Archive for the ‘Genealogy Conferences’ Category

Off to NGS

Monday, April 26th, 2010


Genlighten will be attending the NGS Conference in Salt Lake City that starts this coming Wednesday April 28th. We’ll be at booth 919 in the GenTech area of the Exhibit Hall (in the Salt Palace.) We’d love to meet our blog readers, newsletter subscribers, registered users, lookup providers, Twitter followers and Facebook fans/likers. Please stop by and offer your feedback and ideas for the site. We’ll have our usual generous assortment of chocolates for your indulgence and enjoyment. Hope to see you there!

Follow Friday: Jean Hibben’s Circlemending blog

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

jean_wilcox_hibbenI first met Jean at the St. George Family History Expo last year. She and her husband Butch had an exhibit booth near mine, and Butch played tunes on his saw occasionally throughout the day in the exhibit hall. That got my attention and I was soon able to visit their booth and get to know them. We met again at the Colorado FHE a few months later. I found we had several things in common: in particular, she grew up in Wilmette Illinois where we now live! That led to Jean and Butch giving one of their marvelous musical/historical programs to members of our Stake in Chicago not long afterwards.

Jean’s blog  — Circlemending — combines the two main passions that my wife and I share: genealogy and music, particularly folk music. Jean frequently melds the two topics together marvelously in her posts. An example: she writes about the banjo that belonged to her great grandmother, which she had restored and now plays in her presentations.

Jean shares photographs, artifacts, dates, and places from her own family history (mostly via popular geneablogging memes like Tombstone Tuesday and Wordless Wednesday.) But you can tell she’s most in her element as a writer when she leans back and tells her ancestors’ stories. No doubt her Ph.D. in folklore has something to do with that.

If you’re looking for a pleasant, relaxing geneablog experience with a warm and entertaining storyteller who’s also a board-certified genealogist, you can’t do much better than Jean’s Circlemending blog. Give it a try!

Genealogy Lookups 101 — New Genlighten Presentation at

Monday, February 15th, 2010

genealogy_lookups_101_presentation_on_slideshareI’ll be giving two presentations at the upcoming South Davis Family History Fair on March 6th in Bountiful, Utah. One will be an updated version of a talk I gave at last year’s SDFHF: “Twitter: Can It Really Help Me With My Genealogy?” The other will be a newly-developed introduction to Genlighten for potential lookup providers: “Genealogy Lookups 101“.

I just uploaded a draft of the “Genealogy Lookups 101″ slides to our account on I’d be grateful if you’d take a look and offer any feedback you might have so I can improve it prior to the Fair.

Lots of Slides, But Very Little Text

Please don’t be put off by the number of slides — 137 in all. There’s almost no text on the pages… they’re basically just simple images with brief captions, for the most part — so you can page through it quite quickly.

I’m particularly interested in your impressions of how the talk flows, and if the images I chose seem like a good match to the headline text. But I also hope the presentation piques your interest in becoming one of our lookup providers, and any feedback along those lines would be very welcome too. Thanks for your help!

Nine Questions with Banai Feldstein

Monday, February 8th, 2010


I first met Banai in August 2009 at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia. I was struck immediately by her intensity and passion, her technical savvy, and the degree to which she was connected to other researchers and leaders at the conference. She was one of only a few attendees who “live-tweeted” from numerous conference sessions. I quietly hoped to one day recruit her as one of our providers, and was thrilled several months later to see that she had signed up.

From BanaiFeldstein‘s Profile

Banai specializes in Eastern European research — including Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, and Belarus– and in Jewish research. She’s the President of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society and an APG member.

Nine Questions with Banai

1) How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

I was living in Nashville when I had a relapse of the genealogy bug. A few years later,  I wasn’t getting any web design clients, so I figured I could move to Salt Lake City and not get any web design clients there, but at least I could do more genealogy research. I also hoped to turn it into a business, which I have.

