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Genealogy Blog: Starting With a Purpose and a Plan

A bit ago I announced I was starting a series of articles about building a new WordPress blog from scratch. Here it begins.

John and Jenny Svendson, Ancestors of Lorelle, circa 1930I’ve been researching my family’s genealogy since I was a teenager, and recently a fantastic series of events resparked my enthusiasm. Over the past few months I’ve been doing even more research and investigation, learning how to research genealogy through the Internet rather than just through libraries, dusty books and old musty photo albums. Connections made via the Internet have led to visits to my ancestor’s homesteads and residences, even meeting new family members and exchanging family history information.

I’ve gathered a lot of information, and as with all such research, the more you learn, the less you know. And the more you learn, the more you want to share. I decided to work with other family members to develop a WordPress genealogy blog. This will help us work together to learn more about our family’s history, as well as help others learn how to research their own genealogy.

Over the next few months I will be leading you through the step-by-step process of developing my WordPress genealogy blog. While you may not be interested in genealogy, you are probably interested in creating or improving your own WordPress blog, so this series should be interesting to follow. I’ll deal with the whole process from developing the purpose and planning of a blog to the gory technical details of what it takes to create a genealogy blog, or any blog.

It will be quite a ride. Hang on!

As with all things, it starts with a purpose and a plan.

The Purpose of This Blog

The process of starting a blog begins with the phrase, “The purpose of this blog is…”, and then answering it.

The purpose of my genealogy blog is:

  • Displaying our family tree.
  • Sharing family stories.
  • Bringing together family members, news, and information under one resource.
  • Working with other family members to preserve our family history.
  • Sharing our research with others.
  • Providing an avenue for teaching and writing.
  • Helping others learn from our family history research techniques.
  • Provide resources on genealogy research and studies.

The truth is that I just wrote that off the top of my head right now. As we go through this series of articles on building my genealogy blog, the purpose may change. It may be totally rewritten or evolve into a more condensed and specific form. Still, it’s a start.

The task of defining and redefining the purpose of my blog is part of the process. I’ll be discussing how the purpose will change throughout this series, helping you understand the shifts and balances that happen as a website/blog develops.

Now it’s time for the plan.

Developing a Blog Development Plan

I want to build a blog for my family’s genealogy research. I want to showcase our family tree, stories, photographs, and information, while providing an avenue for education. I want to share our family history and what I’m learning by researching my family’s history. So how do I do all this?

I need to create a list of questions to answer to help me develop my overall plan of action. From this list of questions I will determine the following:

  1. Develop a budget.
  2. Choose a CMS or blogging tool.
  3. Choose a domain/URL.
  4. Find a web server host.
  5. Determine multi-user contribution and responsibilities.
  6. Establish copyrights, usage rights, submission guidelines, legal terms and conditions, and general policies for the blog.
  7. Develop the blog structure, categories, navigation, features, and web design elements.
  8. Determine which additional features or modifications/customizations are necessary for the genealogy blog and how to incorporate them.
  9. Determine how much of the process, especially technical, I can do myself, and how much will require the expertise of others.
  10. Create a plan and schedule for implementation.

Notice how the general plan outline doesn’t start with web design? Most people’s websites and blogs begin with the question: What will it look like? I have been doing this for too long. I know better.

I start the process by asking a lot of questions to determine exactly what needs to go into the website before I begin designing it. It’s like making a cake from scratch by putting the empty pan in the oven first, mixing the ingredients second, and then at last asking what ingredients need to go into the cake. A little backwards.

A genealogy blog is a little more complicated than a normal blog as there are so many technical elements. I know that once I get involved in the technical stuff, I can get lost, obsessed with pushing, pulling, and tweaking things to get them to work. I want my plan in place, other people starting their work to help make this process happen, and then I can drop into nerd heaven.

I have a purpose and a basic plan. I have a lot of questions, overwhelming my head. I certainly have no answers. Yet. So next, I need to come up with the questions that will help me answer the above issues, and to create a solid plan. Are you with me?

