Archive for the ‘Genlighten Lookup Providers’ Category

Nine Questions with FamHistFinder

Monday, February 1st, 2010

famhistfinderThe Salt Lake City area probably has more professional genealogists per capita than just about any metropolitan area in the US. So it comes as no surprise that Genlighten has several lookup providers who live near the LDS Church’s Family History Library and know its resources well. Barbara Smythe is one of them. She joined our provider network only recently and already offers an extensive collection of vital record lookups covering eight states plus Chicago and Manhattan.

From FamHistFinder‘s Profile

Barbara has a BA in Social Science and Library Science. She’s been a school librarian and teacher of reading and geography in Kansas, California, Hong Kong and China.

Nine questions with Barbara

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

About thirty years ago a close friend asked me to help her find out something about her mother and we both became hooked.  We lived in Southern California where there was a National Archives and several good libraries.  We then began doing family history for friends and family, we have never stopped.

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

My “superpower” is my husband of 53 years.  He is an historian and will always go to libraries with me and do his research as long as I want to do mine. We once spent 27 days at the Library of Congress, and have been to many of the State Historical Libraries. I’m a detail person and never tire of going from one lead to another in order to solve a problem, and I love huge libraries.

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

A friend said that his wife, who was adopted as a baby, wanted to find who her birth parents were.  All she knew was when and where she was born.  She was adopted soon after her birth.  I was taking a trip to the Salt Lake Family History Library and there I started looking at birth records for a female baby born on the date and place given.  There were two girls born that day, one with the right first name, but no father mentioned.  I then looked for the mother in the census.  I found her with her parents at a younger age and found her marriage later, tracked her down in the same town where she still lives.

The problem was how to get in touch with her.  Do you just call one day and ask if she had put a baby girl up for adoption 50 years ago?  I took the information back to my friend, and he said that his wife had decided since her adoptive parents were still alive and lived close to them that she would not try to find her birth parents.  I am pretty sure that my information was correct, but will never know whether this lady ever used that information to find her birth mother.

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

It is always important to have a specific goal. Give names, places, dates and any clue about the people who the person is looking for. If they know where the people are during a census year, it is great to have siblings and other people who might be living with the family on a census.

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

The Salt Lake Family History Library.

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

Desktop PC with Windows Vista. HP Deskjet 4480 (3 in One, Printer, Scanner, Copier).

7. Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Any lookup which can be answered with records from the Salt Lake Family History Library.

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

Live near a large library or repository that has a great number of records.

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

I’m always working on my own and my husband’s family history. I am a member of a local chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution and help prospective members and friends with their applications for joining the DAR. I have done the research for 14 DAR applications which have been accepted.

Lookups FamHistFinder Offers

Manhattan, New York Birth Certificates, 1866-1897, $10.00
Manhattan, New York Marriage Records, Index to all Boroughs, 1866-1937
Chicago, Cook, Illinois Birth Certificates (not yet online at FamilySearch), 1916-1922
Alabama Death Certificates, 1908-1974
Florida Death Records, 1877-1939
Georgia Death Records, 1914-1927
Idaho Death Records, 1911-1937
South Carolina Death Records, 1944-1955
New Mexico Death Records, 1889-1945
Minnesota Death Records, 1908-1955
Louisiana Death Records, 1850-1875, 1894-1954

Build Something For Yourself

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I’m not a natural at networking. In fact, I find it pretty painful. But I know I need to do it, so I do. And sometimes it pays off.

Genlighten and “Getting Real”

jason_friedLast night I attended the Chicago Tech Meetup at OfficePort in Chicago. Jason Fried (of 37Signals fame) was the keynote speaker. Jason had plenty of cool stuff to say to the crowd of startup entrepreneurs, both the real ones (like Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon) and the simply aspirational (like me). Most of Jason’s advice was familiar to those in attendance who’d already read Getting Real, 37Signals’ manifesto on building a successful web application, or who follow Signal vs. Noise, their exemplary blog.

As Jason rattled off his key doctrines, I mentally checked off which of them Genlighten was adhering to:

  • Bootstrap… start building your product on the side while keeping your day job (check)
  • Charge for your product right away (check)
  • Don’t be afraid to hire non-local people and let them work remotely (check)
  • Don’t take VC money too early (check… though to be honest, we’ve never been offered any)

And then, in answer to an audience question, he said something like this:

Build something you would use yourself, whether or not anyone else ever does.

That one made me pause and ponder for a while. Does Genlighten fit that criterion? Jason was of course referring to Basecamp, the simple yet powerful project-management application that 37Signals built for itself before eventually selling it to others. But Genlighten isn’t like Basecamp.

