Tag Archives: blogging

Is your blog accessible?

Technology has given us all some great tools to both publish and consume information. Our blogs allow us to connect with distant cousins and others researching the same people and places we are. Technology has also given people with disabilities access to most of the same information. But, with just a bit of effort on our part, we can help improve that – especially when they are visiting our blog sites.

There are special devices and software that help make life easier for the disabled. We’re already familiar with closed-captioning for television programs which provide people with hearing issues the ability to keep up with what’s happening on-screen. Did you know that you can add captioning when you build your own movies?

Blind people use a special program called a screen reader to browse the web. It reads the content to them and offers special commands for navigating a page or site. People with physical disabilities – especially our wounded service men and women – use voice recognition software like Dragon Dictate to dictate content and perform commands.

All of these tools are amazing, but they work even better when we do our part. Here are a few suggestions. . .
WordPress attachment details panel
Provide a text description for every image you include in your blog post. Screen reader software will read the information found in the “alt” attribute included with the image code, giving your blind visitor an idea of what is displayed here. Here you see the Attachment Details panel from the Add Media screen in WordPress. Notice the simple description included in the Alt Text field. It doesn’t appear anywhere in your post, but is part of the HTML code that is read to blind visitors using their screen reader. It doesn’t have to be a long description – just enough to let the reader know what’s there. Alt text has another use too. It describes the content of the image to search engines – just in case you’re trying to attract anyone’s attention . . .

If you’re using CAPTCHA features on your comments to prevent spammers, make sure your CAPTCHA capability offers an alternative for people with visual impairments.

Do you ever tell your readers to click the red box or the green text? How will your blind readers find it? It’s good practice to define your links with a description of what they will find at the other end. (Example: Download the family tree file.)

Notice there’s also an entry in the Title field. You’ll find title fields for media (images, photos, attached documents) and for links. Ever wondered what it does? It is used by various assistive apps and devices to allow disabled people to move from one hyperlink to another within your text. A voice command like “click family tree file” is a lot easier than having to verbally “tab” through every previous link on the page to get to this one.

These are just a couple of suggestions that take very little effort on your part but they make your blog site and posts much more accessible to people with disabilities. There’s a whole section on accessibility in the Yahoo! Style Guide. You can visit the online edition or you can keep a print or Kindle copy nearby at all times.

Day One – Have Your Journal and Publish It Too

I hope you’re as interested in capturing your current family history as you are in tracking down your ancestors. If so, Day One is an amazing app for doing just that. And, every time I think Day One can’t get any better . . . it does.

This suite of Mac/iOS apps offers an easy way to capture your current family history. With the iOS app [$4.99], you’re ready to capture any moment – large or small. Not only can you include photos, Day One will automatically capture your location and even the weather conditions at the time of your entry. For those entries that need more explanation, the Mac app [$9.99] makes a great command center. You can sync your journal entries between devices using either iCloud or Dropbox.

Capturing your world is just one element in Day One’s growing list of features. If you wish to share a moment, individual entries can be emailed, texted and forwarded to Facebook or Twitter. You can use tags to organize each entry and later put those tags to use to select all the entries associated with a person or event. Now, export those items and you’ve got a beautiful PDF document. Create tags for family members, trips or special events and you can quickly create a travel journal or baby book based on the entries you’ve included in Day One.

And now for that even better part. Day One recently introduced Day One Publish – a personal blogging service. You can use Publish to post the entries you wish to share to your personal blog at Day One. You can also connect your Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts to this blog so you can use them to invite others to view the post. Here’s where things get interesting. Whether you use the social networks or send a link by email, you’re only giving people access to that particular post.

A Day One journal entry displayed in the Day One blog.

A Day One journal entry displayed in the Day One blog.

Clicking on the owner’s name (Moultrie Creek in blue at top left) will present the owner’s profile information as a panel on the left.

Day One entry with profile panel displayed.

Day One entry with profile panel displayed.

Only the owner can see his/her complete list of postings – by logging into the account.