Genealogy Blog: Building a Blog Series


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

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31 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2006 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I am looking forward to this series. I started my persnal site a bit haphazardly and have been tweaking as I go along and come up with new ideas. I have ideas for other blogs I want to start and this kind of insight will go a long way to helping them come about.

  2. Posted July 27, 2006 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    Excellent post. I’ve been researching a new blog for months, but totally forgot about #6. The legal angle.

    Everything else has been covered in spades. Guess I forgot the shovel.

    cat

  3. Posted July 27, 2006 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Looks very interesting Lorelle. I’ve been trying to build up a library of web-based resources for my regional genealogy group to consider. I think reaching out to some of the over 60 crowd might be appropriate as you go forward although this could also be a nice way to bring in some younger members, always a challenge in genealogy circles.

    I’m subscribed!

  4. Posted July 27, 2006 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Can I have a seperate RSS feed that I’ll point to my non-profit genealogy organization site? Let’s get as many folks in on this as possible!

  5. Posted July 27, 2006 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    What do you mean by separate RSS feed? For this article series? Hmmm. How about http://lorelle.wordpress.com/feed?s=genealogy+blog ? It’s a search based feed link so won’t bring up specifically this article series but everything on this blog with “genealogy” and “blog” in the article. Or try http://lorelle.wordpress.com/feed?s=genealogy+family+blog , which is a little more of a narrow focus. Maybe someone else will have a better idea but that’s the best I can offer.

    I will be doing my best to update the links to all the articles in the series on each article. So link to this, the first one, and it will soon include links to the other articles.

    And I’m glad you are excited about this. This is a major labor of love for me, and for my family, so it’s exciting to share the step-by-step process (and peek into my head – ooooh, scary!) with others.

  6. Posted July 28, 2006 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle: Certainly a vast undertaking.

    We, your devoted readers, always look into your head – not so scary, is it?
    After all you just show us the parts you can afford to show ;)

    And I still wonder where you find time for all you writing.

  7. Posted July 29, 2006 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this Lorelle. I’ll be following up this series closely. I really want to do a genealogy blog. Is this possible for someone who’s technology-challenged as I am? I imagine that putting a family tree would require some technical know-how.

  8. Posted July 29, 2006 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Toe, the neat part of this is that you decide how much you need to know in order to do what you can. I will be talking about how to handle some of the technical aspects, so it will be a learning experience, if you are up to it. For the most part, much of producing a genealogy blog is about the paperwork. Deciding what you will post not just how you will post it. How techie you get it is up to you.

    Thanks!

  9. Posted March 7, 2007 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Is there a plugin for displaying a family tree? I’m currently looking around for possibilities. My family has done a lot of genealogy and I’d like to start learning more about the family lines myself. I think inputting names into a family tree would help.

  10. Posted March 7, 2007 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I will be writing more about this soon, but for now, I haven’t found a WordPress Plugin, but you can check out PhpGedView. There are articles on integrating this into your WordPress blog, and I’ll be writing about it soon.

  11. Posted June 22, 2007 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Hey there! Has any progress been made on this series or plugin?

  12. Posted June 22, 2007 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    The family tree Plugin? Not that I’ve heard of.

  13. Posted August 24, 2007 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    I was quite thrilled with the concept of constructing my family tree. My experience was that not all family members demonstrated the same enthusiasm as me. I wanted to include more content on quality issues (ie. anecdotes and stories) than quantity (ie. birth and death dates). If your family has one or more skeletons in the cupboard, open the door carefully. I opened it wide and all hell broke out. I described it in detail on my website.

