Interview – Michael Hait

[Editor's Note: Recently I had the pleasure of conducting an e-mail interview with Michael Hair, author of the e-book Online State Resources for Genealogy which was recently review here at GeneaBloggers.]

What was your inspiration for compiling and publishing your new book Online State Resources for Genealogy?

I have been conducting online genealogy research since about 1998, though at that time, there were very few resources available online. At that point, Ancestry contained only digital images of published genealogies, though some USGenWeb county sites had a lot of information. The greatest resource that I used at that time were the RootsWeb email lists through which I could connect with other descendants.

Over the past few years I have been compiling lists of resources available in the far corners of the web for my personal or professional use, though generally focused on either African American genealogy or on one of the states in my wife’s or my own ancestry (New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Dakota). But these lists were never formal, and I would find myself forgetting about sites I had already used, and then “rediscovering” them months or years later. Last year, I decided to create a list for personal use.

The book grew out of this list, but incorporated information from earlier products. I published several articles on online state resources for African American genealogy in my Examiner column over the past few years, and a lecture grew out of these, called “Beyond Ancestry and FamilySearch: Online Records for African American Research.” I also do another lecture, based on my experience in researching Maryland families, called “Researching Online at the Maryland State Archives Website.”

But in general, my inspiration came from a desire to seek out and discover what resources were “out there” online, aside from the big sites that everyone uses. Once I realized just how much information there was—and there are many more that I know I missed!—I felt that it was only right to share this information with all genealogists.

In the book, you purposely exclude free resources from some of the “big players” in online genealogy such as Ancestry.com, Footnote.com, RootsWeb, etc.  Why is that?

Everyone knows about Ancestry, Footnote, Find-a-Grave, USGenWeb, etc. Most of these sites have been around for years, and are a permanent part of most researchers’ toolbox, including my own. They are also written up in every article and book about online genealogy, so beginning genealogists often become aware of them very soon after they start. These sites don’t need another cheerleader. It is the smaller libraries, archives, and societies, that deserve the spotlight put on them for a change. I was also amazed at how many less common records were available online, but hidden in some small corner of the state archives website. Increasing the awareness of these other sites will help genealogists to conduct more of their research online.

Online State Resources for Genealogy is published as an e-book on Lulu.com.  Was this your first experience with self-publishing and print on demand? Do you have any advice for someone looking to publish their own book?

I first used Lulu.com several years ago when I helped a client publish her family history. When I started publishing my own books of record transcriptions last year, I decided to go with print-on-demand self-publishing for several reasons. First, I chose to self-publish these books strictly for financial reasons. A standard royalty contract through a traditional publisher is usually around 10% or so of the sale price. This will add up if you sell several hundred copies. However, if your book only has a limited audience, you are less likely to sell several hundred copies. Compiling books takes a great amount of time, and I believe that authors deserve to be compensated for the time it takes. Self-publishing allows authors to set their own prices, and control their own profit.

Print-on-demand is, in my opinion, the best option for self-publishing in this way, because there is no minimum order. Traditional vanity presses and other self-publishing options required authors to order print runs of 100 or more copies. This often led to authors having boxes of unsold books sitting in their homes. By using print-on-demand services, the author does not have to purchase any copies himself. Copies are instead printed when sales occur, and the cost of printing deducted from the sale price.

The most important piece of advice I can give to those who decide to go with self-publishing rather than with a traditional publishing company is to understand that promotion and marketing are entirely their responsibilities. This can cost money for advertising, sending copies to journals and magazines for review, etc. However, the secret to being successful is to identify their target audience and market to them specifically. For example, if you publish an index to Maryland records, you would want to send a copy to the Maryland Genealogical Society for review, and any county genealogical societies that might have an interest in the book. These publications reach your target audience. On the other hand, sending a copy to a historical society in Illinois would probably not produce successful results.

I would also invite anyone interested in using print-on-demand services to explore all options. While I use Lulu because it seems to be the best option for me, others may have their needs met by other companies. There are also far more options available for ebooks than for print books.

How often can we expect updates to Online State Resources for Genealogy? Can readers submit resources to you for future inclusion?

Unlike many books of record abstracts or indexes, the nature of Online State Resources is such that updates will be necessary or the book will become obsolete. Some websites may be moved or removed, and new resources will be added. As such, I plan to update the book twice a year, most likely coming out with new editions in January and June. When you purchase the book, you will receive two email addresses. The first will allow readers to submit updates to links that do not work, or new resources that were not included. The other address will allow you to “register” your purchase. All registered purchasers will be entitled to a free copy of the next edition.

The first edition of Online State Resources for Genealogy contains over 2000 resources across over 300 pages, nationwide. There are already many updates that have been made, and I expect the next edition to almost double in size.

Might we see a mobile app developed based on Online State Resources for Genealogy that a researcher could use while on a research trip?

I would love to develop additional formats for this book, to make it more effective for researchers. I am currently exploring options to make the book available on the Kindle or other e-readers. I have not yet explored mobile apps, but would certainly consider this a worthwhile venture.

Finally, who is your favorite ancestor and why?

It’s hard to pick a favorite ancestor. Some carry my interest because researching their lives involved breaking through significant brick walls. Others I am drawn to due to contributions to history. For example, I am directly descended from four Union soldiers, three Confederate soldiers, and one ancestor served in both armies during the Civil War. I am also directly descended from more than a dozen Revolutionary War soldiers, including a few officers. I have several ancestors who came to the U. S. before 1650, and have others who immigrated in the late nineteenth century. To me, it’s almost like asking a father to choose his favorite child. I love them all for different reasons.

One of the ancestors that I have spent quite a bit of time on would be “Elder” Henry Hait. He was a Primitive Baptist minister, first in Stamford, Connecticut, and then in central New York, ending up in Long Island. For years, both I and others researching his life thought he was born in Stamford. After all, his tombstone and the 1850 census both stated that he was born in Connecticut. But I struggled with this, because I could not find any reference to his father nor a reference to his own birth. Finally, I discovered, with the help of the Primitive Baptist Library in Carthage, Illinois, that he wrote an autobiography in a religious newspaper in New York. In the article he states that he was born in Bedford NY in 1779, but that his father died in 1780 and he was sent back to Stamford to live with his grandfather. Not only did the article clear up my concerns, and explain the negative evidence, it also provided a lot of insight into his personality. He was a very stern, religious man. I think that the amount of time, and the depth to which I combed through every aspect of his life in the course of researching him, adds to my appreciation of his life.

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Disclosure statement: I was contacted by Michael Hait of Michael Hait Family History Research Services via mail to review Online State Resources for Genealogy and a complimentary copy was delivered to me. After reviewing the product, I will retain the e-book for my own personal use.  To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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