Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guest Post: Elizabeth Swaney O'Neal

For this post I thought I would mix it up a bit and have a guest post. When I asked my friend Elizabeth Swanay O'Neal for some hints or tips for my last post she went over and above...So I decided her note to me was too good not to share. I hope you agree. (PS. I love her sense of'll see what I mean.)

May I present: 

Elizabeth Swanay O'Neal

See that… up there on the wall? That’s my certificate from the Genealogical School of Hard Knocks. The genealogy bug first bit me about 25 years ago, and if I’d known then what I know now… I would have done just about everything differently.

Back in the day, there was no, no Google, no email, no internet… heck, hardly anyone even had a computer. Need a death certificate? You actually had to write a letter and MAIL it, and then wait and wait and wait for a response. Or, you had to leave your house and drive to a library or your local National Archives branch to get the record you wanted, and there was no guarantee that you would find it. Cranking through reel after reel of Soundex cards and census records still might not score a hit on Grandpa Fred’s family.

It was exhausting.

But eventually, I did get my first computer, and I thought I was pretty cool beans entering data into the PAF 1.0 database on my spiffy DOS machine. Forget about sources; it was all about THE NAMES. I was confident that I would always remember where I found everything, and who had time to write it down anyway? Seriously, I know what I’m doing. Leave me alone. And why is Aunt Josephine bugging me with those BORING stories about when she was a girl? I’m much too busy for that!
Times have changed, thank goodness. Now you can look for Grandpa Fred from behind your computer in your pajamas and curlers. But the basics of genealogical research have not changed all that much. Here are a few bits of advice that I would give to my 20-something-year-old self – after I finished slapping her silly – upon beginning her genealogical quest:

Write it down. Your database says that Grandpa Fred is the son of Frank and Mary Smith. But how do you know that? Did you read it in a book? Did Aunt Josephine tell you? Did you see it on Grandpa Fred’s birth certificate? Even if you copied it off someone’s unsourced family tree, write it down! Don’t worry about writing perfect Evidence Explained source citations. Just leave yourself enough bread crumbs to find your way back. Trust me; in 25 years you will NOT remember what you ate for breakfast, much less where that piece of information came from, and you will tear your hair out trying to retrace your steps. Here, let me show you my bald spots…

Socialize. When I attended my first genealogical society meeting about 20 years ago, most of the members looked at me as if I were a space alien. Granted, I was by far the youngest person in the room, but I was made to feel most uncomfortable, not to mention ignorant. I attended a few more meetings, and then finally gave up. But times have changed, and this attitude is not prevalent among the majority of genealogical societies. Ok, so the thought of a room full of Aunt Josephines might be daunting, but venture out and meet your local gen soc anyway. If you find that one group isn’t for you, visit another. You will eventually find “your people,” and the camaraderie and opportunities for learning will be worth the effort. You might even meet a cousin or two.

Don’t be afraid of the old folks. Aunt Josephine might look scary, but odds are that she’d love a good chat. Ask her to tell you what life was like when she was a girl, and she’ll probably open up like a book. Be sure to bring along your camcorder, audio recorder, iPhone, or some sort of recording device so you can capture her memories for later transcribing. If she’s a good story-teller, you may find yourself much to rapt for note-taking. And if she’s not a good story-teller, well, you’ll have the audio to listen to later in case you nod off. Oh, and don’t dawdle. Aunt Josephine is advancing in years, and may not be around tomorrow to tell you where her grandparents came from… or may not be in a condition to remember. If you don’t do it now, you’ll wish you had. I sure wish I had.

So, there you go. I hope you are able to benefit from my early genealogical mistakes and bad judgment. Trust me: the Genealogical School of Hard Knocks is much less enjoyable than the NGS Home Study Course.

Monday, September 24, 2012

More Tips From My Genealogy Pals

I always find tips from my genealogy buddies to be a great way to learn. Following is a few tips from some of my genealogy buddies. Thank you to Liza, Susan, Jean and Randy. You guys rock.

Lisa Alzo
          1. When searching online databases don't just type in names at random. First read the instructions! You will typically find them under "Frequently Asked Questions" "Help" or an "About This Website" sections and they will help you to understand what a database does and doesn't contain and any special tips for searching it.
          2. Understand the time period you're researching, including any laws that influenced record-keeping. Utilize the web or check for books at the library or sites such as Google Books or ArchiveGrid.
          3. Not all information is available online. You will have to step away from your computer and go exploring courthouses, cemeteries, libraries and other repositories to track down documents that have not yet been digitized.

