May 252017

A blog or Facebook? Which is better for sharing family history? It’s a question that been going around the genealogy community for the last month or so.Blog or Facebook

Having one foot in the writers’ community and one foot in the family history crowd, the question surprised me. I don’t think it would have come up in an authors’ group. Writers look at it as both, not either or. Probably because “platform building” has become a necessity as authors’ are increasingly forced into functioning as entrepreneurs. They wield whatever tools they can put their hands on and use effectively. Blogging and Facebook come immediately to mind.

Community Response to the Question

In an excellent article, Facebook vs. Blogging: The Pros and Cons, Alona Tester gives a great overview of the pros and cons of each, as the title implies. She also points that all Facebook accounts are not the same. The algorithms vary depending on whether you have a page, group, or a personal profile. A Facebook group, for example, can be quite efficient in sharing information with a known group of followers.

Amy Johnson Crow’s post Is Genealogy Blogging Dead? responds to the Blog or Facebook question with a resounding “Both.” She writes that we should see social media as a complement to blogging, not a competition. She states, “There are 1.9 billion users on Facebook. Bloggers can and should harness some of that!”

In addition to the pros and cons of blogging versus Facebook, her post also goes into the history of family history blogging and the need for continued promotion. As with everything Amy posts, it’s worth a read.

Rather than summarizing their work, I’ll focus on the algorithms of the two industry giants of Google and Facebook and how they affect our ability to promote content.

Google Algorithms versus Facebook Algorithms

The complex and changing algorithms these two industry giants have a significant impact on how many people will read our content. Both (as well as other search engines) set their algorithms up with specific goals in mind.

Google’s Metrics

Google’s algorithms work in favor of well written and well researched posts. Google aspires to provide users with organic results, content that is relevant and valuable to them. As Insiteful Solutions, a website design firm in Toronto, states in Learn About Google’s Recent Algorithm Updates, “Google has been very clear in the philosophy behind their updates; Google wants high-quality content to appear on their search results page. Each of the updates they make to their algorithm is meant to increase exposure to good content.”

Sure, reasonable Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics can help increase traffic, but for niche topics, blog content can achieve a first page Google ranking on its own merits.

Facebook’s Metrics

Facebook’s algorithmic goals are quite different, and for many bloggers, are more difficult to master. In addition, we’ve witnessed some U-turns in Facebook’s page algorithms in recent years, forcing us to develop new strategies. (Or a budget. For business pages, Facebook offers highly targeted advertising.)

No matter how well written, it takes some know-how and commitment to get your posts any prominence in your followers’ feeds. Posts need likes, comments, and shares to live long and prosper.

That’s because Facebook’s priorities are to provide entertainment and strengthen relationships. According to “Building a Better News Feed for You” by Facebook’s VP of News Feed Product Management Adam Mosseri, Facebook designs its algorithms to ensure a longevity of usership.

In addition to giving priority to posts that entertain and inform, Mosseri states that “friends and family come first.” He explains, “Our top priority is keeping you connected to the people, places and things you want to be connected to — starting with the people you are friends with on Facebook.” That’s why you’re more likely to see photos from your siblings (especially if you normally like, comment, and share them) than your ex-brother-in-law’s cousin’s political rants.

Back to the Question: Is a Blog or Facebook Better?

Rather than decide whether a blog or Facebook (or both, as I believe) is the best option, we can reframe the question and look at which outlet warrants your energy on a post-by-post basis.

Facebook might be best for a post, if

  • You have a large number of followers who comment and repost. Facebook algorithms assume that your posts are either highly informative, entertaining, or valued by friends and family when they’re share.
  • Your post is short. Google downgrades posts under 300 words and Facebook readers are unlikely to read something longer.
  • The topic is time-limited. For instance, if you’re promoting tomorrow’s conference, it doesn’t matter if your post falls to the bottom of followers’ feeds by next week.
  • A majority of your target audience is on Facebook. This is changing, but older Americans tend not to “be on Facebook” or if they are, they don’t check in daily.
  • Many of your target audience are “friends.” This feeds the oh-so-valuable commenting and re-posting.

