Archive for the ‘Genealogy Conferences’ Category

Getting Ready for FGS

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Once again it’s time to get ready to head out to a major genealogy event so we can get to know more potential lookup providers and clients.  Genlighten will be attending the FGS Annual Conference in Philadelphia September 3-6.  If you’re planning on being there too, we’d love to have you stop by and say hi (or even grab a chocolate or two.)  We’ll be in booth #316.

Genlighten: we’re kinda like “x” for “y”

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I love it when someone at a genealogy conference stops by our exhibit booth and says “So, what exactly is Genlighten?” (usually while unwrapping a chocolate from our candy bowl). As you can imagine, I’ve given lots of different answers to that question over the past year.

How I answer the question “What does your site do?”

An example: I often tell a story about wanting to get an obituary for one of my ancestors from Jefferson County, New York and how nice it would be to find a local researcher in Theresa or Watertown who could track it down for me. “Genlighten helps you do that,” I say.

But most of the time I try to get out a simple, succinct “elevator pitch” — something like:

“We’re an Internet-enabled, human-powered search and retrieval network for genealogical documents;” or

“We connect you with local researchers who can help you find the genealogical records you’re looking for.”

Sometimes people get the concept right off, but often they don’t. They seem to need something to mentally compare us to… an existing business concept that they already grasp.

A “high concept” startup

Over time, I’ve tried to improve on our elevator pitches and craft a phrase positioning Genlighten as what Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners calls a “high concept startup“. That’s where you describe your business model using an analogy to an existing business that people already know well. The best I’ve come up with in this vein is probably:

“We’re kinda like eBay for genealogy document retrieval services.”

But there are several problems with that one. First, not everyone likes eBay, particularly lately. Also, Genlighten isn’t focused on bidding or auctions of genealogical services, so the analogy doesn’t really hold that well. Plus, at least one other genealogy-oriented startup is now using the eBay analogy — and it fits them better.

When I learned about Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade-crafts, I tried saying “We’re kinda like Etsy for genealogy lookups”, but few inside the genealogy community seemed to get the reference.

Tapping the wisdom of our exhibit booth visitors

On more than one occasion, visitors to the booth have come up with their own high-concept pitch for us. I heard it again a few nights ago at the IAJGS Conference here in Chicago:

“So, you’re kinda like Random Acts, only you’re not free.”

This one made me cringe the first time I heard it, at the FGS meeting in Ft. Wayne, Indiana over a year ago. It still does a little, though it’s actually starting to grow on me with time. It’s true, we are a little like Random Acts — we help you find people who can find genealogical records — and it’s also true that we’re not free. But we differ from Random Acts in several highly important ways, and those differences are part of why we feel justified charging for our services.

How is Genlighten different from Random Acts?

If you’re not already familiar with it, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) is a marvelous website that lists volunteers willing to perform genealogical lookups for free (or for just the cost of copies or gas). It embodies the spirit of volunteerism that powers much of the genealogical community: researchers help other researchers without expecting to be paid for their time.

I’m always honored to be compared to RAOGK, but of course our business model is significantly different than theirs! We want to help lookup providers get paid for their time and expertise (not just their expenses) in retrieving genealogy documents. And we aim to make money ourselves in return for the service our site provides. I discussed our “value proposition” in an earlier post. Here are some specific ways I think Genlighten will be different from RAOGK — different, that is, in a good way:

  • We’ll provide a simple way to enable messaging back and forth between lookup clients and providers without the need to exchange e-mail or regular mail addresses. This should enhance privacy and security and help minimize spam.
  • Each of our providers will have the chance to create a profile describing their genealogy background and experience so clients can make an informed choice when competing providers are available in a given area.
  • When providers are out of town or on vacation, they’ll be able to temporarily put their lookup offerings on hold. That way, clients won’t have to wait for weeks wondering why they haven’t gotten a response to their lookup requests.
  • The site will provide an online payment interface with state-of-the-art security, allowing clients to order lookups conveniently using credit cards or electronic checks.
  • Providers will deliver the documents they find by uploading scanned digital images to our site. Clients can then download the the documents they ordered immediately without having to wait for them to come in the mail.
  • Clients will be able to rate and review each of our providers based on their reliability, responsiveness, and customer service.
  • The combination of client ratings, researcher profiles, and fees set by the providers will create a strong sense of accountability that will allow our users to order lookups from our providers with confidence.

