Archive for the ‘genealogy societies’ Category

Genlighten ♥ The “Tip of the Iceberg” Illustration

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010


I came across this photo today as I was preparing this month’s issue of the Genlighten newsletter. In the picture, I’m giving my 3-minute pitch to the panel of judges at the midVentures25 competition held a few weeks back.

One of my slides included the now-famous “Tip of the Iceberg” illustration commissioned and owned by the California Genealogical Society. It communicates in an exceptionally clear way the fact that most genealogical records simply aren’t online. Since this remains a big component of Genlighten’s value proposition (“We help you find the offline records you need via a network of local researchers with access to remote repositories”) I wanted to make sure I drove this point home to the judges in a memorable way. From the questions and comments I got, I’m pretty sure it worked.

Nine Questions with CarolinaAncestry

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Carrie Henry of CarolinaAncestry

Carrie Henry of CarolinaAncestry

It’s always a highlight of our day here at “Genlighten World Headquarters” when new lookup providers register with our site and create their first lookup offerings. We plan to introduce you to some of our providers this year by posting occasional e-mail interviews with them on our blog. Today’s post profiles Carrie Henry, who goes by the username CarolinaAncestry on Genlighten.

From CarolinaAncestry’s Profile:

Carrie has a master’s degree in Public History and eight years of genealogical research experience. She lives near the State Archives in Raleigh, North Carolina and is an active member of the North Carolina Genealogical Society, where she currently serves as book review editor. She’s also a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). Her archaeological expertise brings a unique perspective to her research efforts.

Nine Questions with CarolinaAncestry:

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

I began researching my own family history in 2001 and immediately became hooked.  Through my “day job” at an archaeology/cultural resources firm I was able to incorporate genealogical research into quite a few of the projects.  My love for genealogy and the desire to help others is what has led me to provide lookup and research services.

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

I don’t think I have a genealogy superpower… I try to be open and honest with people about my limitations and capabilities.  However, I think I do provide a slightly different viewpoint since I developed my genealogical skills while conducting archaeological studies.

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

I was very proud to have assisted a lawyer in his attempt to prove heirs to an estate.  This was a challenging project because the surname was one that was spelled many different ways in various documents.  Ultimately, I was able to find proof that the individuals claiming to be heirs were telling the truth.

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

I find queries that are limited to a few specific goals and with details including full names, birth and death dates, and locations (city, county, state) easy to work with.

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

I have the privilege of living very close to the NC State Archives; needless to say the archives holds some amazing records.  However, I find data from the Office of State Archaeology or the State Historic Preservation Office quite useful in “fleshing out” someone’s family tree.

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

I sometimes utilize Family Tree Maker to organize data.  I often use a digital camera and scanner to provide electronic files for clients.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Not at this point.  I am still working on building a client base and want to focus on families with ties to NC.

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

Join your state and/or local genealogical society and get involved.  You can learn so much from your colleagues.  Attend conferences as much as possible.  Take advantage of professional memberships like APG who will post your information on their website as well.

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

I keep working on my own family research and that of my husband’s.  I spend time with my cats and stepson.  I also read for pleasure and like to bake.

Lookups CarolinaAncestry offers:

Carrie offers lookups covering Land Records held at the North Carolina State Archives. She’s one of several providers on Genlighten who offer North Carolina genealogy record lookups.

How to Run a Great Genealogical Society Meeting

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

My lovely co-founder and I headed to Elgin this last Thursday to attend a meeting of the Elgin Genealogical Society. EGS President Larry Pepper had invited me almost a year ago to come  speak to his members about Genlighten and I’ve spent the last several months getting my slides ready.

The presentation went surprisingly well, despite a few minor projector resolution issues. The highlight for me was when my wife and I managed to pull off our first-ever live demo of the site. Attendees got to watch as I ordered a lookup and Cyndy fulfilled it, in slightly-faster-than-real time. That could have easily been a disaster, but fortunately it worked just fine. There were also a gratifying number of extremely helpful questions and suggestions from the audience for features we should consider adding to Genlighten.

The main thing that prompts this post, however, is the chance to share the way the EGS runs their meetings. I’m sure many top-notch societies manage to hold great meetings, but here are some of the things I found particularly impressive about Elgin’s approach:

A great meeting venue

EGS meets at the Gail Borden Public Library alongside the Fox River in Elgin. The meeting room was well-equipped with a projector, screen, plentiful outlets, a movable lectern, and free wireless. Very speaker-friendly.

