Friday, May 18, 2007

Family Newsletter Tip #2 -- Snail Mail or Email? Weighing the Options

Based on the rising postage costs and the popularity of e-mail, many family associations have switched to sending their family newsletter only through e-mail. Here are a few considerations:

1. Many older members of the family still do not have e-mail addresses. Though there are certaintly exceptions, we have found this to be true with the majority of our family members over the age of 70. If you choose to send a newsletter primarily through e-mail, provide the option for these family members to receive it through snail mail. These older family members will likely be a cornerstone of your organization, providing both volunteer hours and donations.

2. It is more likely that your e-mail newsletter will quickly be discarded. One of the reasons we have continued doing a snail mail newsletter is because we feel that it is more likely to be read than in an e-mail format. Though I have no statistics to prove which method is more effective, I do know that the "delete" button is easy to click and I personally delete e-mails faster than I throw away mail.

3. E-mail newsletters are easier to forward and pass on to other family members. Your mailing list will never be complete, but in your e-mail newsletter, you can easily ask family members to forward it to all their relatives!

4. Snail-mail newsletters will likely cost you between 60 cents and 1 dollar each. Once you include postage, envelopes, labels, printing...and the time to fold, stuff, and label the envelopes, it can be a very costly process! However, many family members may be more willing to donate to something tangible.

What's right for your family organization? Whatever you do, be sure to post your newsletter on your family tree website for other visitors!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Family Newsletter Tip #1 - What if I don't have enough to write?

First of all, if you haven't subscribed to Dick Eastman's Online Newsletter, I would highly recommend it. Dick writes great articles almost everyday and is one of the most popular and knowledgeable bloggers in the genealogy realm.

He is also one of the most generous.

In his recent blog post, he said "If you write a genealogy newsletter or other genealogy-related publication, you already know how difficult it is to constantly find new information to write about. I thought I would take this opportunity to remind you that you may use information from this newsletter in your publication."

So, when you come to that writer's block, browse through some of his articles and find something that your family will enjoy! Remember to give full credit and to follow the guidelines he outlines.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Some Helpful Links

Here is a list of helpful related links:

Acadian Genealogy Homepage - The first (1991) and one of the best Acadican-Cajun resource site on the Internet, providing visitors information of available "specific family" genealogy CDs, a graphic image of your own family crest and lots of Acadian-Cajun historical text information.

Ancestor Genealogy Photo Archive - Free genealogy database of family photos containing online vintage photographs.

Ancestor Hunt -- Free genealogy search engines

Census Finder - Free census records online

Colonial Ancestors - Genealogy records and information about ancestors in the 13 original colonies

English Monarchs - Complete history of the Kings and Queens of England categorized by dynasties

Female Ancestors - Help to find your elusive female ancestors

GeneaLinks - A marriage records database and link to genealogy and history sites to help visitors find genealogy information on the internet

Genealogy Data -Find online genealogy data to help find your ancestors.

Genealogy Free -- Directory of helpful genealogy resources.

Genealogy Search Australia - Australian Genealogy Search Engine and Directory for the most useful Australian and international genealogy and family history sites

Genealogy Today -

Looking 4 Kin Genealogy Links and Chat - Directory of helpful genealogy links in many categories and a 24/7 genealogy chat room.

Surname Genealogy Archive - Free genealogy database of transcribed documents, lists of names from the past, and obituaries to help you find your ancestors and surnames and gain an insight into their everyday lives.

Swedish American Links - Links to help for Swedish research - Online since 1996 - Locate missing family members in the Lost Family Bulletin Board or track down some ancestors in the Genealogy Message Board.

Provo Pulse - Community blog for Provo area

BYU blog and web site directory

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Friday, May 11, 2007

How to Write a Good Family Newsletter

Since most family associations don't all meet together more often than once a year, family newsletters are critical to keeping the family informed and preserving the momentum of the association.

First, choose a name. Most groups simply use their surname in the title and add "Gazette", "Newsletter" or something similar. With the Pratt Family newsletter, I chose the "Bicentennial Star" because it has reference both to the 200th birthday of our ancestor that we were celebrating, but also to a newspaper called the "Millennial Star" that this ancestor helped publish in the mid-1800s.

First, I would suggest having multiple authors for the newsletter to make it more interesting. These authors can be officers of the association or a family member that has an interesting experience or family story to share.

Most family newsletters start with a "President's Message." This is an opportunity to explain the direction of the family over the next year, for example. Give a broad view of what you want to be accomplished, set realizable expectations and goals, and seek greater involvement from family members.

Next, include articles on the projects the family association has undertaken. Have any breakthroughs been made in the genealogy research? Are there projects that family members can volunteer for?

Be sure to include an article detailing the plans for the next reunion. Even if it's a year away and plans are very sketchy, at least include a "save the date."

