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Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit? 2012 Update

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[Editor’s Note: this is the first in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities – 2012 Update. ]

How and Why I Started Blogging

By now most readers as well as members of GeneaBloggers know my story and how I got started with blogging. I won’t rehash that, but let’s say it started with one blog (Destination: Austin Family) almost six years ago and now I personally author 15 blogs and manage several others for clients. Blogs serve many purposes from recording personal memories, documenting research, memorializing ancestors to marketing a business and more.

Keep in mind that when I say I “author” blogs, some are only updated periodically or not at all.  I keep them because their content may be of value to other researchers. As for active blogs, there are about five or six to which I post regularly and this takes up about six or seven hours of my time each week.

The Current State of Genealogy Blogging

The genealogy blogging world has evolved quite a bit since I started in late 2006, and even in the last six months. Here is what I now know about blogging in the genealogy industry and what I do and don’t do in terms of my blogs [WARNING: opinionated statements ahead!]:

  • Donations: Late last year I decided to place a donation button on my GeneaBloggers site to help with the upkeep of the site. The hosting fees run me about $300 a year and then there are the domain registration fees and the like. I’m happy to report that so far this year, donations have actually covered all my expenses at the GeneaBloggers site. Thank you to everyone who has donated over the past year – it is greatly appreciated! That being said, I see nothing wrong with having a donate button or, for a family-run blog, asking others to chip in.  I was hesitant at first, but now I feel comfortable with the idea. I look at it the same way I do some of my family history research that my cousins and I do together: if one of us orders vital records, we split the cost among us. Many readers actually thanked me for making a donation process available and I’ve not received any negative push back on the concept.
  • Advertising: This is another area where I decided to test the waters and have done so only recently. I don’t mean where I advertise my own offerings which I’ve done in the sidebar at my blogs since the beginning.  I mean accepting paid advertisers.  I was contacted by imediasalesteam (which is now Cox Digital Solutions) and was asked to carry one or more ads on GeneaBloggers. I agreed mainly because I could approve or disapprove of individual advertisers before their content appeared on my site.  So far, most ads have been for, ASPCA and other entities. Over the course of two months, I’ve earned a little over $30 on that one ad.  Not much, but as my grandmother would say, “Thirty dollars is thirty dollars.” I know I could do more in the area of advertising but I’ve opted not to for several reasons: a) I don’t want my sites looking like a Las Vegas billboard, b) I just don’t want to put much energy into signing up advertisers and c) I think there are more profitable ways for me to spend my time in the genealogy field.  [Note: if anyone is interested in signing up with Cox Digital Solutions, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my contact there.]
  • Affiliate Advertising: I’ve actually done better with affiliate advertising on my blogs especially over the last year.  (Full disclosure: I carry an ad for the Flip-Pal® mobile scanner on my blogs and websites and I do consulting work for their parent company Couragent, Inc. ) Again, I am a bit passive when it comes to any advertising and I pretty much just “throw it up there” and I let it run on its own.  I earn about $15 on every Flip-Pal sold and 10% on accessories.  I also earn 3% on the sales of other affiliates that I referred to Couragent.  So far for this year, I’ve earned about $300 which is respectable considering I haven’t done periodic posting of coupons etc. I think affiliate advertising is perfectly acceptable for bloggers in the genealogy community and can actually provide a much bigger income stream than I am seeing with the right amount of marketing.  One rule that I follow: I always believe in the product I am advertising and I make sure it is a good fit for my followers in the genealogy community.  I could hawk any number of things on my blogs, but I refuse to do so just to make a little money.  I think all of the advertising I do sets the tone for my site.  Control freak? You betcha!
  • Source Citations: I know I am delving into potentially troubled waters here, but I’ll say what I’ve said before: there is a time and place for source citations in a genealogy blog. Most genealogy blogging is not research writing. Most of my blog posts are genealogy industry news and the like. This doesn’t entitled me to sloppy research even about companies like or other genealogy vendors. It does mean I try to give proper attribution to story leads and I do try to research a topic as much as possible.For research blogs, I do try to cite my sources.  Here is where I get to reveal my new blog! My Leehive Ancestors is an exercise in organizing and tracking research data, specifically cluster genealogy data.   I cite my sources because I want other researchers to understand the data I am posting.
  • Blogs Come and Go: I add about 10 newly-discovered blogs each week to the list at GeneaBloggers and currently there are about 2,650 listed. Many of these blogs that are brand new won’t be active six months from now. Most bloggers will lose interest and either delete their blog, or more likely, just stop posting. I believe you should never delete a genealogy blog even if you’ve stopped posting to it.  Those posts can still serve as cousin bait and still have value especially when other researchers find them out on Google and the other search engines. What I see here – the “dropping off” effect as I call it – is also seen in the genealogy industry. How many newcomers have ventured into genealogy only to lose interest? I’m not sure I have a ready answer as to “why” – perhaps it is frustration over the process of performing sound genealogical research? Perhaps it is an education issue and there’s a need for more educational offerings? I think if I had the answer as to how to keep the newcomers active in genealogy, I could retire.  Comfortably.
  • Blogging for Others Can Pay Off.  I can and do set up blogs for genealogy vendors and sometimes I actually blog on their behalf. And I get paid for it. Full disclosure (don’t you just love this “true confessions” stuff?): I have helped set up blogs for my Flip-Pal and WikiTree clients and I do publish blog posts on their behalf.So how does this work and how did I get these gigs?  Basically I had proven myself as a someone who could set up and manage several blogs and also post content that was of interest to my niche (genealogy) and do so consistently. And so I saw this ability as a service I could market to vendors and I just approached them. That’s right – just like knocking on a door and sharing the good word about genealogy. Some tips: you do have to be organized, you do need to track your time and work (I use excel) and you do have to be willing to also use social media tools to get the full impact of a blog post.  But there are companies willing to pay you to do this.
  • Blogs are Tools. Plain and Simple. I try to be a realist about most things yet still remain ever the optimist.  I’ve come to realize that as much as I might have an emotional attachment to a blog, especially if it is a place where I share my family history, a blog is just a tool.  It is a piece of online publishing technology where I place words and images in hopes of getting something in return. What do I get? For starters, I get to connect with other genealogists.  I get to connect with family, even shirt tail cousins I’ve never met in person. I get to market my services as a speaker, an education and a researcher. I get interview requests from major media outlets. I get to share my expertise. I get to carve out my specialty, my niche. And sometimes I get to make a little cha-ching from it.  All this from blogging about my passion.