Still in search of the right analogy

So we’re not really like eBay, and we differ in important ways from RAOGK, and we’re a little like Etsy but that probably doesn’t mean much to you. What then is our ideal high-concept elevator pitch? As you probably guessed right from the start of this post, I’m still working on it. And I’d welcome any suggestions that readers of this blog might have.

On the road again…

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

After a month with almost no genealogy-related travel, the Genlighten outreach team (my wife and me) will be manning our exhibit booth at several genealogical conferences in August:

Midwestern Roots, August 15-16

This conference is sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society and will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Speakers will include Dick Eastman, Susan Kaufman, David Lifferth, Stephen Morse, Beau Sharbrough, and Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, among others.  Several local archives and repositories, including The Indiana State Archives, the Indiana State Library Genealogy Division and the Indiana Historical Society’s William Henry Smith Memorial Library will extend their hours and offer special workshops before and during the conference.

International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 17-22

We couldn’t miss this one, seeing as it’s being held right in downtown Chicago (almost in our backyard, if you don’t count the drive down the Edens or on the Outer Drive.)  From reading the program, JewishGen 2008 appears to offer an unusually wide variety of presentations (including an extensive film festival!) and a strong emphasis on learning to use local resources.  In particular, a large number of cemetery visits and excursions to local libraries and museums in the Chicagoland area are planned.  Sources and techniques specific to Jewish genealogical research are of course given extensive coverage (with a significant emphasis on Eastern European resources).  Advance registration is still available.

Stop by and see us!

I’d like to extend a special invitation to readers of this blog to stop by our exhibit booth at either of these two conferences coming up in August.  Feel free to grab a chocolate or two from our bowl and say hi.  We’d love to meet you!

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #8

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

A questioner from the audience wants to know how to get info they want to share to bloggers. Dick points out the function of comments at the bottom of a blog post. He suggests she start her own. The questioner doesn’t want to, but just wants to e-mail her ideas to a blogger for them to post. Many on the panel indicate a willingness to do so, if the content fits.

More on comments. Steve admires the way Dick handles the negative comments he gets on his blog.

An audience member asks how to attract traffic to her blog. Shelly suggests focus and differentiation. Something unique, something niche. Before you think about traffic, think about your audience, and about what you’re going to address that’s different. If it is, people will come.

Randy suggests commenting on others’ blogs, participating in the Carnival of Genealogy. The genealogy blogger community is very accepting of newcomers. We know how hard it can be. Randy again mentions his visit with me at the booth yesterday. My gratified response that he had read my blog despite how new it is.

Dick returns to the topic of RSS. Has brought up the reader he uses. Demonstrates it to the group.

A questioner asks about which software to use to get a blog started. Steve demonstrates Blogger. Randy explains how Blogger hand-holds for you, gives you templates, let’s you have complete control, almost intuitive. Steve talks about WordPress and its various versions. George also uses Blogger. He notes that these sites have space limitations, which may be an issue for those with who put up a lot of images. Dick uses Typepad (which isn’t free). Suggests starting with a free site. Shelly suggests using colors on your blog with good contrast and readability.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #7

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Dick says he gave up on trying to enforce copyright infringement. He changed his copyright statement to let others use them for free. Now people steal his material and give him credit. He avoids the ulcer. Dick brings up Greg’s/Craig’s post about the Megan microphone incident. Laughter all around!

I went to approve a pingback from WordPress on an earlier post and missed Shelly’s comments about the decline of print publications and the advantages of sharing and connecting with others through her content.

Dick mentions that he gets more readers via e-mail than he does on the web. E-mail remains his most effective way to distribute info… his subscribers don’t always want to go to the web. George concurs.

Leland mentions RSS feeds (I raised my hand to ask about that too!) Steve has us scroll down to the bottom of his site, where you can subscribe to his site. Dick uses NetNewsWire and describes the basis advantages of RSS. The numbers onscreen climb as the reader retrieves the various feeds. Sounds like RSS is still something that many are unfamiliar with.

One of the bloggers in the room has taken a picture and posted it to her blog. Another picture is taken of the panelists looking at themselves on someone’s blog. Entirely too meta!

