Looking forward to 2020

Perhaps you have guessed what some of my 2020 business and genealogy goals are based on my previous post looking back at 2019. Here are my main areas of focus for 2020.

1) Write more articles and submit them to journals and magazines. I have several ideas in mind that I can write about. Publishing seems more permanent and accessible than giving talks at libraries and genealogy societies. My goal is to submit at least 2 genealogy-related articles this year, including the one I was invited to write. The second one will likely use more family stories to tell the impact of the 1918 flu.


2) Write a life history of my great grandfather Robert Lee Ison for my teenage nieces and nephews. I’d like it to be well cited, but endnotes will be just fine. I’d really love to bring him to life because he lived an interesting life, even though he died relatively young. I may not finish it, but will happy with a good start. After that I’ll write about my great grandfather Alfred Heber Powell.

robert lee ison family

3) Make progress in proving or disproving my Mayflower connection with James Chilton. The first step will be a review of Luana Darby’s Legacy Family Tree webinar on researching early LDS ancestors, as at least 3 of the generations fall into that category.


4) While my focus is transitioning to writing, I will continue to do speaking. I have 2 new talks that I will be giving this year. One is about researching your suffrage ancestors and the other is about using town records. As neither talk is started yet, developing these two talks are also applicable goals for 2020.


5) Start formal education. I had planned on going to GRIP but it doesn’t look like that will happen. Instead, I am exploring doing the American Records certificate through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. I am taking the first 2 courses and will go from there. I’ve been self-taught this far and am lacking in several areas, so this will help make sure I have expertise/knowledge in all applicable areas. The envelope below contains the material for the first class.



Looking back at 2019

2019 was a fabulous year for my business. I gave almost 20 talks, including 3 for Legacy Family Tree Webinars and a talk and a workshop at NERGC. Talks about the 1918 flu were the most common, but I gave almost every talk I have developed during my 10 year speaking career in 2019. I led a discussion group at the Massachusetts Historical Society about using recipes to explore medicinal theories and treatments in colonial New England. I made my TV debut on Ghost Nation where I was the 1918 flu expert.  I went to the Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City and met many of my colleagues.


I collected dozens of family stories about the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic and am in the process of sharing them on the website I developed.

I was active in the genealogy community, particularly the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), where I served as chapter representative to the APG. I joined the APG Writers Special Interest Group (SIG) and am the vice-president of the SIG. I coordinated the popular NEAPG Table Topics luncheon at NERGC.

I also started thinking more about writing. I joined the APG Writers SIG as mentioned above, as well as formed a buddy check-in system with 2 different sets of people to keep me (and them) on track. I submitted 2 articles to genealogy journals. One was published in Crossroads and the other will be published later this year in another journal. I was invited to write another article about epidemics that will come out later this year.

Yet, for all this success, I did not progress much in researching my own family.  Trying to prove (or disprove) my connection to James Chilton of the Mayflower has been on my to-do list for a long time. I know which generations I need to prove, and I pull out the list every once in a while, but it never goes anywhere. My Loyalist ancestor intrigues me to no end, and I have dozens of land records to go through for him and his son to try to figure out when they were in Canada and when they were in Vermont–they seem to have criss-crossed several times. In addition, I would love to write an accessible life story of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents for my nieces and nephews.

Nor did I do a good job of keeping my blogs up to date. This blog especially has been sorely neglected.

So, what does 2020 hold for me? Wait for the next blog post…


Sharing Family Stories

My aunt and her family were in town for a long weekend. Her sons are 13 and 16 and she wanted them to know some of their family stories. I told them a few, but she was more interested than they were (but they were listening!). I was able to share an article I wrote about our ancestor that will be published in Crossroads (magazine of the Utah Genealogical Society) and a book my mom found in my grandpa’s house about my 2x great grandma. While the boys didn’t get too engaged, she and I had a great conversation and renewed my interest in doing more research and digitizing the books I have to share them with her and other family members.

How do you get family members engaged in learning about their ancestors? What family books/treasures do you have that you can share with others?

History Camp: Networking galore


Last Saturday I went to History Camp in Boston. This is one of my favorite places to present and network. History Camp pulls in a huge variety of people: historians, genealogists, dramatic presenters, book authors, podcasters, and people interested in history. 2019 sessions included talks on women’s history, Boston history, archaeological digs, Vikings, Loyalism, jail records and the Bread and Roses strike, public history, and on and on. Recordings of many of the talks will be available within a few weeks.


