Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writer's Blog Hop

I was invited by Cheri Hudson Passey, also known as Carolina Girl, to participate in a Writers Blog Hop.  It’s sort of a “pyramid scheme meets chain letter” event in which no one is harmed and everyone wins.  As I traveled back through Cheri’s blog to the writer who invited her and then the writer who invited her to the writer who invited her, I found that this “hop” isn’t just for family historians.  There are travel writers, romance writers, poets, journalists, mommy bloggers, and every other kind of writer imaginable with no connection to one another except by their passion for writing.  Each writer answered the same four questions offering some insight into “the writer’s life.” 

What am I writing or working on?
My blog is my only writing project.  Of course, in my head, those blog posts will one day become a book.  There was a time when I thought I could put together a collection of all the resources available for Jollett research – you know, one of those BIG 3”-thick tomes full of photos and copies of family bibles, census records, deeds, wills, and appraisals –, but I’ve abandoned that idea.  Laziness and logistics, I suppose.  Probably a series of “coffee table books” will come of my efforts.

Because I accepted Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge to write about 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I’m not blogging as frequently as in the past.  That’s because I am doing more research in preparation for those weekly posts.  I decided to focus on my oldest ancestors, regardless of the particular line or surname, forcing me to do some due diligence in collecting the facts.  The downside is the posts are not “attractive,” being nearly void of any photos or images.  The upside is I’m updating old research and documenting my sources more accurately.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As a family historian, my work differs only in that it’s the story of MY family.  Connecting with other researchers showed me the value of studying collateral lines, and so the title of my blog, “Jollett Etc” reflects how my research has expanded to include other surnames besides Jollett.  Most of my blogs are written in story form even though they will vary in the degree of completeness.  Photo albums that have been passed down to me from 3 grandaunts on both sides of my family have inspired the majority of my posts.  Since none of my aunts bothered to provide much detail about the who-what-where-when-why of their photos, my Nancy Drew skills have been tested in order to sleuth out a story. 

Why do I write what I do?
My mother got me started on genealogy in the pre-Internet days when she wanted to join the DAR.  She dragged me in to help her with the research.  I have since carried on her work although DAR membership has still managed to elude us.  In 1998 I started a Jollett website on Geocities with the intention of collecting primary sources related to the Jolletts of Virginia.  When Geocities shut down, I sat on my research not knowing what to do with it until a friend suggested I start a blog.  However, since the only blogs I knew of were dedicated to home decorating and cooking, I couldn’t imagine how genealogy would fit into blog format.  My thought processes were stuck in Geocities mode where family tree charts and transcriptions of deeds and wills formed a body of knowledge.  “Chronological” was the only thing that made sense to me. 

Stumbling upon Thomas MacEntee and Geneabloggers was a real epiphany.  I didn’t even know there was such a huge genealogy community blogging away.  Answering a variety of daily prompts got me started when I didn’t know where to begin.

I posted a few blogs but I never LOVED my blog until I discovered Sepia Saturday and the A to Z April Challenge.  The weekly photo prompts at Sepia Saturday always inspire me to find SOMETHING in my family’s history, often stories I would never have thought to write about.  The A to Z April Challenge freed me from the Geocities mindset.  The responses I got from people who were not genealogists at all gave me confidence in my writing and allowed me to write in the moment, no matter how random or seemingly disconnected the stories were.  Sepia Saturday and A to Z helped me realize I could separate personal narrative from the dry data of genealogy research.  One day when I’m ready to put that coffee table book together, I can rearrange my stories into something that creates a more cohesive picture.
How does my writing process work?
Typically I start with PANIC.  I keep an excel spreadsheet-type calendar where I list planned blogs along with their due dates and completion dates.  My goal is to write ahead, so when a due-date inches closer, panic sets in.  I then try to distract myself by reading other blogs.  Doing so insures that the feelings of being unworthy by comparison and not doing justice to my family will increase all sense of panic.  That’s when I become the most creative.  Honest. 

A sideline to panic mode is a phone call to my sister.  I’ll either ask her a question about a particular event in our family history or I’ll whine about not knowing what to say about an old photo.  Her natural wit and irreverence never fail to inspire a new direction for a blog post. 

I am by nature an obedient child, a rules-follower.  The conventions of good writing are important to me:  starting strong, ending strong, building bridges between thoughts with transitional markers.  However, I’m always drawn to bloggers who write in a more conversational tone than I usually do.  It’s difficult for me to “loosen up,” so when I include a fragment, it’s for effect – for dramatic emphasis or to create a casual and less formal style. 

My writing space, on the other hand, defies all the rules of good writing.  Clutter.  Post-it notes surround my computer that is in desperate need of screen-cleaner.  Photo albums, college yearbooks from 1923-26, and history books stay near my feet.  If I put them away, I’ll just need them again, so why bother?  The flurry of notes and scraps and unreadable scrawl ever remind me of the need to organize this mess before someone nominates me for a feature on “Hoarders.”

The blog tour continues next week with Nancy Messier of “MyAncestors and Me.” 


  1. This is a great read girl! I'm glad to know how Jollett, etc. works. I never knew you panicked. I thought I was the only one.

    I guess my irreverent behavior started with "hey fat boy!"

    Mary Jollette

  2. This is awesome Wendy! I never knew you panicked about your blog posts.

    I think you're writing style is wonderful! Great job on your blog hop post!

    1. Maybe I overstated that "panic" point. It's probably the teacher in me. It's like having an assignment due in school. But really, I'm the only one who knows the due date -- it's not like there's a real penalty if I'm late.

  3. Start with panic? Sure, why not?! I've found it to be an exemplary crowbar to unearth buried creativity. Matter o' fact, I'm following the same m.o. you just described as I sit down to compose my own next blog post...

    1. Your moments of panic produce much stronger results than mine do.

  4. Yes, I do understand the panic button syndrome when doing an assignment about yourself. What to say, how to say it, and always the kicker..at least for me...who will want to read it! In this case, the teacher in you spilled your traditional guts with all the right do's for a quality read of proper grammar and a character filled story. Well done. I enjoyed it immensely, Mrs. Wendy!
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

    1. Exactly -- who wants to read THIS??? But thanks as ever for your encouragement.

  5. How interesting, Wendy. Your posts are always so well-written and polished, evidence of panic enhancing creativity, I guess. How fun that you call your sister. It makes me a little envious that you have such a great supporter. Thanks for heading the blog hop in my direction. I appreciate it.

  6. Wendy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/07/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-july-11-2014.html

    Have a great weekend!

  7. Great post. I had to laugh about your comment "I'm the only one who knows the due date". My husband just said to me today (as I was planning my post) that the minute it becomes a chore is when he would stop doing it. I almost always do my blog post on Sunday so I have been feeling a little panic set in since I've taken a few weeks off. But I'm back at it today!