I am excited to introduce to you Elizabeth Plowe Ross and her blog Mystery Dancer, described as, “Mystery Dancer is dedicated to discovering who Ursula Cheshire was through clues revealed in an antique photo album, and through online historical and genealogical research based on those clues.”
A Little About Elizabeth
“I was born and raised in South Dakota (with a few years in North Dakota and upstate New York mixed in). After graduating from college in upstate New York, I moved to New York City, where I lived and worked for nearly 25 years. My musician/music-journalist husband and I recently moved to Nashville, our new favorite hometown. I am a freelance writer and editor in the health care field, but my passion lies in researching and blogging about my “Mystery Dancer” project and working on other family history projects, as well as creating visual art (photography and collage).”
How Elizabeth Got Started in Genealogy
“As a child, I was mildly interested in my family history. A great aunt on my mother’s side had researched my maternal ancestors to prove eligibility for membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), and another relative had traced our lineage all the way back to royalty in the Middle Ages. It was fun learning about that as a kid. My grandmother also wrote down some information and stories that had been passed on to her. On my father’s side, a couple of cousins who had converted to Mormonism researched our family, so that pedigree is filled out for several generations.
“I’ve gotten more interested in family history over the past several years, and have enjoyed poking around on Ancestry.com. While I already know the names of my ancestors, it’s fascinating to learn more about their life stories through such documents as Civil War records, marriage licenses, shipping manifestos, historical newspaper articles, photographs and the like.”
Elizabeth’s Thoughts on Blogging
“I am drawn to stories. I usually read fiction, and when I read nonfiction, it’s usually a memoir or true historical tale centered on a specific person or family. I also love looking at historical photographs of people and places and have found myself buying them here and there at various antique shops and thrift stores. And, I love solving mysteries — studying clues, making connections, discovering new clues and finding answers. That’s why I started this blog.
“Almost one year ago, I went to a huge community yard sale. Among the vendors was a rare book and document gallery that was selling a worn, maroon, velvet-covered antique photo album. Full of old black-and-white photos and yellowed newspaper clippings, the book, said the vendor, centered around Ursula Cheshire, a dancer born in the early 1900s and who died in her 40s. The first photo I saw was of a pretty teenaged girl in costume posing dramatically on one knee with her head tipped back. This family album included more photos of the girl (some in costume, some not), baby pictures, portraits of relatives from the 1800s, handwritten captions. The book intrigued me, and I felt it contained a story I wanted to discover. So, before I even knew if I would be able to find out any additional information about the people featured in the album, I decided to start this blog to share the photos and my experiences of discovery, insight, roadblocks and surprises as I worked to unlock their mysteries. I have been incredibly fortunate that my research has yielded bountiful information about Ursula and her family. I love working on my Mystery Dancer blog, and sharing the journey with my readers.”
Elizabeth’s Advice for New Bloggers
- “I use WordPress, which I have found to be very easy to learn and use. You can customize it with different widgets and features, but don’t go crazy. Before you start, take a look at other blogs to see what you like and don’t like, and get an idea of what works well, what looks good, etc. If you want to do something on WordPress but don’t know how, Google it! So many people use WordPress that you’ll probably find a solution out there.
- “If you’re going to be writing a narrative that spans a lifetime or more, it may be helpful to create an Excel spreadsheet to track your positive research findings in chronological order of the events that your narrative is covering. Include any Web links and notes of filenames of images you may want to use in your blog. I have done this with Mystery Dancer, and it helps me with organizing, keeping the timeline straight, citing sources and planning future posts.
- “Focus each post on a certain topic or event, and give it a narrative arc with a beginning, a middle and an end. In other words, each post should be a mini story within the overall story or theme of the blog.
- “If you tend to procrastinate, publicly commit to a schedule for your posts. I now post on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Before I committed to that, my readers never knew when the next post would be — one week or two months later, who knew?
- “Watch the length of your posts, as well as the length of your paragraphs. I think it is difficult to hold the attention of online readers with lengthy passages and posts that are more than 600 or 650 words. I think around 500 words is a sweet spot. If you need to, break what would have been a long post into two or three parts. And include pictures!”
- Proofread before publishing! That includes checking any links to make sure they work properly.
Elizabeth’s Favorite Blog Post
“So far, I think my favorite post is, “She Got Her Start in San Francisco.”
“It features several fun discoveries I made concerning Ursula’s birth announcement and family residence, including a link to real-estate photos of the interior and exterior of the family’s 1902-built Victorian house, which was sold in 2011 for $1.6 million! It was exciting to find resources on the Internet that synced with and expanded upon photos and information I gleaned from the album.”
Elizabeth’s Favorite Ancestors
“My favorite ancestor (aside from those I knew/know in person, of course) is a maternal great great grandmother named Clara. Thanks to a cousin who has shared a cache of letters that Clara wrote to her family in 1867, I’m getting to know her as I work on transcribing them. As newlyweds, she and her husband, Charley (my great great grandfather) had just moved from Brooklyn, NY to San Francisco, where Charley was an Army engineer at Fortress Alcatraz (US Army Coastal Fortification.) Even as she longs for home, her humor, intelligence and positive nature shine through her letters as she writes about the couple’s new life on the West Coast (including her first pregnancy and baby). This will probably be my next family history blog project.”
How Genealogy has Improved Elizabeth’s Life
“Learning about my ancestors has given me more of a sense of connection and belonging in this world. My existence is the result of actions and circumstances stretching back generations upon generations upon generations. Knowing what some of my ancestors have gone through, how hard they have worked and what courage they have shown inspires me and helps give me strength to persevere through life’s ups and downs. For instance, sometimes I think, “After all, if my paternal great great grandmother was brave enough to travel by ship from Bavaria to Ellis Island by herself at age 15; I can do XYZ, too!”
“And, doing the research for and producing my blog about Ursula Cheshire has improved my life because it’s just so much fun. I get to do all the things I love to do and I’m learning interesting tidbits about early-1900s American history along the way. At some point, I hope to be able to find some of Ursula’s living relatives (she has no living direct descendants) and share the blog and photos with them.”
Please take time to head over to Elizabeth’s blog and leave a comment, letting her know you stopped by. Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your thoughts and your blog with us!
© 2015, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org