google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist

Reviving Your Tired Family History Blog


Have you fallen out of love with your family history blog? Has it been awhile since you last wrote a
blog post? Are you ready to give up and walk away?

Thousands of family history blogs are living on the Internet today, with more coming to life daily. Unfortunately, many of these blogs become abandoned by their owners not long after they start.  Generally blogs become neglected because the author is bored and has lost interest, or they set themselves up for a blogging schedule they just can’t maintain long term, and the author faces burnout.

If you have one of those blogs or find yourself losing interest in your blog then today’s post is going to help you breathe new life into your tired family history blog.

First don’t beat yourself up if you’ve lost interest and abandoned your family history blogging efforts completely. It’s still not too late to revive a delinquent family history blog. If your blog never went through periods of renewal and rejuvenation, I would be worried.

How do you revive a family history blog?  Change! You’re bored and so are your readers, change is in order!

Allow Your Content to Evolve


As writers we are constantly mastering our skill. Writing is an evolving journey, and with that evolution comes new focus and perspective, new topics and maybe even a new audience. Don’t be afraid to let your writing and content evolve. There is nothing wrong with growing and expanding and changing the content of your blog. I’m a big advocate for change and growth. Staying stagnate makes for dull content. If you’re not obsessive about a topic, then it will be hard to express any kind of passion to your readers. They soon will be just as disinterested as you.  I’m constantly reading and learning not only within the genealogy and family history field but outside it as well.  Expanding my knowledge of new areas and skills, keeps my mind stimulated and the content flowing.

 Don’t fear change, it’s the fresh air you need to keep your blog exciting and new.

Consider Relaunching Your Blog


Relaunch your family history blog with a new focus and a new look. It just may be the change required for you and your readers.  A fresh look can increase traffic/subscribers and stimulate your passion for family history blogging again.

Here are a few approaches to relaunching your family history blog.

  1. Redesign your blog but keep the content the same, sometimes you just need a little redecorating to relight the passion, change up the colours, the fonts, pictures, try a new template, a new logo.
  2. Consider altering older content/deleting least relevant material and tweaking the rest.
  3. Relaunch your family history blog with a new look and completely new content – a major overall may be in order. Sometimes after blogging for a while you need to rethink your direction. All well known long-established companies face a rebranding from time to time to keep things current and relevant in the market-place, a blog is no different.
  4. Maybe a fresh start is in order with a new domain, new website design and redirect traffic so you don’t lose readership. Perhaps you’ve outgrown your current blogging platform and you feel limited, it might be time to tackle a new blogging platform that offers more options.
  5.  If your blog has gotten too big, with a lot of topics, it can get messy almost like a garden in need of some pruning. Focus your blog topics, separate the ideas into their own blogs, giving each topic a greater focus, dropping topics that are going nowhere and expanding the ones that get the most hits. This can help you build wider audience appeal.
  6. Invite other family members or fellow genealogists to blog alongside you, sharing the workload and giving your blog a fresh set of eyes and voice.  Having someone work alongside you can inspire and motivate you.


Keep in Mind


Traffic doesn’t happen overnight.  Promote on social media, list your blog in Geneabloggers and let the community know you exist.
Don’t get hung up on comments. A blog can function and thrive quite well without comments. These days many discussions about blog posts take place on Facebook. The true test is in your visitors.
Keep the content flowing on a regular schedule. It doesn’t have to be every day or even weekly. Pick a schedule you can manage and stick with it.


It’s never too late to revive an old tired family history blog, take a few minutes to examine your priorities, find a new focus and develop an action plan.


A Behind the Scenes Look into Finding Eliza

Yesterday I introduced you to a new summer read, Finding Eliza by Stephanie Pitcher Fishman.  Don’t miss out on a chance to win a copy of Finding Eliza, you'll find the details at the end of this interview. 

Today, I’m sitting down with Stephanie, she's been gracious enough to give us a glimpse behind the scenes of her first fictional novel. She discusses her move to fictional writing and how family history has inspired her writing along with some insights into her writing process.