Notice the very tiny gray note at the bottom of this screen. It says 1 VIEW. Day One Publish even tracks stats! And, if I had also announced this post at Facebook, Twitter and/or Foursquare, it would collect those stats for me and display them here too. Stats include views, likes and shares.

Right now Day One Publish is only available on the iThings. Setting up your free Publish account is simple. Just go to the Settings screen in the app and tap Day One Account. Now, when you create a journal entry, you’ll also see the Publish icon at the bottom of the screen. Tap it, choose your publishing options, then tap Publish.

To learn more, watch this video from Day One.


Blog From Your Journal

Blogging is an easy and affordable way to document your family history and the efforts taken to discover it. Blogging makes it easy to discover research cousins and has had a significant role in building the online genealogy community that connects so many of us today. And blogging is fun.


Bloggers are dependent on the platforms they use to build their blogs. As we learned last year with the Posterous shutdown, that one fact can quickly turn blogging into a nightmare.

Fortunately we have options. One very good option is to take advantage of the growing number of journaling apps that support blog publishing. Day One just announced its first steps into publishing, but there are other apps that have been doing it for some time. Two good examples are Mariner Software’s MacJournal [$33.24 at Amazon] and WinJournal [$30 at Amazon]. With these apps, you can write your articles on your desktop – complete with photos and other attachments – then publish a copy to your blog.

Setting up a WordPress blog in MacJournal.

Setting up a WordPress blog in MacJournal.

Both journal apps allow you to create multiple journals within the interface so I one have specifically for blog articles. That journal has also been set up to connect to my blog. Most blog platforms support attached files (like photos) but for those that don’t (Tumblr, for example), you have the option to set up an alternate location to upload those attachments. In the example above, you see the configuration panel for connecting to a blog – in this case a WordPress blog. Once the connection is accepted, the panel you see on the right appears, showing me the categories set up in this blog.

Now you just start writing your blog post as if it was any other journal entry in MacJournal. Once it’s ready to publish, click on the Share menu and you’ll see a menu item to Send to (your blog’s name). The options panel appears next. The options you’ll see depend on which blog platform you use. In the example below, I’m posting to WordPress so my options include the ability to choose a category for this blog. Make your selections, then click OK to send this entry to your blog.

MacJournal Publishing

I usually uncheck the Publish post immediately option so the article will be sent to my blog as a draft. This will allow me to review the article, add tags, configure social networking connections and schedule when I want the article to appear on my blog.

MacJournal also has apps for the iPhone [$4.99] and iPad [$5.99] which support blogging. The iPad version offers a lot more flexibility with WordPress blogs and has a feature to download entries from your blog to the app. Oh, and both iOS MacJournal apps support both Dropbox and iCloud as storage for your journal files. These downloaded entries are text only, but they do show where images and other embeds have been positioned within the post.

Yes, there are other desktop editors for blogging, but because family history blogging is already a very personal activity it just seems fit that a journaling app is the place to create them.

Day One Publish

Day One, the amazing journaling app for Mac and iOS, has just released an update for its iPhone app which includes the ability to publish entries to your personal web site located at http://dayone.me. In addition, you can also have your entry posted to Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. You choose which entries you want to publish and the social networks, if any, where you also want them to appear.

Your DayOne.me web site is private by default. Only people who know the URL for a post can view it. If you choose to also announce your post to the public via one of the social networks, it includes the link to that post.

DayOne PublishHere you see a journal entry in my DayOne iPhone app. To publish it, I just tap the Publish icon (shown in blue on the left of the bottom toolbar). The first time you do this, it walks you through the sign up process to create a free account at DayOne.me, then publishes this article at your new site. If you also want to announce posts at Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, you’ll first need to connect the app to your accounts – also done on the Publish screen – and from then on you just tap the network(s) you wish to include.

DayOne Site

Here’s what the published journal entry looks like at my “site”.

From within the app you can also create a bit of a profile for your site that includes a short bio, link to a web address of your choice and even the ability to take and include a selfie. Your DayOne.me site also serves as a central collection point for stats from each of the social networks included in your published items. It collects all the likes, retweets and comments for display on that entry’s web post.

