MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . BARBARA J. STARMANS
This week we head over the border to Canada and we take a slight (though delightful) detour. Many of us are expanding our genealogy and family history to include learning more about our ancestors’ daily lives. We wonder about the best resources to “learn more about it” or wonder how to incorporate what we discover into our research files, our genealogy programs, and our blogs. This year I am taking a certificate course in Genealogy and Social History and so this week’s interviewee is a real treat. Let’s catch up with Barbara J. Starmans and her blog, The Social Historian, a long-form story website featuring social history themed articles from across the centuries and around the world.
For Our Readers Who Are Wondering, Barbara Explains What Social History Is
“Social History is not concerned with politics and wars, or kings and presidents, but rather with the lives of ordinary people. It is a view of history from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. Looking through the lens of the past enhances our understanding of how people lived, worked and played in their daily lives. It is often the minutia of someone’s life that tells the story of who they were and what they believed in. Beyond names and dates, those who came before us have a story to tell, and by learning about their time and place and how they lived in it, we can add to our understanding of who they were.”
A Little Bit About Barbara
“My name is Barbara J Starmans and I live in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, am ‘Mom’ to two wonderful daughters and ‘Nana BJ’ to two incredible grandchildren. For more than 35 years, I have been searching for my (sometimes elusive) English ancestors. By day, I work as a systems analyst and in my spare time I am a social historian and freelance writer. I am an instructor at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto, Canada for the Social History course and contribute regularly to such publications as Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, Family Tree Magazine UK and Discover Your Ancestors. I am also currently working on my first book to be published next year by Pen and Sword.
My interest in family history goes back a long way. When I was a child, my paternal grandmother lived with us and my interest in family history was first sparked by the stories she told me about her childhood. Nana was just eight years old when the family emigrated to Canada from England in 1905 and I loved to hear her family tales juxtaposed against the wooden sidewalks, horse drawn buggies and dirt roads of early twentieth century Toronto.”
How Barbara Got Started Doing Family History and Her Current Focus
“I’ve been doing family history for a really long time! When I first began researching my family history as a teenager, I interviewed all of my relatives, filled in hand drawn pedigree charts and family group sheets and made note of all the family stories and legends. I then began trying to fill in some of the blanks back in the days when English research meant writing away to archives and churches to locate records and progress was slow. I eventually discovered the local Family History Centre and spent hours searching through microfiche looking for census records and scrolling through the pages of parish registers on microfilm. When the LDS Church released the British Isles Vital Records Index and Census records on CDs and I was able to research at home on the weekends which seemed incredible. Then came the internet and I became an early Ancestry subscriber, and research became even easier. Since then, I’ve done extensive work on my own family, researched for clients, and along the way, I’ve developed a passion for Social History and the stories of the past.”
Why Barbara Created a Blog and Her Thoughts on Blogging
“I first created my first blog, Out of My Tree Genealogy, on WordPress.com back in the early days of blogging as a way to share my genealogical journey with my family and it has existed in various forms for about 15 years. After a few years of blogging, I transitioned to my own WordPress installation and registered the domain outofmytreegenealogy.com so the blog could have its own home. I love that WordPress lets me leverage plugins and themes to present my genealogy in a more visual way, with images and slideshows and videos.
In August of 2015, I launched The Social Historian, also on WordPress, using the Aesop Story Engine plugin, that really lets me be creative with the way my stories are presented. The Social Historian is not a blog in the truest sense of the word but a longform story website and I publish a new article every week that takes anywhere from five to thirty minutes to read but quite a bit longer to research and write. My weekly newsletter features a Social History research resource as well as my article. My subscriber list is growing steadily and that, along with reader feedback, motivates me to keep writing new posts.
As bloggers, we are the researchers, writers, editors, photographers, graphic designers and producers of our family history stories. Blogging gives us the opportunity to share our research, our stories and our passion for family history with other members of the genealogy community and, if we’re lucky, find some distant cousins along the way. What could be better than that?”