The Chicken-Egg Problem

Here’s why. Basecamp was tremendously useful from day one. But Genlighten doesn’t start to be that useful until a certain amount of lookup providers sign up and offer their services. And to attract providers, we need clients, who in turn our unlikely to use the site if they don’t see lots of providers. That’s the Chicken-Egg problem. Or, putting a more optimistic spin on things, Genlighten gets better each time a new provider posts a new lookup offering. That’s an example of a Network Effect. Many startups have to climb this hill before they can really take off (think Facebook or Twitter) and we’re no exception.

Eating Our Own Dogfood

On the other hand, we do meet Jason’s criterion: Genlighten has already made my wife’s lookup business easier to manage, and we’ve both used Genlighten to further our own research. For example, we’ve ordered German translations from one of our providers, and Massachusetts death records from another. And with recently-joined providers now offering Maine and New York City lookups, we’ll be submitting more requests in the near future.

But sometimes, I find myself wishing I could just wave a magic wand and suddenly have providers for every county and country.

An Obituary for John Harper Reed

This brings me to this evening’s experience. I attended yet another startup-oriented meetup tonight, this one a casual get-together of Hacker News fans. As I made my way towards the long table set up for us in the back room at the Hop Haus in Chicago, I immediately recognized Harper Reed, the iconic former CTO of local startup success story Threadless. Harper is that rare web celebrity that lives up to his advance billing. I gratefully took a seat across the table from him.

We’ve talked briefly about Genlighten before, but this time Harper volunteered a query. Growing up, his parents had mentioned that he’d been named after an “uncle” from Colorado who had (so the story went) died in a car crash. Could Genlighten help him find out whether the story was true and how the two were really related?

As soon as I got home from the meetup, my wife and I went to work. A simple Ancestry search returned two Harper Reeds who died in Colorado. A USGenWeb site listed a John Harper Reed buried in an Evergreen cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado. To produce a quick happy dance, we’d need an obituary mentioning a car crash. The obvious sources did not immediately produce one online.

Could Genlighten help? Tonight, unfortunately, no. We don’t yet have any providers for Colorado. They’re out there, I’m sure, but we haven’t successfully recruited them yet.

You Can Help Us Leave Our “Chicken-and-Egg Problem” Behind

To fulfill Jason Fried’s mandate more completely, we’re going to have to work long and hard to build out our provider base. We’re trying to do that every single day. And we’d appreciate your help.

Please take a look at the states where we still have yet to recruit at least one provider. If you know someone in one of those states who knows their local records well, has the time and inclination to retrieve them, and is interested in getting paid to do so, please put them in contact with us. Especially if they can retrieve El Paso County Colorado obituaries. Thanks!

Nine Questions with Molly Kennedy

Monday, January 18th, 2010

When my wife and I first sketched out what we wanted Genlighten to become, our “target provider” — the prototype for the kind of person we hoped to recruit to retrieve and digitize records — was Molly Kennedy. Molly’s been offering reliable, reasonably-priced Illinois genealogy lookups  to satisfied customers for quite a while. We’re thrilled to have her as a provider on Genlighten, and we’re pleased to be able to spotlight her this week.

molly2


From MollyKennedy’s profile

Molly specializes in Illinois-based genealogical and historical research for hobbyists, heir-locator services, and authors.


Nine Questions with Molly

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

Like most others, I imagine, I started researching my own family lines. In the late 1990′s through 2002 I was a volunteer for Random Acts, and I learned so much more about the different types of records available to me here in the Springfield Illinois area.

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

I have a form of eiditic memory — not for faces, nor names (although that would have saved me in many a social situation~) — but for the printed word, dates and numbers (such as Census findings).

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

Finding birth-families of adoptees… 13 so far – using public records.  In most states, adoptive records are sealed in perpetuity, but usually there’s a clue or two that can be tracked using public records.

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

It’s difficult to answer this question..   For efficiency, brevity is always good~  However, a lengthier description is often necessary, especially if the requester is unsure as to what types of records might be available to me.  Open communication is very important, so I don’t end up duplicating their own research efforts.

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

For facts – statistics – names & dates, I’d have to say the Illinois State Archives.

Once armed with the names, dates & locales, I’m then able to find & read news stories about these people & places & times, in microfilmed newspaper holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.  Reading about them ”puts flesh on the bones” (little genealogical humor~)

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

Desktop PC using Windows XP; LexMark scanner/copier/printer; Kodak digital camera.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Considering adding to my Genlighten offerings, the ”Fishing Expedition” option.

“Fishing” = a small (i.e., “not found”) fee, for each IL death certificate (1916-1947) that I would check, but NOT print, if the info on the death cert does not match the info provided me.  If the right certificate is found, the regular “Found” fee would apply to that cert.