Finally, if you have a good family tree website, encourage people to visit it!

Perhaps better than talking about what makes a newsletter, here are a couple examples:

2007 "Bicentennial Star" - Pratt Family Association Newsletter

Tefft Family Association Newsletter

Schnare Family Newsletter

There are many more examples if you simple search for "family association" + newsletter. Now that we've got an idea of the potential organization of the family newsletter, I'll post an article next with some helpful tips.

For a few tips from Family Tree Magazine, see here and here.

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Monday, May 7, 2007

What Officers Are Necessary For Your Family Organization?

The officers that are needed to help run your family organization are completely dependent on the purposes of your organization. Names may vary between organization, but here are some common positions and duties to consider:

President: The champion. Provide the vision and direction for the organization.

Treasury/Secretary: Open a bank account for the organization, accept donations/contributions, keep meticulous financial records, take notes at officer meetings, manage mailing list and e-mail list.

Newsletter Editor: Collect and organize articles, design newsletter, arrange printing and sending of newsletter to family members.

Historian: Keep the official genealogical database for the family. Seek out and merge updated GEDCOM files from family members (particularly relevant if keeping a database of descendants and not only ancestors). Locate and archive important family records.

Reunion Chairperson: Lead planning of family reunions and make necessary arrangements for accomodations, location, food, other activities based on decisions of all of the officers.

Project Chairperson: Lead the family effort on a certain project (i.e. locating family graves, creating DVD presentation of family history, etc.)

Webmaster: Create and update a viable family tree website.

Finding these individuals in the beginning may be somewhat of a challenge. Try to individually approach members of the family who might be willing to help while also making a general call for help through a family newsletter or reunion. Help them catch the vision of what your family organization could be!

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Friday, May 4, 2007

How to Market Your Family Tree Website

So you've created a great family tree website. Now what? It's time to get the word out. Over the last year, I've spent a lot of time doing this for the Pratt Family website and have been fairly successful as traffic is almost 10 times what it was a year ago!

1. Word of mouth. Of course, tell everyone in your family. Mention it in e-mails, family newsletters, and conversations. This part is obvious--the problem is most families stop here.

2. Pay-per-click. Your first thought was probably the same as mine--"I don't have money to pay to tell people about my genealogy website." That's ok, neither did I. At Microsoft AdCenter, you can get $50 free marketing--at 10 cents a click, that could translate into 500 clicks! Now, Microsoft does charge you a non-refundable $5 fee. 500 visitors for $5--is it worth it to you. Yahoo does the same thing--$100 for free and they charge you $5. Could be 1000 clicks for $5. Disclaimer: Be sure to read the fine print--they change the rules on these occasionally and I haven't used either in some time. Be sure to cancel once your free credit is used up or if they will start charging you per click.

To pick your "keywords" for your PPC, be creative. Of course, cover the basics. Using Pratt as an example, perhaps your keywords could be "pratt, pratt family, pratt genealogy, pratt family, pratt website, pratt newsletter, pratt family association, pratt family organization." I took the time and actually added the names for the top 100 most interesting and well-known people in my family line as keywords. Also, what other categories does your family fall into? For example, I also had keywords like "utah pioneers" and"early mormons."

3. Directories. I spent a lot of time submitting our website to free directories (there are literally thousands of them). We've seen very little traffic from most of them. However, there are a few genealogy directories out there that are worth looking into such as the Open Directory Project, Yahoo's Directory, All Genealogy Sites, Cyndi's List, and All Surnames to name a few.

4. Message Boards. Genforum has message boards for thousands of surnames--find a few that relate to your genealogy and post a message with a link to your family tree site.

5. Natural Search Engines. It's worth the time to create a sitemap and submit it to Google. There has been a lot written about this elsewhere so I won't focus on here. Simply, the best way to get better rankings in the search engines is to have good content on your family tree website. In other words, simply uploading a GEDCOM with lots of names and dates won't get you there--add original content that provides value.

6. Links. Search for websites that have a relationship to yours. Maybe they focus on the same surname or ancestor or have other ties to your family history. Ask them to consider linking to your family tree website. This will help build your traffic and will increase your search engine rankings.

Best of luck! I'd be happy to talk specifics with you about your website if you leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

How to Make a Family Tree Website

Thousands of genealogist have discovered that designing and creating a useful, interesting and appealing family tree website can be difficult! Some common goals of a family tree website include 1) to share genealogy information and display it with family tree charts, 2) to collaborate with family members to share family photographs, stories, sources and documents about our ancestors, 3) to communicate and network with family members, and 4) to provide a gathering place for the family.

Share genealogical information and display it with family tree charts

Though genealogy programs have made great progress over the last few years, very few genealogy programs produce clean, well-designed family tree charts--pedigree, descendants, family group sheets--for family tree websites. Most family organizations and individual genealogists do not have an effective and visually appealing way to display their genealogy, whether it’s 500 or 50,000 names on their family tree websites.