Right now this feature only works on the iPhone app but updates are coming for both the iPad and Mac versions so soon you’ll be able to publish from those apps too.  Future plans include adding additional social networks and publishing features.

Day One with Publish for iPhone is now available in the app store.

The Posthaven Mailing List

Genealogy societies, historical societies, local civic and social groups, veterans groups and friends of the library often use email to keep their members informed about meetings, special events and society news. This is a good system, except for one thing – managing the mailing list. Even a small mailing list can be a challenge to keep updated – and then there’s the delight of dealing with all the bounced messages every time you send an update. There’s got to be a better way!

One very nice solution is Posthaven. At first look, Posthaven appears to be just a lightweight blog service. It is that, but it’s also a lot more. With Posthaven, you can create a blog site complete with permanent pages to provide information about your group. The blog itself serves as the mailing list manager, message distribution service and an online archive of the information sent to your members. To add content to the blog, you just send a message to the blog’s assigned email address.

The Posthaven Gazette - news, ideas and tips for Posthaven bloggers.

The Posthaven Gazette – news, ideas and tips for Posthaven bloggers.

If you’re scratching your head right now wondering what a blog has to do with a mailing list, keep reading.

Give your members the address to your Posthaven blog site and they can choose to subscribe to your updates – having them delivered as email to their inbox or as a newsfeed to their news reader. When a new item is posted to the blog, it is also be sent to all your subscribers. It even keeps you out of legal trouble by providing online subscribe/unsubscribe functionality so your organization won’t be categorized as a spammer.

Posting to your blog/mail list couldn’t be easier either. Each Posthaven blog has a unique email address and all you have to do is email a message to your blog’s address. The subject line of your message becomes the title of the blog post and the body of the message is the post’s content. You can include formatting, links, photos and even attached files. Posthaven converts it all beautifully into a blog post which is saved to your blog and then emailed to all your subscribers. Not all the post content is forwarded in the email messages, however. Large items like video files and attached documents are posted on the blog site and the email message links to them. This is done to keep the size of the email message within the limits of email service providers.

A Posthaven account will cost you $5.00 a month and each account can create up to 10 blogs. Each blog can have multiple contributors as well as an unlimited number of subscribers. While you may think 10 blogs is overkill – all you want is a mailing list, you will soon find any number of uses for those additional blogs. You can create private blogs as well as public ones, making them great platforms for committees, project teams and special interest groups to collaborate and share information.

If you would like to learn more about Posthaven, you can subscribe to my Posthaven Gazette blog – by email or by feed – and get all the latest news and tips about this impressive platform.

Serialize your family history

One of the reasons there are so many geneabloggers is that we have discovered it as the perfect platform for creating and presenting our family history one story at a time. Instead of waiting until I have all my research completed, when I have gathered enough on a person or event, I’ll write that story and publish it on my blog. Should I later find additional information, the article gets updated. I’m always surprised at how quickly those stories start adding up. And, those articles are easily accessible for repurposing into any number of other projects.

My two favorite authoring tools are the Scrivener app and the PressBooks platform. I have family history projects set up on both. When I finish a family history post on Moultrie Journal (my personal blog) that fits with one of these projects, I’ll copy it to both platforms. Although Scrivener is a fabulous authoring workspace, it’s also quite private. PressBooks is online and designed for collaboration. When I publish a section of the project at PressBooks, I can invite family – and anyone else I want – to come, read and comment on it. I get lots of good feedback and I’ll often import those remarks into my research notes on the Scrivener project.

While both platforms will export the finished book to any number of formats, Scrivener gives me more control over the formatting details of the export than PressBooks does.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that my family isn’t as fanatical about family history as I am. Oh, I don’t mean they aren’t interested, but they are busy and many aren’t that tech-savy. So, I need a delivery system that puts these stories in front of them with as little effort on their part as possible.

