Journaling Your Research Notes

Have you ever considered using a journaling app for your research notes? DayOne offers a number of features that make it easy to capture, organize and find the notes you add to your DayOne journals.

Each note created with DayOne automatically includes the date, place and time it was created. You can also include hashtags – keywords describing the content of each note – by including a hash mark (#) immediately ahead of each keyword. For example – DayOne will automatically identify the #Barrett hashtag as a tag for that note. Then, when you want to find all the notes related to that hashtag, go to the Search box and enter the tag in the Search box. Yes, it’s that easy.

Another useful feature is the sharesheet. Tap the share icon at the top right side of the note you are writing. Use it to email this entry to someone, post it to social media or you blog. I’ve tried it with both WordPress and Tumblr and it works beautifully!

Why You Need a Blog Editor

Those of us with a treasured family journal, scrapbook or collection of letters have a window into the personal side of our family’s history. That one or more generations of people took the time and effort to protect and preserve those treasures makes them even more precious. Today, we have a large community of bloggers documenting and sharing their research and family stories. It’s amazing how quickly these “little stories” become impressive historical collections.

That’s the good news.

What happens to all that work when the blog platform you are using shuts down or has a server crash? There are all kinds of disasters that can impact your blog and its content. What are you doing to protect your work?

While most blog platforms include an online editor to make it easy to write and publish your posts, you may want to consider using a desktop (or mobile) editing app instead. There are a number of advantages to using an editor. Besides the obvious backup advantage, an editor will also make it easier to repurpose your posts into other family history publications.

I found two wonderful apps (for Mac and iOS) that support both my blogging effort and my writing projects while protecting both. I use Byword (Mac – $10.99, iOS – $5.99) as my blog editor. Its publishing feature supports posting to WordPress, Medium, Tumblr, Blogger and Evernote. I use iCloud to save copies of each post. I also use the Ulysses writing platform (Mac – $44.99 and iPad – $19.99) to manage my writing projects. Ulysses supports an “external folder” option that allows me to connect those Byword folders for easy access to my blog posts. Copies of any post is easily dragged into a writing project.

Even better … both Byword and Ulysses support Markdown so not only am I protecting my posts from disaster, I’m future-proofing my stories – saving them from the scrapyard of obsolete software.

Reimagining the Scrapbook

Did you keep a scrapbook in your childhood? Was it something like this – black pages with all kinds of ephemera pasted or taped to it?

old scrapbook page
Childhood scrapbook

It was always a delight to pull out an old family album or scrapbook and take a trip down memory lane. It’s even more exciting when we get our hands on an ancestor’s scrapbook. Unfortunately back in the day we never heard of anything like “archival quality paper” to preserve precious childhood treasures. Today some of those treasures are in pretty sad shape.

It dawned on me a while back that my family history blog had turned into a sort of scrapbook. It wasn’t anything I planned. It just happened. I thought for a while and decided I liked it. Apparently my family does too. My subscribers list is growing and many of them are family with a surprising number of childhood friends too.

What does it take to build a scrapbook blog? Not much. My Moultrie Creek Journal blog is hosted at WordPress.com using the personal plan ($36/year). This gives me a domain name along with 6GB of storage for images, movies and PDF documents along with a broad range of site themes. I’m using the Fictive theme which has a simple, but eye-catching design and supports post formats – a different look for each post type (text, image, video, quote, etc.).

MoultrieJournal203.png
Sharing an old photo on my family history blog.

What really makes WordPress a great platform for a family history scrapbook is its social networking integrations. Family and friends can subscribe to receive new posts via email or newsreader and WordPress will “announce” each new post at my choice of social networks where family members are known to hang out. WordPress also has an impressive commenting system that works much like Facebook so visitors can add their own comments, photos and other ephemera to the conversation.

One of the very nice things about blogging your family history is that it will attract more than just your “close” relatives. Blogs are very search-friendly and it’s not unusual to have a distant relative discover your online scrapbook. They may even have useful information to pass on – like who is that unknown person in a family photo.