What if there was an easy program that could produce these family tree charts for your family tree website?

Collaborate with family members to share family photographs and documents

There is often one person (or a handful of people) in each family who gather, collect and publish photographs, articles, obituaries, sources, biographical sketches and other documents about their ancestors on a family tree website. But it can often be too much for one person to try to manage and update a large or small family tree website. For example, if a family member wants to add a story to the website, it would have to first be mailed or emailed to the webmaster, then put in the right format, and updated on the website.

What if family members all over the world could collaborate and add these photographs and stories to your family tree website themselves instead of being funneled through one "webmaster"? How much more family history could be added for your family members to enjoy?

Communicate and network with family members

Most family tree websites provide little interaction between family members and typically there are few ways for family members to connect and contact each other. As a result, the webmaster is often swamped with e-mails, many of which the questions answers would be helpful to many other family members. People might typically ask if there were people researching the genealogy on a certain line--a question that might be difficult to answer for a large family tree.

What if family members could "comment" easily on most pages of your family tree website? What if family members could be involved in a community blog? What if family members could easily find others researching the exact same line to collaborate with?

Gathering place for the family

An effective gathering place is one where family members can share, collaborate, plan together, etc. The vast majority of family tree websites are a one-way information flow—there is no way to respond, there is no way to collaborate, and there is no way to effectively share.

What if your family tree website encouraged collaboration, research and discussion, rather than simply publishing information?

The solution

If you want your family tree website to accomplish more of the goals above than it presently does, it’s time to build a dynamic family website at FamilyPulse where all of the ideas above have been incorporated to make your genealogy a family affair!

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Four Keys to Success

As I've been involved in the Pratt Family Association and researched other family organizations, I've picked out a few common characteristics of successful family organizations, some of which I readily credit to my father, Robert Grow. In no particular order:

1. A Champion. Though many are involved, there is typically one person who steps forward to lead the family effort to create and sustain a family organization. Because you are reading this, the champion in your family may be YOU. In my opinion, the champion needs to be more than just a passionate genealogist. Usually the champion is well respected in the family and the community, has leadership abilities to unite and motivate the family, and has resources that he/she can donate to the effort.

2. Financial Resources. It's not cheap to operate a family organization! Think of any computer needs, communication with family members, reunions, etc. For example, the Pratt family has roughly 2000 members on our mailing list--you can imagine how expensive it is to print and send a simple newsletter! As I already mentioned, if you are starting a family organization, most of this will likely come out of your pocket (and a few select others who support you). Once family members see that what you're doing is worthwhile, they will likely start to donate more. In a sense, you have to "earn" your contributions!

3. Momentum. Hold reunions at least every few years. Send out an annual family newsletter. Continually update your website. Sponsor new projects. Whatever your focus is, don't let the ball drop! It is much more difficult to jumpstart a languishing organization than to do the small things to keep it moving. I have come across literally hundreds of websites for family organizations, family associations, family societies, etc. that haven't been updated in YEARS...don't let your organization meet the same fate.

4. Technical Expertise. Because of how critical this aspect is, I want to focus on this in another post.

If you want your family organization to be successful, make sure you've got your bases covered. When one or more of these elements is withdrawn, the organization will falter.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

You Can't Do It All. What's the Scope?

One of the most important decisions that has to be made early on is "What will our family association do?"

If you are starting a family association, don't make the mistake of looking at more mature organizations and set out to do everything they are doing. The most common scenario is that whoever starts the organization also does the most work in the beginning. Don't expect too much help (time or money) at the beginning--once family member see the good things you are doing, then they will be more likely to help. Perhaps the most common purposes of a family organization are 1) organize reunions, 2) send family newsletters, and 3) maintain a genealogical database.

More mature family organizations often have more resources, more volunteers and more momentum. For example, some of the most recent projects that the Pratt Family have started are 1) to create a 2 hour DVD on the lives of the five Pratt brothers in the 1800s, 2) to locate the graves of every individual in certain generations and make sure each has a headstone, 3) to find and transcribe histories and articles about ancestors, and 4) to write biographical sketches on certain ancestors. What other interesting ideas have you heard of family associations doing?

Again, I can't emphasize enough for young organizations--don't take on more than you can handle. Most of the effort and funds will likely have to come from you in the beginning!

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Who Belongs in this Family Association?

Be clear on who the family association includes. Are you focusing on the descendants of a certain ancestor? Are you interested in creating an organization for everyone with a certain surname?

If you are interested in a surname, the One-Name Study has a register of surnames that someone has signed up to research. Note: Most of these are not an official organization, but it may be worthwhile to at least contact the individual.

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