Fortunately for me, just about everyone in the family has some kind of tablet – most of them iPads. I’ve been working to install the free Documents app from Readdle on their iThings. It is an amazing app that lets them view just about any kind of file – from Office documents to PDFs to photos and even videos. It can annotate and/or edit many kinds of files and connects to just about every cloud storage system to provide a very handy file management system. Thanks to this app I can send documents and PDF files to my family as I create them and they can easily open and enjoy them on their iPads. This serialized storytelling suits us all.

A family history is a living, breathing creature that is constantly changing and always amazing. I enjoy capturing whatever story my research presents me and then incorporating it into the growing patchwork that is my ancestry. Thanks to today’s digital authoring and publishing tools, I can also share those stories in many creative ways.


Posthaven Update

Posthaven, the blog platform that is rising from the ashes of Posterous, recently passed another development milestone with the implementation of its email subscription service. Visitors can subscribe to receive new posts via email or the blog owner can add subscribers from the Settings page. This is particularly useful for private family blogs. Another useful feature for a family blog is commenting by email. When you receive a comment notification email you can now reply to it and your reply will become a new comment in the conversation.

Posthaven email sample

Sample post delivered by email.

Add these features to the already functional posting by email capability and you have an elegantly simple blogging platform that will support even the most digitally-challenged users. There’s one more major feature needed to give Posthaven the functionality needed for a private family blog – multiple contributor support. Since it is dependent on these two new features, I’m hoping to see it announced before the end of the year.

Posthaven will cost you $5.00 a month which allows you to create up to 10 blogs. Once multiple contributor support is in place, you will not only be able to build a private family blog, but you can also support other family members who are interested in blogging.

For more information, check out my Posthaven Primer. It is currently being updated and once the multiple contributors feature is in place, an updated edition will be published.

Ten Years Ago . . .

I was inspired by the military bloggers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq who reported the story of those wars from a very personal perspective. Major Pain, the pseudonym of an Army Reserve nurse at a CSH (Combat Support Hospital) in Iraq, sent emails home to her brother who posted them on a blog site. Her stories were amazing – and very emotional. The other bloggers were just as fascinating – and so was this blog thing.

On October 22, 2003, I started a blog called Simple Computing. I’d been writing user guides and tech support stuff for years so I figured that was the place to start. You can still find a few of the early posts on the Wayback Machine at Internet Archive but there’s no masthead or graphics so it isn’t pretty.

Over the years, Simple Computing became Family Matters and now I’ve finally settled on Moultrie Creek – at least as part of the title. The Moultrie Creek blog empire has grown over the years, but there’s one thing that doesn’t change – the joy of blogging and the community of genea-bloggers that we all have built. Ya’ll continue to inspire me – every day! Thank you.

simple computing masthead

Simple Computing Blog

Family Matters Masthead

Family Matters Blog

Gazette Masthead

Moultrie Creek Gazette Blog

Moultrie Creek Books

Moultrie Journal – my local and family history blog

Writing for the Future

Those of us who have photographs, letters, journals and other writings from our ancestors are blessed with a view of their worlds that no amount of vital records can provide. These are precious treasures which we spend a lot of time, money and effort to preserve. But, what are we doing to document and preserve a personal record of our lives for those who come after us?

DayOne Journal

Journal entry in the DayOne app for Mac.

In today’s digital world we have some amazing tools for capturing photographs, conversations and video clips, giving us the ability to document – and share – all kinds of special moments. The joys of digital media are tempered with some concerns. At the top of that list is how quickly things change. Anyone who’s had a desktop computer for more than a couple of years knows the frustration of documents that can no longer be opened because the software application that created that document no longer exists. Yes, this is a concern, but it’s a manageable one.

Data formats for the written word have come and gone, but one has been around since the very beginning of the digital age – plain text. It is just that – plain. There are no font changes, no bold or underline, no colors. It’s just alpha, numeric and special characters.

