Genlighten Blog Genlighten Documented Thu, 07 May 2015 15:08:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Featured Provider: richroots Thu, 07 May 2015 15:08:52 +0000 richroots

If you “know your family’s Italian, but don’t know whether your meat sauce should be Bolognese or Neapolitan ragù,” New Jersey provider richroots can help! His research specialties include Italian, immigrant, New Jersey, and Irish records but he’s also skilled at handling broad research projects the go beyond those areas. With over ten years experience in online and repository research, richroots can help break down brick walls or craft a family history from scratch. His Genlighten offerings include Italian dual citizenship application assistance, research at the New Jersey State Archives, record retrieval at the New York City Municipal Archives, and one-of-a-kind research projects designed to target clients’ specific needs.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

I started doing genealogy after my maternal grandmother died. When I was helping clean out the house, I found a tree she’d been working on. I thought it’d be a great way to honor her memory to continue working on it – and I’ve been hooked ever since.

How have you developed your research skills?

LOT of trial and error! Before I went professional, I learned as much as I could by working on my own family, and helping friends here and there. It helps that, though my ancestry is mostly Italian, my maternal grandmother (same one as above!) had a smattering of Irish, Welsh, German, English, Canadian – you name it! I learned a huge amount by just researching my own immigrant families and their movements. Once I became more serious, I joined local genealogy societies, the APG, and have attended week-long institutes, workshops, lectures, conferences… I think it’s important to always keep learning. The same way that no family history is ever “finished,” I don’t think anyone can ever know “all there is to know” about genealogy – but we can sure try!

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

My genealogy superpower is – well, I was going to say Italian research, but I guess that’s obvious if you look at my last name! I guess my “untold” genealogy super power is being able to find things on mainstream genealogy sites, like Ancestry and FamilySearch, that other people have difficulty finding. Because my family’s surnames have been butchered so much throughout the years, I’ve somehow figured out ways around the search parameters using things like wildcards or other “sideways” ways to find information. For whatever reason, I can think of a dozen ways a first name or surname could be spelled (incorrectly) in seconds. I also use various search fields in different and unique ways. It’s hard to write – I can just find things! It makes me feel like a detective.

Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

I helped an adoptee find her birth parents. I can’t say much more about it, but I can say it was one of my most rewarding experiences as a genealogist thus far. I hope to be able to learn more about DNA in the near future to be able to assist future adoptees in finding their families.

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My third-great-grandfather, David Fisher, was an absolute wild one. He was married three times, had his last child at age 54, and laundered money from the state – but never went to jail! He was a tailor in Kingston (NY), NYC, and Jersey City. I have SO many documents about Mr. Fisher… but yet he’s my biggest brick wall! I am still desperately trying to figure out his place of birth. But – I love him. He’s my favorite ancestor. He seemed to make his own rules, lived all over, and once complained about his crazy neighbor for believing that his daughter was [the neighbor’s] typewriter. He’s my most interesting – and most salacious – ancestor that I’ve found yet… and I love the research challenges he present me.

What’s the most unique record source that you can access for research?

The New Jersey State Archives (discussed more below) has this glorious collection of manuscripts, including NJ Supreme Court cases from the 1700s and 1800s. One of my favorites was when “The King” sued my person of interest over calling a judge “an arse” pre-Revoulationary War. You can’t make this stuff up! The penmanship is beautiful, the documents are stunning, and, as you can see, you get great stories in the meantime! There’s another wonderful one about neighbors fighting over someone picking blackberries in their yard. Brilliant!

What’s the one must-visit repository visitors doing research in your area?

The New Jersey State Archives is a researcher’s dream come true. Not only is it easy to navigate, but the staff are absolutely glorious, each and every one. They have been so very helpful to me and pull out all the stops if you need assistance. Not to mention – there’s over 100 years of NJ vital records on microfilm, newspapers from all over the state, probate and deed files pre-1900… and there’s free parking and a delicious café across the street (Lucy’s). Honestly – what could be better?

What tools to you use to create the reports and images that you provide?

I’m a “keep it simple” kind of guy. I create my reports in Microsoft Word and use RootsMagic for my GEDCOM files. I take photos on my iPhone – I find that the quality is better than any digital camera I’ve used, handy to carry, and easy to transfer and upload files. I know there is wonderful genealogy software out there – and I am about to start using Evernote – but for the most part, I like my old reliables.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break through a brick wall?