I’ve read many times that you should find something you love to do, then find a way to make money at it. I’ve always loved puzzles and detective work, and that’s what genealogy often is.

2)      Do you have a genealogy “superpower”? If so, what is it?

I am really good with languages. Some clients ask for records in languages I haven’t worked in before, and I tell them so up front, but they trust that I can do the work anyways. I usually can. Dutch was tricky, but all the Eastern European languages I’ve found pretty easy.

3)      Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

My mother has told me numerous times that she had an older sister who was given up for adoption. Late last year, I found her birth record. We’re still in the middle of trying to find and contact her now.

4)      What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request?

My favorite potential clients are the ones who provide me with specifics: locations, dates, religion. When they ask for something generic like “Polish research”, that doesn’t help. If I lived in Poland, maybe I could do something, but I need to know the exact location to know if I have access to any records. When they openly share their information, that’s the best query and gets the most thorough response as to whether or not I can help. Also, it’s good when they’re at least slightly organized. Figuring out what they’re asking and putting their family information in order takes extra time.

5)      What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

There is nowhere else on Earth like the Family History Library.

6)      What technical tools do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

The FHL provides the equipment for me. I just need to bring along my flash drive.

If I have to order a record from an archive, then I use my trusty CanoScan LIDE, which I’ve had forever. This scanner has travelled all over with me, scanning photos and documents from relatives too. It’s one of those 1 inch tall scanners that fits right into my large laptop bag.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Plenty. I can do almost anything at the FHL. It’s just a matter of entering it all into Genlighten.

8)      What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

They should be very familiar with the archive and the records that they want to provide. Know which record types and years are available, the hours of the facility, any costs involved, and be sure that they can get there often.

9)      What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups?

I love improving my house. It was neglected for at least three owners and empty for two years before me, so it needs a lot of TLC. The current project is refinishing the hardwood floors.

I love ice skating and the Utah Olympic Oval is conveniently a few blocks from my house.

I also love to write. I’m the newsletter editor for the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society (as well as the president now), so I get some genealogy writing in there several times a year. I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November. And I just started a  blog this year; I’m enjoying the extra writing.

Lookups BanaiFeldstein Offers

Jewish Polish Birth Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Birth Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records & Translation, 1830-1900

Follow Friday: ThinkGenealogy

Friday, January 8th, 2010

mark_tucker_web_avatar_cartoonI subscribe to about 30 or so genealogy blogs via RSS. They range from folksy/funny to serious-news-focused to technique/strategy-oriented. One I consistently enjoy is Mark Tucker’s ThinkGenealogy. His posts frequently address some of my favorite genealogy topics:

  • The genealogy research process, and the ways in which beginners can increase the seriousness of their efforts
  • The “Genealogical Proof Standard” and practical ways to follow it
  • “Evidence Explained”-style source citations (in a way that motivates me rather than makes me feel looked-down-upon)
  • Genealogy software innovation (including original ideas of his own and suggestions for the major genealogy software vendors)

And we seem to share a number of interests beyond genealogy:

  • Scouting (Mark has blogged about being a genealogy merit badge counselor; I enjoy doing this too)
  • Web design and user experience
  • Quality presentations (Mark introduced me to Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology, a book that has totally changed the way I prepare talks and Powerpoint decks at work, Church, and elsewhere)

He’ll also be a speaker at the upcoming Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona. I haven’t yet experienced one of Mark’s talks in person, but I suspect his presentations will be refreshingly clear, entertaining and actionable.

If you haven’t visited Mark’s blog, I encourage you to do so. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll come away motivated to improve the quality (and quantity!) of your genealogical research.

My Best Genealogy Moment of 2009

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
The Harman Continuing Education Building on the BYU campus (photo by swilsonmc on Flickr)

The Harman Building (photo by swilsonmc on Flickr)

I’m a day late with my response to Randy Seaver’s weekly “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” challenge. But when I saw that Thomas McEntee was too, I figured I’d go ahead and still be in good company.

