May I Introduce to You . . . Gary Roberts

Come meet genealogy blogger Gary Roberts, author of Backtracking the Common, in this interview by Michelle Taggart at GeneaBloggers.

When I first stumbled onto the blog, Backtracking the Common , I knew I wanted to interview the author, Gary Roberts. I love his stories and his easily understood, no nonsense approach to sharing tips and tricks to help others write their own stories and do their own research. Gary’s description of his blog as  “genealogy with a Texas accent” is right on and I can almost hear that rich Texas drawl as I read his blog. When asked about his blog, Gary said, “I use the research of my four main family lines to create stories for my children and grandchildren and tips for other family historians. I want to be helpful and entertaining.” I am sure you will agree with me that Gary succeeds in both. May I introduce to you, Gary Roberts, author of the blog Backtracking the Common.

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

“I grew up in North Texas, very near my sometime remarkable, yet unknown family history. I married my high school sweet heart, that is, I was in high school when we began dating, but she was a freshman in college. Dee Ann and I just celebrated our 41st anniversary. She’s always been supportive and assists in my research. We have seven grown children, eleven grandchildren and one on the way. We live in Austin, Texas and, depending on the traffic, we have all our grandchildren within thirty minutes of our home. We’re blessed.”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“I call myself “the reluctant genealogist”. It began at the graveside of a funeral I was officiating back in 1985. A couple of college professors, previously unknown to me, but enthusiastic genealogists, approached me following the service and asked me what I knew about my father’s family. I replied “almost nothing”. In a few weeks, they came to our home in Nacogdoches, Texas and handed me a binder and large envelope of papers. Those items were barely touched for the next twenty-seven years. I picked them up in 2012 when my life began to slow just a bit and I began to dabble in genealogy. I blogged about my start in genealogy in my first post in the spring of 2015:

The Reluctant Genealogist

“I wanted to “force” myself to write about what I was learning and help other beginning genealogists.”

What have been some of your biggest challenges in your research?

“The Roberts surname is fairly common and, to my knowledge, no one has done much work on our particular line. In my family research, the Roberts appear to be the most “common” of my ancestors and therefore the least spectacular. In other words, what they left behind isn’t readily available in history books. I’ve “tracked” them to two counties in two states where I’ve done extensive research.  I’ve had to learn about all of Roberts in the area at that time to separate and distinguish “my Roberts”.  When I find myself returning to these two counties in my research, it feels like “old home week,” but it has been difficult and challenging work.”

What do you enjoy most about doing genealogy?

“I enjoy discoveries and connections. I’ve always enjoyed history and I’ve always been curious. I’ve always felt a lack of connectedness when it came to family, and genealogy is perfect for someone like me. The hunt is exciting and the discovery is fulfilling.”

I’ve enjoyed reading the stories about your ancestors on your blog. Please share with us some of your ideas for finding the stories of your ancestors’ lives.

“Thanks for taking time to read my blog! That adds another level of enjoyment to my genealogical research. My ideas for writing come out of my research. I research with two questions in mind: What do we know?  Why do we know it?  Once I establish the facts (the truth) to the extent I know them, I try to write with one more question in mind. How can I make these facts interesting to my children, grandchildren and others?”

You do a great job of sharing your stories in an interesting way. What are some of your tips for writing stories worth reading?

“Thanks again!  I suggest four main tips for writing interesting stories.  (1) Have something to share. Do the work.  Do the research necessary. Know the family facts and the history surrounding those facts. (2) Connect your family’s stories to the times. Intermingle well-known historical facts and people with the stories of your family. (3) Grab the attention of your readers with a quote, question, statement or mystery. Almost dare them not to keep reading. Of course, some may not! (4) Serve your readers. Always keep them and their interests in mind as you write. This is only if you wish to be “interesting”. ”

When and why did you start your genealogy blog?

“I began writing my family history blog in March of 2015.  I have two main drivers.  I want to pass on to my family what I’m learning in an interesting, less academic, way.  I want to share with other beginning genealogists mistakes I’ve made, mistakes I’ve seen and tips for doing a better job creating accurate and compelling family histories.”

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

“This is the most difficult question you’ve asked. I’m just starting to hit my stride as a researcher and now writer. I’m beginning to feel good about the direction the blog is headed.  So, the more recent posts are getting closer to what I envisioned, although I still need to continue tweaking my efforts. The more recent blogs are more intellectually satisfying to me but a sequential series of blogs began this past December on my dad Burton Lee Roberts are more emotionally satisfying.

“As I shared in my blog post, Burton Lee Roberts, Murder, mystery, mayhem and Burton Lee, ‘Our lives are shaped by what happens before us, to us and through us – and by our responses to these events. Burton Lee Roberts’ life would be no different.  He would not escape. Opinionated and politically incorrect, chased by his own personal demons, keeper of secrets, he was a mystery It’s left to me to backtrack the truth, unravel the tale and record the most complete explanation of his life.  He was my father.’”

Burton Lee Roberts: Murder, Mystery, Mayhem and Burton Lee

What advice do you have for others just starting a family history blog?