Efficiently-run society business time

Larry headed up this section, started right on time, and in right around 15 minutes had managed to:

  • Share health updates on current and past members
  • Highlight upcoming events
  • Solicit donations to enable the genealogy section of the library to acquire some new books recommended by EGS members
  • Receive a brief treasurer’s report
  • Welcome guests and get them to introduce themselves and the surnames they’re researching

Refreshments and social time

For about 15 minutes prior to the speaker’s presentation, members had a chance to chat, get to know guests and new members, and enjoy some great refreshments in the back of the meeting room. As guests, we were received warmly and made to feel welcome.

A surprise guest

The meeting took a spontaneous turn when a member of a quilting group that happened to be meeting in the library the same evening was given a few minutes to display and discuss a pieced quilt displaying a fairly detailed genealogy of his family back to “the 1300s” (hmmm…) The quilt was quite impressive and generated a lot of interest from attendees.

The main event

My Genlighten presentation ran about 45-50 minutes plus questions, including the live demo. I can’t vouch for whether the audience went away satisified, but I sensed a good connection with those in attendance. Judging by the list of past presentations and upcoming ones listed on the EGS website, they seem to cover a wide range of topics and draw on a number of outside participants in addition to society members.

Generating Attendance from the Community

EGS arranged to publicize my talk on their own website and passed info along to websites for other neighboring societies as well. They also placed a meeting notice in the Fox Valley Daily Herald. From what I saw, it looked like as many as eight guests may have attended, in addition to the 50 or so existing members who were there.

Frequent Meetings

I was surprised to note that EGS meets twice monthly: once during the day, and once in the evening. That seems like a great way to attract a wide spectrum of potential members and to keep them actively engaged.


EGS prides itself on being “one of the most active genealogy societies around.”  It’s easy to see why. Judging from the quality of the meeting we attended, I expect their membership to continue to prosper and grow. On behalf of Genlighten, I’d like to thank Larry and EGS for a highly enjoyable evening.

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!

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.

Three great questions about Genlighten

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, we’ve sent e-mail to about 760 local genealogical societies over the past week, inviting them to partner with Genlighten and to encourage their volunteers to offer lookups through our site.

One of these societies sent me a reply yesterday that went something like this:

“Our society met today to talk about your proposal. We have a few questions:

1. How much do you suggest we charge? [for lookups they would offer on our site]

2. Is there a contract you expect us to sign, and if so, what’s in it?

3. If we try offering lookups through you for a while and decide we don’t want to anymore, how easy is it for us to stop?”

I was thrilled to get this message. First off, it’s hugely gratifying that someone in our target audience has taken the time to seriously consider what we have to offer. Second, the questions they’ve asked tell me they’re giving real thought to what sort of business relationship they want to have with us. In other words, they’ve readily grasped our business concept and they’ve moved on from there to ponder the risks and contingencies of adoption.

Here’s how I answered them.

Suggested Fees

We don’t really have a proposed fee schedule. Our goal is to let providers set the fees that make sense for them (inclusive of all expenses) and let the market take care of things from there. However, as a rule of thumb, we’d like to see most individual document searches come in between $10 and $20. If it’s still worth it to you to do them for less, all the better, but many potential providers have made us aware of the growing costs of copies, gas, parking and just about everything else.

Is there a contract that you want us to sign?

Just the terms of service for the site. Our attorney helped us draft these, and they will likely undergo some changes as more people sign up and various issues arise. Let us know if you have any concerns about any of the things you read there… at this early stage, we would definitely try to respond to any feedback you have regarding our terms.

One thing our terms of use address is the concern that providers might register with the site, attract customers, then encourage those customers to go directly to them and bypass our site. Ultimately we can’t really prevent that, but the terms basically ask that providers not solicit our customers to go elsewhere for lookups. Hopefully that’s not overly constraining for you.

If things don’t work out, how do we discontinue our relationship?

Your society members can simply delete their lookup offerings from the site at any time. We’ll eventually include a “remove my membership” option on the profile page so they can remove their personal info as well.

On a related note, if your members want to offer lookups but need to go “on vacation” for a while occasionally, they can simply change the status of their lookup offering from “active” to “on vacation”. All the info will remain saved, but the lookup offerings won’t appear in users’ search results.

To me, these kinds of interactions with our potential partners are tremendously helpful. One of the most frequent pieces of advice I’ve heard from more experienced entrepreneurs is how important it is to be teachable and willing to adapt and iterate the strategy of a new business in response to customer (and partner) feedback. That’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to being able to do at Genlighten. It looks like the fun is just beginning!