A blog might be the best option for a post, if your

  • Blog has a large following and/or subscribers
  • Site is optimized for search engines
  • Blog is integrated with social media (and not only Facebook)
  • Social media following includes other outlets and followers that retweet, repin, etc., your posts.
  • Topic is evergreen, likely to interest someone in two years as it is today.
  • Topic lends itself to Google searches. (Such as how-to articles)
  • Site metrics (and yes, you should be checking them) reveal that most of your referrals come from search engines or other social media outlets. For instance, my top two referrals are Google and Pinterest.

Your Turn:

What’s your answer to the Blog of Facebook question?

Want to know more about Blogging for Family History? Check out Blogging for Family History: How to Launch a Site and Make It Successful



Feb 022017
Divided households picture of torn photo of house

Does your family story include issues which divided households?

Throughout time, people have disagreed with the people they love. Issues of childrearing, money, faith, culture, religious practices and politics have, on occasion, divided households and hardened hearts. You might immediately think of the present political environment, but this isn’t the first time in history that issues have created emotional schisms among family members and friends

Sometimes, if the animosity has been put to rest, it’s best to leave the story alone like the proverbial sleeping dog. There’s nothing to be gained from revisiting and possibly re-igniting tensions. Continue reading »

Dec 012016
Genealogy resources for Memoirists

Genealogy resources for memorists help bring history to life

If you didn’t read Do Memoir and Research Belong Together? you might wonder why’d I compile a list of genealogy resources for memoirists and memory writers. Before you yell, “BAHHHH Research” and run (or click) away, stay with me. This list of genealogy resources for memoirists will help you incorporate historical details that bring your memories to life. The facts you gleam make a great way to “show, not tell” the settings of your stories, increasing your readers’ understanding of your past.

Continue reading »

Nov 172016
Research and memoir

Whether it’s online or in the library stacks, research and memoir belong together.

Do research and memoir belong together? Counter intuitive as it sounds, the answer is yes.  Though it is true that memoir involves writing about the episodes of your past that already exist in your memory, research can enhance your story.  Adding researched details from the past can bring your story alive for your readers.

Working with family historians writing their ancestor’s stories brings this home. They not only provide the meticulously researched (and cited) facts for readers. When they write about their ancestors, they often include a rich background of historical and social context.  They don’t do this to fill in the gaps between facts. They use their research to help their readers visualize the events of the past. Continue reading »

Sep 152016
Beauty and family Stories--like painting a mask

Often when we tell our stories, beauty and family stories go together. But should they?

Do beauty and family stories go together? Should they? When we leave a photographic record for prosperity, we’re all smiles. Why not do the same for our legacy of family stories?

Most of us want to present ourselves in a positive light. Maybe not quite perfect, but normal. We want to cover the blemishes. We may not be the Cleaver family, but we keep mute about the family disfigurements, the bad times. Continue reading »

Jul 292016
Fears our Ancestors faced in the Dance of Death

The “Dance of Death” stained glass windows in the Bern, Switzerland Munster give a graphic illustration of the fears our ancestors faced.

Understanding the fears our ancestors faced can help us understand their lives. That, in turn, can help us tell their stories. Although it’s hard to know from the meager records we unearth whether an ancestor was an introvert or adventurer, we can form some theories based on historical context. We can also get a better grasp on their everyday lives. Continue reading »

Jul 082016
Invisible illnesses and daily pills

Chronic and invisible illnesses can separate from family members that need to hear our stories

If you’re like me, chronic and invisible illnesses come towards the bottom of the list of things you’d like to write about yourself. It’s not just immersing yourself in the negativity. Although the term “invisible illness” applies “to any medical condition that is not outwardly visible to others,” according to Social Work Today, some illnesses (heart disease, cancer) seem to generate support from loved ones, while others leave sufferers socially isolated.

