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Somerset & Dorset
Family History Society

To Blog or Not to Blog?

As I set out to encourage you to take up writing for our Family History Society’s blog I realise that perhaps I should explain how I came to the personal realisation that I enjoyed writing stories and how having a computer and getting it to work for me has greatly enhanced my abilities and enjoyment overtime. 

I should begin with my first introduction to a computer back in 1991 when one was set up in the corner of the office I was working in. I was sent on a morning’s course ‘Introduction to your PC’. The tutor started off by saying ‘well I guess you all know what PC stands for’ and then rapidly moved on. Being a timid sort of person, back in the day, I didn’t put my hand up and say ‘actually no!’. Anyway I have to say it was very useful because a personal computer at this stage was really a complex typewriter and filing system in one. One of the most important lessons was to understand you had a giant filing cabinet with various drawers in which to keep folders and sub folders plus a clever piece of kit—Word for Windows—to enable the creation of documents and letters which could be retained in their proper place on the computer. By far the greatest challenge was finding something again. There was no hint of the paperless office at this point as others could not be sent documents by email but this would follow fairly rapidly. 

Not long after a home computer became very desirable and we installed one with fax/scanner/printer and at the same time we got our first digital camera and so began taking photos and putting them on the computer. We were also connected to the internet for the first time. From those early beginnings I now have over 21,000 documents and over 37,000 photographs. Can I still find everything? On the whole yes as the search facility is excellent if my system fails me.

So what did I do with this new piece of kit? First of all I took over producing the 36 page Parish Paper for the three local churches, created in Publisher, and also a Newsletter for the Parish Council. I purchased a copy of Publisher and the Parish Council sent me on a morning’s course and I was in at the deep end. I have to say I loved it. Publisher I would describe as the big sister of Word that can do so much more. I liaised with the local Printer and I took great pride in getting these publications, produced eight times a year, into circulation. All entirely voluntarily. I have spent hours and hours on my home computer and I have yet to be paid a bean so I guess you can see that this really is a labour of love. It is also a source of great personal satisfaction.

With my interest in family history I realised that telling my family in America about their roots was rather better achieved via stories and pictures so by using the same format as I had for the Parish Paper I produced booklets beginning with eight pages of A4 printed on A3 paper, folded and stapled – I was delighted. The local Printer produced a dozen copies and I distributed these around the family. These ‘stories’ can be changed to a PDF so that they can also be sent to anyone with a computer who might be interested in reading them. My brother gave me an iPad and it was then that I realised that the PDFs of my family stories read well in iBooks. The clever little screen on an iPad show any photos up so very well and they can be enlarged easily to bring up the detail.  

Now we fast forward to the lockdown in January 2021 and I asked for tips on keeping occupied and I was pleased to receive the following from Chris Deane of the East Dorset Group:

“Over the last 40 years or so I have accumulated lots of notes about my ancestors from various sources. However, they do not always make for an interesting read. My lockdown project has been to take the notes of the history of one line of ancestors, my mother’ s maternal side, and convert them into the form of a novel.  This includes describing the town or village when they were resident, with contemporary paintings and photos wherever possible,  adding national or local context which had a bearing on each family and describing in more detail various developments within each generation. 

The lockdown has prevented me  from visiting where they lived and local record offices. Despite that, some record offices and local history societies have been very helpful. The objective is to leave my family with something that’s far more interesting, meaningful and readable, and may be a presentation to my local group. The problem is that now I realise that the notes of the other lines of my ancestors could usefully do with something similar!

Chris Deane’s photo: from left to right – My Great Grandparents Fred and Emma Woodley, their son Arthur and his wife Ellen, and my Grandparents Richard Speller and Alice (Woodley) with their daughter Freda.

This is a great idea and following Chris’s suggestion I took Family Fables – How to write and publish the story of YOUR family by Maisie Robson with Steve Rudgard down from my bookshelf. This is an inspiring and practical book and I really liked the fact that Family Historians, having researched their subjects extensively amassing much material, are the envy of historical novelists starting out with an idea and then being faced with months of research ahead of them before putting down a single word.  I took up Chris’s challenge and I am greatly enjoying this new step into the unknown for me. 

But back to the Blog. It is now sometime since I discovered for myself that there are such things as ‘Blogs’ and one of the first that I came across is put together by S&DFHS member Karen Francis and it is a very good example https://the-ridouts.com/2017/03/14/the-beatons-of-somer-no-dorset/. I loved the idea of a blog and I started to write blogposts for the Society having taken myself off on a two-day blog writing course in Spitalfields c/o the Gentle Author at https://spitalfieldslife.com/. On this course I learned that although it is fairly straightforward to set up a blog you can ask someone to set it up for you and explain how to get going as there are many tech experts out there who will do this for you. Once up and running it is a fairly straightforward process when it comes to posting to the blog. It will be up to you to decide just how public or private your blog will be. Will it be open to all or just your family members? 

Or why not write for the Society’s blog? Michael Pitfield who writes regularly states:

“The first lockdown coincided with the launch of the Society’s new website. This included a blog section and members were invited to contribute their own blogs. As someone who enjoys writing, this appealed to me so I wrote about interesting members of my family but tried always to make the blogs of general interest and/or usefulness to other members too. I wrote approximately one blog each month and I now have got nine blogs on the website”.

I too like writing blogs for the Society and once they have been posted they will stay there for as long as the technology lasts – which could be ‘forever’ as far as we know at the moment. What advantages are there to writing a blog for the Society’s website? With your blog you have the ability to reach people with similar interests, you can inform and stimulate discussion. Many of the old blogposts that I have contributed are quietly sitting there somewhere up in the ether until someone, somewhere, while researching some aspect of their family history, comes along and discovers something I have posted and they get in touch. I am currently having a very rewarding exchange with a reader over our two grandfathers’ connections to the Dorset Yeomanry in WW1.

So why not give it a go yourself? Do include one or more photos as photos help to bring the posts to life. If you have never thought about writing before a blog is a great way to start and who knows where it might lead for you? Maybe there is a historical novelist in there somewhere trying to get out?

If I can be of any help with anything that I have touched upon here I would be pleased to hear from you and if you send me a blog our website manager, Chris Hall, will delighted to post it for you. 

Barbara Elsmore

Member and Guest Blogs Welcome

We welcome guest and member blog posts on any topic with a family history connection and invite you to send your contributions, which should include photo/photos, to the editor Barbara Elsmore