Thursday, August 4, 2011

Blogging from the Other Side of the Keyboard

Have you ever wondered when you read a blog what it is like on the other side of the keyboard?  I’ve been thinking about that lately as I realized that I have passed the two year anniversary of this blog.  I was originally introduced to the idea of blogging by an artist friend who pointed out a variety of arts blogs designed to share one’s latest work with a community of artists.  A blog solely on artwork seemed too limiting to me and as I had been painting family and cultural history it soon morphed into a family history blog with an arts component.  Over the last several years I have traveled widely in Eastern Europe with trips to my ancestral towns in Belarus, Poland and the Ukraine.  Soon I was writing about travel as well.  As I am a voracious reader, the occasional book review also finds its way into the blog if related to family and cultural history.  It’s a broad swath, but I write about what I care about and hopefully attract readers who share some of the same interests.

So a few observations…  I’ve learned that blogging requires deep commitment to sustain the effort.  A compulsive personality is an asset when it comes to consistently blogging.  I began this blog when I was traveling to Lithuania to study Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute.  While time is often limited when traveling, material is not.  Seeing a new region through fresh eyes offers a wealth of new material.  The challenge arises when one isn’t traveling.  There have been times when my life was quite full, but not specifically related to genealogy or family history travel or artwork so little blogging occurred.   And then there are times when new material overflows and I seek to capture it as fast as I can.

One of the things that I struggle with is how much personal information to put out there.  Juxtaposing being a fairly private person with a web presence is challenging. A private blogger is a bit of an oxymoron.  Of course I share family history information, ever hopeful that someone related will stumble across my blog and uncover an entirely unknown new branch.  One can always hope.  When I was writing about my oral history project on Jewish Identity & Legacy, I debated how much of my own background and thoughts on Jewish identity to include.  I’ve since concluded that if it is relevant to the topic, then it is appropriate.  My cultural Jewish identity was relevant to my interest in exploring the topic of identity and thus made its way into the blog.

People blog for many reasons.  For me it is much the same reason that I create Shtetlinks (now Kehila links), websites for those searching family from a particular town.  I’ve learned a lot in the course of my search and I hope that others find it useful.  I’ve had many people reach out to assist me as I did my research and this is a way that I give back to that community.  And of course, I like to write.  I doubt most people write blogs if they don’t.  I often find that writing is a way that I organize my thinking.  Many times I have started to write about a discovery and in the process of writing I think of an important new direction to explore.

I always appreciate those who send me comments as it gives me some flavor for who is reading the blog.  I also make use of the statistics available through Google on the blog.  It is reassuring to realize that even if I never wrote another blog entry a significant number of people around the world will continue to find my existing entries.  Google provides statistics on the number of hits, which blog entries and from where they were referred.  It also tells me geographically the number of people who are reading the blog from around the world.   I must confess to some fascination with these statistics.  This week I had readers from the US. the UK and Germany leading the pack, but also hits from Canada, the Czech Republic, Belize, the Ukraine, Chile, Austria and Russia.   Blog entries on Prague and Cracow seem to be most in demand, usually a blip that corresponds to travelers to those regions.

Over the period Google has tracked these results, the US accounted for about two-thirds of the hits with the balance largely composed of Canada, Germany, the UK, Russia and Israel.  Of the almost 120 blog entries that I’ve done there are three blog entries that have generated the most interest.  Stalking the Shtetl Stork is the all-time leader with a focus on a shtetl visit to Pilvishok.  I can only guess that there is a devoted group searching family from that particular shtetl.  Tied for second place is Principles for Basic Genealogy Searches and Archive Day.  Principles is very appropriately named which may account for its hits.  As I was doing research for others, I detailed out my process and the basic principles that guided my search.  It is a good primer for anyone beginning genealogy research.   Archive Day describes my time at the Radom archives doing research.

Two years ago I didn’t image that I would still be writing the blog after my Lithuanian travels.  It is quite possible that it will morph over time as I’ve completed most of my Eastern European travels and uncovered many of my family history mysteries.  So keep reading and together we’ll see how this evolves.

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