Break out the party hats! Past Presence is celebrating its 100,000th view. (Well, since it happened overnight, 100,019th.)
In this post, I take a look at the history of Past Presence, from the first blog to the best read, from the blogs that were quick and easy to those that were harsh and heartbreaking. I also look at the website’s evolution and the decisions along the way. Finally, I offer thoughts on being a writer, and finish with statistics and thank yous.
I will begin with thank yous as well.
This blog would not be what it is without you. A hundred thousand thank yous.
About the blogs
The First Post
Writing a blog gets easier over time, which is another way of saying that writing the first blog post is fraught with doubt: Top 10 tips for beginner genealogists (Mar 2017), inspired by googling what to write on blog posts.
That was the last time I tried to outsource inspiration.
Surprisingly Popular Blogs
One of the favourite dinner table conversations with my cousin’s family is the subject of cousinship. What’s a remove? What’s a second cousin? Is there such a relationship as second cousin once removed? With the memory of our confusion uppermost in mind, I wrote The child of my cousin is my …what?
This is the best-read post on my blog by far. Cousinship confusion is global.
That Genealogy Poem
A great poem speaks to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, when you first read the genealogy poem “The Storytellers,” you thought, that’s me! I did a bit of digging to write The mysterious origins of that genealogy poem, the fourth best read blog on my site.
This is my favourite series. Uncovering the story of Force 136, the ultra secret Chinese branch of Special Operations Executive and seeing it through the eyes of my uncle, Pte. Dake “Dick” Wing Yip, was a gift within a gift within a gift. With each successive layer, a new surprise would emerge. The James Bonds of Chinatown: meet Force 136 (Dec 2018) is the culmination of a decade of research. I followed it up with Force 136 goes to London and takes some holiday snaps – a pictorial story of WWII (Jun 2019) and with the help of Val Erde, Force 136 like you’ve never seen them – in living colour (Jul 2019), where Val’s meticulous research and skill brought a small black and white photo to vivid life.
In one week in June, I prepared for three media interviews in two days. Let me share, there’s nothing quite like learning lessons in public. The morning after, I sat down to write an open letter to myself: How to prepare for the trifecta: print, radio, and tv interviews (Jun 2020). It took no time at all. I was in The Zone. (More about The Zone below.)
By far the longest in terms of time (two months) and length (5,619 words) is my essay on the Chinese in Canada and their fight for civil rights which begins with An uncertain homecoming, Part I: WWII, the Chinese, and the fight for civil rights 1939-1967. This 3-part series set the tone for later research-based blogs with its combination of discovery, writing, researching, and revising online.
Resources for Genealogists
I love having a place online for my collection of genealogy resources. A long time ago, I had a spreadsheet. Like a lot of tools, it worked well until it didn’t. Past Presence got its start with the idea: What if I built a simple website for my links? Now it has:
- Resources for the place I live ( Saskatchewan ) and study, such as BC, Alberta, Manitoba, and of course Canada and anywhere I do research; and
- A section on Historic Canadian Laws and Regulations; and
- A one of a kind collection for Chinese Genealogy resources; and
- My reference library (so I have something to consult when I’m shopping): My Genealogy Books.
I review all 1500+ links every so often for reliability (is the site still up and is the link still valid?). Few things frustrate me than following intriguing links to dead pages.
Blog ideas can come from friends, chats on my Facebook group Genealogy for Asian Canadians, or current events. I let my curiosity drive the writing: if I’m curious, there must be someone else out there who is also curious.
Some ideas are easy, such as the 7-part series about visiting the village of my ancestors, which is genealogy and travel writing. See part 1: Travels in China – the beginning.
Some ideas seemed inspired at first but proved a ton of work to research and write. Most of the How To Blogs fall into this category, such as Genealogy gold, part 1: the who, what, why, where and how of local history books in the Canadian prairies, or How to find a family that disappeared from 1916 to 1921 – using Canadian census records, or 13 databases for Chinese Ancestry on Ancestry.com.
Some blog topics break my heart. Working on these is both joy and misery. See The Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property – genealogical documents for Japanese Canadians and Chinese Immigration Act Case Files: Finding aids at LAC. I plan to do lots more of these, because the story needs to be told.
Behind the Scenes
Past Presence is a WordPress (WP) site, and the 4th site I’ve created with WP.