“If your goal is to present a true and accurate family picture, good research must always precede good writing. If we’re going to present fables as facts, we need not “waste” our time doing the hard research. Simply write the fables. If you choose to do the hard research and want to accurately portray these facts, having done so, think about the kind of writing which holds your attention. Read it.  Practice it. Take your known facts and write in that fashion. Never lose track of your reader.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“When I’m certain of my European Roberts’ family origins (country, county, parish, etc.), Dee and I hope to go there and continue our research as well as be tourists. We’ll continue her family line on the same trip. We’d like to get it done by our 45th anniversary.”

 Is there anything else you would like to add or share with us?

“I want to thank you for this opportunity to share my young and evolving blog.  Your GeneaBlogger site is one of the most generous and useful sites on all of the internet for new genealogists and family historians. Here’s my last tip. I recommend your new readers subscribe to this site and benefit from the vast experience of others. It’s free! There are so many wonderful and free resources.  Many of them will come across this site. Stay tuned! Check them out.”

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Please take a moment and visit Gary’s blog Backtracking the Common. Leave him a comment to let him know you stopped by. Thank-you Gary for sharing your blog and ideas 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 shelltag1@gmail.com

May I Introduce to You . . . Fran Salyers

Come meet genealogy blogger Fran Salyers, author of 72 Scrapbooks, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

Long before Candy Crush and Pokémon-Go came along to take up our time, Sarah Eva Howe’s family wrote essays for each other’s entertainment. Those essays have been carefully inserted into 72 scrapbooks along with newspaper clippings, letters and love notes, cards, photos, family trees, report cards, receipts, and other mementos from a by-gone era. Seventy-two! A family historian’s dream, wouldn’t you say? Fran Salyers is the lucky caretaker. She is a newcomer to blogging, but after just a few months Fran already blogs like a champ crafting the most interesting stories from the brittle pages. I am proud to introduce to you Fran Salyers of 72 Scrapbooks.

Fran, can you tell a little about yourself?

“I am a 7th-generation Kentuckian, born in Louisville and now living in the state capital, Frankfort. I have a BA in English and Mass Media/Journalism from Western Kentucky University. After a career in public relations, advertising, and freelance work, I retired about 12 years ago. A month later, I started researching my ancestors. My husband David and I have two adult children and two grandsons.”

Why did you start a genealogy blog?

“Almost 18 years ago, my husband and I became the stewards of 72 family scrapbooks compiled by his grandmother and aunt. We have moved the entire collection from house to house four times during those years, always knowing that someday we needed to do something with them. What do you do with 72 deteriorating scrapbooks full of history about the Howe-Salyers families and the places they lived? We hesitated to let the books leave the family, but we recognized that the books would crumble even further and would likely be thrown away when we were no longer here to protect them. The answer, we decided, was a blog. We divided the books into stacks by decade, and I started going through the earliest ones, transcribing and scanning the ‘good stuff.’ The first post went live on June 18, 2016. Once we get more of the scrapbooks shared online, we’ll start printing the posts in books for the family. We’ll also start approaching historical and genealogical libraries to see if any are interested in adding the scrapbooks to their permanent collections. We will know that the information and images are preserved, and we’ll be ready to let the scrapbooks go.”

How did you choose the name for your blog?

“I thought of the name 72 Scrapbooks a year before I started the blog. I played with different titles based on the family surnames, and I got advice to go different directions with it, but I couldn’t shake my attachment to the simple 72 Scrapbooks idea. I think it hints at the vastness of this project, and I hope it builds reader anticipation that future blog posts can be about all kinds of things. I haven’t looked through all 72 scrapbooks myself, so I may be as surprised as my readers at what we find in future posts.”

What do you want to accomplish through blogging?

“My first goal is the preservation of the images and stories for future generations, and I think often of my 3- and 6-year-old grandsons as I write the posts. Eventually, unknown cousins may find the blog and touch base, which would make me happy. Also, because the blog posts provide fantastic descriptions of everyday life in the 1850s through the 1950s, I hope people who have no connection with the family will read the posts and imagine how their own ancestors lived.”

Fran, what challenges have you faced as a beginning blogger? How are you overcoming them?

“My first challenges were technical ones – which platform to use, how to format, how to use HTML to change the design template, those kinds of things. The members of the We Are Genealogy Bloggers group on Facebook were incredibly helpful and encouraging. I couldn’t have published that first post without them.

“Another challenge is sorting through those 72 scrapbooks. At first I was trying to post the family facts and stories in chronological order. Finally I figured out that the scrapbooker compiled the books as she came across old letters and other ephemera, or as memories came to mind. I let go of that plan to post chronologically, and my blogging life has been easier ever since.”

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

“My favorite post is, and may always be, the first one — both because it launched the blog and gave me a focus, and because it introduces the scrapbooker, Sarah Eva Howe, and helps readers see what an imaginative and captivating person she was.”

What future plans do you have for your blog?

“I can’t imagine how many blog posts are tucked away inside these scrapbooks. My plan is to stick with the books as long as they have stories to tell. After that, I want to blog about my own ancestors. The jury is still out on whether I’ll add those posts to this blog or start a second blog. I welcome feedback on that.”

What do you enjoy the most about doing your genealogy/family history?

