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.”
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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 email@example.com.