They say you always remember your first blog, and I do. My first blog is my favorite, it is where I feel I can be me without fear. I can write about how I got involved in genealogy, what I want to accomplish, and even the mistakes I’ve made. In that blog I write from the heart and I know a voice of passion for genealogy will come through. It won’t make me a fortune, this I know. Be it will always be my sanctuary and where I can gather my ancestors around me and let me be me.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various genealogy vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

6 thoughts on “Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit? 2012 Update

  1. If anyone has a handle on the current State of the Genealogy Blog Union, it would be you, Thomas! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series this week–and checking out all the comments! This should be a real conversation starter.

    I’ve never had a problem with a blogger using his/her work as a means of generating income. You are so transparent in pointing out just what that might mean for a genealogy blogger–making clear that this is more a means of supporting the vehicle of something about which you are passionate. Since I prefer reading material that is not overdone with graphical annoyances, I like my written page to be neatly laid out, and find the Las Vegas style of blogging to be distracting. Other than that, I’m fine with the workman being worthy of his “wages.”

    I wonder if the sense of entitlement for free material in the realm of genealogy harkens back to earlier times when the zeitgeist was etched with the likes of RootsWeb, ObitDailyTimes, and genealogy forums–places where volunteers seemed glad to do lookups for each other. If I give to you freely, and you then feel justified to respond in like manner, if someone new happens by and starts charging as a way to offer help, perhaps that is the jarring experience that’s set everyone’s teeth on edge about this topic.

    For those whose research roots don’t grow that deeply in the volunteer-and-volunteer-alike soil, I don’t suppose savvy use of ways to garner a little “profit” would be so egregious.

    Not to mention–there are already people out there who have hung out their shingle, fully intending to make genealogy their profession…not their hobby. Why expect them to blog for free with the material they otherwise are charging others for?

    I often like to make the comparison to “buying” water. Many people believe that water is free, but we still pay a fee to receive it in our homes. It’s not the water we’re paying for; it’s the pipes that deliver it–and all the infrastructure that goes along with that delivery.

    Information may “want to be free” but the “pipes” that deliver it to us do cost someone money. There is nothing wrong with that someone finding ways to allow others to share the cost of receiving that information we are seeking, especially if it is re-developed into a more usable form.

  2. LOL-“Cousin bait”- I always thought that was my line; my sadly neglected and in need of a re- re arrangement of posts blog has one entitled “Cousin Fishing”. It’s actually funny- I have had people (IRL) tell me the te was just not right. Now I don’t feel so bad.

  3. Thanks Thomas, for always giving us plenty of food for thought. And Jacqi I couldn’t agree with you more. The trick is in finding those creative ways of earning a living in genealogy. They are as different and a varied as the genealogist.

  4. Great article Thomas. Over the years I have given talks to genealogy groups, run seminars and workshops, published small genealogy booklets, worked as a professional researcher, written articles and have blogged since 2006. Have I made a fortune …. no. Would I do it all again ….yes.
    But I now do things differently. I no longer give talks, run seminars etc and hope I will get my expenses paid only to find that I am giving a bunch of flowers or a chocolate cake. I no longer have an honesty box next to my booklets after a talk and hope that people will pay for the books they take. I no longer take on paid research work without having half the fee paid in advance. I have been disappointed and out of pocket too often
    These days I quote a fee for giving talks etc. and don’t leave it to the organisers to decide how much I am worth. I get repeat invites so others must think I give good value. I have a few adverts on my website, they are all genealogy based, but they only cover the cost of the site. My paid research work is charged out per hour (half paid in advance) and I have never had complaints (apart from the woman who said she didn’t like the social standing of the people I had found she was descended from!! ).
    I think that as in other professions if you know your subject, give good value and are professional in your behaviour then there is absolutely nothing wrong in being paid. I have found that once I started to value myself and my expertise others did likewise.

  5. This post was very enjoyable to read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My blog “gophergenealogy” came to life a little over a year ago. I try to write twice a week, one post on general information and one on a serendipity experience. While my followers and readers are few, they are growing. I do not have advertisements on my blog. My focus is on sharing my experiences, personal and client genealogy in hopes of making connections, and encouragement for fellow genealogists. The benefits are a routine for writing, contacts from family researchers, and contacts from wonderful genealogy friends. I look forward to your future posts this coming week.

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