My best genealogy moment of 2009 occurred as I sat at Genlighten’s exhibit booth at the BYU Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy back in March. It dawned on me suddenly that I had come full circle as a genealogy software vendor.

Twenty-six years before, I had attended one of the first versions of that same conference in the very same Caroline Hemenway Harman building on the BYU campus. Back then, as a newlywed sophomore majoring in Physics, I hoped to offer my first-generation Apple IIe-compatible Family Tree software (tentative title: “N-Gen”) for sale at the conference. But when I took one look at the competition, I knew I was completely out of my league. It was obvious to me that I didn’t know the first thing about marketing a useful product to the genealogy community. [Do I know any more now? I sure hope so!]

Now fast-forward to March of 2009: I’ve long since graduated from BYU, and I’m back at that same conference, once again surrounded by intimidating competitors, but this time as a reasonably legitimate vendor of a fledgling genealogy software product. Heady stuff. Scary, too. But I allowed myself to luxuriate in a rare moment of unabashed self-confidence. This time I would not go so quietly into the night of startup failure, I vowed softly.

The two times in my life I’ve launched entrepreneurial ventures, once as a twenty-something, and now again as a late forty-something, they’ve both had genealogy research at their core. It’s obviously got a powerful hold on me!

Adding Phone Support to Your Genealogy Website

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Phone Support Operator

A recent post on Hacker News asked “How have you guys gone about setting up a support line for your startups?” This is an issue we grappled with early on at Genlighten: Should we offer phone support, and if so, how?

How the Big Dogs Do It

A quick glance at Ancestry, Footnote and World Vital Records shows that they all offer a toll-free phone support hotline, available during standard business hours Monday-Friday. Ancestry displays their 800-number prominently in the footer of their homepage. Footnote and WVR place theirs one level deeper on their “Contact Us”  or “Customer Service” pages.

Startup Realities Dictate Support Strategies

So for established, well-funded genealogy sites, phone support is clearly a given. But what about for smaller startups? Is it necessary or even practical for them to offer phone support, even when they’re only seeing a few thousand visitors per month? I took a look at three that I’ve encountered in the exhibit halls at various genealogy conferences: Ohana Software, Photoloom, and Arcalife. All are run by cool people who I’ve met personally and whose business judgment I respect.

Of the three, only Ohana offers a phone support line. It’s toll free, and staffed Monday-Friday 10-4 pm. Both Photoloom and Arcalife offer email support but do not display a phone support number. This makes sense if we consider their respective business models. Ohana sells desktop software that the user downloads and installs (and eventually needs to upgrade.) This process can prove challenging for its customers, so phone support is pretty crucial. Photoloom and Arcalife, on the other hand, offer cloud-based subscription services which function totally within a web browser and do not require installation. So phone support isn’t as important for them or their customers.

Genlighten’s Approach

We’ve actually offered a toll-free phone contact option using Onebox since May of 2008, even though our private beta only launched in October of last year. At the time, I felt that visitors to our placeholder website or people who picked up flyers at our exhibit booth needed a toll-free phone number to call with a serious-sounding PBX-like voice greeting. It just seemed like the professional thing to do. In retrospect, that was a mistake. I like Onebox, but at $49.95/month, we should have just gone with my cellphone number until we were actually taking paying customers.

Now that we’re up and running, it makes a bit more sense. Since we’re an online genealogy lookup marketplace, customers are likely to have payment-processing and lookup delivery questions more frequently than they would if we simply offered a subscription service. But we still don’t receive enough support calls yet to justify the cost. The $49.95/month gets us a professionally-recorded voice greeting, up to four extensions, 2,000 minutes of calls, and numerous other cool features. [For example, it forwards support calls to our cell phones when we're out.] But we’ve only gotten about 20 calls in the three months since the private beta began, so that’s about $7.50 each. Overkill, obviously, particularly for a bootstrapped startup.