“I treasure the connection I feel when I’m learning about ancestors, both my husband’s and my own. I feel connected to people I’ve never met, places I’ve never been, and times in which I did not exist. Also, I like that I live in a time-warp. The year 1900 seems like last week to me, and 1800 seems a month or two before that. My sense of time is not what it was before I started getting to know my ancestors.”

What has been your most exciting discovery through research?

“About five years ago, I discovered that my husband and I are sixth cousins! Our common ancestors are our fifth great-grandparents, Smith King (1743-aft1826) and Mary Ann Allen King (1743-??). Our adult children were astounded when we told them that they were sixth cousins once removed to us and that they were seventh cousins to each other. All of us joke about descending from a line of Kings.

“A close second was when I became the first descendant of my fourth great-grandfather William Wilkins of North Carolina to prove his status as a Revolutionary War patriot and join Daughters of the American Revolution based on his service in the Duplin County militia. I could have joined DAR through an ancestor who was already recognized in the DAR patriot database, and the process would have been easier and faster, but I was determined to bring recognition to this ancestor. I wanted him to be remembered.”

Besides major websites (like Ancestry and FamilySearch), what research tool or source has been particularly helpful in researching your family history?

“I am a huge fan of simple searches. Sometimes just entering a name into a search engine and adding a place and one other relevant fact (a date, a spouse’s first name, whatever) can turn up some great information. I’ve solved several mysteries that way. One break-through introduced me to scores of distant cousins living in my own community. I also appreciate friendly, helpful staffs at county courthouse and libraries. They are our friends.

“In addition, I use Findagrave.com and BillionGraves.com often, to look through memorials for my ancestors’ family connections and to confirm or refute information I have found or heard.”

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

“As a new blogger, I’m still sticking with the basics. Each time I add a post to the blog, I share it on my own Facebook page and with two Facebook groups focused on the history of the state and county where these ancestors lived. I also share with Google+, but I am still working to understand that networking platform and how to use it. I also have emailed a few libraries and genealogical/historical societies to inform them about the blog, because there is so much local history in these scrapbooks. And, of course, I joined GeneaBloggers.”

Do you have any tips for other new genealogy bloggers?

“I’ve been a blogger for only a few months. Here are some things I wish I had done or things I plan to do. Maybe these points will be helpful to others.

  1. “Create a master plan for your content. I’m gradually developing a method to this madness of extracting history from 72 scrapbooks, but I wish I had gone deeper into the books before I started, just to get a fuller sense of what they held and how I would manage so much information.
  1. “Read a lot of blogs. Think about the format, the writing, the topics, the ‘voice,’ and other elements of each blog. Get a sense of what you like and don’t like, what keeps you reading and what makes you click the ‘close’ button. Use your analysis as you build your own blog site. You don’t want to get 4 or 5 posts in and decide you don’t like the format or approach to your topics. Yes, you can change it, but it’s easier if you start out with a format you like and then just tweak as you gain experience.
  1. “Learn and follow copyright law as it applies to blogging. You’ll want at least one image in every post, and that great image you found on another website – that image that would be perfect to illustrate your post – is probably illegal to use without permission. Search the web for copyright permission letters and use them as examples to draft your own. A great resource for copyright law applied in genealogy is a blog by ‘the Legal Genealogist,’ Judy G. Russell. Find it at legalgenealogist.com/blog/.
  1. “If you can, write a batch of three or four posts to have in reserve. Once you’ve scheduled those completed posts for publication, you can write future posts at a more leisurely pace, without the pressure of meeting your self-imposed publication schedule.
  1. “Network, network, network. Talk to other bloggers. Comment on their blogs, and seek their feedback on your own blog. Find social media groups about blogging, and get involved. Bloggers may be the most supportive people in the world. They will help you.”

Finally Fran, what is on your genealogy bucket list?

  • “To get through all 72 scrapbooks, post the best parts on the blog, and find a home for the original books where they will be safe yet accessible to researchers.
  • “To write for my grandsons an illustrated story about their paternal lineage to four passengers who arrived on the Mayflower.
  • “To trace all of my ancestral lines to the Revolutionary War period (I’m less than halfway there) before I expand my research across the pond to the ‘old countries,’ which I know include Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France, and Germany, and which DNA tells me also include touches of Iberian Peninsula, Eastern Europe, Italy/Greece, and Finland/Northwest Russia.”

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Please take a moment to visit Fran at 72 Scrapbooks and leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Thank-you, Fran, 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 wendymath@cox.net.

May I Introduce To You . . . Summer Vacation 2016

summer vacation

Summer vacation is here and for the next few weeks, the weekly May I Introduce To You posts written by the fantastic MIITY team of Tessa Keough, Jana Last, Wendy Mathias, Michelle Taggart and Gini Webb will be on a well-deserved break.

MIITY posts will return beginning Monday, 12 September 2016, when GeneaBloggers will resume highlighting members and their blogs from all over the globe! In the meantime, here is our Pinterest board of all the May I Introduce To You interviews over the past few years:

Follow GeneaBloggers’s board May I Introduce To You . . . Members of Geneabloggers on Pinterest.

© 2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.