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:
“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.’”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org