Due to a prior commitment, I missed the morning sessions. I arrived while everyone was in a session so had ample time to explore the vendor booths and talk with the vendors. After some fun purchases from the History List booth, I spoke with Martha Bewick about her book Tranquility Grove: The Great Abolitionist Picnic of 1844. Perfect timing as my next talk will be about activism and agitation. She gave me some great ideas for places to look. And somehow we started talking about genealogy and colonists and Indian captivity (another future talk) and she pointed me towards a book about one of the captives. Score 1.

The next booth was for History at Play. Judith Kalaora, owner, was in a session (I caught the tail end of it–she was playing Dolly Madison) and I talked with the person manning her booth. Turns out this person is interested in her g-grandmother who suffered from the flu in 1918 and she wants to write a 1-woman play about that. She also gave me another road to go down re: 1918 flu research–one that I did not know about prior to our discussion. We will definitely be touching base in April. Score 2.

At her encouragement, I followed up with Judith later and she taught me that Dolly Madison was the first to bring ice cream to the U.S. (I think I have that right). In an effort to help her husband, she invited the wives of politicians to send her their favorite recipes and she would often serve those dishes when the politician and wife were invited to dinners hosted by James and Dolly Madison. She promised to follow up with information about a book describing this and some of the recipes that were shared. This may play a role in my research into recipes. Score 3.

I attended 2 afternoon sessions before teaching my own session. The first was about the Sowams Heritage Area. Although I had not heard about this before the session, it’s on my bucket list, perhaps for this summer. This is a list and map of heritage sites associated with the Sowams area, home of the Massasoit, and the English intrusion into that land. Some of my ancestors may have been in the area. They have a fabulous website. Score 4. No networking involved here, but I found a new resource of interest.


The last session was the one I was most excited about. Bernard Trubowitz used records from the Essex County Jail (closed in the late 1980s) to talk about participants in the Bread and Roses strike. What a wonderful resource for my next talk. Score 5. I spoke with him before the presentation and he is very willing to share his knowledge. The records are now at the Lawrence History Center. You can read more about him and his work that led to his talk here. historycamp3

As always, I walked away with new friends, a to-do list of contacts, and new resources to work with.

1918 Flu site is up


Many of you who have followed my path on Facebook the past year or two know that I am passionate about sharing the stories of the 1918 flu pandemic (also known as the Spanish flu) that show the personal impact of the pandemic. To further share the stories I have collected and continue to collect, I launched the website In Flew Enza: Stories from the 1918 Flu Pandemic. One story will be added each week. I will also update the resources sections. Please peruse the site and feel free to send me additional resources and stories.

Interview with Robert Raymond (NERGC speaker)

Robert Raymond isolated and grandkids heads removed

As an official NERGC blogger, I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with Robert Raymond. He is a frequent speaker at NERGC and we are happy to welcome him back.

Is this your first time at NERGC? What are most looking forward to at NERGC 2019?

I’ve been to NERGC several times and always enjoy the conference. Several things draw me there. I have deep New England ancestry and feel a connection to the area. I also have the assignment at FamilySearch to recommend record acquisitions in New England. I am always learning something new or being reminded of things I have forgotten, both of which help me in my personal research and professional work. I don’t get out from Utah very often, so when I can I visit archives while in the area. Plus, I enjoy teaching and hope my session will benefit attendees.

What first sparked your interest in genealogy?

Gosh, I would have to say it was an activity in Cub Scouts when I was 8 or 9 years old. We had to fill out a pedigree to get a badge or something. I’m obsessive, so filling in every empty box was very satisfying. I come from a long line of genealogists, so it was just a matter of copying the information from their charts to mine. It only grew from there.

In your bio, you state that you are a genealogical technologist. Will you please explain more about what this means, and the path you took to get to this point in your career?

By education I’m an electrical engineer. My passion was programming, which I started doing professionally while still in high school. I had a successful career, I think. Among other things I created several patented inventions and helped build and lead a company whose products earned many industry rewards. One day the company president asked me a cutting question: what would I do with my life if I didn’t have to work. I knew from that very moment that I needed to redirect myself into family history. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I believe family history opens the way for families to be blessed in this life and in our lives after we die. So I made the switch. But not having a lifetime of genealogical training, as I have had in technology, I’m more comfortable calling myself a genealogical technologist than a technically-inclined genealogist.

Why is it important for genealogists to understand technology? How can it help them in their research?

That’s just it. It’s important for genealogists to understand technology because it can help them in their research. Take my topic, smartphone cameras. Never mind all the powerful things we can do with this miniature computer we carry around in our pocket. There’s several lectures in that, alone. Then someone came along and said, what if we added a camera? The implications have been enormous. Sometimes the applications of new technologies are obvious and sometimes it helps to learn what others have to say.

