May I Introduce to You . . . Barbara J. Starmans

Come meet genealogy blogger Barbara J. Starmans, author of The Social Historian blog, interviewed by Tessa Keough at GeneaBloggers - May I Introduce To You


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 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 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

May I Introduce to You . . . Dana Stewart Leeds

Come meet genealogy blogger Dana Stewart Leeds, author of The Enthusiastic Genealogist, in this interview by Michelle Taggart at GeneaBloggers.

I am excited to introduce to you Dana Stewart Leeds and her blog, The Enthusiastic Genealogist. On her blog Dana highlights the people and stories from her family tree in addition to the learning experiences she has as she works to become a better genealogist. When you read her experiences at GRIP, the variety of resources she uses and her ancestors’ stories, I think you will agree, she truly is “The Enthusiastic Genealogist.”

Dana, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what is your current hometown?

“Ark City, Kansas was my childhood home. Our blue house was two stories tall and built in the late 1800s. I have fond memories of the house, but even fonder memories of our yard and the pretend games we would play.

“I now live in a suburb of Houston, Texas, with my husband of 22 years and our 14 year-old daughter who is a sophomore in high school. We don’t have any family nearby, but travel to visit them in the Dallas area and in Oklahoma as often as we can. None of my immediate family still lives in Ark City, but I still have cousins, an aunt and an uncle, and other family living there and love to visit my childhood hometown.”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“In 1998, our family was preparing for a family reunion. We didn’t have reunions on a regular basis, and I hadn’t attended any of them since I had married 5 years earlier. Once again, I would not be able to attend.

“But, the invitation mentioned the family history research my dad’s Aunt Beulah had been doing. I was interested in learning more and contacted her via email. She eagerly and generously began sharing both her files and her knowledge with her young student.

“One of the best lessons she taught me happened within those first few months. I did a lot of my research in my local genealogy library, the incredible Clayton Genealogy Library in Houston. But, I also did a lot of work online, often through queries.

“One day when I was working with the tree Aunt Beulah had sent me, I discovered another researcher who had taken one of our branches back several more generations. I happily added all of the names, dates, and places and then told my aunt about my wonderful find. She quickly and firmly explained that this was not the way to do genealogy. You couldn’t just find someone else’s tree and add all the information. You had to have sufficient evidence before adding to your tree. I’m grateful to have learned that wonderful lesson as a new researcher.”

When and why did you start your genealogy blog? 

“I had our first and only child a couple of years after starting genealogy in 1998. I homeschooled her for most of her life, but as she’s gotten older and more independent, I’ve had more free time. So, though I’ve technically been a genealogist for about 17 years, it’s only been the past few years that I’ve once again had time to work on it weekly, if not daily.

“As I dove deeper into genealogy, I started making some incredible discoveries. Near the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I made my first “leap across the pond” when I found one immigrant family’s original village in Germany. I quickly found another branch’s hometown, also in Germany, and then a third branch’s place of origin in England.

“Besides these wonderful discoveries, I have also had wonderful success with newspaper work. I haven’t just uncovered the typical obituaries, I have also uncovered two murders in my family and more details about a third. And, there were stories about hurricanes, train and car wrecks, strange medical conditions, and more. I just had to share these stories!

“So, in March of 2013, I started my blog. It’s a place for me to share the incredible stories of these ordinary people: my family.” 

How did you choose the name of your blog?

“Shortly before starting my blog, I was visiting the genealogy floor of the Dallas library for the first time. I met two wonderful librarians and we shared stories about our research and our ancestors. I certainly wasn’t using a library voice as I exclaimed over several new finds that day and shared them with the librarians. One of the discoveries was the hometown of my Eastwood family in England.  The volunteer sitting at the front sign-in desk came over to me and told me how much she enjoyed my enthusiasm. When I decided to start a blog, I thought the name fit. I am definitely an enthusiastic genealogist!”

What is your favorite post(s) on your blog?

“It’s hard to choose a single favorite, so I’ve chosen three that I love:

“The first was about my 4x great grandfather and his pet bear – yes, bear! – which went missing one morning. What happened when they found it? The answer is in my post called My 4x Great Grandfather Had a Pet Bear!!!

“The second was about my great, great grandmother and the unusual object she threw up in 1917. Was it really a lizard? You can find out more at My Great, Great Grandmother Threw up WHAT?!?

“And, a third post is also one of my most popular posts. It’s about the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. My husband’s 3x great grandfather’s brother was a Confederate soldier who was present that day. What happened to these soldiers? Read Was Your Ancestor Paroled at Appomattox Courthouse with Lee’s Surrender?

How has genealogy made a difference in your life?