1.     Stephanie, welcome to The Armchair Genealogist. I’m thrilled to have you here not only as a fellow genealogist and blogger but as a debut novelist.  Like myself, most of our audience today know you as a genealogist and blogger. You’ve written a number of Quick Guides for Legacy Family Tree and you are one of the lovely ladies behind the digital magazine The In-Depth Genealogist. Your writing has been very much centred in the non-fiction world. However, your book Finding Eliza is fictional, what inspired you to make the jump into the world of fiction?

We all have those things that we do but aren’t brave enough to share with the world. Fiction was mine. I’ve always dreamed up stories and characters, but I stopped writing fiction years ago when life moved into a new phase (family, kids, etc.) Last year, my daughter – also a writer – decided to take the NaNoWriMo challenge. She challenged me to break out of my fear and write along with her. I did, and the result is Finding Eliza.

2.     How did you find writing fiction different from non-fiction? What did you find the easiest about the transition, what was the hardest?

I love that I get to be myself when I write fiction. It makes me more vulnerable, but it is fun to interject bits of my personality or life into the story. With non-fiction, the focus is on fact and leaving that trail of sources that we depend on. The idea that I could research and write something without inserting a footnote was very difficult at first. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t necessary.

3.     Finding Eliza is your debut novel and it is very much centred on your passion for genealogy. There are a lot of readers today, who are family historians and will be seeing this post and identifying with you as a fellow genealogist. Help them to understand how you came up with the idea for Finding Eliza? What did that process look like? Is the storyline for Finding Eliza pulled from your family history or is it a complete work of fiction?

Our family stories can always influence our writing whether directly as a story line or as the inspiration and motivation to tell a story. I have a history of social activism in my family, even if it happened in small steps such as my great grandmother taking care of the former slaves in the area of a South Georgia county. The line in the story where Gertrude explains that her family believed, “everyone has a name,” came straight from my great-grandmother’s lips. The equality and value of human life was instilled in me at a very young age. I was blessed to grow up in diverse schools, so my friends spanned different ethnic and economic ranges. Growing up in Atlanta, we were surrounded by the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. It always held a great fascination for me. I remember learning about slavery and Jim Crow laws in school, and thinking of how it affected the families of my friends. As a genealogist, I dreaded the day that I would inevitably find a slave owner in my family tree. (It wasn’t where I expected it!) Once I did, it got me thinking of those days in class. When the person involved in a tragic act is connected to your family, do you see evil or pain? How do you process that information? The story line in Finding Eliza is influenced partly by unproven stories and lore in the areas surrounding where my ancestors lived as well as the questions that I had as I came to terms with finding dark shadows in my ancestors. However, a large part of it was fictional.

4.     I think many people, but particularly family historians look at their family history stories and think it might make a good book but doubt themselves. Self-doubt is an ongoing battle in a writer’s world.  How did you know you had something worthy of a book? How did you beat down your own self-doubt to forge ahead and complete Finding Eliza? 


How did I know? I didn’t. I asked my friends and family multiple times to tell me if I was writing something that shouldn’t be shared. I battled self-doubt and my internal editor at every turn – and I still do! I asked for feedback from those that I trusted, not for accolades but for the encouragement that I needed to go forward on the hard days.  I looked at the different books and stories that people consider their favorites. There is a reader out there for your story, fiction or non-fiction. You just have to take a chance on yourself and put it out there so that they can find it. You never know what will happen until you make the jump into the project.
My favorite writing quote is by Louis L’amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

5.     Stephanie, can you tell us little bit about how you developed your storyline? Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you plot, what kind of plotting tools do you like to use?