WP is feature-rich (which is a clue it’s not the easiest platform to master). I alternately love and hate it. I opted not to learn to code CSS (cascading style sheets) and bought a prepackaged theme, Button 2, to get out of the starting gate quickly. I loved the theme’s grey/green colours until I began getting feedback that the stylish dark grey text was hard to read.
It took months to find someone who was willing to take on this small job (to them) but big job (to me).
The beauty of WordPress is that it can be built for free until you’re ready to invest. I bought the domain (past-presence.com) in June 2017, three months after starting the blog, and upgraded to the Business platform on the blog’s 2nd year anniversary. (You don’t see random ads on my site or emails because of this.) Domain, email and the site cost a cool USD$339.50/yr.
My comfort with tweaking the site has changed as the traffic has grown. I used to love tinkering with it, installing plugins, adding widgets, changing colours and fonts. That all changed the day I broke it – I mean I took it down.
I went into panic mode and learned two important lessons: the site’s needs had outgrown my abilities, and I needed professional help. A shout out of appreciation to Vireo Creative.
As soon as a website starts seeing some decent traffic, there will be offers to monetize the site.
Some of these offers will come from WordPress, free or paid. Free WP sites with good traffic will have no choice: WordPress will start advertising wherever it likes. I once flirted with linking to Amazon as an affiliate with my section on books, but this experiment was a costly failure.
I’ve decided to offer my own creative work as digital downloads, which you’ll see in My Shop. Instead of following all the advice, I’m going to sell the same way I write: generously and with optimism for the future. I have my first ebook on scanning and there will be lots more to come.
Advice for Writers
It takes time and practice to find your voice and style. If you are lucky, you will also find your Muse.
I only began to discover my voice when I wrote daily, not coincidentally, the same time I was travelling and had long periods of boredom. Creativity thrives best in uninterrupted time. I was writing to a group of friends and what began as a way of keeping in touch became an outlet for examining the adventure I was on through the medium of words. People said you should write a book, but they were being kind. The first emails were boring – nothing more than lists of been there, done that. It was much later when I stopped collecting adventures and began collecting stories that I found my voice and my passion: my Muse. All creatives know The Muse. When you are privileged to walk with her, the words flow perfectly and without effort. Time disappears. Inspiration comes through your fingers. You are writing in The Zone, and it is pure magic.
For all the days when The Muse is not perched on your shoulder, I recommend Stephen King’s non-fiction book On Writing. It’s part advice, part story, and written in that direct, clear style for which King is famous.
It can take time to find the courage to post your thoughts publicly, to have an opinion, and to have the confidence to share your work so it may be seen. If you’re a creative, you know well how paralyzing the fear of judgement can be. My advice is: nobody can see your genius if you don’t show it to the world. The world needs more of you. Create.
And the beauty of owning your own site is that it is yours – you are the bouncer, with the power to admit or banish comments. Let me tell you about my first troll. His comments were incendiary and racist. I worried about how to respond. I thought about it in the shower. Then I deleted it. It’s my site. I welcome thoughtful guests but I bar the door to vandals.
Stats for Past Presence
Let me geek out for a moment and look at numbers.
|Date began||18 Mar 2017|
|Years||3 years, 10 months, and almost one week|
|Total number of blogs||105 (not including this one)|
|Total number of words||160,352 (as of 21 Jan, 2 pm local)|
|Average words/post||1527 (based on above)|
|Total number of images||703 (as of 21 Jan, 2 pm local)|
|Total number of links||1566 (not including this post)|
|Total number of spam comments blocked||3715 (Phew!)|
|Top 5 countries||In order: USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand (viewership for all time)|
|Total number of countries||166 (but I doubt the ones from Sierra Leone and Congo are real)|
There are 100,000 people to thank.
First, to you, for reading. It is an honour and a privilege to be on your reading list. Second, to the genealogy community: you are my tribe. Thank you for help and advice, for sharing and inviting, for writing and commenting, and for kicking my butt when butt-kicking was needed. To Ancestry, for inviting me to join the advisory Board. Third, to my fellow women entrepreneurs: you are my people. You know who you are.
And of course to my friends and family: to my sister for being my first fan; my best friends for being like sisters; my husband for support; my many cousins; and my ancestors, without whom I literally would not be here: 謝謝 (thank you).