Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Blog Needs A Voice

Perhaps you are thinking: “A genealogy blog is a blog is a blog…”

In the genealogy blogging world, that may have been so—oh, about a couple thousand blogs ago.

Now, amidst all the online offerings clamoring to be heard, a genealogy blogger needs something to differentiate her writings from the din. A blogger needs a voice.

Face it: we’ve got so many blogs to choose from in our free-reading universe. And there are so many different approaches. There are blogs by genealogy experts. By specialists in geographic regions. Or specific approaches, such as utilizing genetic studies, or taking research cues from a librarian. There are those focusing on tech aspects of research. Or preferring to tie roots with religious heritage. Some find a way to bring a smile—or a laugh—no matter what they choose to discuss.

But the niche I look for is the segment of genealogy blogs that seeks to tell the story. The ones that aren’t dashing through the generations on a quest to catalog the names and dates of as many ancestors as possible. Rather, the ones which prefer the slow journey of stopping along the way to absorb the aromas of life each of those generations must have experienced.

Even within these niches, each writer can manifest a voice. Some voices can be syrupy, some may be tart. It’s not that some are right and others not. It’s just that we find some that speak to us more clearly, and some we prefer listening to. Think of it this way: “niche” is a way to label the content of a blog; “voice” represents the process of how you narrate your story.

If you are not sure what I mean by “voice,” you will intuit the sense of it immediately with this brief blog tour. Consider first this blogger. While she may not know it—or me, for that matter—she is one of my most admired genealogy writers, mainly for the chance she gives readers to take in a breath of fresh air. As blunt as someone introducing herself at an AA meeting, here’s how she bills herself:
My name is Kerry. I like dead people.”
Okay, we got that pretty clear. Straight and to the point. We know exactly the style of delivery she’s promising to fuel our genealogy addiction. That’s the approach that draws a needs-no-clue reader to Kerry Scott’s Clue Wagon.

Contrast that with the very hush that can be sensed when reading about the religious ties that bind some of us to our Catholic heritage. I almost sense the need to play Gregorian chants in the background as I read The Catholic Gene.

When it comes to genealogy blogs that seek to tell a story, having a “voice” is necessary there, too. Oftentimes, we may find ourselves adopting the very voice of the characters we are portraying—the ancestors whose journals and photographs we are displaying as part of our content. That is partly what sets aside blogs like Linda Gartz’s Family Archaeologist, which uses her parents’ and grandparents’ own letters and journals to piece together the story of their journey to their adopted city of Chicago. Or Lisa at Smallest Leaf's 100 Years in America who patiently pursued the mystery of her own third great grandfather's origins in Croatia, and was rewarded with indications of how his life touched others in his city thanks to discovery of publications of the time in his native language. Woven into source material like that, though, is the writer’s own reflective “voice” providing contextual observations concerning the times and place settings the documents feature—and by connecting those times with our own.

In one way, adopting a voice is like seeking the best way to “explain” the actions and choices made by our ancestors. It’s the framework we use to make sense of what happened in our own past—often a past that was beyond the reach of our own life span.

While we may never have met these people in real life, the events that shaped their lives ultimately touched our own in some way—be it ever so small. That’s the part of our roots that I focus on when I ferret out the message behind the data and documents. Perhaps it’s that relay race of influence passed down from generation to generation that fascinates me—that draws me to such a niche.

Based on what I’m explaining about my own family stories, I’ll inevitably adopt a different tone—my “voice”—to the way I convey these episodes than you would for your scenes in your family story. While content such as diaries, letters, photos and memorabilia provide some excellent devices to employ in getting the story across to a reader, it not only serves the content aspect of narrative device, but influences the process mechanism that allows you to differentiate the sound of your blog from that of all others.

While all stories about families can be fascinating—even to strangers who’ve stopped to listen—it is ultimately the voice that becomes the recognizable feature which will draw those visitors back to your blog’s audience for the next story.

Above right: Cesare Maccari's 1889 fresco, Cicerone Denuncia Catalina (Cicero Denounces Catiline); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Replies
    1. That was a great post, Iggy. Electrifying how that dry old history stuff can come alive when it makes a personal connection. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks to @LynnPal (otherwise known as Lynn Palermo) I found out someone else is on the "find your own voice" wavelength today--especially for bloggers.

  3. Very well written and so true. Thanks, Jacqi.

    1. Karin, thank you for stopping by--and for your comment!

  4. Jacqui - I started a comment, but it worked itself into a full blog post! Thanks for highlighting my work at 100 Years in America and The Catholic Gene.

    I share your enjoyment of blogs with a strong voice (and am a fan of yours and the ones you mentioned). The voices of these bloggers draw me into their writing and keep me coming back for more.

    For more of my thoughts, visit my comment-turned-blog-article: The search for family history: Savoring the journey.

    1. Lisa, I know that feeling all too well! Thanks for providing the link back to your blog. I appreciate what you've said, both here and in your own post on the topic.

      Your post got me thinking about this issue further, and I will be following up with another post next week.

  5. Hi Jacqui,
    You've written a very thought-provoking and engaging post. I'm really flattered that you included my blog as an example of a strong voice. I've certainly been drawn into my family's history by being able to view their lives through their own eyes -- as they saw it at the time it actually happened. It's like being a fly on the walls of their minds. Yours, too brings your family to life. I was especially intrigued by the letter you discovered and posted about from Frank on Sept. 2nd. My uncle (a navigator in WWII) was also a Frank, and I hope to write more about him one day. Thanks for a lovely compliment, an thoughtful post and your excellent blog!

    1. Linda, I think it goes without saying that I love, love, love what you are doing with your family's story. And while, yes, you have the original material to shape a compelling story, you also have the right touch, just the right sensitivity as to how to handle the unfolding of that story.

      I remember your sharing that observance about our mutual Franks. Along with you, I hope to see more written about him in your same inimitable style.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind words.

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  7. I hope I can get to my Frank. Taking a couple of classes -- creative nonfiction and a poetry class, so time's being eaten up. Keep the flame burning here at Family Tapestry. Sorry for all the typos in previous comment!

  8. Thank you so much for the mention!

    One of the things I love about blogging is that everyone gets to decide how to do it. It allows for so many different voices. For a former corporate type like me, that's refreshing. I love that we each have the opportunity to be heard (and have our ancestors be heard) in the way that works for us.

    1. The blogging world has certainly benefited from you exercising the option to have your own voice in your blog, Kerry! I, for one, thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for stopping by!


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