I’d love to be a legitimate plotter, but it’s not in my DNA. With Finding Eliza, I started with an idea, jotted down a few points, and just wrote. My mantra was, “It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be written.” Once I had the first draft down, I went over it again looking at plot points and making sure that I had the right rise and fall of action in the correct places. I outlined the story as it was on my whiteboard (complete with different colors and arrows!) and made my changes.
For my current WIP, I’m trying a slightly more organized version of loose plotting using a format that the guys on the Self Publishing Podcast call “beats.” I love using Jami Gold’s resources. I plot out my basic ideas using her Basic Beat Sheet, and then I start writing in Scrivener.
The beats give me a loose outline to follow while still giving me the freedom to free write. I write by scene, not chapter, so that I can rearrange and expand on sections as necessary. For Finding Eliza, several chapters are far from their original placement. It makes it easier for me to write if I let the story go where it likes rather than keeping it fenced in under tight constraints.


I am a very visual person, so I use Pinterest to save images that inspire me for characters or action. I’ve even started “casting” the parts so that I can picture someone while I write. It has been a lot of fun!


6.     Are you a Southern Belle, Stephanie? You manage to capture the look and feeling of the south so well, from the red clay to the sweet tea and lemon bars. Did your setting emerge from a personal connection to the south or did it materialize out of good research?


My genealogy business name is Corn and Cotton because I’m part both… the only child married to a Yankee and a Southern Belle. I grew up in Ohio and West Virginia through the age of 10, but I spent time every summer with cousins on farms around the South Georgia town that my grandmother was born and lived until she started her own family. We were rooted in our Southern heritage. After age 10, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, still spending vacations and holidays with family in the southern part of the state. I live in Ohio now, but my heart is still in Georgia which is why I’m so romantic about the red Georgia clay. I wasn’t that in love with it when I was washing it out of my daughter’s clothes! Distance makes the heart grow fonder, especially with kudzu and humidity.


7.     Stephanie, as I mentioned in my review, Finding Eliza is part genealogical mystery and part historical fiction, which I think is the ideal marriage for telling any family history story.  A segment of Finding Eliza is set in a very disorderly and troublesome time in American history and particularly in the south. Can you tell us a little bit about the research you put into the historical and social history aspect of Finding Eliza?

I wanted to tell it in a way that would cause the reader to ask questions about people who may have been forgotten as well as looking at history in a different view. Social history holds a fascination for me, so I researched the social history of the period quite heavily. I spent time digging into the miscegenation laws that were still on the books across the United States until the 1960s, and that led me to research harder topics such as lynchings and mob violence in the South. I looked at projects such as the Mary Turner Project in Valdosta, Georgia. I also read through historic newspapers, which I love to do anyway. While the character of Eldridge is fictional, he could represent any number of people. I spent time learning the stories of those who were lost through violence during this time period. There’s a Russian proverb that I love that says, “You live as long as you are remembered.” Though the character is fictional, I wanted to find a way to remember the experiences that many may have lived through. It was hard to research and hard to write, but hopefully it will open up others to the stories of people who should not be forgotten.


8.     I believe what sets Finding Eliza apart is the characters of Lizzie, Gran and The Gals.  You’ve developed likeable, charming characters that anyone could find in their local archives and genealogical society. I think many readers will identify with at least one of these characters, making it a very relatable story and you’ve done a great job of bringing them to life on the page. Can you tell us a little bit about Lizzie and The Gals and your inspiration for them?  

I love The Gals! They are one of a kind and completely unique, though they have roots from some very real places. I have always been in love with the group of friends that my mother in law was blessed with. Many of them were friends long before their children were born and have been since the loss of spouses and family. My oldest and dearest friend has been like a sister to me for 25 years. It’s a special relationship. I knew that I wanted to pay homage to that love that comes from friends who are chosen  family, so I had to build a group. I also have had a mountain of support from my own Gals: Jennifer Holik, Terri O’Connell, and Jennifer Alford. Together, I picture us digging in repositories and drinking coffee together even if it’s more virtual than others since we’re spread over two states – Jennifer H. and Terri are local to each other while Jennifer A. and I are local to each other. The combination of the two ended up inspiring the gals!

In Finding Eliza, the group nicknamed by Lizzie as “The Gals” is made up of four life-long friends: Gertrude, Lizzie’s grandmother; Abi and Blue, Gertrude’s childhood friends; and Claud, Abi’s sister in law. The four women are funny, loveable, and distinct personalities that blend together to compliment (and sometimes irritate!) each other.