    One of the problems I had was the style to use in presenting the tree. Traditionally only the male line is charted. To me, excluding half the family (ie. the female lines) is short sighted, but each to their own. So, how do you present both sides of the tree on a two-dimensional chart? It’s not so easy. Another issue that puzzled me was that people do get involved in more than one relationship. I don’t think these experiences should be ignored; particularly if they were significant. And if there were children I felt obliged to include all in the chat. Plotting them was done by using an equal sign and a number indicated whether this was a second, or third, etc relationship. Beside this, I pondered for a long time on how to draw the chart. I was never happy with the various software options that are available. Things may have changed now, but I used a spreadsheet. I placed the names in the spreadsheet cells, and used the drawing function to create the links. It can take time, but with a little practice it’s not such a bad method. Have a look if you would like to see what I’ve done with the family tree chart.

  14. amyuk
    Posted August 2, 2008 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    I’m just looking at the best way to have a family history site. I use WordPress and joomla (hope it’s OK to say that here)day to day and am fairly familiar with them both, and I can hack a little :)

    My biggest stubling block so far is the actual tree. This is likely to be the most viewed area if i can get it up, but I don’t really fancy doing it manually on a regular basis. I’v only got 300 or so individuals at the moment, but they are all related and I like to see all the connections as much as possible, not just descendents or a pedigree chart.

    I use Reunion 8, which can create web cards, but they really are horrid. I believe version 9 is better in this respect. I’d really like to be able to just upload my gedcom file whenever I’ve made changes, and the site to sort itself out somehow, not really sure how yet!

    I’ve looked at phpgedview, and found it very confusing to navigate, an probably overkill. There’s only a few of us actually doing any research, and I think I’d rather keep my main file on my desktop than the web.

    TNG looks quite good, but I’l always a little reluctant to splash out on software until I’m sure I’ll be happy with it. Been burnt too may times for that one.

    I’d love to hear what you decided to go with in the end, and what your process is for getting the data online.

    Thanks,

  15. Posted August 2, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    @ amyuk:

    It’s okay to mention other blogging platforms, but why you mix the two is curious.

    I’m as stuck as you are. The problem is getting a program to export a CLEAN HTML tree that has a customizable stylesheet. Too many are produced in tables and using hokey HTML. These are just lists, so it should be exported as a list, but no one has jumped in on this.

    So why not you? :D Save us all the hassle.

  16. Posted August 3, 2008 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    @Lorelle,

    Thanks, It is odd that there isn’t anything out there, not sure I have the skills but it shouldn’t be too hard to parse the text gedcom into php and then output it again, it’s exactly how to output it I suppose, and how long it would take if it was regeneating on each pageload. Lots of housework to do today though :)

    I use joomla for our main website (commercial) as we have a lot of features on it, it’s a webshop, event booking, forum system thats just too varied I feel for WordPress, however, I just couldn’t like blogging in it, despite the fact it should be capable, and easier as it’s all in the same system, and it would fit in the same template etc, so I run WordPress as the blog and just link to it from the main site. It works for me.

  17. Posted August 3, 2008 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    @ amygibbsuk:

    If CNN, People, and Fox think WordPress can handle their stuff, then your webshop would be easy. :D Whatever works for you, that’s important.

    You’ve made a good point about parsing the gedcom file. That would be a catch all no matter which program is exporting the data. A problem would be with the inconsistency and lack of standardization for all gedcom data. Something to think about indeed.

    Thanks!

  18. amygibbsuk
    Posted August 9, 2008 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    @Lorelle,

    so if there was something that took a gedcom file, and created a page of html using lists, this could be displayed with CSS, would this work?

    I’m struggling to know what I’m looking for really, What end result do I want from any theoretical plugin?

    What would you want a plugin to do?

  19. Posted August 9, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    @ amygibbsuk:

    Yes. If the Plugin could parse ALL the possible gedcom tags and the data within them, which means cleaning up all the poorly structured bits and pieces of data like quote marks, slashes, commas, periods, and URLs and email addresses where there shouldn’t be any, then it would be easy to create a fairly uniform template within a custom Page that would integrate directly into a WordPress blog.

    The template would be easy. Structured like basic family trees, with options to add more or less information (just names, dates and places, or add condensed histories and links to more information) like many Themes do from the Administration Panels, it could be simple to output. It’s cleaning up the data for generating the content.

