I speak at genealogy conferences, family reunions, baby boomer events, estate planning seminars, senior communities and other events where perspectives on legacy and heritage are welcome. Now booking webinars and other virtual events through 2021. Please contact me about specific dates and speaking fees.
Click on a category to jump right to it, or scroll to explore my topics:
- Inspiring keynote and banquet talks for general audiences
- U.S. church records
- Other U.S. record gems
- Genealogy websites
- Genealogy methodology: Research strategies
- Family history storytelling and writing
You Have a Story, Too. One of the most powerful and unique legacies you can leave behind is the story of who you are and where you came from. People–especially children–are more resilient when they know stories about their roots. Many family history buffs express a deeper sense of identity, purpose and connectedness because they can define stronger links between themselves and the past. I’ll talk about why this is so and leave you with strategies for starting to reconstruct and share your heritage. The handout includes inspiring, get-started-now resources to trace your heritage.
Finding the Truths in Old Family Stories. Many families hand down stories, but how do you know if they’re true? Though we may never be able to fully prove (or disprove) some tales, you can judge for yourselves the results when I investigated three stories on my tree: an immigrant scoundrel, an unlikely hero and an adoptee’s unusual origins. The audience has a chance to weigh in on each story after hearing my evidence: fact, fable or “grain of truth?” This is a mainstream audience-friendly version of “Fable or Fact,” below.
Intro to U.S. Church Records: Why We Care Where Grandma Went to Church. U.S. church records of many denominations can reveal ancestors’ vital events, family relationships, overseas birthplaces and other residences and religious lives. From the co-author of the acclaimed book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records, learn what these records may look like, how to identify an ancestral church, locate extant records and access them.
NEW! Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians—Oh My! These 3 faiths dominated the 1800s religious scene in the United States. Learn a little of their intertwined history; explore a variety of sample records; and learn strategies for finding church records for Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians.
Find Your Family in Catholic Church Records. Roman Catholic sacramental records often contain vital events, relationships, and overseas hometowns. They’re also confidential, so they can be tricky to access–except that millions are coming online. Learn about Catholicism in the U.S., what’s in sacramental records and what they look like, how to identify an ancestral parish, and tips for accessing Catholic records. You’ll take home a handout packed with tools for tracing your Catholic ancestors’ records.
On the Record Trail of My LDS Immigrant Ancestor. Explore unique and fascinating historical records about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons or LDS) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Using research on my own ancestor, I’ll share examples of–and tips for finding–congregational membership records; group immigration resources; missionary diaries; ward minutes, and local histories of areas settled by LDS pioneers.
NEW! Directory Assistance: Finding Your Family History in City Directories. Looking for records in-between U.S. censuses that may reveal your family’s relationships, movements, occupations and other stories? Directories may help you build year-by-year narratives about their lives. You’ll learn what’s in city directories, how to explore them in major online collections and elsewhere, and how to use them in conjunction with other resources to reconstruct more detailed, nuanced narratives about your family’s history.
NEW! Born to be Filed: The Story of Delayed Birth Records. Delayed birth records for U.S. adults came into their own between the 1930s and 1950s. Follow with me the fascinating evolution of these records via nationwide contemporary newspaper coverage. Explore examples that will make you want to look for your relatives’ delayed birth records–and get some tips for how to find them.
Turning US Census Entries into Stories. Boost your use of U.S. census records to reconstruct families and their stories! See from fascinating and inspiring examples what unexpected genealogical clues may appear in census population schedules, how original instructions for census-takers can clarify your understanding and how to use what you learn to take the next research steps. This is a great stand-alone lecture but also pairs well with the lecture below.
What’s So Special about Special Censuses? Learn to find and use fantastic “extras” from US censuses (1840-1910), many of which are now online: the Veterans, Mortality, Slave, Agriculture, Manufacturer and Social Statistics Schedules. These often reveal details about ancestors’ vital events, work, health, military service and communities, in the process pointing to additional records. This lively lecture shares the stories behind each of the special censuses–why the government gathered this information at this time–and offers clues that help you know when to look for an ancestor on a special census.
How Social Security Can Help Your Family History Research. The U.S. Social Security system produced lesser-known record types key to tracing families during the late 1800s/early 1900s (during a period of intense immigration, before widespread birth records and during the 1890 census gap). See genealogical discoveries made using original Social Security applications, not one but TWO important Social Security indexes, and delayed birth records, which were often created for Social Security purposes. Freshly updated in 2020 with new online resources available!
Must-Use U.S. Record Collections You Might Not Know About on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Meet my favorite U.S. record collections on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage! Become acquainted with powerhouse collections that are easy to ignore but tough to beat for the genealogical gems they reveal: U.S. special census schedules; newspaper gems; city directories; genealogical periodical articles and more.