The cliché advice – keep trying. But really – keep trying! In my years as a genealogist, I have seen some ridiculous and wonderful documents that I doubt descendants have seen – simply because of their unique location. Your people can show up in the strangest places – their letters in manuscript collections (maybe their neighbor was Civil War solider, and they wrote to him), or as part of someone’s civil war pension file, or within a BIA file at NARA, or as witnesses on their neighbor’s naturalization record… the resources in which you may be able to find your ancestor are literally never-ending, so don’t give up hope. Also, perhaps even more importantly – speak to a local genealogist, historian, or librarian. Simply their knowledge (of a different record group, or of the old forgotten cemetery in town, or an introduction to the oldest man in town – who maybe knew your ancestor or their children) may be what you need to break through that brick wall. It is not foolish to ask for help – usually, it’s more foolish not to!

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?

What do you mean? Where else would I spend my time!? 😉 Really, though – I used to be an actor, so I’m a theatre junkie. I also love to travel. I lived in Europe for a while and go back as much as I can. I love spending time with my family and my friends. Life is short, so I try to make every day count. I’m so lucky I love what I do, and that my favorite “hobby” is my job!

Anything else you’d like to share?
I truly believe we learn more about ourselves when we learn about our ancestors. After all, it’s a mix of their DNA that makes us, well, us!

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How to Create a PDF on a Mac Wed, 06 May 2015 17:24:49 +0000 Creating a PDF on Mac
A while back,  a Genlighten client asked me how to merge jpgs into an easy-to-read pdf. I use the Preview feature on my MacBook Air (running Yosemite) to turn multiple images into pdfs.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Double-click on a jpg from the Finder window to open it in Preview.

Step 2: Click on “View” at the top of the screen and select “Thumbnails.”

Step 3: Go back to your Finder window and move it so you can see the image list and the Preview thumbnails.

Step 4: Drag additional jpgs over to the thumbnail viewer.

Step 5: Make sure “Preview” is the active window.

Step 6: Select “File” and choose “Print.” (If you select the “Export as PDF” option, it will only save one page.)

Step 7: (Optional) Choose the orientation and uncheck Auto Rotate.

Step 8: From the bottom left corner of the window, choose “Save as PDF.”

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Featured Provider: roots4all Tue, 28 Oct 2014 03:33:32 +0000 roots4all

Featured provider roots4all earned a degree in Family History-Genealogy from Brigham Young University with a focus on New England, Mid-Atlantic states, Eastern European, British, general American, and Canadian family history. Her undergraduate course work included paleography, writing family histories, and intensive research cases. Roots4all interned with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and worked for where she taught at genealogical conferences, wrote for their newsletter, and authored an e-book.

Currently in a master’s program in Digital Humanities at Loyola University Chicago, roots4all hopes to use her newly-acquired coding and programming skills to create new genealogical applications to address needs in the community.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

The first time I saw a pedigree chart, I was five years old, vacationing at my grandma’s house on the Pennsylvania/New York border. She had pedigree charts out in the morning on the kitchen table and I asked about a particular person that grabbed my attention–Morgan Maxon Spoor. I couldn’t read his name yet, but after she told me who he was, I felt like I should ask if she had any pictures to go with stories. Two paper grocery bags filled to the brim later, it was a fun morning and early afternoon. My grandparents met in high school and during vacations my grandmother would drive my sister and me around the farm lands and towns where their families grew up. I performed my first genealogical data entry at twelve when my grandmother was visiting my family.

My first repository research was at sixteen with a family friend at the National Archives in DC and at the DAR Library. I grew up outside of DC so these were simple day trips. My first job at seventeen was as a summer intern for a local professional genealogist. I majored in the field during my bachelor degree in Family History-Genealogy at BYU-Provo, and have continued honing and learning skills since then.

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

I’m not sure if these are weird quirks or super-powers but I can read American hand-writing going back at least to the 1700’s (trained to read back to 1600’s). I can also typically identify what facial features a person inherited from an ancestor if there is a picture or painting to compare. I can place people’s features over time for confirming ancestors without the need of software assistance. I can also almost always spell people’s names and/or pronounce them correctly the first time without assistance when hearing or reading them.

Describe challenging research problems you’re proud of having solved.