Other Options

One alternative would be to go with Grasshopper. They offer a similar service to Onebox, but their lowest-cost plan offers 100 minutes per month for just $9.95 [a one-time $25 set-up fee is extra.] That sounds like it’d be a better fit. As our customer base (and the volume of support calls) grows, we could then upgrade to Grasshopper’s 2,000 minutes/month plan, which is priced the same as Onebox’s.

Or we could just try Google Voice. It does pretty much everything we really need at this point [including call forwarding] and it’s free. I suspect for most small startups, this is the way to go until they need to scale to something more enterprise-oriented. I haven’t dug deep into Google Voice since my invitation arrived, but I plan to shortly.

What About You?

Are you interested in adding phone support to your genealogy blog, society page, or e-commerce site? Do any of the options I’ve discussed appeal to you? Have you had any amusing or noteworthy experiences with genealogy website phone support? Please let us know in the comments.

Teach Them Well…

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way”

– Linda Creed, The Greatest Love of All, made popular by Whitney Houston

OK, I know the eighties are over, but these lyrics echo well a sentiment I’ve often heard genealogists express: “We’ve got to find a way to get the younger generation interested in genealogy/family history! But how?”

I discussed this topic briefly with Randy Seaver during the Geneablogger Dinner at the recent SCGS Jamboree. Randy suggested that I consider the example of Elyse Doerflinger, seated at the table across from us. Twenty years young and currently a student at El Camino College, Elyse first became interested in genealogy about eight years ago:

“It all started with my aunt when I was 12 or 13.  She had discovered and … I thought the facts she told me were so interesting. … Then, during a trip to Tennessee to visit my grandpa for the summer, I discovered so much about my family that I became permanently hooked.  Everyone was telling me stories and giving me information.”                                  (via Larry Lehmer’s blog, Passing It On)

So there’s one answer to the “How do we get kids interested” question — we simply nurture loving and positive relationships with our nieces, nephews and grandchildren and introduce them in a natural way to the pleasures of family history research. Many will listen politely and go no further, but a few, like Elyse, will become “hooked.”

I sensed another possible answer as the geneabloggers left the dinner later that night. I overheard Elyse remark that her mother had early on labeled her lovingly as “an old soul”. That struck me as an important insight. The same qualities of curiosity, selflessness and “wisdom beyond her years” that led her to feel so comfortable around her aunt and her grandfather might well have helped her feel excited to learn the stories of her deceased ancestors as well. So perhaps as genealogists (or as geneabloggers, society volunteers, conference organizers… whatever) we can foster and encourage activities that will specifically attract “old souls” like Elyse — the better to nurture them and welcome them into a supportive community.


At the same time, I think it’s important that young people interested in genealogy have the chance to socialize with others their own age who share their interests. Elyse notes that she met someone at Jamboree who was actually younger than her — Michael Melendez — when they both worked together at the “Kids Family History Camp” held the first morning of the Jamboree. The Youth Genealogists Association, of which Michael is the webmaster, strikes me as a tremendously promising organization in this regard. I would love to get behind it with some kind of modest corporate sponsorship. (Of course, we’ll need some revenue first!)

So where to go with all this? How about a session at next year’s Jamboree specifically aimed at genealogy enthusiasts in their teens and twenties? Or perhaps a panel discussion aimed at genealogy societies in which young people make up the panel and explain what attracted them to the field? Or at the very least, as several have already suggested, how about having Elyse be on the panel at next year’s Geneablogger Summit!

Treasures Through (Many) Generations

Friday, June 26th, 2009


Whenever I attend genealogy conferences as an exhibitor, I look for chances to either visit extended family nearby or perform research regarding our various family lines. I don’t have any deceased ancestors that spent time in southern California, but my mother lives up the coast a ways, and she’s joining me at the Genlighten booth for the SCGS Jamboree this weekend.