Many with invisible illnesses frequently encounter people who, although they’ve never had a license to practice medicine feel beholden to second guess other people’s health status or dispense dismissive medical advice. Continue reading »

Jun 272016
Silver linings behind broken hearts

Are there silver linings behind the heart-break in your family stories?

Last week, however, a friend showed me how to look for silver linings.

The news is often disturbing, but in the last couple of weeks the horrors that some people will inflict on others makes me want to run and hide. Only I don’t know where I’d go. Continue reading »

Jun 162016
Truth and Accuracy scrabble tiles

How do you deal with the elusiveness of truth and accuracy in memories and family stories?

The fallibility of memory can make truth and accuracy hard to come by. Competing versions of the same stories—the same memories—dance and whorl around family tables every get together. One person remembers it was a Sunday in July. A sibling insists it was in October and a Sunday.

How do you decide which version is true? What details are accurate? Perhaps a better question is how do you decide if the details of the story are worth fighting about.

Often the answer lies in understanding the difference between truth and accuracy as well as your own role as storyteller.

Truth versus Accuracy Continue reading »

May 272016
What else have you lost quote by Havelock Ellis

What else have you lost? How did that loss teach the fine art of living?

Grief often rears its dark, draining head, not just when someone dies.  The onset of many life crises is the loss of something. A relationship, a value, a sense of purpose.  We’ve all experienced a loss of a pet or cherished object (See Writing Your Lost and Found Story.) But what else have you lost during your lifetime?

Loss of a Relationship, Sense of Identity

A loss of a relationship can also entail a loss of an identity. Our worldview changes when life chooses to make an illegal U-turn.

Recently, a friend of mine when through a time of anguish that makes me feel neurotic grieving over my perfectly normal empty nest. Her 20-year-old daughter disappeared from a rehab facility in a major city many hours away from home. For two eternally long months, there was no sign of her child.

Finally, by chance, driving along a major thoroughfare in her own city, she spotted her daughter. The reunion was also a moment of heartbreak. My friend has a hard time talking about it. Though she temporarily located her daughter, my friend’s world had shifted on its axis. In addition to missing her daughter’s physical presence in her home—in her life, the shroud of adulthood that her daughter now possesses limits her ability to help her child who suffers from mental illness and addiction.

When have you had to make peace with a new version of “normal”? A divorce, job loss, or career change can also spark feeling of a loss of identity. How did you right yourself? How did you regain your sense of self? These make great stories, stories with the power to connect across generations.

Innocence Lost

Another friend tells of her pre-teen loss of innocence. The Oakland County child killer and the panic he instilled in the entire Detroit metro area robbed her and her friends of carefree afternoons, riding bikes to each other’s houses. Of going out to play out from under the anxious, watchful eyes of their parents. The bubble of invincibility that buffets children against the horrors of the adult world popped. In its place came an imagination that ran rampant. It colored not only her own development, but the eventual choices she would make as a parent.

Loss of Physical Ability, Memory

There are things that our mortal, frailer-than-we’d-like-to-admit bodies cheat us out of as well. They betray our still active minds by refusing to work, or at least work as well as we’d like. They force us to fight disease instead of those life battles we want to mount.

Perhaps you’ve had to bear helpless witness as a particularly cruel disease causes a family member to misplace memories, even their sanity. Past moments, even the recognition of loved ones, fade into oblivion. Consider writing about these moments of heartache; they tell stories of love and devotion.

What else have you lost?

Along the road, whether by virtue of physical maladies or of the life sh** that happens, we lose things. Intangible things. Confidence. Independence. Hope. Faith. Courage. Our groove.

Don’t you think these moments are important to share? What would you want your loved ones, especially those of future generations, to take away from your story? Of course, they’ll be touched by your loss, but they can also learn from your healing or your renewed perspective. Perhaps they’ll even discover that resilience isn’t inborn, but something that can be gathered along the way, even on the roughest, dirtiest roads.

Havelock Ellis is quoted as saying, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Let your loved ones know how you did that.