Next up the chain of data formats is something relatively new – markdown. It’s plain text with simple codes, created using plain text characters, to represent formatting commands. When viewed in its “plain” state, it’s quite readable, but it’s also very easy to develop programs that can process those simple codes and reformat the document into something very attractive. And, as technology changes, the original document is still quite readable and new conversion programs can be quickly created to jazz it up. For a better discussion of what markdown is, see Markdown – an archival standard for digital documents.

Although you won’t yet find markdown included as a “Save as” or “Export” option on most mainstream word processing applications, it’s getting a lot of attention from journaling apps. For example, the Day One app [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99] uses markdown as its standard format and offers export options to PDF and plain text.

Cherokee Rose article

A family story posted on my personal blog.

The data format getting the most attention these days is HyperText Markup Language (HTML). This has been the format of the Web and is now also the format of ebooks. Like markdown, it is plain text with codes – known as tags. Unlike markdown it’s not so simple. For a simple ebook novel that’s all text, the HTML code should be very readable in its raw form. A web page full of graphics, charts and links is quite a different story. Fortunately for us, computers don’t have a problem reading and processing the code to present us with a beautiful visual experience. And, because HTML is an industry standard format, it will travel from app to app – even platform to platform – with minimal effort.

How does all this impact the family historian?

One reason geneablogging is getting so much attention is its longevity. Not only are blogs built with HTML, they have an organizational standard that means they are very search-engine friendly (which helps attract research cousins) and can be moved from one blog platform to another. There are services which will convert your blog posts into ebooks and even print books. Most blog platforms offer backup and export options so you can maintain multiple copies – both online and offline. A growing number of journaling and text-editing apps have publish to blog features – giving you an extra layer of archival protection.

In a couple of weeks I will celebrate ten years of blogging. During that time I’ve documented a lot of family history – one story at a time. While the thought of sitting down and writing a “family history” has always been quite intimidating, it didn’t take long to blog enough stories for a book. Is it a complete family history? Not even close. But it doesn’t have to be. Using simple tools, I was able to pull out and reorganize the stories I wanted into a simple ebook to share with my family. And, as the stories grow, so does the ebook. It’s all digital so it’s very easy to update and redistribute.

Nothing lasts forever and digital platforms come and go. My family’s private blog site was on the Posterous platform which was bought by Twitter and later shut down. I was able to export our content and import it at another blog platform – actually to two different ones. Plus, I have a backup copy of the export file on my desktop. These other blog platforms saw the business potential Posterous’ shut down represented and did everything they could to help make the migration as easy as possible.

Don’t let technology concerns keep you from documenting your family history. Start with a blog on a reputable platform. You can get started with WordPress.com in a matter of minutes – and at no cost. Posthaven, created as a replacement for the Posterous platform, will cost you $5.00/month but promises it will be there as long as you want it. Platforms like Google’s Blogger and Yahoo’s Tumblr offer free and easy-to-use blogging, but are not their companies’ main priority.

Experiment with some of the new journaling apps – especially those that include companion mobile apps. The mobile journal apps take advantage of your device’s camera and location services, giving you the ability to easily include photos in your entry, automatically date stamp and even geo tag each one if you wish. Not only is a journal more appropriate for your private thoughts, but often these apps also offer features to publish selected entries to your blog – saving you time and effort.

Today’s technology make it easy to capture and record our family’s precious moments in ways that will insure they are accessible for many generations to come. Isn’t it time you get started?

Posthaven Ends Beta

Posthaven announced today that email posting is now functional and Posthaven’s beta period is over. This also means that Posthaven bloggers are no longer blogging for free. The $5.00 charge you paid to set up your account is now covering your first month’s service and beginning in September you will be charged $5.00 a month to keep your account operational. Posthaven accounts support up to 10 blogs.

Although it’s no longer in beta status, that doesn’t mean development has stopped. On the contrary, there’s still lots more Posthaven goodness to come. I understand that email distribution is almost complete and additional autoposting features will be coming too. I’m also looking forward to a posting bookmarklet and design themes.

I’ve updated the Posthaven Primer at Scribd with the latest features and you’ll find Posthaven news, tips and commentary at the Posthaven Gazette.