Should You Take the Hint? Automated Record Hinting on the Giant Genealogy Websites. Learn how automated record hints on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com can help you discover records that may be about your family. Discover how hints may differ from search results and how to use both tools most effectively. Learn valuable tips on evaluating records and incorporating details into your tree. A beginner-oriented lecture with great reminders for more experienced researchers, too.
Digging for Historical Records on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is arguably the world’s biggest free online portal to genealogical records. However, it’s easy to miss some of its valuable content, so join this insider’s tour of five places to find records on (and off) the site. This beginner-friendly lecture also helps more experienced researchers to understand why the site is organized like it is—and to find records they may be missing, especially in its post-microfilm-lending era.
Start Tracing Your Family History. This is a nuts-and-bolts introduction to the popular–but very personal–pastime of discovering your family history. Learn why you’ll want to start with a purpose or question in mind; how to create simple charts to organize what you learn; where to look for answers (online and offline); and a quick introduction to DNA testing for family history.
NEW: Help! There’s No Class on Researching My Ancestral Homeland. If you haven’t been able to learn how to research your roots in a specific ancestral homeland, this class is for you. Learn about using the FamilySearch wiki; searching major genealogy websites by place of origin; an intro to DNA testing for finding overseas cousin matches; and other strategies for building your family tree in far-flung places.
NEWLY UPDATED IN 2022! Meet PERSI, and Discover Treasures in Genealogy Periodicals. (For intermediate to advanced researchers.) You may be missing out on 30% of genealogy discoveries if you’re not digging into history and genealogy newsletters, journals and magazines. Biographical profiles, stories about ancestral churches or schools, how-to tips for researching a locale, indexes and transcripts of local records are all among those treasures. Learn to find and access this content using PERSI, the Periodical Source Index, and other resources. See how to navigate PERSI on the new Allen County Public Library website portal, and success stories that can inspire your own foray into periodical research.
Collateral Kin: Indirect Routes to Direct Ancestors. The most direct route to information about direct ancestors may be through other relatives and in-laws. Three concise case studies demonstrate the value of researching these “collateral kin.” See how collateral research helped prove an ancestor’s parents, solve a migration mystery and fill gaps in an ancestor’s biography.
Lies, Errors and Bias—Oh, My! Consider Your Sources. If your sources aren’t reliable and strong, your family history “facts” and stories won’t be, either. Learn to look critically at the sources that inform your research: the “what, who, when and why.” These criteria may indicate how much you can trust what individual sources say about your ancestors.
Reconstruct Your Ancestors’ Neighborhoods with These 5 Powerful Sources. Many of our U.S. relatives lived in cities and towns. Their local records offer unique insight into the daily lives of their residents. See powerful and creative examples for using city directories, urban and suburban maps, local histories, newspapers, business records and images to reconstruct your ancestors’ stories. This lecture is customizable for delivery at specific repositories, and may be combined with hands-on research experiences in specific libraries or archives for a unique attendee experience.
Sharing Your Family History with Kids and Grandkids. Nearly 20 years of experimentation has taught me successful principles for inspiring young people’s interest in history and their family’s place in it. Learn to teach them the value of their own stories; find the right “hook” for each person; tell a good story; and fire historical imaginations with hands-on experiences.
Fable or Fact? Verifying Old Family Stories. Don’t you wish you knew just HOW true certain family stories are? Though you may never be able to fully prove (or disprove) some stories, this lecture demonstrates how to “de-mythify” handed-down tales into truer ones that may be even more compelling. See the results when I investigated three stories on my tree: an immigrant scoundrel, an unlikely hero and an adoptee’s unusual origins.
“And Then What Happened?” How to Reconstruct Your Ancestors’ Amazing Stories. A heroic rescue, a love story and a 30-foot wall of water. That’s just part of my ancestors’ experience in the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. Come learn how to reconstruct fascinating experiences from your own family history by combining clues from your family’s knowledge, documents from genealogy websites, good historical research and Googling to fill in the gaps. All while learning the riveting story of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.
Adding Your Own Stories to Your Family History. Family history begins with YOUR history. Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid than others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories. See how to integrate your personal stories, family memories and research discoveries. The handout includes a life story writing exercise worksheet to help you get started.
Plan Your Next Family History Writing Project: Hands-on Workshop. With worksheet and pen in hand, attendees will plan their next family history writing project. They’ll consider how to prioritize writing projects and target an audience; privacy concerns and family secrets; writing and citation styles; and how all these considerations affect what the final product looks like. This class is available in both one-hour and two-hour formats.
Please contact me with any questions!