GGGGreat Grandmother

Using a blog as a scrapbook doesn’t limit your creative urges either. I like to create collage-style graphics like the one you see above and use them as the “focus” image at the beginning of a post. It attracts attention and provides time and place for the story that follows.

Blogs are surprisingly versatile and a great place to get creative. Even better, it can attract attention and start conversations you never expected. It’s definitely worth a look!

Reimagining the Scrapbook

Scrapbook page

A page from my childhood scrapbook Did you keep a scrapbook in your childhood? Was it something like this – black pages with all kinds of ephemera pasted or taped to the pages? It’s always a delight to pull out an old photo album or scrapbook and take a trip down memory lane. It’s even more exciting when we get our hands onto an ancestor’s scrapbook. Unfortunately none of us ever heard of…

View On WordPress

Scrapbook page

Reimagining the Scrapbook

Scrapbook page
A page from my childhood scrapbook

Did you keep a scrapbook in your childhood? Was it something like this – black pages with all kinds of ephemera pasted or taped to them?

It’s always a delight to pull out an old photo album or scrapbook and take a trip down memory lane. It’s even more exciting when we get our hands onto an ancestor’s scrapbook. Unfortunately none of us ever heard of anything like “archival quality paper” at the time we were saving our precious childhood treasures. As a result, some of those treasures are in pretty sad shape.

It dawned on me a while back that my family history blog had become a sort of scrapbook. This wasn’t anything I had planned, it just sort of happened. I thought about it a while and decided I like it. Apparently, my family does too. More of them are email subscribers to the site and I’m getting more feedback from them too. Yes!

A blog scrapbook
A catchy title and graphic will grab their attention

What does it take to build a scrapbook-style blog? Not much. My Moultrie Creek Journal blog is hosted at WordPress.com using the Personal plan ($36/year). This gives me a domain name along with extra space for all the photos and graphics. I’m using the Fictive theme which gives a funky kind of look. Even better, it supports post formats. Most of the recent WordPress themes include post formats. With post formats the look of each post differs a bit depending on what that post contains. In the example above, the post is formatted as a photo post. Notice the camera icon above the title. It spotlights the photo of my choice at the beginning of the post.

The post below uses the video post format. This is useful for videos hosted with WordPress’s VideoPress (requires a Premium plan) or via an online platform like YouTube.

Video post format
Video post format example

Other post formats include standard, quote, link, audio, gallery, status and aside. Not every WordPress theme supports post formats and those that do may not support all of them. Each theme presents each post format differently. You’ll notice the Gazette’s theme has a more formal look including a beautifully “framed” spotlight photo. The Journal is much more casual in both style and color scheme. Take advantage of the information pages and demos in the WordPress theme catalog to see how each handles post formats.

Capt. BarrettWhat about content?

I’ve got tons of family ephemera and while I don’t know the story behind a lot of it, there’s plenty I do. My father shuttled water to Guantanemo Bay after Castro shut off the water. This news clipping documents his last trip. I have more clippings related to this project which will get posted sometime later.

One of my favorite topics is “Lost St. Augustine”. These are photos and stories about favorite places that no longer exist. And, since this scrapbook supports more kinds of media than just paper, I often include a photo slideshow or a video clip.

By taking advantage of WordPress’s categories and tags features, I don’t have to tell my stories in any particular order. The category list in the sidebar serves as a table of contents while the tag cloud makes a great index. And, at the bottom of each article, visitors will find several recommendations linking to posts related to the post they are currently reading.

My scrapbook doesn’t just interest my immediate family. It has also attracted research cousins. WordPress is very search-friendly and even my oldest posts are easily discovered via today’s search engines. The commenting component provides a platform to discover if we are related and share what we know.

If you are looking to kick your family history up a notch, try creating your own online scrapbook. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.