9.  Stephanie, which of the “Gals” in Finding Eliza do you most identify with? Why?

I see myself in Abi. I don’t have the style of Gertrude or the hostess skills of Claud. I’m quietly in the group, encouraging and wanting to love on everyone just like Abi. However, I long to be Blue! I’d love to say what I want without a care in the world and have her quick wit that commands a room. She’s the type of lady I long to be as I age.

10.   Your main character in Finding Eliza, Lizzie Clydell finds more than just answers to her family’s secret. Her family history journey teaches her about forgiveness.  Stephanie, as a family historian, what lessons have you personally learned from your family history research? 

I believe that we have so much to learn from our ancestors. My own research has taught me how to be resilient and how to move beyond tragedy and hurts. I’ve learned that one event, even something like being a slave owner, cannot define a person. We must look at the situations in which someone lives to really understand their decisions. We can’t isolate an individual and box them in based on one year of their life. It’s the sum of the parts that makes us who we are. Most times when I learn about an ancestor I find something that I can apply to my life. I think that can be said about all of our families!

11.   Many writers struggle to meet their goal of writing a book and time is cited as the number one obstacle. I like to always ask authors about their writing process and daily habits. With so many tasks to juggle as a mother, wife, genealogist, and writer with multiple projects, how did you find the time to write a novel?

I joke that I respond to the pressure of public humiliation. I made sure that I told a lot of people around me that I was working on the book. But doing that, not only did I get the support that I knew that I would need but I also had the accountability. People were asking me about my writing, so I had to write in order to tell them about it!

I’m a night owl by nature, but I’m trying to teach myself to get up and write earlier in the day. I have a rough goal of the number of words I’d like to write each day (2000), and I try to get as close to that as possible.  However, my bottom line is that I’d like to write more than 500 words. I’ve joined a group of writers that have committed to that. It helps me stay focused on the goal each day. Some days you just have to be okay with getting the minimum done.

I’ve also realized that by following my dreams I’m happier. Writing is my “me” time. It’s also a way that I can keep showing my girls that we need to never lose our passions.

12.   Bringing your first self-published book to fruition is a tall task and requires much more than writing a great story.  What kind of support and guidance did you seek out to achieve your goal of publishing Finding Eliza? Is there one thing you needed to learn that came as a complete surprise or as larger obstacle than you expected?

I’m part of a great group of fiction writers that came together through Jeff Goins’ writing group, Tribe Writers. They have been an immense support to me. I’m also blessed by the friendship of several best-selling authors, including Andrea Johnson Beck, who have guided me through the process and given me encouragement on the days when I wasn’t sure I could make it through. We’re blessed to be in a time where indie authors are given all of the advantages of traditional authors. Yes, we have to do our own marketing and funding, but even traditionally published authors are doing many of the same tasks as indies (they just don’t have the same creative control!)
The hardest part of self-publishing for me has been learning that everyone makes mistakes. There is a reason that books have multiple editions: editorial changes. When I find an error, I’ve had to retrain myself to remember that even traditionally published authors have errors in their books. It just makes me one of the gang. The tendency to be hard on myself is something that I’m learning to avoid.

13.    For family historians reading this today and wanting to write either a fictional or non-fictional book, what one piece of advice would you offer them, something that you learned the hard way?

Treat every day as an experiment. You will never know how to do everything, so don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting to learn it all in one day. You can’t let the things you don’t know stop you. Just as we had to learn each step of the research and documentation process, we have to learn the steps in the process of writing and publishing. Your story deserves to be told. Your ancestors deserve to be remembered. Whether you are writing for a family audience of five or the mass market, you have something to contribute.

14.   I know there has been some buzz on your Facebook page for Finding Eliza about sequels centred on Gran and The Gals. Stephanie, please feel free to share a little bit about your future writing projects.

