May I Introduce to You . . . Susan Donaldson

Come meet genealogy blogger Susan Donaldson, author of the Family History Fun blog, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

I have the pleasure of introducing you to Susan Donaldson, better known as “ScotSue,” and her blog Family History Fun. Susan has the family history bug for researching both her own family history and that of friends, in particular the families of Fylde in Lancashire, her Weston ancestors from Staffordshire and Shropshire, and her Scottish Donaldson connections.

A Little About Susan

“I come from Poulton-le-Fylde, near the popular seaside resort of Blackpool, in Lancashire in north west England. We moved with my father’s work to Edinburgh where I finished my education studying history, followed by the Diploma in Librarianship and Information Work. My first proper job was on a USA exchange scheme, working in the Radcliffe College Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts. I loved Boston and New England but also took advantage of enjoying the Greyhound bus offer of ‘99 dollars for 99 days of travel’ around the States – a great experience.

“On marriage I moved to the Scottish Borders, south of Edinburgh. It is a beautiful rural region with a very distinctive history reflected in ruined castles and abbeys, and tales of Border Reivers and Border ballads.

“My career has spanned working in a College of Education, citizen’s advice bureau, tourist information centres, the local studies department of my local library service and finally the Heritage Hub – home of the Scottish Borders Archive, Local History & Family History Service – where I specialised in family history enquirers. How many people can say they are in a job connected with their hobby? I am now enjoying retirement.”

How Susan Got Started in Genealogy

“It all began with a shoebox of old photographs kept in a cupboard in my grandfather’s house. It was a special treat if I was allowed to look through them. There were photographs of my grandfather’s family (he was one of eight brothers and one sister), pictures of the brothers in First World War uniform, beautifully embroidered cards with penciled messages sent back from Flanders by Grandad to his wife and children, and childhood photographs of my mother and aunt. These are my family treasures.

“But it was the photograph of my great grandmother Maria Rawcliffe which had the most impact. Her name was an evocative mixture of down-to-earth northern Lancashire grit (Rawcliffe) and echoes of a more flamboyant Latin nature (Maria). She looked a formidable lady from this one photograph I had initially of her. To give additional colour there was, no doubt, an apocryphal story that granny’s dark looks came from Spanish descent, after an Armada ship had been wrecked off the Fylde coast of Lancashire and the sailors married local girls. So you see I was soon weaving stories about her and wanted to find out more, which proved equally fascinating. 

“From primary school days, history was my favourite subject. I still have the penciled family tree I drew up when I was around 12 years old after seeing the old family photographs mentioned above. I did not return to it until many years later. In the 1980’s I joined the Lancashire Family History Society and also the Borders Family History Society, not because of any Border family connections but to go along to their talks and improve my knowledge of sources and research.

“Then of course along came the Internet. I became a silver surfer and my research and contacts took off. I had a major boost in 2001 when I regained contact with my mother’s cousin to find she had in her loft a large collection of family photographs, including the only one of my great grandfather.

“Working at the Scottish Borders Heritage Hub (my final job) was invaluable in widening my knowledge of Scottish archive resources and improving my research skills. I have written several family history narratives, and besides my own family history, I am working on my husband’s Scottish connections and have done a number of projects for local history organizations, friends and extended family. My ‘to do’ list is long.”

Susan’s Thoughts About Blogging

“At work I had compiled information sheets and enjoyed creating a style of presentation that made facts easy to absorb. I also had an interest in journalism and have written press releases etc. for various activities I have been involved in. My work had just started a blog which I contributed to, and the magazine article style appealed to me. Then I was reading Woman & Home magazine (aimed at the mature, enquiring woman) and an article said if you enjoyed writing, had time to write regularly  and had something you felt strongly about, set up a blog. So I did and have never looked back. That was in August 2010.

“I am not particularly IT savvy but managed to set up my blog using Blogger. My title of Family History Fun is rather unoriginal, but I wanted to convey the enjoyment that can be gained from family history and also have family history in the title from the point of view of search engines.  I used the name ScotSue, as I thought the Scottish aspect might appeal to readers. Using it in my blog address was a mistake when setting it up, as I thought I had to include my user name – hence the address came out rather longer than I would have liked.