“In school, my favorite subjects were science and math. My least favorite subject, by far, was social studies. I found learning about all the wars, dates, and places incredibly boring.

“When my daughter was young, she loved books. But, one of her favorite types of books was picture book biographies. Through her eyes and these stories, I became interested in history. Learning history through one person at a time was infinitely more interesting than learning history from a ‘big picture’ perspective.

“As a genealogist, I love to learn about the history that has affected my ancestors. Did an ancestor fight in a particular battle? I’ll study about the battle. Did an ancestor attend a world’s fair? I’ll study the world’s fair. Did an ancestor take place in an Oklahoma land run? Then, I’ll study about the land run.

“Genealogy has also opened my eyes to the wonderful world of geography. How did mountain ranges and rivers affect the migration of my ancestors? Where was Prussia and what happened to it? How did droughts and floods affect my ancestors?

“Genealogy has also affected my life in that I’m purposefully trying to learn how to be a better writer. As I learn about my family, I want to be able to share the stories in such a way that others are both informed and entertained and want to learn more. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I blog!” 

What is your favorite genealogy research tool or source?

“My favorite research tool is I now have clipped over 700 stories about my family from that site. There are the usual obituaries, marriage announcements, etc., but there are also stories of three murders in my family. There is also the story of my great, great grandmother throwing up what they believed to be a lizard. I find the most interesting family stories in newspapers and I’ve had the most success with”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“My daughter is in high school and still at home, but when she graduates, my genealogy bucket list will include a lot of traveling! In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered three of the villages my German ancestors came from and the small town in England where another branch lived. Of course, I’d love to visit all of these places! But, I’d also love to visit Ohio, the state where one of the German families settled. I would also like to spend weeks in Pennsylvania, where my father’s dad’s family lived for generations, and time in both Salt Lake City and at the National Archive. I could go on and on!

“Besides traveling to the places where my family came from, I also want to attend some of the national genealogy conventions. And, I’d also love to take one of the new genealogy cruises!

“The other items on my bucket list would be to write a book about my families so that the information I’ve uncovered will never be lost. I recently started this by adding a chapter about one of my families as a contributing author to a family book. I’m also hoping to complete two short family books as Christmas gifts this year, one for each side of my family.”

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Please take a moment to visit Dana’s blog The Enthusiastic Genealogist and see why that name so aptly fits her.  You will want to check out some of her tips and read through some of the wonderful stories she has to share. Be sure and leave a comment to let her know you stopped by. Thank you Dana for sharing your thoughts and your blog with us!

© 2016, copyright Michelle Ganus Taggart, All rights reserved 

Michelle Ganus Taggart lives in Kaysville, Utah, where she enjoys the beautiful outdoors, time with family and researching her ancestors.  She shares her passion for her southern research in her blog, A Southern Sleuth.  Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . . “ series?  If so, contact Michelle  via email

May I Introduce to You . . . Don Taylor

Come meet genealogy blogger Don Taylor, author of the D. Taylor's Genealogy blog, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

I am very proud to introduce to you Don Taylor of D. Taylor’s Genealogy. Don writes primarily about his family lines out of Minnesota, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan. He also writes about general genealogy topics and the use of DNA for genealogy. Anyone researching one of Don’s family names will find the organization of his blog extremely helpful. Family pages provide a family tree with internal links to the stories Don has posted about each ancestor.

Don, can you tell a little about yourself?

I was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1950; I currently live near Portland, Maine. When I was about six weeks old, my mother moved us to Minnesota, where I was raised. My mother moved my grandmother and me many times to find work, so I went to ten different schools before I was eighteen years old. After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the Navy and spent nearly eleven years active duty. After my discharge, I returned to Minnesota and I attended college using the GI Bill; I received a BA from Metropolitan State University with a major in political science.

How did you get interested in doing your family history?

I became interested in family history and genealogy after watching the 1977 TV miniseries, “Roots.” For the next twenty years or so, I was only able to do limited research while I concentrated on providing for my family. In 1994, my mother called and asked me if I remembered returning to Oregon when I was three. Of course, I remembered nothing, so she explained that I had a sister whom she was forced to give up for adoption before we returned to Minnesota. Through a series of what some people may call miracles, my sister found us and moved her family to Minnesota to get to know her birth family. I wanted to share our family history with my new-found sister but I knew very little. I began researching and soon discovered that I enjoyed being the family detective.

What do you enjoy the most about doing genealogy?