    I’d design the family tree in table form as a very basic structure, but go beyond with a simple CSS style…and if you are Ajax savvy, add some neat features so a click would expand or shrink the tree “branches” on the page for flexibility. Design-wise, there are a ton of options. That’s the fun part. The hard part is the data.

    If we can get the data into the WordPress database in a way that it could be manipulated, the design aspect would be fun. Think about it and we’ll talk more.

  20. Posted November 25, 2008 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    Hey Lorelle,

    Thanks for this post series, I think it will be really helpful as my Mum wants to put all her research together in a site/blog.
    I’m pretty happy with WordPress and its versatility in general, but I am a little stuck for ideas on how to represent family trees in a web-friendly format. I haven’t been involved with tree software yet, so I’m not sure about the gedcom format… Even so, I don’t know whether tables, lists, image maps or something else would be the way to go.

    What do you think? Do you have an example of one you’ve already made? I guess anything will take a fair bit of time setting up, but it would be good if I could create something that’s flexible in case we want to add people to it.

    Cheers

  21. Posted November 25, 2008 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    @ kristarella:

    David West Descendants is an example, done with Master Genealogy HTML export and a lot of HTML cleaning up.

    To create something that others can add to is a different issue. This involves giving permissions and access and exposing yourself to security issues if not done right. There are programs that can do this, and I’m researching how to integrate them into a WordPress blog, which can and has been done, but not always well and requires a high computer/web skill set. Until then, let people email you and give you the information you need so you can add it yourself.

    Having a family “wiki” is another choice, which can also be linked to your genealogy blog.

    Work in this area is constantly under development, so stay tuned.

    Also, the family tree is not as important as many think. Sure, connecting the links is important, but who these links represent is much more important. We want the stories. We want to preserve the stories of the past as well as the stories of the living for the future. This is where a blog is most helpful.

  22. Mike
    Posted December 14, 2008 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    …”Sharing Our Research With Others”…

    I’m not a professional, but I think it would be useful to share our research, particularly scans of documents and photos, in a way that meets standards that professionals use. Access to many pictures and documents will be lost forever if we don’t share with others. The value of what is shared through WordPress family history and genealogy blogs may be increased by contacting some pro’s for standards, best practices, and ideas on how amateurs can meet them.

    Is there a preferred level of detail (dots per inch) for scanning photos? Is there a different one for documents?

    I stumbled on a very interesting 2008 article on A Photographic Reference Plate for Conservation Documentation by Dan Kushel, Jiuan-Jiuan Chen, and Luisa Casella. An active family genealogist or family historian could make one following the directions given. It’s essentially a defined color reference and a ruler you set next to your photos when you scan them. Maybe your plan for storing and presenting photos and documents should have 3 options for scanned photos/ documents: 1) Thumbnails of photo, 2) enlarged photo, and 3) enlarged photo with photo reference plate (ruler and color references). What do you think?

  23. Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Lorelle. I’m glad I stumbled on your post about creating a family tree using WordPress. I’m actually in the early stages of creating a WP plugin that can grab GEDCOM data and display them. I’m thinking whether to just parse the raw GEDCOM data, or convert it first to XML before displaying… and that’s just one of the issues I’m looking at before coding starts.

    I’m looking for more WordPress-powered geneology sites to generate more ideas. The David West link is a great help, and I hope to see more of these sites.

    I’ve subscribed to your genealogy blog feed (and I wish I could subscribe to this comment feed :) ). Will you be writing more about this?

    • Posted January 5, 2009 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Why can’t you subscribe to this comment feed? There is a link in the post meta data that says “Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post” to add this post’s comments to your feed.

      I will be writing more about this but not soon. I’m traveling and speaking a lot on WordPress and blogging, so my genealogy work goes a bit neglected right now. I hope to change that soon. :D

      There have been a few people working on a WordPress Plugin for parsing GEDCOM data, and they get stuck on similar issues. I’d love to see you take this farther. Parsing the raw data is what I would do and incorporate that into XML or even importing it into the database so the information can be pulled from there and updated – but this means adding a major panel to the WordPress Administration Panels for updates and adding information – if you go that route.