“I wanted to have a medium for my writing, to show my collection of family photographs and memorabilia to a wider audience, and to meet fellow enthusiasts (I don’t count my immediate family amongst them!). Past experience on message boards etc. means I am under no illusion that my family names (Danson, Rawcliffe, Weston and Donaldson) evoke much interest, so I was hoping a blog might produce better results. It did and resulted in contact from two unknown third cousins (one in the USA) who gave me a wealth of information and photographs on their own extended family, and more material for blog posts.

“I used Google to search for other British family history bloggers and a contact pointed me to Geneabloggers, a major stepping stone in building up followers and giving ideas for posts.”

Susan’s Advice to New Bloggers

“In terms of setting up a blog, aim for a clean, unfussy, uncluttered look and play around with backgrounds and colours. In time, I set up Pages and moved ‘Blog Favourites’ and ‘Blog Awards’ from the side bar to a page each which works well. I also like my other Page headings, in giving a long term overview of my activities, e.g. ‘People & Places’ and ‘Timeline.’

“Join Geneabloggers and make use of their blog prompts to develop not only your writing but also a readership.  Build up your followers by making comments on posts. Learn from other bloggers – they are a very supportive community and there are lots of good examples and tips out there.

“Just start writing. Think carefully about the title of your post, as it is crucial in encouraging readers to open your post. Make sure your first sentence/paragraph is full of interest to attract the reader and ensure a high search optimization. Break up heavy blocks of text. Make use of images where you can to add interest. Use the Blogger Drafts folder to jot down ideas for future posts. In many instances it may be no more than a comment, a photograph, or a title to act as a prompt to develop later on.”

Susan’s Favorite Blog Post

“I am most proud of the posts relating to my ten known ancestors (including my father and grandfather) who served in two world wars, notably A Stretcher Bearer in the Field about my great uncle who was killed on the Somme in 1916, a week after his 22nd birthday.

“Blogging in particular has helped me to appreciate more the lives of my parents and I am proud to pay tribute to them though my posts. For my mother Happiness is Stitching, and for my father several posts based on his wartime experiences such as A Wartime Traveller’s Tale.

“I have also touched on topics not purely family history related, e.g. on local history, on featuring photographs of where I live. I am keen to promote my own area of the Scottish Borders which is often a forgotten corner of Scotland, and this was my theme for the last April A-Z Challenge.”

Susan’s Time With Ancestors

“Nowadays not enough and it is largely internet based, as I am dependent on public transport to reach archive centres. Writing is my main preoccupation and I have a long ‘to do’ list to finish writing up my Danson and Donaldson narratives, compile ‘I Remember when…’ memories of my childhood and other local and family history projects.”

Susan’s Favorite Ancestor

“It has to be Maria Rawcliffe, my great grandmother who I mentioned earlier. Maria’s life is at the heart of my family history, and it was the first I turned into a family history narrative. She was the inspiration for my ancestral trail, and research unearthed so many stories on her life which has given me rich material for my blog. Plus there was the discovery that she was born on the same date as my daughter114 years later, which seemed a wonderful coincidence.”

How Genealogy Has Improved Susan’s Life

“It has been wonderful opener to a fulfilling life. It was the basis for a very satisfying last ten years of my work. I have developed my research and writing skills, presented workshops on ‘First Steps in Family History,’ and have taken part in a Hobbies Show. Family history can take you in so many diverse directions, e.g. the study of names, local history, and social history, so it keeps your brain active. Travelling to places connected with my family is a great excuse for a holiday. From the start of blogging, I was amazed how well photographs showed up on screen and this stimulated my interest in photography to better illustrate my posts. Above all I have met online so many interesting people whose comments I very much appreciate. The computer of course has been essential to this and I cannot conceive of a life without it.  I recommend family history to anyone.”

What Susan Loves Most About Genealogy

“Difficult to say which is uppermost – the detective story element in hunting for information and corroborating it with evidence, (I do not like to be defeated), the satisfaction of finding key facts, and writing up the information in an interesting way. I love all these aspects.”