I really enjoy getting to know my ancestors. I am fascinated with what happened to them, what their trials and tribulations were, and recognizing what traits and values they passed down to me. I also enjoy dispelling family myths. For instance, my mother-in-law has always strongly identified with her Swiss heritage, believing that she was 50% Swiss. Using all of the tools available to me, I discovered that she was mostly English and that intrigued her. I watched her face carefully as her initial puzzlement dissolved into a fresh realization. In that moment, some of the stories that she heard as a child began to make more sense to her. She began to see the family stories in a new light that may result in aligning the oral family traditions with what actually happened.

What is your favorite genealogy research tool or source?

Certainly, and Family Search are the sources I use most often. However, my favorite research tool is the one that answers the big questions regarding missing relatives. For example, I used and queried every person who might have attended school with my uncle in 1944 to see if any of them had contact information for him. Finally, one person did have information. My uncle spent his adult life in the Marshall Islands and lost contact with my mother and his mother in the early 1950s. He and my mother finally reunited after fifty years. Sixty-Minutes II filmed their meeting and broadcast it during a segment on

Why did you start a genealogy blog?

I started my blog in March 2012. Initially, I blogged to share my findings with family members. That quickly expanded to sharing my findings with friends and acquaintances for whom I was also doing research. Subsequently, I’ve added reviews, lessons learned, fresh ideas for describing the eras and environment that our ancestors lived in. For example, at one historical society meeting the group turned to advertising that was done in the year books from the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s and gained a more personal understanding of the times.

Where do you get your inspiration or ideas for your blog posts?

When I look beyond the vital statistics, locations, and occupations, I am inspired by the things that they did or didn’t do and how they managed living their lives in times of peace, war, and financial and political upheaval. No matter how menial or mundane a life may appear on the surface, everyone has a fantastic story that is waiting to be discovered. I often write about individuals on their birthdays. I do this to honor them and provide an opportunity for their descendants to know more about who they were and what they accomplished.

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

My grandmother, Madonna Mae Montran, has one of the most interesting lives of anyone I have come to know through my detective work. She was one of Mack Sennett’s bathing beauties in the 1910s, flew in a biplane in 1915, and was in numerous vaudeville shows during the 1920s. She led an extremely interesting and nomadic life. Writing about her various shows and experiences enthralls me and, based on the responses I receive, these stories interest people who research the history of vaudeville. I have a page dedicated to her and dozens of blogs highlighting her experiences and the theatres where she performed.

What interesting connections have you made through blogging?

Blogging helps me maintain established links; however, I do make new connections occasionally. For example, the stepson of my granduncle recently contacted me regarding my blog post about a half-brother that he didn’t know existed. It pleased me to learn that my blog provided new information to a distant relative.

How do you motivate yourself to keep blogging?

My desire to share what I find keeps me motivated. I find that my readers are excited about my discoveries. They are also grateful for the helpful hints I provide. I enjoy turning on people’s lights and fostering bettering understanding of themselves by seeing live through their ancestors’ eyes.

Another reason blogging motivates me is because it is an organic process, something akin to journaling. The blogging process forces me to examine my thoughts carefully and to elucidate those thoughts so that others can understand them as well. Often, the blogging process forces me to analyze and more fully evaluate and express my opinions.

What kind of networking do you use to attract readers to your blog?

Certainly, I use Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus to attract readers but I also talk about my blog at the genealogical society meetings that I attend and other venues.

What future plans do you have for your blog?

I plan to allow my blog to grow organically. I want it to fill the needs of my readers within the framework of the genealogical areas that interest me. I would also like to expand the blog to include more guest bloggers. Finally, I plan to thoroughly document Madonna Montran’s life through my blog then use that information to write a book about her amazing life.

What other genealogy blogs inspire you?

Genea-Musings, particularly Randy Seaver’s “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun,” inspires me. He prompts me to look at things in my family that hadn’t previously occurred to me, for example, “last name unknown” ancestors or couples who were married over 50 years. It energizes me to look at facts in new ways.

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

Learning the identity of my biological father, and perhaps meeting him and/or any of my half-siblings (if they exist) is on the top of my bucket list. I know that I am getting closer. This is exciting and frightening at the same time. My Y-DNA test suggests that my father was a “Roberts” because the five closest Y-DNA matches were all surnamed Roberts. Through my autosomal DNA testing, I have found two matches who share a large segment that all three of us have in common. This strongly suggests that we share a common ancestor. Finding that common ancestor may lead to success.

Do you have any tips for new genealogy bloggers?

If your purpose in writing a blog is to make money, quit now and do something else. If your purpose is to share what you know and love, then keep that purpose in the forefront of your writing and you will be happy with the results.

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Please take a moment to visit Don at D. Taylor’s Genealogy and leave him a comment letting him know you stopped by. Thank-you, Don, for letting us inside your blogging world.

© 2016, 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