Susan Clark
          1. I've one tip ---- slow down and think about how to use your database. Not something I did when I started using Legacy. I just uploaded a GEDCOM merged another and OMG! It's so easy to point, click, copy or paste that I didn't think about how I was entering info. So it was a mess. I have a system now, but the earlier research is a mishmash of notes, facts, events. This is really humbling when I need to share information with another researcher. All the software programs can be tailored to fit the users. Take a couple of days - or weeks, to learn you program and consider what you're planning to do with the information you're gathering. There is a big difference between someone who wants to write a book and someone who is validating earlier generations' research. Are you actively researching or recording existing research? Do you use digital media? Do you travel and need detailed location information for research? Or are you one of those who never plan to leave your living room? Set things up to work for you.

Jean Wilcox Hibben
          1. Don't give up
          2. Be willing to reach out to others for suggestions
          3. Focus on one line at a time

Randy Seaver
          1. Watch FamilySearch Learning Center Videos
          2. Use the FamilySearch Research Wiki
          3. Learn how to use Google effectively - search, news, images, reader, translate, alerts, etc.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with Thomas MacEntee

I like to count Thomas MacEntee as one of my genealogy buddies. This week I asked him to answer a few questions for me that I thought you guys might find interesting. If you don't know who Thomas MacEntee is you should really find out. He's a mover and a shaker. He really stirred things up in the genealogy world when he came on scene. I hope that this interview will help y'all get to know him a little better, and if you see him at a conference or speaking engagement tell him hi from me. 

You're going to be teaching at Salt Lake Institute for Genealogy this January. 
How many years have you offered this course? 

This is the first year that The Genealogist’s Guide to the Internet Galaxy track at SLIG has been offered.

Who is the class aimed at?

The target audience are genealogists who want to work smarter when it comes to genealogy and technology.

How is this different to put together vs say your gig at NGS or FGS?

This is the first time that I’ve coordinated an entire week’s worth of classes in an “institute” format around a specific topic.  Most of my other offerings – in-person lectures and webinars – are 50 minute slide presentations that are “Internet-active” (meaning I go out to the Internet and demo the websites and apps being covered).

What made you decide to offer a course at SLIG?

I was approached by the SLIG planners and we discussed the viability of a techno-centric track.

What direction do you see SLIG moving towards?

I think the “institute” concept of education in the genealogy industry will continue to grow.  However, I think in order to reach its maximum potential and a wider audience, consideration will have to be given to online participation perhaps through webinars or livestreaming of content.

Where do you see SLIG in 15 years?

SLIG will be an online learning channel as well as an in-person institute for those passionate about genealogy.

Where do you see yourself in 15 years?

In 15 years I hope to still be looking into the latest technology and figuring out if and how it can benefit the genealogy community.  My role currently, as I and several other see it, is one of “curator” – I take time to evaluate new technologies and summarize the pluses and minuses and then educate genealogists on practical applications in the pursuit of one’s ancestors.

What was the first class you taught to the genealogy world?

Social Networking: New Horizons for Genealogists.  This course is still one of my most popular topics.

Where did you teach it?

Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville, Illinois

Who are you outside of Genealogy?

There is no “outside of genealogy” for me.  My life and career are genealogy.

What is your background?

For over 25 years I worked in the Information Technology field, mainly for large global law firms with 2,000+ attorneys and an international, multi-office, multi-language presence.  I filled various roles from document processor, applications trainer, applications analyst to project manager.  My main skills involved analyzing information which is perfect for genealogy.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing genealogy?

Wasting away in Margaritaville

Where is your personal research? What part of the country? Or in which country?

I grew up in the Hudson Valley section of New York State.  My ancestors have lived in New York since the early 1600s.  I also have lines that originate from Rhode Island.  My main focus right now is New York and Illinois.

Have you jumped the pond?

You mean in terms of research or travel?  Yes – I’ve worked on several of my lines in England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Prussia and other locales.

Do you have an AG or a CG?

No but 2013 is the year I intend to pursue my CG.

Do you think these are necessary? Useful? Desirable? Worth the time and effort?

I don’t believe that a post-nominal after your name makes you a better genealogist necessarily.  However it is an accomplishment and it is the closest thing we have to licensure in our profession.  I am more interested in the process and the journey than the outcome.  I may very well fail on my first attempt.  I may not succeed.  But I know I will be a better genealogist for having worked through the process.

If you were going to get a credential would it be AG or CG and why?

I may actually go for both but a CG seems to be more adaptable and functional for me as a genealogist.

Where is the most unusual place you've done research? (and I don't mean the bathtub) I mean what location in the world? Afghanistan? Persia? The Balkans? Kansas?

My 9th great-grandfather’s stone house which still stands in New Paltz, New York.