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #6

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Leland asks what kind of posts generate the most traffic? Megan says she doesn’t keep track of her stats. The “Annie” story generated a lot of comments, and the Genealogue parodied her, which also made her feel she’d arrived. Touts the utility of Facebook Groups… particularly for her new project on un-identified deceased persons. Has generated a surprising amount of interest and engagement.

Randy talks about “blog-a-lanches” — big responses to particular posts. Says when he links to Terry, or posts a comment on another blogger’s site, he’ll see a traffic surge. Saw this when he commented on Dick’s post about Ancestry/Rootsweb. Steve’s had the same experience… wrote a post for the Carnival of Genealogy about ethics in writing family histories. Dick commented on it, then e-mails started coming in requesting copies. Steve does check his stats. Notes his numbers are similar to Randy’s.

A questioner from the audience asks, do your blogs lead to authoring opportunities? What about copyright issues? Steve answers that anything you post is copyrighted by default. Protecting your material from infringement is another story. Craig from the audience verifies this. His URL is

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #5

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Shelly admits that since she started her blog, she doesn’t have as much time to do her own research! She also likes the Carnival of Genealogy. Used the prompts to motivate her to discuss her own unique ancestors. A few months ago, a Russian cousin found her through her blog and mentioned his work on time travel. Couldn’t grasp why genealogists would be interested in that!

“He’s chased his ancestors all his life… he’s gone to get the answers” will be George’s epitath on his tombstone.

Dick has mentioned one of his elusive ancestors on his blog, and has yet to get any helpful info as a result.

Leland alludes to the addictive nature of blogging. He has at times felt that if he or Dick didn’t mention something, it wouldn’t get mentioned. Felt obligated to get the news out. Now he doesn’t feel as guilt-driven, since he has so many blogging compatriots. Kimberley Powell, Julianna Smith were among the early contributors.

Leland talks about taking Google ads. They do make money, evidently! He also publicizes stuff about Everton’s, since they pay his salary. Not a bad way to make a living. Dick says it’s a part of his income, but not all of it. Do the rest of you generate any income from your blog, Leland asks? There’s a clear hesitancy on the panelists part to discuss this topic.

Dick shares an interesting experience. He has wi-fi in his van. On a Footnote user experience trip a ways back, he drove the van while the Footnote engineers worked on the site. Impressive.

Randy doesn’t receive income. Thinks Google ads not worth the effort. He doesn’t have enough traffic… has about 1/10 of Dick’s traffic. Doesn’t take ads or freebies, wants to be independent. Sounds like there might be a little competition among the panelists about license plates. Dick doesn’t take the bait on the “independence” topic. Interesting.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #4

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Leland asks about the news focus. What do the different bloggers cover?

Shelly maintains her focus on all things JewishGen… that’s what her audience is looking for from her. George uses his society blog to get the word out about all genealogy events nearby in Florida. Wants to put together a blog for regional west coast genealogy societies. Steve’s is most focused on a particular family. He wonders why he gets so many visitors? He thinks some come just to follow his translation/transcriptions as a template for their own. Dick navigates to Steve’s blog so we can all see it. Or tries to, since the network connection is not working.

Steve also keeps a calendar of local genealogical society events on his blog, which brings a sizeable amount of traffic. From talking with people at the California Genealogical Society, he thinks there’s a real need for this service. Megan mentions how helpful she finds Steve’s blog as a source of Slavic info — “someone’s blogging about my people.”

George points out that blogging isn’t that hard. He taught a workshop, and in the lobby afterwards, several mentioned to him that they had just launched their own blogs based on his tutorial.

The room is now closer to full — about 60 in the room. Shelly mentions how she gets lots of questions addressed to her at her blog. She’d love to discuss their questions publicly, but most are reluctant to have her do that.

Dick and collaborators have got the Internet working, and we’re looking at Shelly’s blog. Her posts reflect her journalistic background — they’re well composed and show a great deal of polish.

Randy suggests that genealogy blogs are like a cafe — you can pick and choose: Jewish, French-Canadian, Italian, African-American, etc.. One of the things he uses his for is to write down his own memories. Touts the Carnival of Genealogy. A group of 40 bloggers take a prompt, and post about their own genealogy in response. By viewing the Carnival, you can get to know new bloggers. 200-300 are probably posting on a daily basis.