I’m actually working on a few things! I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo with some writing friends during the month of July. The schedule and daily practice of writing toward a goal in November worked so well with Finding Eliza that I’m trying it again. My WIP isn’t based around family history but will hopefully be loved by the same people who enjoyed the characters and conversation of Lizzie and The Gals. My main character, Jerrica Teal, is a widow who discovers that her “dead” husband had some secrets that just might cause some problems in her life when she uncovers them. Her teenager, Cat, is spunky and full of attitude, much like my youngest daughter. And, her “dead” husband, Harrison… he’s got quite a past.

You can get a peek at her adventures on Pinterest:

As for Lizzie, I’m currently knee-deep in researching the rum runners and bootleggers of Prohibition. The Gals will play prominently in the story line, specifically Abi and Blue. They are going to dive into research and might even take a trip out to the coast! I’m still playing with a few ideas, but those in my reader group are getting sneak peeks as well as the chance to help me make some decisions. For example, one reader won a trivia contest recently and has gotten to help name a new character. We have fun chatting on Facebook. Anyone is welcome to join me if they’d like the inside scoop!

Thank you Stephanie, for joining us and giving us a peak into your process and we look forward to more wonderful reads. In the meantime, readers be sure to pick up a copy of Finding Eliza or enter to win a copy below.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Finding Eliza and the Power of Family History


What happens when a genealogist turned writer takes on the world of fiction? You get a beautifully moving story that reflects the heart and soul of family history, you get Finding Eliza, a book that belongs on every family historian’s summer reading list.

Stephanie Pitcher Fishman is a well known genealogist and the co-founder of the digital magazine
The In-Depth Genealogist and now the author of her debut novel and first work of fiction, Finding Eliza. I had the pleasure of getting a first and early look at her new book and I couldn’t wait to share it with you.

Once you pick up Finding Eliza you’ll be gracefully swept in to the world of Lizzie Clydell.  In this beautifully written story about family secrets and the power they hold, Stephanie introduces us to Lizzie, a young southern woman struggling as she approaches the anniversary of the death of her parents. Her grandmother intervenes and introduces Lizzie to an old bible and a family secret that proves to be very powerful. Lizzie soon learns the cost her family bared during an epic time in American History of interracial relationships and 1930’s segregation. 

Stephanie possesses the talent to transport us to another time and from the very first chapter you can taste the sweet tea and lemon bars while your feet are firmly planted in the red Georgia clay. Finding Eliza introduces us to charming relatable characters that Stephanie effortlessly brings to life on the page. It is the very characters of Gran and her gal pals and their strong-arming Lizzie into their genealogy group that convinces you; you’ve met these ladies before. I’m certain you’ll see yourself or maybe a fellow genealogist in the characters Stephanie lovingly calls “The Gals.”

Don’t confuse Finding Eliza with the influx of genealogical crime novels that are emerging almost daily. Finding Eliza while a genealogical mystery brings something different, a literary feel and a historical element that separates it from the other genealogical mysteries on the market today.  
You’ll laugh and cry with these charming characters as Stephanie effortlessly transitions the reader from the present story to a turbulent and confusing time. Stephanie compels the reader to know more and keeps you reading as she moves you back in time through the pages of the family bible. While at times, I did find a disconnect with Lizzie’s outward reaction to news; at moments, it seems excessive, Finding Eliza is an engaging story with characters and a storyline that are relatable and compelling.

While this is a fictional story, Stephanie has captured what many family historians believe about their genealogy research, it has the power to reach out and teach us, not just about the past but about ourselves. Family history is not just about finding our ancestors in documents but finding a piece of ourselves in their stories, this is the soul of family history. Stephanie Pitcher Fishman delivers this message beautifully in Finding Eliza.

Join us tomorrow when I interview Stephanie and we get to know the author, her writing process and her inspiration for Finding Eliza.

Want to add Finding Eliza to your summer reading list? We’re giving away two copies either in Kindle or book form, following tomorrow's interview post. For an added chance to win, you can head over to Goodreads, where the author is offering an opportunity to win a Kindle version of the book.

Creating a Research Checklist in Evernote - Video

10 Minute Tips - Creating a Research Checklist in Evernote 

This is my first 10 minute tip video of what I hope will be an ongoing series. Today, we'll take a look at creating a research checklist in Evernote. Customize a research checklist for each of your ancestors, accessible on all your devices including your smartphone.