Do you have any favorite technologies to recommend to NERGC attendees?

There’s DNA, of course, but I’m prejudiced by my employment at FamilySearch. I guess we are not the only one with a huge website of digitized records, but online access to records is arguably the greatest game changer in genealogical history. FamilySearch is working on some technologies that will only accelerate that.

We are also pushing our online, shared tree. We don’t have all the kinks worked out yet, but the potential for collecting in one all the world’s best genealogical trees is worth the endeavor.

I touch on several technologies in my presentation, like cloud storage. It’s a big paradigm shift. I compare it to utilities. Few people generate their own electricity, drill for their own water, or acquire their own gas. We hook up to a wider cloud of services that we use on demand. That same thing is happening to disk storage. We don’t need a huge hard drive inside our phone. We hook to cloud storage like we hook to utilities in our homes.

You will be speaking on Saturday at 10:00. Your talk is titled “Smartly Using a Smart Phone Camera” Will you please tell us a little more about this topic, ,why you created this presentation, and what you hope the attendees will get out of it?

One time after presenting this topic, I had a trained photographer come up to me afterwards and say, “Thank you. I learned stuff I can begin using today.” Hopefully, that will be true for everyone. The most important part of the presentation is about archival research. I present some tips that anyone can use. I also spend time talking about sourcing our research. It is amazingly easy to do using the techniques I present.

Interview with Annette Burke Lyttle (NERGC speaker)

As an official NERGC blogger, I had the opportunity to interview Annette Burke Lyttle, who is a first-timer to NERGC and will be giving 2 talks. I have recently started working with her in a volunteer capacity for an association and she is wonderful! She is very excited to attend NERGC and spend some time in New England as she has a lot of New England ancestors. She will be staying an extra week to do research in the New England area.

Annette Burke Lyttle

Annette got her start in genealogy when she was 12 years old. She was assigned a school project having to do with family history and asked her mother how she was supposed to know who all these people are. Her mother provided some information, but suggested she write to her two great-grandmothers who were still living, as well as several great-aunts. They sent her a significant amount of wonderful information and her interest was sparked. The need to make a living intervened but both she and her mother took an adult education course at a local university where the instructor taught them how to do genealogy right. They learned to pencil in information on family group sheet and pedigree charts and put sources on the back. While Annette worked, her mother continued to work on the genealogy. Annette inherited all the work her mother had done. When she retired in 2012 she opened all the boxes and became a full time genealogist.

Annette’s first talk at NERGC is a part of the Professional Genealogist Day (on Wednesday). She will be speaking about “Your Educational Plan for Going Pro

Annette is working towards obtaining certification as a professional genealogist, so putting together a plan to go pro is very timely.

She realized she wanted to be a professional genealogist when she started doing research for a few friends and realized she enjoyed doing research as much for other people as she did for herself. She loves helping people uncover and share their family stories.

For Annette, the family story is the important part. Names, dates and places are an important framework, but what she enjoys the most is filling in that framework with details and stories. She has a gg-grandfather who was a blacksmith. His father was a blacksmith and his father probably was too (if she could find him). Her gg-grandfather was listed as a blacksmith in a tiny little town in Michigan in the 1880s, but in the 1900 census he is listed as saloon keeper. She knows it’s the same person and was curious as to why he would change careers mid-life. As she researched blacksmithing and economic conditions, she found that beginning around 1860 the things that blacksmiths made were beginning to be manufactured in factories. By 1900 many blacksmiths were out of business. All of a sudden, it made sense why he became a saloon keeper. She had an understanding of his life that she didn’t have before. That is what she is always trying to do—understand what life was like for her ancestors.

Annette’s second NERGC talk is on Saturday at 3:15 and is titled “Genealogical Proof for the Everyday Genealogist

Annette created this lecture because she discovered so many everyday genealogists who have great experience, skill, and talent in genealogical research become fearful when they think about the genealogical proof standard (GPS). It seems very formal and to some people it appears to be a test. It is a test: the genealogist is testing her research against standards. A lot of people are put off by the thought that the GPS can help them. She created the presentation to make the GPS more accessible to everyday genealogists and help them understand that the GPS is their friend and not a fearful foreign thing that only professional genealogists use. She provides many concrete examples to show how to put GPS into operation. Anyone that is interested in being a better researcher would benefit, including beginners.

I hope you come hear Annette’s talk. You can learn more at her website.