Posts Tagged ‘African-American Genealogy Research’

Nine Questions with Michael Hait

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Michael Hait

On Mondays, I try to publish brief e-mail interviews with some of our lookup providers. (I apologize that I’ve fallen down on this practice lately.) This week’s interview is with Michael Hait.

From michaelhait‘s profile

Michael is a professional genealogical researcher, author of numerous genealogy-related publications and an APG Chapter Vice President. He specializes in Maryland research, African-American genealogy, and Civil War records. On Genlighten, Michael offers a broad selection of lookups, including Maryland vital records, probate records, wills, and land patents. He can also retrieve and digitize Civil War Pension files (Union) from the National Archives in Washington, D.C..

Nine Questions with Michael

1) How did you get started doing genealogy research?

When I was about eight or nine years old, my grandmother showed me a “family tree” that her sister, an LDS convert, had compiled.  This immediately intrigued me, and my grandmother and I began our own “research.”  When I was about twenty, I really jumped into research vigorously, going to the National Archives in Washington DC every Saturday, writing letters to ancestral hometown historical and genealogical societies, etc., and discovered the Rootsweb mailing lists (no message boards yet). I have been researching ever since then.

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

I would say that my “superpower” is my ability to locate evidence in records outside of the everyday record groups.

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

I have researched many tricky problems in five years as a professional genealogist.  I am proud of them all, because each of them helps a family understand their heritage more.  But I guess that I would choose a recent case involving an enslaved family, where the official records only offered indirect evidence and confusion ca. 1824. Then I located a family history book that reproduced pages from a family Bible containing all of the slaves’ births!

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

The most important is to read every word of the offer.  Sometimes there are outside factors that affect a particular lookup, such as years missing in the records due to fire, etc.  If there are special instructions, etc., then there is also probably a reason for them.  But overall, I feel that a well-formulated request should be very specific — it should include an exact name, relatively narrow date range, and specific location.

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

One of my specialties is African-American, particularly slave, genealogy, so any record group that provides information specific to individual enslaved people or families is of great interest to me.  One of the most interesting record groups I located were registers of claims submitted to the Slave Claims Commissions during and following the Civil War.  These Commissions were established to compensate loyal slaveowners in the border states whose slaves joined the Union Army.

Each register includes the name and location of the slaveowner, and the FULL name (given and surname) of each slave, as well as in some cases other details like the regiment and company in which the slave served.  I am currently in the process of transcribing and publishing these registers.  I have already published the short register of claims of the Delaware Slave Claims Commission, and am finishing up the much larger Kentucky register.

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

I have a scanner with a top-load feeder so that I can scan many pages at once.  I use the free Photoshop alternative GIMP to edit photos, and the free version of PrimoPDF to compile PDF reports.

7) Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

I am thinking of offering several record groups available at the National Archives in Washington, DC. [Update: Michael recently added Civil War pension file lookups to his offerings. See the list below.]

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

Knowledge of the records is key to being able to efficiently and effectively search records.  Before offering lookups, be sure to have a lot of experience with the record group.

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

I am full-time genealogical researcher, so most of my time is spent conducting research, and writing.  When I do have spare time for other activities, I usually spend it with my family, including my beautiful 4-year-old daughter, Mary.

Lookups michaelhait Offers

Follow Friday: Mavis Jones and her “Georgia Black Crackers” / “Conversations With My Ancestors” blogs

Friday, March 26th, 2010


I tend to use three primary criteria in picking genealogy blogs to add to my Google Reader subscription list:

  1. Are they fun to read? [Like most of us, I like to be entertained!]
  2. Do they teach me new skills and resources that can assist me with my own research? [I'm acutely aware of how much I have to learn to become a more serious amateur genealogist.]
  3. Do they lead me to crucial local repositories and researchers that I think Genlighten users should get to know? [Forgive me for thinking strategically from time to time!]

Both of Mavis Jones’ blogs, “Georgia Black Crackers” and “Conversations With My Ancestors” meet all three:

  • Her posts are well-thought out and organized, divided up into bite-size chunks, yet still flowing comfortably from one idea to the next. Even when she’s covering fairly technical topics, her writing remains warm, personal, and engaging.
  • I’ve learned a lot from her about Ancestral DNA and about Slave Schedules. Hers are the first posts on genetic genealogy that I’ve actually been motivated to read all the way through. Perhaps that’s because they’re written from the perspective of someone new to the field, as I am. Also, it was her recent posts mentioning Slave Schedules that got me to look to see if my Merryman ancestors from Baltimore owned slaves. Though it was highly unpleasant to discover that they did (more on that in another post) it was information I needed to learn eventually, and it was Mavis that motivated me to do so.
  • Mavis is from North Carolina, and she keeps separate blogs about her paternal (North Carolina) and her maternal (mostly Georgia) ancestors. Both of them feature attractive designs, lots of photos, and in-depth step-by-step discussions of her research processes. Her posts show a great deal of care and attention to detail. She highlights key resources (both online and offline) and even mentions knocking on doors in communities where her ancestors lived in order to get to know them better.

Already in the few months I’ve been reading her blogs, Mavis has taught me a great deal. I suspect she’ll do the same for you, and I heartily recommend you explore both of them and add them to your feed reader.