New Features for Scrivener


trial version Scrivener has just released an update for their Windows version, and it comes with some significant changes. If you’re a Windows based Scrivener user then you are aware by now that there are some differences between the Windows version and the Mac version. Windows users have been hounding the folks at Literature and Latte for some time to match the Mac version. Well, in the many years I’ve been using Scrivener, this is probably the most significant update and it sounds like there is more to come.

Accordingly to my newsletter from Literature and Latte here are just a few of the things you can expect to see after you update:


Formatting Presets
If your writing calls for a lot of formatting, then you know that in the past it has been difficult to keep a consistent look without using a lot of settings. You can now save formatting into presets, making it easy to apply that same format over and over to different parts of your text. Additionally, we've added a feature that will make it easier to compile special formatting while also taking advantage of the compiler's unique and powerful features for cleaning up your draft. Check out Preserve Formatting and Formatting Presets.

Special note: if you've customised your Format Bar, you'll need to add the new preset button yourself, using the Tools menu.

Custom Meta-Data
Have you ever found yourself wishing you could track even more details in your projects? We've got an answer for you. It is now possible to add as many meta-data fields to your project as you wish. These can be displayed as columns in the outliner, or easily accessed in the Inspector sidebar. Keep track of dates, characters, names of flowers, who dunnit in the drawing room with the candlestick, and other matters of dire importance.

Custom Icons
Spruce up your binder with a broad selection of useful icons (or add your own). Nothing says fix me now! like a big yellow caution icon on the chapter you've been putting off. Or give yourself a gold star when you finish a scene. Sometimes it's the little things.

 Document Templates
They are kind of like project templates, but for documents in your projects instead. Set up boilerplate texts or even whole folder and file structures for easy duplication. It's like adding new types of items to your Add menus, such as character sheets, references, to-do lists, or whatever else you can imagine.

Binder Favourites
There are some things we just keep coming back to. Now you can add those things to all of the main navigation and selection menus (such as the Move, Scrivener Link and Go To menus), giving you top-shelf access to these, no matter how buried they may be in your outline.

Multiple Project Notes
Open your project notes in a separate window, and create new notepads as tabs in this window to better organise your thoughts. You'll still have access to all of them in the Inspector sidebar as well. No more lumping everything in one place!

PDF Display
This one has been a long time coming. We've completely replaced the PDF engine in Scrivener with a much improved system for both reading and exporting PDFs. Copy selections of text, or even whole pages at once with a simple right-click. You can also quickly navigate within larger PDFs that have a built-in table of contents, or by clicking on internal links.

 Better Web Import
By default, websites will now be converted to PDF using the new engine. The result will faithfully preserve most websites into a stable format that will stand the test of time. We've also introduced support for Microsoft's MHT website archive format. Although Scrivener cannot view MHT files (yet, don't worry, it's coming), you can easily open them in compliant browsers with a click of a button. If all you want is a selected piece of a page, you'll find that copy and paste now works even better with most modern browsers.

Compile Support for Scrivener Links
It might sound arcane, but the ability to link from one piece of your draft to another has important implications: It means you can now cross-reference in a format that will be more useful for your readers, and it also means you can create a table of contents directly in your RTF files. We've included a special tool for easily creating a ToC. If you have MS Office installed, links are also supported for the PDF, DOC and DOCX formats.

All Project Templates and Compile Presets Updated 
We've gone through every project template and compile preset to update them with the new capabilities in this release. You'll find many more options in the compiler's Format As menu, and project templates will come outfitted with convenient document templates, among other improvements.

There's a lot more! If you want to review the full list of changes, please review the official change log:




As I work my way through these new updates, I anticipate there will be some new videos to add to the Scrivener collection on my You Tube channel.

If you’re not familiar with Scrivener you can read about my passion for it here, or watch our introductory video here.  Scrivener is a great tool for all writers including family historians. 

Give Scrivener a test run with trial copy