Boy, the time does fly! It seems like only yesterday that I sent an e-mail message to about 100 people, mostly members of CompuServe's Genealogy Forums. None of them knew in advance that the newsletter would arrive; I simply mailed it to people who I thought might be interested. In 1996 nobody objected to receiving unsolicited bulk mail; the phrase "spam mail" had not yet been invented. I shudder to think if I did the same thing in today's Internet environment.
In that first newsletter on January 15, 1996, I wrote:
Well, it's started. This newsletter is something that I have been considering for a long time, but I finally decided to "take the plunge." I've subscribed to several other electronic newsletters for some time now and have found them to be valuable. On many occasions I have said to myself, "Someone ought to do a weekly newsletter for genealogy news." One day the light bulb went on, and I decided that perhaps I was that someone.
I hope to collect various bits of information that cross my desk and appear on my screen every week. Some of these items may be considered "news items" concerning events and happenings of interest to computer-owning genealogists. Some other items will be mini press releases about new genealogy software or other products and services that have just become available. I may write a few articles about things that are not genealogy-related but still seem to be of interest to me and probably to the readers. This may include articles about online systems, operating systems or other things that affect many of us.
You will also find editorials and my personal opinions weaving in and out of this newsletter. Hopefully I will be able to clearly identify the information that is a personal opinion.
The expected audience of this newsletter includes anyone in the genealogy business, any genealogy society officers and anyone with an interest in applying computers to help in the research of one's ancestors.
I chose to distribute in electronic format for two reasons: (1.) it's easy, and (2.) it's cheap. In years past I have been an editor of other newsletters that were printed on paper and mailed in the normal manner. The "overhead" associated with that effort was excessive; I spent more time dealing with printers, maintaining addresses of subscribers, handling finances, stuffing envelopes and running to the post office than I did in the actual writing. Today's technology allows for a much faster distribution, and it is done at almost no expense to either the producer or the subscribers. I want to spend my time writing, not running a "newsletter business."
Since the expected readers all own computers and almost all of them use modems regularly, electronic distribution seems to be the most cost-effective route to use. It also is much lower cost than any other distribution mechanism that I know of.
The original plan has been followed rather closely in the nine years since I wrote those words. The newsletter still consists of "events and happenings of interest to computer-owning genealogists," "mini press releases about new genealogy software or other products and services" and "a few articles about things that are not genealogy-related but still seem to be of interest to me." I have also frequently featured "editorials and my personal opinions."
I did err in one statement: "Today's technology allows for a much faster distribution, and it is done at almost no expense to either the producer or the subscribers." If I were to re-write that sentence today, I wouldn't use the phrase "at almost no expense." I would write, "…at lower expense than publishing on paper." Since I wrote the original words nine years ago, I have received an education in the sending of bulk e-mails and web sites. I now know how much it costs to send out thousands of e-mails. There are technical problems as well. Someday I will write an article about "how to get your account canceled when you repeatedly crash your ISP's mail server." I did crash mail servers a number of times in the early days of this newsletter. And, yes, I got my account canceled one day by an irate Internet service provider. They discovered that their mail server crashed every week when I mailed this newsletter. I also have encountered significant expenses for hardware, software, web hosting, mailing list services, and office expenses. As a result, this newsletter split into two versions: a free Standard Edition and a for-pay Plus Edition.
I was amused a while ago when someone sent a message to me that started with the words, "I hope someone on your staff will forward this message to you." After nine years, my staff remains exactly the same as when I started: myself plus one very talented lady who edits this newsletter every week. I do the up-front work; she then converts my written words into real English. She also functions as a business advisor, confidante, and good friend. She has done this for nearly every newsletter since the very first edition. She has done this despite the travel schedules of both of us; sometimes we both have been in hotel rooms but in different countries. As a computer professional, her travel schedule has been at least as hectic as mine, if not more so; yet, she and I have passed the proposed newsletters back and forth by e-mail every week. Thanks, Pam. I couldn't do it without you.
Nine years ago I worked for a software firm that was not in the genealogy business. The newsletter was started as a part-time business, written nights and weekends. Since then, I have switched employers four times. The first three were all in the software business.A bit more than a year ago I realized a dream when I was able to obtain full-time employment in genealogy: I now am employed by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. However, that society also has allowed me to continue this newsletter as a part-time sideline business; it is still written on my own time, nights and weekends.
In the third issue of this newsletter, I answered questions that a number of people had asked. I wrote:
I hope to issue this [newsletter] every week. … I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice. Also, the first three issues have all been much longer than I originally envisioned. I expect that the average size of the newsletter within a few weeks will be about one half what the first three issues have been. Do not be surprised when you see it shrink in size.
Well, I was wrong. The first three issues averaged about 19,000 bytes of text. The newsletter never did drop to half of that number. Instead, the newsletters continued to grow in size. The newsletters of the past year have averaged 69,357 bytes each, about 3½ times the size of the first three issues. So much for my prognostication!
In nine years I have missed only seven editions for vacations, broken arms, airplane accidents, and family emergencies. Yes, I broke both arms one day and still missed only one newsletter as a result. The following week I wrote about speech input devices as I dictated that week's newsletter into a microphone connected to my PC. A few months later, I suffered bruises and wrenched my neck severely when I landed my tiny airplane in a treetop. Yet I missed only one issue as a result. Over the years I hopefully have become more cautious: I stopped flying tiny airplanes. I also have written more than 450 newsletters for a total of about 20 megabytes of text. Someday I really do have to learn how to touch type.
Because of this newsletter, in the past nine years I have traveled all over the U.S., Canada, and England. Because of this newsletter, I have met many enthusiastic genealogists. Because of this newsletter, I have had the opportunity to use great software, to view many excellent web sites, and to play with lots of new gadgets. Because of this newsletter, I have discovered a number of ancestors. I am indeed fortunate and have truly been blessed. To each person reading today's edition, I want to say one thing: "Thank you for being there and for making it possible for me to enjoy three of my hobbies: genealogy, computers, and online systems."
Also, one other sentence I wrote nine years ago still stands: "Suggestions about this newsletter are always welcome."