Very helpful & affordable, when the requester is trying to find an ancestor with a common name, i.e., members of a Smith family in Chicago~

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

Learn EVERYTHING you can about access to the records in your area!  The biggest questions in genealogy are: ”Who’s got the records?”  “Where are the records?” and “How can I get copies?”   Sign up as a lookup volunteer, if still in the learning process.

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

Family, puzzles & reading (mostly detective/forensic fiction).

Lookups MollyKennedy offers:

Molly can retrieve death certificates for any Illinois county (for the years 1916-1947). She can also do Illinois obituary research at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from over 5,000 Illinois-published newspapers.

Nine Questions With RusGenProject

Monday, January 11th, 2010

chashin1

Most of the providers that have joined Genlighten so far perform lookups at repositories in the United States and Canada. From the feedback we’ve received, that’s a good fit for the majority of our users. But we’re well aware that many of you need lookups performed on the other side of the Atlantic, too. So this week we’re spotlighting one of our Eastern European providers: RusGenProject.

From RusGenProject’s profile:

Kirill Chashchin is currently preparing a book on Imperial Russian genealogy research. He’s also building a reference website covering the same topic. He blogs about the project here.

He specializes in research at repositories and archives throughout the former Soviet Union, including the countries of Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Kazakhskan, Kirgizstan, and Uzbekistan and the cities of Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev, Odessa, and Minsk.

Nine Questions With RusGenProject

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

It was about 10 years ago. I somewhat decided that I need to find ten generations of my ancestors. It was a personal challenge which took a couple of years and several thousand kilometers of travel to complete. This turned out to be fun. It matched wonderfully my lifetime passion for problem-solving. Then I started helping others.

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

I think I can easily read 100-200 years old handwriting in most of local languages. I can do it fast and can easily switch from one language to another. Another very helpful trick I like to do is to find an exact location from the short pieces of data usually available to the researcher. Finding the history of  particular village and the location of the records is a task I like to do and do easily.

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

Last year I received a request to find information on the person who was a german prisonner of war in USSR after the WW2. I was very doubtful something can be found — the rarity of the request and the reputation of the archive to be very “secretive” on POWs led me to believe this is a kind of dead end in research. I was very surprised to receive the e-mail from archive stating the personal file is available and describing complicated but doable procedure to actually get a copy of it.

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

Names/Dates/Locations. The more you put in those three items the easier are your chances to find something. Getting at least the rudimentary knowledge of the area you are researching is also very good. I frequently quote this wikipedia article to people who send me their ininial requests — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guberniya . Thinking about the administrative-territorial division and its history is very good for the researcher.

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

Strange, but the Russian historical Library in Moscow, Russia with its very extensive genealogical collection is a very helpful place for plenty of research. They have city and phone directories for the number of places large and small of Russian Empire and USSR.

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

Just a scanner. GIMP for simple image editing. I do believe that you need to provide the better available image quality. Scanning, emailing, storing and editing 10MB picture is no longer a problem. You might have something interesting on the page which you might miss in the low resolution.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

I might consider archive lookups in almost all the Moscow city archives, but it is frequently a procedure requiring a lot of time and effort. Just to get a “document not available” answer.

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

Get to know how archive works. They have their communications codes allowing them to make a “friend-or-foe” determination on the fly. Learn to use those codes.

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

I am professional fraud examiner at http://sepmc.com specialising in international frauds, forensic accounting and computer crime. I am an old big fan of large database analysis and visualisation. I like to hear classical music concerts.

Lookups RusGenProject offers:

Kirill offers lookups covering Russian Empire Nobility. He can search Moscow City Directories and Moscow Necropolis tombstone inscriptions. And he provides translation services for both Russian and Ukrainian genealogical documents.

Thank You, Find A Grave!

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

I was taking a look at the list of sources of traffic to Genlighten today on Google Analytics, and I noticed several visits originated from findagrave.com. A little later in the day, I received a Google Alert that pointed me to a forum thread for Cook County Illinois mentioning Genlighten. I’ve reproduced part of it below, with the usernames obscured.
From the Find A Grave forums

It’s probably not obvious from this screenshot, but the basic gist is this. A Find A Grave member posted a query on Find A Grave’s forum asking for help tracking down a Cook County Illinois death certificate. A helpful individual recommended that the original poster visit Cook County’s excellent site, which charges $15 for images of vital records. Another individual then mentioned “a cheaper alternative” and linked to chicagogenealogy’s profile on Genlighten. The original poster visited Genlighten, ordered the death certificate they wanted and received it promptly.

Our goal at Genlighten isn’t necessarily to always be the “cheaper alternative” (we often won’t be) but we very definitely want to continue to earn these kinds of referrals from satisfied customers. Thank you to all involved, and especially to Find A Grave for the tremendous service they provide to the genealogy community.

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.