Barbara’s Favourite Blog Post
“After all these years, there are a lot of blog posts to choose from but my current favourite one is probably the case study I did of my great-great-grandfather and his battle and subsequent death from the ravages of General Paresis of the Insane on The Social Historian. Finding out what happened to him was a great genealogical adventure that took place over about a decade so finally being able to tell his story gives me a great deal of satisfaction. The day I received his asylum hospital records in the mail from the archives, I certainly did a genealogy happy dance when I found that there was a photograph included as part of the record! Certainly the topic is not one that many bloggers would likely tackle, but I did receive quite a few comments and emails after I published this post from other genealogists who had ancestors with a similar history. All of our ancestors have stories to tell and I think we need to tell them, regardless of what path their lives followed.”
How Barbara Spends Her Genealogy Time
“Between my day job and all of my writing commitments, I don’t find much time these days to do research on my own family history and it probably doesn’t help that the only research left for me to do are the brick walls and the sticky bits. I try to schedule one vacation week a year to focus on my genealogy research, sometimes going to England where my ancestors are from and sometimes researching at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.”
Where Barbara Gets Her Writing Inspiration
“My Out of My Tree Genealogy blog posts frequently relate to research on my own ancestors so they are usually triggered by an interesting find or a new breakthrough. The Social Historian, however, gives me the freedom to fall down whatever rabbit hole I happen to stumble on. Some of the articles I’ve written relate to my own ancestors but mostly my ideas come from some glancing mention in an historic newspaper, an endnote in a scholarly article or a reference in a fellow genealogist’s blog post that triggers a research idea. Occasionally I begin an article about one subject and finish by having to change the title at the end because I took a research detour along the way. That’s the great thing about being both the writer and the editor of my blog!”
Barbara’s Favourite Research Tools or Resources
“I absolutely adore old newspapers and spend much of my research time just reading them, whether I’m searching for specific subjects or just browsing to get a feeling for the time and place. My other go-to resource for research are digitised copies of old books or magazines from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While reading about history is interesting, reading articles and books that were written during the historical period I’m researching is simply fascinating and really helps me to get to know the people in their place and time.”
The Top 3 Items on Barbara’s Genealogy Bucket List
“Number one on my personal bucket list is to finally write a creative non-fiction book telling my great-grandmother’s story. I’ve hesitated about writing about her in the past because as a genealogist, I did not want to put anything in the book that wasn’t directly sourced and verifiable, but I think I’ve come to accept that in order to be readable, I need to allow myself a certain creative license to embellish descriptive details or create fictitious conversations.
Number two on my bucket list is visiting each of my ancestors’ home towns and seeing where they lived. I’ve crossed a few places off my list but there are a lot more yet to visit.
Number three on my bucket list is probably presenting at a national conference someday. I’ve just recently began speaking to local genealogical and historical societies and found out that I did not spontaneously combust when I stood up to speak after all. I’m hoping some further practice might eventually prepare me for a bigger venue.”
And Now for Something Different – The Social Historian’s Lady Day Contest
Barbara’s 36th post on The Social Historian features the winner of her first contest (be sure to read all about a “pretty sensational murder trial.”) Barbara’s next contest is coming up – she wants to help tell the story of a rogue or an angel (if any of our readers have one of these in their family – why not check out the details of the contest below).
Social Historian Quarterday Contest
Rogue or Angel?
Does your ancestor have a story to tell? Enter the Social Historian’s Lady Day contest for a chance to see your ancestor featured in an upcoming article.
Whether they were a rogue or an angel, if your ancestor has an interesting story to tell, send their genealogical profile to the Social Historian along with your reasons why you think they should be featured in an upcoming article.
One entry will be chosen for an article to be published in the spring of 2016. Deadline for entries is Lady Day, 25 March 2016.
Send your entry to
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Please take a moment and visit Barbara at The Social Historian. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. And why not follow her advice and check out newspaper articles written during your ancestors’ life and times. It will help you put your ancestors in their place and bring their stories to life.
© 2016, copyright Tessa Keough. All rights reserved
Tessa Keough divides her time between Arlington, Virginia and Portland, Oregon. She got hooked on researching her ancestors after seeing a pedigree chart at a family reunion. She shares her paternal genealogy at The Keough Corner, her maternal genealogy at Scandia Musings & More, and technology and methodology tips at her YouTube channel TessaWatch. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Tessa via email firstname.lastname@example.org.