Growing up, I never thought that I would be able to find my father’s Slovak roots. Eventually, I took a class where I was able to find the proper name for the town in a gazetteer and I used that to find the corresponding record film.

When the reel came from the Vault, the records were written in Latin base in a Hungarian form. In order to find the correct entries, I had to be able to speak, read, and understand the basics of three languages and the record-keeping of a different religion than my own. I also had to figure out historical border changes for a country frequently in political turmoil for the period. I had taken Latin in high school, which helped. My father was impressed when he learned that it took three languages and understanding parts of at least two other cultures and organizational systems to figure it out.

In another example, a client gave me a good family summary with parents, siblings, and general locations for ancestors for a basic search but the family did not show up ANYWHERE using normal search strategies. I tried looking for first names only and another family emerged with a different surname (not even close to the original name) in the right location and with the right ages. After asking the client about the strange, yet remote, possibility, the client checked back with her relatives who confirmed the different surname. Although I was a little surprised, I was glad to have gone beyond the obvious to try multiple searches for this family.

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My favorite ancestors were farmers of good standing. While searching for them, however, a few little tidbits have cropped up.

  • One of my mother’s ancestors (1700’s) was struck by lightning while being under a tree with a woman who was not his wife.
  • On my father’s side, a multiple-times great uncle had his head blown off in a mortar experiment while working on Union ordnance at the West Point Foundry during the Civil War.
  • My Mom’s great-great grandfather was a farmer who ran off to join the circus and left it after his trapeze-walking love fell to her death. (I’m still trying to confirm that one.)
  • One of my grandmothers was a Slovak immigrant who became an artist, taught dance, and knew Arthur Murray.

I notice trends in the family–music, dance, and art, a love of learning, bakers and cooks, engineering, masonry and architecture, technology, and people who weren’t perfect. Knowing the past gives me hope for my life and hope for positive change.

What’s the most unique record source that you can access for research?

The newest resource I have access to is, a site set up by Barry Fleig to help Chicago in its identification of those interred in the Dunning incarnation of the Chicago City Cemetery. Mr. Fleig’s efforts stretch back at least to the late 1980’s and continue as there is still work to do regarding the Dunning cemetery site records.

What’s the one must-visit repository for visitors doing research in your area?

Researchers should give the Newberry Library at least one day, even if it’s the only place that they can visit on a trip to Chicago. However, if you KNOW that your ancestors were in Chicago, and you have a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday morning open, the Wilmette Family History Center has a fabulous collection of microfilmed original records for the Chicago/Cook County area and beyond including Catholic church records. The films correspond to many of the current Chicago record offerings on FamilySearch.

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?

I got married recently and my husband loves planes. We live close to cemeteries (for me) and close to an airport (for him). I’m learning how to identify commercial airplanes by sight, as they are landing (e.g., A340, 747, CRJ’s, ERJ’s, 777, etc.). It’s a little game we play in the car.

I’ve also become a baker. I already cooked and love working with new flavor palettes and techniques, but I inherited my mother-in-law’s incredible (and a little hard-to-duplicate) chocolate chip cookie recipe and got it right! From there, I have become proficient at cake creation and basic decoration, and I am interested in professional-quality cake baking, transportation, display, etc.

I am starting to focus more on learning to sew and quilt, though I also knit and crochet for friends. I also garden. Otherwise, I am getting back into singing and recently started conducting my local church choir.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I love researching places and people from other cultures than my own. Learning new record groups and resources is not easy, but it allows me flexibility. My dream would be to have a helpful answer for anyone who asks me a question regarding their genealogy. In the meantime, I am learning more about Chinese-American culture to help client work, and I will start learning German to get a handle on that aspect of my personal family history.

Since I moved to Chicago, I’ve rarely researched the same location twice with the exception of my family’s locations in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Every case I am asked to research involves learning new resources and new places, but the methodology is generally the same.

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Featured Provider: ctsmithson Thu, 18 Sep 2014 03:39:25 +0000 SmithsonChrisProvider ctsmithson is a Maryland researcher who has been involved with genealogy for more than 25 years. His specialties include Maryland brick walls, lineage society application documentation, missing heirs research, and Maryland state records from the colonial period through the 1940s.

He is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and has served in numerous leadership roles in lineage societies such as the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (Maryland Society).

