FamilySearch Blog a Helpful Source for Learning More about Family History
Contributed By Scott Taylor, Church News managing editor
- The FamilySearch Blog introduces new users to FamilySearch and keeps blog subscribers informed and regularly engaged in family history discoveries.
From Family Tree to Mexican heritage, from tips for beginners to correcting mistakes in online records, and from cousins to pioneer children, it’s been both a typical and atypical past 45 days for the FamilySearch Blog.
From July 1 through August 14, the blog featured 35 general posts from more than a dozen different authors on a variety of topics, as well as some standard monthly features. Article themes included Mexican ancestry and traditions, insights on using the Family Tree tool, and topics tied to the Fourth of July, Pioneer Day, and National Cousins Day, along with the regular monthly feature listing millions and millions of new FamilySearch records available from June and July.
It’s just the latest effort for the FamilySearch Blog, celebrating its 10th year and available in English and 12 other languages. With millions of page views each month, about half of the blog’s visitors are from outside the United States. And a growing majority of readers are coming via mobile devices, so content is increasingly being optimized for mobile consumption.
“The role of the FamilySearch Blog is to keep subscribers informed and regularly engaged in family history discoveries with fresh, relevant, quality content,” said Paul G. Nauta, FamilySearch senior marketing communications manager.
He added that another goal is to introduce new users to FamilySearch, with millions of potential consumers unaware of its free services.
“The blog creates content that targets these individuals based on the types of content they are searching on search engines like Google. For example, if you are looking for an ancestor who you believed immigrated through Castle Garden or Ellis Island, New York, and do a Google search for information, you will most likely find a related FamilySearch blog article in the first page of your query result.”
Blog Numbers and Readers
In 2018, the FamilySearch Blog featured 170 English-language articles; another 211 posts were language-translation versions of the English articles.
This year, blog supervisors are projecting more than 200 English posts and another 300-plus total posts in other languages, to well exceed 500 offerings for 2019.
The aforementioned 35 posts over 45 days is just an English-language count of general articles. It doesn’t include any posts translated in one of 12 international languages. Nor does it include the half-dozen Church-specific articles in the “For Latter-day Saints” category.
That Church-related content, published under “Temple and Family History” in the “For Latter-day Saints” category, is helpful to members with temple and family history callings or those preparing names for ordinance work in the temple.
Other specific categories on the blog focus on family activities; personal histories; tips, apps, and tools; and news and events.
Blog readers can also subscribe to receive via email blog updates and newsletter summaries.
The blog is designed with the general public and a beginner-level audience in mind, although some intermediate-level family historians can glean insights as well. The writing is in an easy-to-understand, inviting style, with authors and editors looking to break down technical jargon and hard-to-understand references.
“The blog as a communication channel targets the novice—even individuals who don’t see themselves as would-be personal or family historians or contributors to the family’s history,” Nauta said.
FamilySearch blog editor and digital content coordinator Briana Taylor added: “Our editors look at that content, go to the experts, and then use their own experience—and sometimes inexperience—to simplify this information for people who have never done it before. We’re always asking ourselves what our readers may or may not know. Sometimes this takes a lot of revisions, and sometimes we don’t get it quite right. But we also get lots of feedback and are always improving from that.”
Where Blog Topics Come From
Ideas for blog topics come from product help needs, customer comments, organizational goals, and search-engine analytics—what people are looking for online.
“This type of research involves taking a look at what people are searching for out on the web and then gathering those topics and writing articles that answer the questions people are asking,” Taylor said. “This helps us reach a global audience and helps us know what people are actually interested in, not just what we are interested in.”
Taylor, who has worked with the blog for more than a year, is one of several editor/publishers who strategize content and manage, edit, write, and answer questions about blog articles.
“I like to keep tabs on all the wonderful work we’re doing so I can often direct people to who has answers they’re looking for,” she said.
She is also the benefactor of the blog she works for, learning new ways of researching records for her Dutch ancestors, recognizing the difference between a first cousin and a third cousin twice removed, and being able to post a longtime family recipe for Swedish pancakes as a memory listing on a great-grandmother’s FamilySearch page.
Sunny Morton is one of a number of writers contracted by FamilySearch to help populate blog content, along with FamilySearch staff. The Latter-day Saint wife and mother of three teens from northern Ohio is an admitted “fan of FamilySearch” and its resources, as a family history specialist with a BYU history degree with a hand in lecturing, teaching courses and webinars, participating in podcasts, and authoring and editing books, magazines, and digital publications.
She said she jumped at the chance when recruited to write for the FamilySearch Blog. “It’s my job to hook the readers and reel them in,” said Morton, adding that in her 700-word allotment per post, she hopes “to lead them to new areas of their family history.”
Some blog topics are of her own choosing, and others are assigned by blog editors.
“I love the backstories of some of the topics they’ve given me,” said Morton, noting they range from somber to moving to daunting.
Such was the case with several Chinese and Chinese-American subjects she was given, tackling first those who worked on the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. “Their identities are largely lost, though their work remains across the country,” she said.
An upcoming blog article will feature Scotland, from the capital city to the country’s castles—likely in time for FamilySearch’s RootsTech London later this October. For Morton, the research and writing resonated with the McClellan paternal side of her family history.
Blog content is written to a neutral international readership base, designed for information, tips, and tools to appeal across cultures, aiding in translation of articles.
“Country reviewers help determine what content to translate for local interests,” Nauta said. “We are also starting to look at what content people in country and language are seeking and working to localize content according to local interests.”
Offering blog content in 13 languages not only is helpful in reaching Latter-day Saints worldwide; it is also beneficial to the growing number of people outside the Church who are interested in their own family history.
For example, the recent “Discovering Your Mexican Heritage” article was provided in both English and Spanish, with the central post featuring links to other blog posts that would appeal to readers with Mexican ancestry.
FamilySearch has preserved billions of historical records from across the globe over the past 125 years, and one of the Church’s Family History Department’s directives is to focus on adding a few select countries each year to highlight online record holdings and new updates for that nation.
The blog is also a way to help promote FamilySearch’s country pages, which offer not only insights on how to start using that country’s records collections but also family heritage information, from most popular surnames to family recipes and from infographics to information about dual-citizenship guidelines.
“Brazil boasts a very high population of people with Italian heritage, Brazil being the recipient of the Italian diaspora at the turn of the 20th century,” Nauta said. “The descendants of those Italian immigrants are now interested in growing numbers in how to attain dual citizenship for Italy. A helpful blog article is being produced to simplify the process, and the rich Brazil records FamilySearch has available online can help assist in the process.”
A screenshot of a post in the FamilySearch Blog, entitled “Discover Your Mexican Heritage.” Image is a FamilySearch Blog screenshot.