Leland asks if Randy gets feedback on his personal family history posts… do relatives contact him? Since his blog is on blogger, Google finds his content quickly. Sometimes within hours of a post, distant relatives will respond to what he’s put up about his family.

Steve points out that when he searches for his family history online, he now often is pointed to his own blog! But it’s an advantage that blogs are searchable, whereas family info on Rootsweb is not.

George had an experience when someone posted a death certificate of one of his ancestors on his blog in response to a post. Cried sitting at the computer. Powerful.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #3

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Over to Steve Danko. Started a few days after Megan and Randy. Wanted to share info about his ancestors with others. Set out to host his documents online and give his relatives and others access to them, along with a transcription and a translation. He heard from the Genealogy Guys’ podcast how to set up a blog. Was also inspired by another early blogger. Blogged about a Polish Genealogy conference and got a big response. Posts once per day. Has connected with cousins in Poland and the UK, as well as many others. Has been very rewarding for him.

Shelly comes from a journalism background. Wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post on genealogy. JTA came to her and asked her to be their first blogger. She averred (I’m older than 20!). Maintains she needed a lot of handholding and tech help. In 2006, she started by blogging from the International Jewish Gen conference. Posts consistently 5-8x per day. Main focus is Jewish Genealogy. Has enjoyed meeting interesting colleagues through the process. Glad she wasn’t afraid to start.

Randy admits he’s a geneaholic, even has the shirt to prove it. His wife has one too! In April 2006, he said to himself, “I could do something like that”. He’s found that content is difficult to come by. By May, he was inspired in the shower to name it “Geneamusings”. Two years later, about 2000 posts. 2-3 per day unless he’s with his grandchildren or on a cruise! He’s president of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society, which he’s working hard to grow. Has started a blog for the Society, which provides outreach on a daily basis.

Randy’s themes have changed over time. Used to look for strange names in the census (“census whacking”). Doesn’t post all the genealogy news, but likes to comment on it. Still active as a genealogist. Interested in software, doing reviews of each. Mentions new websites (including us… thanks Randy!). Likes to post screenshots of his experience with new databases. Likes to be funny if he can (he often is!) Leland asks Randy’s wife if he does anything else.

Liveblogging the Genealogy Blogger Summit — #2

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

We’re just about to get underway. Dick Eastman’s blog is being projected on the screen to the panelists’ right. Will the panelists be walking us through their respective blogs one by one? Since I access the genealogy blogs I read almost exclusively via RSS, I don’t tend to see the latest ads and other content on the blogs themselves. Feedburner isn’t yet to the point where it offers me genealogy-related ads in my genealogy-related feeds.

OK, Dick Eastman has taken his seat. Paula of SCGS is offering a quick intro. She thinks this is the premier session at their Jamboree. Shelly asks the bloggers in the audience to raise their hand. I tentatively raise mine (do four posts make me a blogger?)

Leland’s discussing his deafness problem, and gets lots of laughs about how he may say some odd things based on how he’s able to interpret what the panelists and audience members will be saying. He wants to make this a fun exercise. Blogging is addictive, stressful and stress-relieving, he comments, but it can also be a lot of fun. Of 25 posts we would make a day early on, most were simply news items he ran across.

Dick starts. Apologizes for the ads at the top of his site. He started a weekly newsletter, now it’s daily. Began writing about blogs, it dawned on him that he had been writing one himself. When he began talking about them, got a lot of blank stares. Typically posts 1-3 times per day. What’s different about his? Free and per-pay section.

Megan’s next. She blogs in several forms. Started about April 2006. Hers is “utterly random”. Hard to keep it going. Very irregular: 2x per day to once per week. She views Roots TV as a kind of blogging on steroids.
Also mentions Facebook. Even easier than blogging. Genealogists are joining Facebook. Already, someone has blogged about her talk last night. Microphone dropped down her pants. She was quoted as saying “that was an interesting sensation.” Randy’s comment “but was that a geneagasm”. Laughter all around.

George Morgan takes the microphone. Started “Along These Lines”. Had to stop because he just didn’t have the time, with all the other stuff he’s been doing. His local society has gone to a blog format, ditching paper newsletters. Only two members objected. Co-hosts Genealogy Guys podcast. Makes some money from sponsorships.