Here’s what one of his most recent clients had to say on his  provider feedback page: “Thank you very much for your assistance finding our Baltimore ancestor records — With your expertise, you were able to solve some “brickwalls” in our family tree! Greatly appreciate your quick response and updates.” .

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

I started in 1988 at age 8, learning from my late grandfather. At 13, I was the first-ever student member of the National Genealogical Society.

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

My photographic memory—being able to remember things like where a family is buried or who is related to who.

Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

I assisted in identifying “Little Albert,” the infant subject of a well-known classical conditioning experiment carried out at Johns Hopkins University, c. 1920. The resulting article, which I co-authored, Correcting the Record on Watson, Rayner, and Little Albert: Albert Barger as “Psychology’s Lost Boy” appeared in the September 2014 issue of  American Psychologist.

What’s the one must-visit repository visitors doing research in your area?

The Maryland State Archives. The collection includes records dating back to 1634. It’s a great place to do hands-on research whether it’s looking for a will from 1750 or searching for later death certificates.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break through a brick wall in your area?

Never give up. Review your notes that you have made on what records you have searched and what you haven’t looked at.

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not doing research?

I work on lineage society applications for others in my spare time. I currently serve as the Genealogist for the Maryland Society SAR and the Genealogist General for the Hereditary Order of the Signers of the Bush Declaration. I helped found the latter group in 2004.

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Indiana State Library: An Interview with Provider indianagenealogy Wed, 03 Sep 2014 04:07:18 +0000 operatives-in-indianapolis-cotton-mill-noon-hour-aug-1908-w

Indiana ancestors? The State Library can help you in your search.

In the decade that I’ve been doing family history research in Chicago, I’ve come to believe one thing: there is no substitute for hands-on experience when it comes to knowing how to use local resources to the best advantage. I’ve decided to pick the brains of some of our knowledgeable local research providers to get the inside scoop on records at the repositories they visit.

New provider indianagenealogy agreed to help me with the first post and when I asked which Indiana research facility we should spotlight, he replied:

The Indiana State Library, Genealogy Division, is a great place to start to learn more about your family’s history, no matter what part of the state in which they may have resided. The library holds invaluable records that are yet unavailable online, and can only be accessed by onsite research.

One of the off-line resources he mentioned is a “wonderful collection of Indiana newspapers covering every county in the state.” I agree. A few years ago I visited the Library to look for obituaries related to Dean’s family tree and it was very convenient to be able to access films from multiple areas in one place.

Another valuable collection housed by the Library is county cemetery records which indianagenealogy says are “crucial to finding … ancestors’ places of burial.”

The library also holds “wills, probate and civil records (including estate dispositions), and land deeds … for many of Indiana’s counties.” I was surprised by that. My first thought would be to look for those types of records at the various court houses around the state.

Lastly, he mentioned a unique resource—the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Veterans Grave Registration cards, which include vital statistics, regimental identification and place of burial for Indiana’s veterans, primarily Civil War soldiers.

The Indiana State Library’s website is rich with resources for genealogists—too many to describe here. But, just as an example, the Genealogy page links to a marriage database and the Indiana Collection page links to newspaper indexes.

If you poke around the genealogy section of the Indiana State Library’s website you will find some treasures that might not come to mind as you’re planning your research strategy. Maybe one of your relatives is included in their oral history collection? Or maybe you’d be interested in photos from Camp Atterbury if one of your relatives was treated there during World War II?

The website has a number of online exhibits, too, including historic photographs from 90 of Indiana’s 92 counties—a great way to get a feel for the places where your ancestors lived.

Indianageneaogy commented:

Recently I’ve been spending more time with these kinds of records for my own family research and I am learning details about my ancestors’ lives that I otherwise would not have known.

I learned through a petition for a divorce filed by my great-great grandfather’s second wife that great-great grandpa was an alcoholic and a spendthrift. This had been a family legend passed down, but I was delighted to find some documentary evidence of this family legend. I was also thrilled to find an estate record for my 3rd great-grandfather who died in 1895, which included an inventory of his personal property. You never know what you might find in civil and probate records, wills or land deeds.

If you’ve visited the Indiana State Library, please share your own discoveries in a comment on this post. If you need research at the library but can’t make the trip, you can tap into indianagenealogy’s expertise by sending him a project request.