What was the weirdest thing you've had happen during a lecture?

This was not a genealogy lecture (but in my previous profession).  I had a “serial stripper” show up, sit in the back of the room and proceed to disrobe.  I was later informed by the venue that this is a regular occurrence and that “he means no harm.”

When did you begin doing genealogy?

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact time.  Interest started when the television miniseries Roots was broadcast in 1977.  Growing up I heard great family stories told by my great-grandparents.  My own research started about 1993 when my mother handed me a copy of The Genealogy of David Putman and His Descendants, 1645-1916 which listed my great-grandfather whom I knew personally and passed in 1977.

Do you consider yourself a professional genealogist?

Right now I prefer the term “genealogy professional” only because I don’t accept research clients at this time.  I focus on the educational aspects of genealogy as well as tracking and analyzing the genealogy industry.

When did you transition to professional and what did that look like?

When I was laid off in late 2008, I decided to turn my passion and hobby into a career.

Why do you do genealogy?

It is like CSI without the icky bodies.

What's coming up for you in the next six months? What's on your plate?

I have a full lecture schedule, both in-person and online via webinar.  I am actually booked out until 2015.  In 2013, I will be flying from my home in Chicago to the West Coast a total of 5 times in 6 weeks to present to various conferences and genealogy society workshops.

What does a typical week look like for you?

I put in about 60 hours and work almost every day, not just Monday – Friday.  I also do about 20 hours a week of volunteer work for various genealogical societies.  So there are emails to answer, articles to write, presentations to prepare, consulting work for clients, etc.  It is hectic and can take quite a bit out of me but I would not have it any other way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm Changing The Way I Work

Mine is the only profession I know of where the customer sets the fee they will pay you. I have societies calling me, and that’s a good thing. They like how I speak. That’s good. But when they call they say…"our honorarium is $40" or $25 or whatever they have decided on. I've put up with this for a year, but it is starting to get to me. I figured after they had heard me talk they would realize that I was not a rank amateur and would offer more…but NO. So I need to take the drastic step of acting like every other professional and set my fees and if the societies can’t or won’t pay…well then I guess I don’t work. But you don’t call a lawyer and say…"I’d like to hire you and I will pay you an honorarium of $50." You don’t say that to a plumber or a mechanic or a gardener. What makes them think they can do it to speakers? I guess ‘cause we let them. 

I will lose out on jobs. Of this I am sure. There will always be the group who wants to pay nothing, and there will always be speakers who will speak for free or next to nothing.  And sometimes groups will get what they pay for.

I have been involved with a number of groups and have heard the accounting of the treasure's report. When a group has more than $5000.00 in the bank and their one big expense is bringing in a "nationally known speaker" for one day each year, then it pains me when they offer me the honorarium of $25.

I'm better than that. My time is worth more than that. It takes me an average of 30 hours to put together a lecture, check it for errors and updates, and develop handouts. If a society pays me $25 to give a one hour lecture then in effect I have made roughly 80 cents an hour. Definitely not a living wage. 

If they offer me $40 it comes to about $1.30, and the most I have ever been offered was $75, which comes to a whooping $2.42 an hour. 

To pay me for the time invested at the rate of $65 an hour (which is what I am advised is a reasonable fee)  I would have to demand a fee of $2015.00 per lecture. Nice if you can get it...but I'm not holding my breath. 

So let's figure in that once the lecture is developed I can offer it more than once to several different societies. So in effect I could "split the cost" among them. So figuring that I can sell a popular lecture an average of 10 times in a year...let's divide my figure by 10. That's gets us to a little more than $200 per lecture. Ok, now that is more in the reasonable area. 

So now the trick is to pick a lecture that everybody wants, and not have it "stolen" by those who give away lectures for practicably nothing, or for free. Sadly I have seen "non professionals" do this. They are the presenters who lecture at the societies because they love it. They are passionate about genealogy. So they come and hear a nationally known speaker or even a "regional speaker" like me speak and then they take our presentations and present them elsewhere. I have seen other speakers take the title of a talk, the handouts or the complete talk lifted from the CD or video they purchased at one of the national conferences. These speakers are not "professionals" in any sense of the word. They do not belong to the Association for Professional Genealogists, they do not sign an oath or agreement to "play fair" and they don't understand that they are undercutting me and hurting my business. 

So I'm changing the way I work. I'm going to try to work smarter, not harder. I am also investigating other ways to work in the genealogy world. Please, if you hear a Kim von Aspern-Parker lecture, one with a title you know I have presented, please let me know. I intend to keep my copyrighted material. It is not for public use and it is not for sale. Well....maybe to the highest that might be working smarter. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Family History Expo: The First Day

First off just let me say...How can you have a bad time at a conference when Sheri Fenley is present. You can't, you just can't.