Susan’s Genealogy Bucket List

“Easy – to find information on the early life of my maternal grandmother Alice English who is my proverbial brick wall. I haven’t even been able to trace a birth certificate to find out the name of her mother.  She died when I was a baby and I failed (or somehow was reluctant) to ask the right questions of my mother at the right time. I was always told we shared the same birthday and her marriage certificate and death certificate confirm her birth year as 1884.  I have her father’s name from her marriage certificate but am no nearer finding out her mother’s name, despite lots of different efforts, including using a professional researcher.”

Susan’s Time Capsule Message

“Be proud of your past – of the feisty females in our family, and the men who served their country. They were individuals from ordinary backgrounds who sought to make the best of their lives.

“A time capsule would have to be big! I would include a family tree with copies of favourite family photographs and most valued family documents, e.g. correspondence from both the First and Second World Wars, plus artifacts such as an example of my mother’s stitching, my aunt’s paintings, my father’s writing, and mementoes representing myself, my husband, daughter and granddaughter.”

* * *

Please take a moment to visit Susan at Family History Fun and leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Thank-you, Susan, for letting us inside your blogging world.

© 2014, copyright Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wendy Mathias is a retired teacher who divides her time between her home in Chesapeake, Virginia and Smith Mountain Lake.  She enjoys researching her family and digging for the story behind old family photos for her blog Jollett Etc. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Wendy via email wendymath@cox.net.

May I Introduce to You . . . Jenny Lanctot

Come meet genealogy blogger Jenny Lanctot, author of the Are My Roots Showing? blog, in this interview by Gini Webb at GeneaBloggers.

I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Jenny Lanctot and her blog, Are My Roots Showing?, described as, “. . . Basically, it’s a place where I can tell the stories of my ancestors and provide hints and tips about stuff I learn along the way.”

A Little About Jenny

“I was born in Portland, Oregon and spent my formative years (age 5 to adulthood) in Atlanta, Georgia.  I currently live and work as a paralegal in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I’m slowly (emphasis on slow) working toward getting my genealogy certification.”

How Jenny Got Started in Genealogy

Jenny has been researching and doing genealogy on and off since about 1985-86, but researching in earnest for about the past five or six years.

“My grandfather (who was adopted at age 4) started working on his family history when he was trying to find out who his biological parents were.  I’m pretty sure I caught the bug from him.  He passed away in 1990 and I inherited all of his research.  And no, we still haven’t found his biological parents.”

Jenny’s Thoughts on Blogging

“I’ve been blogging for almost 4 years now.  I love to write, and the blog provided a vehicle for my writing and allowed me to tell the stories of my ancestors.  Plus, I’m a huge fan of instant gratification, so the idea of being able to publish my work ‘in the now’ is perfect for the impatient side of me.”

Jenny’s Tips for New Bloggers

“Don’t be afraid to change things up.  Your blog is your own and it doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s.  But the most important tip is to BE YOU.  If you aren’t authentic, how will anyone believe anything you have to say?”

Jenny’s Favorite Blog Post

“It’s probably surprising that it isn’t a post about an ancestor or any fancy research methodology.  Instead, it is a how-to post for a concept that was so simple I was almost embarrassed to write about it, but then I thought … I can’t be the only one who has this problem.  I was right.  People are still looking at it almost every day.  It reminds me that we’re all human and we’ve all ‘been there.’  This Might Be a New Record.”

Jenny’s Time with the Ancestors

“Not as much as I like (I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard THAT before!). It’s easier to find time now that I’ve completely given up personal hygiene and housekeeping on the weekends.  I try to do some bits here and there during the week too, but this pesky full-time job keeps tiring me out and I’m just not very motivated by the end of the day.  But one day, I’ll remember to buy that lottery ticket . . .”

Jenny’s Favorite Ancestor

“It would be easier to tell you which one annoys me the most.  But if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be Eliza Bourke Lanctot.  She was a strong, independent woman during the early 1900’s when women just weren’t supposed to be.  After her husband died, she became the first female hotel proprietor in Armour, South Dakota.  She went against the grain; marched to her own drum.  I like to think I inherited a little of that tenacity.  (Now maybe she’ll reveal where the heck she was born).”

How Genealogy Has Improved Jenny’s Life

“I definitely feel more in touch with my family who came before me, and I want to know more.  I want to know everything!  Our family wasn’t very close when I was growing up, and the research leading to the stories (or scandals!) has really started to bring us together more.  It also keeps me busy, so I stay out of trouble most of the time.”

What Jenny Loves Most About Genealogy

“My favorite part of researching my family history is finding out who my ancestors were.  Not just when and where they lived, married, and died, but trying to figure out WHY they did certain things or made certain decisions; what sort of things they did when they weren’t busy with their occupation. I enjoy making them real, not just statistics on a piece of paper.”

Jenny’s Genealogy Bucket List

“To identify and visit all the places my ancestors lived, especially in Europe.  I would love to be able to walk in their footsteps just for a moment.”

Jenny’s Time Capsule Message

“Talk to your family before it’s too late, then write everything down (and cite your sources the first time)!  I’m sure I’m not the only genealogist who wishes she had a nickel for every missed opportunity to really talk to a relative who is no longer with us.  When I think of all the stories that I’ve missed because I waited too long, it just breaks my heart into a million pieces.”

* * *

Please take a moment to head on over to Jenny’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Jenny, it’s great to have you here!

© 2014, copyright Gini Webb. All rights reserved.

Gini Webb lives in San Diego, California and manages her own blog, Ginisology, while also researching her own German heritage, retired, enjoying life with wonderful husband Steve and visiting with her grandchildren! Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Gini Webb via e-mail.

May I Introduce to You . . . Leslie Robertson

Come meet genealogy blogger Leslie Robertson, author of The People of Pancho, in this interview by Jana Last at GeneaBloggers.

I have the pleasure of introducing you to Leslie Robertson and her blog, THE PEOPLE OF PANCHO, described as, “. . . I’ve always been a collector of bits and pieces (especially old photographs), a lover of stories, and a seeker of explanations. The People of Pancho is my attempt to capture the history and solve the mysteries of the vast tribe from which I come. The definition of “My People” is quite loose because it also includes family by marriage, adoption, and choice. The blog encompasses a good amount of genealogy, a bit of memoir, a lot of old photographs, and a great deal of love.” 

A Little About Leslie

“I’m a fourth-generation Panama Canal Zonian on my mother and stepfather’s side. For the recent Panama Canal Centennial, I wrote about that very special history here: A Personal Panama Canal Centennial. I was born in San Antonio, TX, where my mother came from the Canal Zone to attend college, so I’m also the inheritor of a lot of colorful Texas history on my father’s side of the family. I spent my entire childhood on the Atlantic side of the Canal Zone, and then came to the United States at age 18 to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. (After a childhood spent running around in a bathing suit in the tropics, my first winter was a revelation. No thanks.) After graduation, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in Silicon Valley, and it’s here that I met and married my husband and raised my family. I currently work at an early-stage technology startup in Mountain View, CA, and I absolutely love bringing technology to bear on my genealogy addiction.” 

How Leslie Got Started in Genealogy

“I’ve been doing genealogy for about two years, and I feel like I’m just getting started. There’s so much to learn, and so many interesting stories to chase — I don’t think I’ll ever run out of material to write about.”

“I’ve always loved hearing family stories, and as my collection of old family photographs grew, I really wanted to learn about all the mystery people that appear in those images. For example, I knew nothing about my maternal-great-grandmother’s line when I started, but now I’ve connected with several cousins from that branch of the family tree as a result of my research and the blog. Solving one mystery inevitably leads to others, so it was pretty easy to get (and stay) hooked.” 

Leslie’s Thoughts on Blogging

“When my maternal grandmother passed away, I went to help clean out her house to prepare it for sale. My grandma was a bit of a packrat; we found boxes and boxes of photographs, some from the turn of the last century, lurking in closets. One peek and I was hooked — who ARE all these people? I shipped the boxes home to California and began the painstaking process of sorting through thousands of images and attempting to label and scan them for posterity. I started the blog when I came across a particularly juicy mystery that I wanted to solve: The Mystery Wife. This treasure trove of photographs remains an ongoing source of inspiration.” 

Leslie’s Tips for New Bloggers

“Spend some time creating rules for yourself before you start blogging. Think about what kinds of stories you will and won’t pursue, and also about how you will approach categorizing and tagging the topics on your blog. Also, give some thought to how you will handle stories that touch living people, as these must be treated with greater sensitivity to feelings and privacy. By thinking about these things up front, you save yourself from wrestling with the same decisions over and over, which can be exhausting and counterproductive. (I think my professional underwear might be showing here; I spend all day thinking about information architecture and content management). Genealogy can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel like that dog in the movie Up — “Squirrel?!” — so set yourself up for success by asserting a little bit of discipline on yourself at the beginning of your effort. It will pay off.” 

Leslie’s Favorite Blog Posts

“I have a couple of favorites, but this one is very special to me:

Leslie’s Time with the Ancestors

“Not enough, but I think I’d probably say the same thing no matter how much time I had at my disposal. I generally put in an hour or two (or three, or…) most evenings after dinner with my family. I try not to go overboard because I want to maintain my relationships with living people too.” 

Leslie’s Favorite Ancestors

“I don’t really have a favorite, but I’ve discovered a few that I think I would have absolutely adored knowing had our lifetimes overlapped. My great-grand-aunt Emma Lessiack Keil falls into this category. I’m working on her story now, but then again, I tend to fall in love with whichever relative I’m working on at the time.”  

How Genealogy Has Improved Leslie’s Life

“I find that I’m nourished by stories of how my progenitors met the challenges of life — parenting, illness, work, love, and so on. Even painful history has the power to strengthen and enlighten me, to make me more aware of and grateful for the blessings in my own life. And, being constantly reminded of our finite time here on Earth is very valuable — Carpe Diem, baby.

“I’ve also really enjoyed collaborating with my younger daughter, who is a gifted artist and very skilled in recognizing facial characteristics. I could not have done some of the more tricky mystery photo analysis without her.”

What Leslie Loves Most About Genealogy

“My own mistakes and missteps begin to seem very small in the great sweep of history. There’s comfort in that, and I also appreciate being reminded to consider the kind of information legacy I want to leave to my descendants. Sorting through the muchness at my grandmother’s house — wondering what, in all that stuff, was actually important to her and what wasn’t — has made me more disciplined about uncluttering, and also about taking the time to tell the important stories. Stuff without meaning attached to it is just stuff, and we all know that truly priceless heirlooms often have little dollar value. I don’t want one of those rough diamonds to go unrecognized.” 

Leslie’s Genealogy Bucket List

“Heritage trips to Germany, Austria, Ireland, the UK, and Czechoslovakia. C’mon, lottery ticket!” 

Leslie’s Time Capsule Message

“Label, label, label. The importance of this photograph or that object is obvious to you now, but in a hundred years it won’t be obvious to anyone else. Do your descendants a favor and take the time to tell them who and what matters to you. (Also, please know that we’re sorry, and we did the best we could. And, that we love you.)”

An Additional Message from Leslie

“What makes genealogy blogging so fun are all the talented, encouraging, and kind fellow genealogy bloggers you meet along the way. It’s wonderful to interact with like-minded people, and I learn a lot from them too. Don’t be a lurker—read and comment on other people’s stories, and they will do the same for you. Comrades on the journey are priceless.”

* * *

Please take a moment to head over to Leslie’s blog, THE PEOPLE OF PANCHO, and leave her a comment, letting her know you stopped by. Thank you Leslie for telling us about yourself and your blog. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better.

© 2014, copyright Jana Last. All rights reserved.

Jana Last is a wife, mom and soon-to-be grandma living in sunny California. She loves family history and enjoys learning about her ancestors. She started her family history research in 1996 after the death of her maternal grandfather. She is the author of three blogs: Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog, Grandpa’s Postcards, and Jana’s Place.  Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Jana via email at jmlast61@gmail.com.