Indiana State Library

Main Website:
Genealogy Page:
Indiana Collection:
Online research tools:

Location: 315 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202

Phone: (866) 683-0008

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Featured Provider: jginmd Thu, 19 Dec 2013 03:58:17 +0000 jginmdGenealogy writer and researcher, jginmd can “search out unique genealogical information in the DC Metropolitan Area with a specialty in southern history and genealogy.” She has access to many resource-rich repositories in Maryland, DC and Northern Virginia including Library of Congress, National Archives (two branches), three Northern Virginia genealogy libraries, four Maryland genealogy libraries, DC Public Library, Washington DC Family History Center, Maryland State Archives, and the Daughters of the American Revolution library.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

I found a handwritten draft of my dad’s mother’s DAR application in my dad’s things after he died. I had already interviewed my mother’s sister on a whim because she was the last of the sisters and getting older. Then I went to the National Archives in the early 1990s, again on a whim. When I saw the microfilm of the handwritten census from 1910 with my mother’s family on it I was hooked for life.

I even found my great-great-grandfather’s handwritten sermon notes from 1850, bound into a partial copy of the New Testament. He was a teacher in a girls’ school and a fire-and-brimstone minister. With all these documents I couldn’t stop myself.

How have you developed your research skills?

I’ve studied the experts: Elizabeth Shown Mills, James Tanner, Dick Eastman, DearMyrtle, Cyndi Howells… I’ve been using Cyndi’s list since it started. I have a list of links for different states and counties, databases, research methods, even links to lists of links!

Other researchers have been writing about my dad’s family lines since the late 1800s, and I’ve been lazy about comparing and anlyzing their results. The problem is that most of their original records aren’t accessible. One author died six or seven years ago and his family won’t release his source documents—it’s so frustrating. I should be going through my files and writing proof arguments, but I’m not getting around to it.

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

I guess it’s my copyediting skills. I can edit a research report like a champ.

Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

Ten years or so ago I identified my great-grandfather’s parents by analyzing the 1850 census. It would be easy now, but back then I was bursting with pride, finding parents and siblings nobody else knew about. His parents’ parents are yet to be identified, though, and it drives me nuts.

I supplied some of the research for the chapter on the Turner family in Elise Greenup Jourdan’s Early Families of Southern Maryland, Vol. 7, but I don’t remember what I did. That family is so complicated that it’s all a blur now.

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

There are so many… my grandfather’s heartbreaking love letters to his wife, my ancestor who saved her grandson’s life when he was injured in the Revolutionary War—there’s a statue of her at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. My favorite stories are on my blog.

What’s the most unique record source that you can access for research?

Definitely the Maryland State Archives. My state has been keeping records since 1650.

What’s the one must-visit repository visitors doing research in your area?

There isn’t just one, you’d have to choose among the National Archives (NARA), the Library of Congress and the DAR Library. Each one has detailed instructions online to help you prepare for your visit and make the best of your time. You have to get a research card for NARA and LoC, but it doesn’t take long.

What tools to you use to create the reports and images that you provide?

I have a bare-bones setup. I use Word 2003 for reports, and for images a scanner and a wand scanner. Unfortunately, the wand scanner isn’t allowed in archives or LoC, only local libraries.

I photograph documents with a Canon A470 digital camera when they’re too old or fragile to copy, or when certified copies would cost $20-$30. I hardly ever use my laptop at repositories. Taking notes with pencil and paper (in cursive!) helps me focus and keep track of what I’m doing, especially when I have one day to research more than one family.

Each repository has different rules. I end up with paper copies of clients’ documents that I use for scratch paper after they’re scanned—think of it—an 1880 handwritten pension file, and it becomes a grocery list!

What advice would you give to someone trying to break through a brick wall?

First, all the usual tasks: Go over what you’ve done so far and fill in the gaps. Correct your errors and cite the original sources. Use a resource list. Keep a research log or you’ll go around in circles repeating your searches.

Then check out your ancestor’s FAN club: Friends, associates, neighbors. Everybody had a circle of people around them.

See if you’re not spending too much time on the ancestors you don’t know and neglecting the ones you do know. There’s so much information out there beyond vital records… it’s amazing to learn what your ancestor’s life was actually like.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Be careful what you think you know. I quoted a longstanding genealogical error in an interview with the Washington Post. I learned better later after digging into even more old journal articles about that particular famous person and the ancestor who wasn’t his cousin after all. I still cringe when I think about it.

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