what she has to say.

I’d encourage you to visit Beth’s blog and peruse her recent posts. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she’s @ResearcherB.

Follow Friday: Jean Hibben’s Circlemending blog

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

jean_wilcox_hibbenI first met Jean at the St. George Family History Expo last year. She and her husband Butch had an exhibit booth near mine, and Butch played tunes on his saw occasionally throughout the day in the exhibit hall. That got my attention and I was soon able to visit their booth and get to know them. We met again at the Colorado FHE a few months later. I found we had several things in common: in particular, she grew up in Wilmette Illinois where we now live! That led to Jean and Butch giving one of their marvelous musical/historical programs to members of our Stake in Chicago not long afterwards.

Jean’s blog  — Circlemending — combines the two main passions that my wife and I share: genealogy and music, particularly folk music. Jean frequently melds the two topics together marvelously in her posts. An example: she writes about the banjo that belonged to her great grandmother, which she had restored and now plays in her presentations.

Jean shares photographs, artifacts, dates, and places from her own family history (mostly via popular geneablogging memes like Tombstone Tuesday and Wordless Wednesday.) But you can tell she’s most in her element as a writer when she leans back and tells her ancestors’ stories. No doubt her Ph.D. in folklore has something to do with that.

If you’re looking for a pleasant, relaxing geneablog experience with a warm and entertaining storyteller who’s also a board-certified genealogist, you can’t do much better than Jean’s Circlemending blog. Give it a try!

Follow Friday: Taneya’s Genealogy Blog

Friday, February 19th, 2010

taneya_facemangaIt’s high time I offered my Follow Friday endorsement of Taneya’s Genealogy Blog. Taneya Koonce is an absolute dynamo when it comes to online genealogy content. She maintains six separate blogs covering newspaper research and specific county resources for numerous localities in North Carolina. She runs her own TNG-powered personal genealogy site. She’s the webmaster for seven different USGenWeb sites, including the main one for North Carolina. All of these sites display a professionalism in content, design, and functionality that is sorely lacking in many Geocities-era pages out there on the web.

Her main blog covers pretty much every topic you’d expect from a top-tier member of the geneablogging community: her own surnames and favorite research localities; reviews of books, genealogy gadgets and web resources; geneablogging memes like Tombstone Tuesday and loads of personal research stories. Her stellar NCGebWeb work gets frequent mention too.

In a recent post, she riffed on Amy Coffin’s “52 Weeks to Better Genealogy“ challenge and talked about how she’d reached out to the WorldCat folks and even snagged a guest blogging stint as a result.

Of course, I’m a little biased, since Taneya is one of our providers and offers genealogy lookups for Tennessee. But if you don’t already have Taneya’s Genealogy Blog bookmarked or subscribed in your feed reader, I heartily recommend that you do.

Follow Friday: Lessons From My Ancestors — Sara Beth Davis

Friday, February 5th, 2010

When my wife and I were first thinking about creating Genlighten, we tried to imagine who should make up our initial target audience. We actually found it easier to decide who it wouldn’t be:

  • Complete beginners, we thought, would be too focused on tapping all the online resources, both free and fee-based. They wouldn’t be ready to look for offline records and thus wouldn’t have a need for Genlighten yet.
  • Certified professional genealogists might eventually make use of us once we’d earned a solid positive reputation, but we didn’t expect many of them to be among Genlighten’s “early adopters.”

We finally settled on two categories of genealogy enthusiasts who we hoped would become, respectively, Genlighten’s first buyers and sellers:

  • Advanced beginner/intermediate genealogists — those just starting to explore offline records by visiting archives or ordering records from remote repositories — would be our initial clients
  • Transitional” genealogists — those contemplating the leap into the ranks of professional genealogy but not quite there yet — would be our initial providers.

It hasn’t worked out as we expected (almost nothing about this adventure has!) but I can still say that it really warms my heart when I meet someone on Twitter or at a genealogy conference who I find fits one of those two profiles.

Which brings me (finally!) to my Follow Friday recommendation for this week: Sarah Beth Davis, author of the Lessons From My Ancestors blog.


In the “About Me” section of her blog, Sara says:

I never really explored anything other than what my family had already and what I could find free online.  For the past two years I have been becoming what I like to call a “recreational genealogist”.  I research when I have time (usually a few hours every weekend) and am using online resources that are available.  In the future I would like to take my research offline by ordering vital records certificates and visiting archives.

That’s exactly what we’re hoping to help all sorts of people do: begin to document their genealogy research using offline records.

Sara writes in a warm and open personal style, mostly about her key surnames, brickwall people, and research discoveries. She’s also a strong presence among the genealogy community on Twitter (one of the most prolific among those I follow) and I love her Twitter “handle”: @InnerCompass.

She’s had some marvelous experiences discovering the diary of her ancestor Sylvia Lewis. It’s her “Sylvia’s Diary” posts that first caught my attention on Twitter. Sara says:

Sylvia is my maternal 5th great-grandmother and her diaries have opened by eyes to a world of struggles, migration, and joy.

The title of her blog says it well: “Lessons From My Ancestors”. I encourage you to subscribe to Sara’s blog… and learn those lessons right along with her.

Follow Friday: Behold Genealogy and Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I like to think that our blog is fairly unique in offering an insider chronicle of the travails of building a genealogy startup. But I tend to be pretty circumspect in sharing our technical struggles, bug fixes, and product roadmap. Louis Kessler, on the other hand, let’s it all hang out. Louis is the visionary behind Behold Genealogy. For this week’s Follow Friday recommendation, I’d like to encourage you to get to know Louis and his plan to “Change the Way Genealogists Work” by subscribing to the Behold Blog.

Software that Focuses on the Output Report Instead of the Input Form

beholdheaderFrom what I can tell, Behold is designed with the end in mind, and acts more like a word processor for top-notch genealogy reports than an “enter names in a blank pedigree chart” data-gathering tool. I haven’t used Behold yet so I can’t offer a recommendation one way or the other, but I’m completely drawn in by Louis’ passion for his product and his innovative thinking about what genealogy software can and should do.

GEDCOMs, Programming, Bug Reports, Future Plans

Here are some of the topics you’ll read about in Louis’ blog:

  • Arcane details of how GEDCOM files are constructed and processed (harder than you probably think!)
  • Louis’ daily battles with software bugs (in Delphi no less!), much of them fought well after midnight
  • His painstaking efforts to construct error messages that are helpful to his users
  • The bugs he can’t fix on his own, and his humble efforts to get help from StackOverflow (where he’s also a regular contributor)

And that’s just the last few months… Louis has been at this for almost eight years!

As you can tell, I have a lot of admiration for Louis’ openness, persistence, and pride in his craft. You won’t find a lot of details of Louis’ genealogy research in his postings, but you can tell he’s channeling his love and respect for his ancestors into his software development efforts. If you want to gain a sense for the work that goes into that shrink-wrapped genealogy software you bought, the Behold Blog is a good place to get it.