We took the opportunity yesterday before the Jamboree got underway to tour several of the galleries at the Huntington Library in nearby San Marino. The highlight was definitely “Treasures Through Six Generations:  Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection.” Basically a Chinese family has cultivated an impressive collection of art objects stretching back to the 15th century, preserved it and passed it on to succeeding generations, each of whom have added their own unique contributions. The family thus continues to honor their ancestors through fine art.

I was struck by the “Family Tree” highlighted in the gallery guide.  It looked a little different than the ones I’m used to. In particular, I noticed several arrows that appeared to tie branches of the family together laterally. The text accompanying the family tree explained what the arrows signified:

“Passing on the family name is of key importance in Chinese culture. The transfer of a son from one branch of a family to another by internal adoption, an old tradition very rarely practiced today, was essential in ensuring the survival of the family name and lineage. A father with several sons would bestow one on a brother who had none; ideally, every male would have an heir who would pass on the family name. The Weng family observed this practice (indicated here with arrows) for several generations.”

I found the tremendous importance this family placed on “the survival of the family name and lineage” simultaneously quaint and awe-inspiring. It helped me step back from the often inscrutable details of my various familial lines and briefly glimpse the larger picture of my shared heritage. I was motivated by the exhibit to worry a little less about filling in blanks on a pedigree chart and to invest a little more effort in reaching across generations to strengthen actual family ties. It also made me wonder if I’m leaving a legacy to my descendants anything like the one Weng Xincun left to his. Even if I can’t afford to build a world-class collection of Chinese art masterpieces, surely there’s something I can leave to future generations!

Personal Highlights from the Colorado Family History Expo

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Just a few more potential “rush periods” left between class sessions at the Colorado Family History Expo. Soon I’ll be packing up the booth and heading to the airport to return to Chicago.

It’s been pleasantly hectic at the booth almost the whole time, so I’m only just now getting around to posting about my experiences. Here’s a list of personal observations from the Expo:

  • Colorado is gorgeous and Loveland is no exception. The interplay of tall mountains and towering thunderstorms has been magnificent to watch (if not to drive through.)
  • Holly and her crew at FHExpos have managed to pull off a successful conference, despite this being their first time in Colorado. Logistics have gone smoothly, booth traffic has been disproportionately high (nearly as good as at NGS, I’d estimate) and the attendance at my presentations has been surprisingly good.
  • A lot of genealogists in Colorado (and even New Mexico) are interested in offering lookups from their local records. I’d estimate between 20 and 25 people indicated solid, detailed interest in becoming Genlighten lookup providers. That’s 2-3 times what we typically see at a regional-level gathering.
  • At past FHExpos events, the balance of booth visitors has tilted more toward genealogy beginners looking to use Genlighten to find source documents. Here most of them have been interested in finding documents for others. I credit that shift to Holly’s efforts to get local genealogical societies involved. Both the Larimer County Genealogical Society and a collective of other Colorado and Wyoming Genealogical Socities are represented in the exhibit area. Their members have also given some well-attended presentations. This has raised the level of research experience among the attendees, in my opinion.
  • Family History Center consultants seem hungry for how-to help with They recognize its potential value, but have yet to find success with it for their own research. That makes it tough for them to recommend it to their patrons, even though it’s accessible at FHCs for free. One attendee at my talk asked if I’d write her FHC a “manual” on how to use Footnote. Maybe someone (not me!) needs to do that.
  • Just as the “Genealogy Demographic” has turned to Facebook, they now seem willing to explore Twitter. Will they be turned off by the increasing levels of spam on the site? Very possibly. But if they could post their genealogy queries and questions to Twitter and receive “real-time” help from their followers, I think they’d join in droves. Facilitating that kind of interaction is definitely on Genlighten’s product development roadmap.
  • Our MiFi Wireless hotspot has provided reliable internet connectivity throughout the Expo, whether in my hotel room, at the exhibit booth, or in the presentation venues. The amount I’ve saved on wireless charges this trip has already offset the initial purchase price.

Time to pack up the booth and hit the road. Next on the Genlighten schedule? The Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in Burbank, California, June 26th-28th.