I've just finished reading an interesting, scholarly book The Island of the Seven Cities
by Paul Chiasson. The author is an Acadian, hailing from the small Canadian island of Cape Breton, and I was much struck when he noted that his family can trace their local ancestors back into the 1600s. I doubt many North Americans could say the same, our corner of the world being such a fascinating, mixed-up melting pot. History indicates that, at one time, earlier peoples kept excellent oral track of their forebears, but the alteration from oral culture to written culture let mankind's memory get lazy, and if things weren't written down, they were forgotten. Keyword research and Google searches indicate that people aren't happy with this trend toward oblivion, and the following figures show me that, each month, thousands of people are trying to fill in the holes of their pasts:
genealogy - 580,090
surname - 49,406
Add to these an almost endless possibility for long-tail terms and you're talking about some pretty respectable numbers.
Running a Google search for a common surname like Morris
shows that there are some 833,000 documents in the index for this name. I have done a fair amount of genealogical research over the past few years, and have noticed that the SERPs are frequently dominated by monster sites that appear to have catalogued nearly every surname known to man, but are offering content of limited quality for many of the names. Sites like About.com, for example, are more of an obstacle than a help when one is researching family history. Many other sites are spammy, offering documentation for 'free', only to demand that you pay up after you've worked your way through a maze of pages and forms.
However, if the searcher digs deeply, he may be lucky enough to find a homemade website being webmastered by someone with a personal interest in a certain surname or family tree. These sites can often provide extremely valuable clues and gems of information for the researcher. Yet, predominantly, the presentation of the information suffers from serious usability issues and there may not even be a way to contact the siteowner to ask questions or contribute what you know to the body of information.
Having had this experience repeatedly, it suddenly struck me how ideal the format of a blog would be for anyone interested in publishing their genealogy research online. Posts would consist of whatever findings the author gathered as his research progressed, and these could be broken down into categories by century, country, state or other appropriate subheadings. Even better than this, however, would be the awesome potential of the comments function. Think of how quickly your long lost cousin from County Cork could speak to you, tell you he's got the documents for the farmhouse the English stole from your family in 1822, and explain that you've left Uncle Patrick out of your family tree! The rapidity with which information could be exchanged and then permanently documented would greatly surpass the more awkward setup of any static website. And, getting a good blogging platform like Wordpress would make not only the organization of the site, but also its usability, very smooth.
Statistics indicate that there are millions of people eagerly looking for information about their roots, and being the author to provide the answers they're looking for may be beneficial in more ways that one. Firstly, the input of the commenting public could greatly increase the blogger's knowledge about his subject. Secondly, the blog could be monetized with something like Google Adsense to bring in an income stream via ads for genealogy services, relevant books, family crest artists, etc. This is a subject about which people feel extremely passionate, and I believe it would lend itself to very convincing blogging as well as the potential for income.
I have published several genealogical papers over the past few years, in a static format, with an email address included for anyone wishing to contact me. My mother's family name is connected with both the Viking Sagas and the Arthurian legends. My father's rather astonishing background includes European royalty and, believe it or not, Pocohantas. Talk about great subjects for writing compelling copy! Even with the static articles, I receive email every month from people who have read my writing and want to ask questions or share the pieces of the puzzle held in their family lore. I am convinced that if I wanted to write about genealogy on a daily basis, putting it into a blog format with a great matched keyword domain could result in an abundant readership and superior user generated content. I don't personally have the time to do this, but I'd love to see it done.
On the downside, the text-based Internet seems to confirm that we will never again attain the vast capacity for memory retention reputed to our ancestors. Taken to an extreme, the Internet can tell you what your own name is if you ever chance to forget it. Yet, there is the very positive side of the Internet acting as an unprecedented repository for the memories and knowledge of generations of mankind. A family genealogy blog could be passed down from grandmother to granddaughter to be maintained and expanded as time goes by, creating a niche legacy resource of exceptional, lasting value.
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September 18, 2007