      I’d recommend sticking with raw data with an Administration Panel that controls the end “look” and style. Keep the data control and manipulation in the genealogy program and only the GEDCOM export to be imported into the blog. You’d have to work out how to update this information in a way that replaces the old rather than adds to it – you see the complications in this. So many want to manage their files within the blog, when really, they just need to export and import a new file when there are changes…I think. So she says, top of her head between meetings. :D What do you think about that?

  24. Posted December 3, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I have just published an initial version of a new wordpress family tree plugin. It is still just an early version but I am adding functions regularly so am hoping to add GEDCOM and enhanced graphical views of the family tree in the not too distant future… the plugin is on the wordpress.org site or at http://www.esscotti.com/wp-family-tree-plugin/

  25. Posted April 18, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    For anyone interested, I have a several thousand page WordPress genealogy blog. I have integrated the output of my GRAMPS Genealogy trees on the site (see how at: Gramp’s WordPress Integration article.

    …mark

  26. Posted April 18, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    great post I’ve been considering doing this for some time, my uncle has already filled a whole room in his house with our history and I want to put it into a blog soon thanks for the tips

  27. Robert Storrs
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I am just starting consideration for a family web site and find your blog article invaluable. One question has bothered me however. I guess I am somewhat paranoid about privacy but I don’t want to post information about people without permission. However, that would seem to be a major roadblock to a complete site.

    I have considered only posting information about persons who are deceased unless an individual grants permission. But even that raises questions – can a parent grant permission to display information about his/her children?

    Perhaps in this time of FaceBook and Trittter I am going overboard but I am not sure I would want my information posted on someone elses site.

    Anyway, have you given this any consideration?

    • Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      The old adage of when in doubt don’t holds. In general, while current family members are often featured in a family history blog, nothing is said to indicate personal and private information such as social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, nor mother’s maiden names, a challenge for family history bloggers. The focus is on the past, and current information is often in private blog posts available only to family members with permissions.

      A “complete” site in family history terms is one that focuses on the “complete” family history of your ancestors, not those currently living. There is enough past history to fill ten blogs on every human living, so most of us spend more time with the past rather than the present.

      These rules apply to EVERYTHING (including email) on the web. Don’t publish anything you don’t want found or revealed. Family history included. :D

  28. Posted November 10, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    I am looking to switch over from the ancestry.com format to a website I manage. In the last couple of days I too have found PhpGedView, which is wiki and seems capable of doing everything I would need it to do (including allowing other family members edit the data)

    One part than I am worried about is that it forces the master data to be the online database, instead of my desktop software. I think I am OK with this, just need to be more careful backing up the data.. unlike my other web data – this information is too critical to me to just let hang out there. perhaps you still plan to use your local software to be the master, and just send updated gedcom files to the online database? One of the reasons I was hoping to avoid this to I wanted to add a lot of images and so forth – gedcom being just a text file.

    The css for PhpGedView seems rather clunky and difficult to integrate into the rest of my website. Have found some kind of plugin to utilize your WP to display? I am not a css master by any means and it takes me a long time to get the static pages to seamlessly integrate with the WP section and the wiki section. If I could just not display the wiki portion that would help immensely.

    • Posted November 11, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      There is a lot of clunk in phpGedView, but it does work as a good start. I agree with the privacy issues, so ensure you don’t upload anything that could put your family, or yourself, at risk. This is part of the day to day life of a family historian going public on the web. I need to get back into digging into this to offer more helpful advice to folks, but I was sure that there would be improvements in this by now.

      Check the comments above and throughout this series as others have offered some better solutions. If you find one that works, please let me know as that might be incentive to get cracking on this again. Thanks!


21 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    Lorelle’s blog has a few things in common with mine. We both use WordPress; and we’re both interested in Genealogy. She’s planning a new blog devoted to Genealogy and has written about it. Very interesting. Of her 10 plan points, I ig…

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