Now on to the details: Holly Hanson knows how to treat her bloggers right. We have a "Lounge" area with electrical plugs so we can actually plug in. She also gave us a tiny "thank you" goody bag. She made sure to stop by and talk with a couple of us at one point and I'm willing to bet she probably did the same with the other bloggers at different times during the day.

The classes I took were all well presented and well worth the money. Speaking of money Family History Expos are a great bargin. Pre-registration was $59 for both days.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Family History Expo Comes To Sacramento

I've never been to any of the Family History Expos so I am delighted to be attending the one that is coming to Sacramento on the weekend of July 6 and 7.
Not only will I be attending but I have been asked to be a "Blogger of Honor."
See my badge: Isn't that cool.

This is the only Family History Expo coming to Northern California and for a change a genealogy conference picked Sacramento (The Capital) not the Bay Area.
Let's show them what the genealogists of the Sacramento Area have got. Let's turn out for them in record numbers and show them that we appreciate them coming to our area.
We haven't had a Genealogy Conference here since the National Genealogical Society came in 2004.

So below you will find all the details you need. To register for the2012 Northern California Family History Expo click here. I will also post another link at the bottom of the information.

Look for me there and say hi.

2012 Northern California Family History Expo

Your family history starts here! Come learn the tech to trace your roots with two full days of classes, hands-on demonstrations and exhibits.

When: Friday, July 6 and Saturday, July 7

Registration (at the door) will begin Friday at 1:00 p.m. and on Saturday at 9:00 a.m.

For Pre-Registration go here Family History Expos  (It's $69 if you Pre-Register or $99 at the door)

Exhibits will be open on Friday from 1:00 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m.

Where: Crowne Plaza (Hotel) Sacramento Northeast (Just East of Hwy 80 off of Madison Ave.)
5321 Date Avenue    Sacramento, California 95814

Cost: For Classes and Workshops: 2-day Pre-Registration Fee $69
Friday Only Registration Fee: $59
Saturday Only Registration Fee: $59
2-day At the Door - $99

How To Register:
Register at to receive access to online class handouts in advance. Note:
Online class handouts are available only to those who register online.

Family History Expos
PO Box 187 Morgan, Utah 84050
Phone: 801-829-3295

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NGS in Ohio

Never fly to Ohio with your arm in a sling. That is my best advice when you are planning to go to a conference.
Now that we have that covered...
I have some other advice. 

Pack light, you're going to want to bring home all kinds of goodies. The vendor hall at NGS - Ohio was wonderful. Nice wide aisles and lots of great vendors. Books, Books, Books. Organizations to join or support, Classes to sign up for, Genealogy societies to join. Ancestry was there of course as was FamilySearch. 

I had a great time if you can discount the sling thing.

I attended many great classes, not the least of which was a class on Research Reports by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I also attended a class on Paleography and one on Irish research, that were both excellent.

I met up with old friends, some of which I had not seen since the last NGS conference. Others are conference junkies like me and we caught up on what's been going on in our lives for the last few months. I also met up with a gal that I had not seen since we attended the NGS Research Trip to Utah. Then there were the bloggers. Friends that I know mostly online. We gathered almost every night and laughed and got to know each other. Some I felt like I had known forever.

I was introduced to new friends. Some of them were friends of my Blogger friends, some of them were Bloggers I had not met in person before, and some were genealogists I had met before but never got to REALLY KNOW before. 

I had a great room mate. I've spoke of her before, Techie Tutor (Tami Glatz in real life). Tami was so busy working at the Wiki booth I hardly saw her and her Techie Tutor time was severely limited. We did sneak in a short lesson one evening. 

I got some new leads on some upcoming projects. But I won't be attempting anything until the CG is mailed away. (Not for at least another 6 months.)

I networked with great genealogists.

I laughed a lot. I ate a lot. 

I worked at the APG booth. I feel it is important that when you join a group or organization you don't just join and sit like a bump on a log. Get involved. This year not only did I work the booth as I do at almost every conference, but I "participated" in APG (Association of Professional Genealogists) by holding the position of President of the Second Life Chapter. (A chapter of APG in virtual reality)

I accepted an award. As mentioned above I am serving as the President of the Second Life Chapter of APG and this year we were the recipients of the Golden Chapter Award. This was quite the honor, and everyone who worked so hard to put the chapter together and get it off the ground as well as those of us who serve on the present board were absolutely floored and delighted to receive the award. 

All in all I packed a whole lot of stuff into four or five days.
Next up is Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree