May I Introduce to You . . . Marian Burk Wood

Come meet genealogy blogger Marian Burk Wood, author of the Climbing My Family Tree blog, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

May I Introduce to You . . . Marian Burk Wood

As a reader of genealogy blogs, I am always looking at what other bloggers do that I can steal adapt for my own blog. When I searched the various family tabs at Climbing My Family Tree, – or landing pages, as they are sometimes called – I was both jealous and inspired. Organizing all related stories onto a family page – genius! This blogger is doing something right. In fact, Marian Burk Wood does many things right, from her thoughtful participation in any number of genealogy memes to her useful tips and templates to her ideas on future-proofing our research. In fact, Marian has just recently published a book on that very topic called Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past, which expands on many of the ideas shared in her blog on organizing family photos, documents, and even stories for the benefit of future generations. Without further ado, please meet Marian Burk Wood.

Marian, can you tell a little about yourself?

“Born in the Bronx, I’m the sister of a twin and the daughter of a twin. Because my grandmother dressed her twin daughters alike when they were young, my mother gave her twin daughters the option to dress as individuals – which we did most of the time. My background is in bank and retail marketing, and I’m the author of two college-level textbooks. I’m married to a professional writer, so we spend many companionable days at our keyboards, side by side in our home office. When I’m not researching ancestors or writing, I like to hand quilt, read good mysteries, and watch championship figure skating.”

When and why did you start a genealogy blog?

“Originally, I began blogging partly as cousin bait and partly to ‘think out loud’ about my genealogical adventures. One evening, I typed in the first blog title that came to mind –

Climbing My Family Tree. No other Blogger user had claimed that name, so I grabbed it. Later, I came across several others with that title, including the blog by Jennifer Woods.

“Since I posted my first blog entry in 2008, I’ve written about nearly every surname in my tree and my husband’s tree. I’ve also written about the ups and downs of my genealogy research, confronting brick walls, and techniques that have worked for me. Best of all, I’ve heard from a number of cousins who searched for their ancestors’ names online and got in touch with me after finding my blog. Blogs are terrific cousin bait.”

What do you want to accomplish through blogging?

“Before I become an ancestor, I want to pass along what I’ve learned about my ancestors and my husband’s ancestors. Blogging is very convenient for sharing family history, a few paragraphs at a time. As long as my blog is available online, younger relatives will be able to do an online search for a family surname and find my posts, see the photos, read the stories. But I also see blogging as a way of sharing ideas about the how-to of genealogy. When I read someone’s blog and get inspired to try a technique for the first time, I’ll write about what happens and link back to the person who got me started down that path. And blogging has brought me into the ever-larger community of genealogy enthusiasts who like to write about family history research and the tricks they’ve used to find elusive ancestors.”

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

“One of my favorites is the ancestor landing page I wrote about hubby’s Larimer ancestors. It shows an excerpt from the Larimer family history printed about 50 years ago, and a handwritten scrap of paper left by hubby’s grandfather Brice. I was quite taken by the legend about Robert Larimer surviving a shipwreck en route from Northern Ireland to America. Thanks to Granddaddy Brice, I had a head start on five generations of his direct line, including some maiden names. Every time I write about the Larimer
family, I add a link to the post on this landing page. Cousins (and possible cousins) can easily click to individual posts of interest.

“Another favorite post is part of my sporadic series showing the colorful postcard greetings exchanged between first cousins in my husband’s family, early in the 1900s.
The postcards are little works of art, and also show how 24 first cousins were encouraged by their close-knit parents to stay in touch. They were hundreds of miles apart, yet the cousins were clearly more than just names to each other. That’s one reason I keep working on genealogy – to bring ancestors alive and make family history more than just a bunch of names and dates.”

What has been your most exciting discovery through research?

“Remember surname message boards? Pre-Facebook, they were my go-to place for genealogy networking. When I attacked the brick wall of hubby’s great-grandfather, Thomas Haskell Wood, I connected with a Wood cousin who’d posted queries about this ancestor. He was a dedicated researcher who broke the news that the Wood family tree includes four Mayflower ancestors. The following year, he and his lovely wife visited and brought the family Bible to show us. Now we’re getting closer to the Wood cousins and collaborating on more Wood research. We also have the Mayflower story to pass to future generations. Did I mention that I married my hubby for his ancestors?”

Besides major websites (like Ancestry and FamilySearch), what research tool or source has been particularly helpful in researching your family history?

“It was an unexpected surprise to discover that Facebook is incredibly valuable for genealogy. My first introduction was when Schelly Talalay Dardashti moved her wonderful Tracing the Tribe Jewish genealogy blog to Facebook. The participants are extremely helpful and know a lot about Jewish genealogy. Another of my favorite Facebook pages is by the friendly Elkhart County Genealogical Society, which I joined to research hubby’s Larimer and McKibbin ancestors. Whether I have an actual question or just want to ‘lurk and learn’ from discussion threads, I get lots of new ideas from these pages.”

How has blogging helped you become a better researcher?

“Making a discovery can be so exciting that I momentarily forget to milk each document or photo for as many other clues as I can find. Blogging forces me to slow down and pay close attention to the details. More than once, I’ve started a blog post, with my genealogy software open and my surname file in hand, and suddenly realized that I had overlooked some seemingly small element that turns out to make a big difference. Like not noticing that great-grandma Tillie was a widow in the 1910 Census, which was a huge clue to when great-grandpa Meyer died – the subject of my very first blog post.

“Sometimes my research makes me a better blogger. I’ve blogged several times about how my research has been enriched by indexing and analyzing diaries and other family documents. Those posts (such as Indexing Your Family’s Records to Solve Mysteries)
have been among the most popular in eight years of blogging.”

Marian, what future plans do you have for your blog?

“More posts about the ups and downs of solving ancestor mysteries, as well as posts about preserving family history for future generations. I inherited a jumble of crumbling photos, tattered old letters, and snippets of family lore. The genealogists of the next generation on both sides of my family tree will get neat files and archival boxes, with inventories, indexes, and – eventually – full photo captions. I’ve already begun posting how-to blog entries and also created a presentation, ‘Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past,’ to share my ideas. If you’re at the 14th Annual New England Regional Genealogical Conference in April, please come to my session and say howdy.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“My husband’s maternal McClure family is closely linked to the MacLeod clan, based in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. It would be heavenly to see the glorious countryside in person and learn more about that branch of his family, which came to America well before the Revolution. I would love to walk the streets of Telšiai and other Lithuanian towns where my paternal Birk, Mahler, and Jacobs ancestors lived and have help checking local records and cemeteries for more traces of their lives. If time-travel is ever invented, I want to have a cup of coffee with my great-grandma Tillie, who was nearly 100 when she died in 1952.”

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Please take a moment to visit Marian at Climbing My Family Tree and leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Also if you are interested in her book, it is available through Amazon. She welcomes your honest opinion in a review. Thank-you, Marian, for letting us inside your blogging world.

© 2016, copyright Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wendy Mathias is a retired teacher who divides her time between her home in Chesapeake, Virginia and Smith Mountain Lake.  She enjoys researching her family and digging for the story behind old family photos for her blog Jollett Etc. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Wendy via email

May I Introduce to You . . . Debra van Driel Kluit

Come meet genealogy blogger Debra van Driel Kluit, author of the Moments in Time blog in this interview by Gini Webb at GeneaBloggers.


I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Debra van Driel Kluit and her blog, Moments in Time, described as, “ . . . Family history and family stories.”

Debra, please tell us a little about yourself.

“I was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, England but have moved around a lot as a child and lived in several countries. My husband is a real Dutch Miller, we live in Rotterdam next to a windmill that was built in 1776 and where my husband makes bread and cake mixes which we sell in a little shop inside the mill.

I am a mother of three children and a grandmother of five.

I speak Dutch fluently but my English has deteriorated so please forgive any grammatical mistakes.”

How did you get started in Genealogy?

“I caught the family history bug at a very young age, I was 16 when I was first given a lesson about genealogy and a desire was planted to start researching my own family history. My maternal grandmother was still alive as were two older sisters of my father and they were able to provide me with many stories of their childhood and several other facts to point me in the good direction. My early years of research was before the era of computers and entailed traveling down to London to visit St. Catherine’s house where all the birth, marriage and death indexes were housed. These were huge tomes which caused muscle ache after spending a whole day lifting and carrying them to the tables. Viewing the census returns was no easy matter either as you either needed an exact address or you would have to view the whole micro film roll of a village or town with the hope of finding your ancestors. We are so blessed nowadays that we can do so much research in the comfort of our own homes.”

Why Debra created her blogs and her thoughts on blogging

After completing a genealogical course with Future Learn, I was given a tip to create a genealogical blog, this seemed like a perfect way to share all the interesting facts and stories which I have discovered during my many years of research with my family who are scattered over the world.”

Debra, how did you choose the name for your blog?

“About 10 years ago, I wrote and self-published a book about my paternal line, during the course of writing this book I had been reading Daphne du Maurier’s book ‘The House on the Strand’ and came across the phrase ‘Moments in Time’, this sounded like a perfect description of my book because it is just small moments in time which we are recording whilst doing genealogical research, as we try to build a picture of our ancestor’s lives.  I decided to give my blog this same name as sometimes I will use excerpts from my book as well as adding stories and facts from my maternal line.”

What research tool or source has been particularly helpful in researching your family history?

“I have used Ancestry a lot but I have also found the website from the British National Archives very useful, especially the A2A access to archives section which indexes the records of local record offices throughout the country. I was able to discover many records of my Strickland ancestors in the Cornwall County Record Office through this site which I could then apply for and receive the copies via the post. The great thing about having ancestors from Cornwall is that there are so many mineral rights for the tin and copper so that almost every land purchase or rental is accompanied with an indenture of the mining rights, these can be amazing sources of information about family connections. Recently I have also used the website of the British Newspaper Archive and have found some really interesting articles about my ancestors which have given me more background information about their lives.”

Debra, what has been your most exciting genealogy discovery in your research?

“Every genealogical discovery is exciting, that’s what makes it so addictive, the joy of discovering the name of an ancestor that you have been searching so long for is so exhilarating. My husband is a Miller and works in a real windmill so it was quite exciting to discover that my maternal great great grandfather and his family were Millers. Even more so when I discovered a book in my father in law’s book case about Kent windmills which he had bought in England many years ago, and which made mention of my ancestors and described my fourth great grandmother as being ‘a veritable Amazon, a masterful woman of wonderful personality’ a woman who lived to be 101 and had 26 children.”

Debra’s favorite blog post

“One of my favourite posts is about an ancestor who was so upset about the death of his wife that he killed his young daughter and then tried to kill himself.

It’s not always nice to find a criminal in our family tree but the wealth of information that can be found about a notorious ancestor in old newspaper articles and record offices adds so much colour and interest to your tree.

The 4th great grandfather of my husband was a solicitor and also in charge of collecting taxes, during the French occupation of Holland in the early 18th Century he used some of this tax money for his own means. In 1807 he was held accountable and declared bankrupt, in the National Record Office in Den Haag we were able to find the original handwritten bills of the money he owed to the tailor and the grocer etc., fascinating reading and remarkable that such things had been kept in an archive for more than two hundred years.”

How much time are you able to spend on research?

“This depends on how much my time is taken up with other demands. I could easily spend hours looking for newspaper articles related to my ancestors or trying to get past a brick wall, but being a Grandmother and also looking after my mother in law fills my time as well as working in our Windmill shop.”

Debra, who is your favorite ancestor?

“I think that I would have to say my great grandmother Rose Tozer because she had such a tragic life. Her own father died when she was two years old and her first husband died when her daughter my grandmother was only two, she remarried a widower with 5 children who was unfaithful but ended up divorcing her and accusing her of being unfaithful and separating her from two of her children. Eventually she ended up committing suicide by putting her head in a gas oven. I would love to meet her and tell her that she is loved.”

Debra, what family story or heirloom do you cherish?

“I don’t have many heirlooms but I do have a small cut glass perfume bottle which belonged to my great grandmother Rose Tozer, if I open it I can still smell her perfume.”

In what ways has genealogy improved your life?

“Genealogy has made me realize that I am who I am through the combined choices of my ancestors. I have inherited not only their genes but also their decisions on where they choose to live or work and how they treated their children, all have had an influence in my life and who I have become.”

Debra, what do you love most about doing your genealogy/family history?

“I love putting together the puzzle pieces and building a picture of my ancestors life.

Genealogy is like detective work, finding clues and sometimes unrelated facts that eventually lead you to find someone you’ve been searching years for.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“With my paternal line I have managed to get quite far back but with my maternal line I have hit quite a few brick walls, my 4th great grandfather Robert Orwin, the Miller was married in London and died in Hull just two years before the 1851 census which would have told me where he was born. I have a lot of information about his life and where he lived but not where he was born and who his parents were. I have tried so many avenues but hope one day to find for certain where he came from.”

If you wanted to leave a message for future generations, what would you say to them?

“Sometimes I wish that my ancestors had left more information for me, a diary or a letter telling me about their lives. That is why I think it is so important to keep a record of my own life so that my children and grandchildren and their children will know who I was and what I thought about things.”


Please take a moment to visit Debra’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Debra, it’s great to have you here!

© 2016, copyright Gini Webb. All rights reserved.

Gini Webb lives in San Diego, California and manages her own blog, Ginisology, while also researching her own German heritage, retired, enjoying life with wonderful husband Steve and visiting with her grandchildren! Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Gini Webb via e-mail.

May I Introduce To You . . . Jenny Tonks

Come meet genealogy blogger Jenny Tonks of The Disciplined Genealogist interviewed by Jana Last at GeneaBloggers

MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . Jenny Tonks


I have the pleasure of introducing you to Jenny Tonks and her blog, The Disciplined Genealogist, described as, “Where I post answers to the questions I’ve heard most often as a genealogy instructor. I noticed most of them had an underlying theme: discipline! (i.e., “I don’t want to stop researching to make citations—genealogy is way too fun!” or, “How do you force yourself to stop and process family data instead of just surfing around and collecting records all day?”).”

Jenny, please tell us a little about yourself.

“I’m a mother of five living in rural Virginia. My husband is a counselor, originally from Idaho, and I was born in New England, spent my childhood in Idaho, and my teen years in New York. I have Virginia ancestors who were Mormon pioneers that left this area due to intense persecution (some were even killed by mobs) in pursuit of religious freedom, so living where I live today in relatively peaceful circumstances is poetic justice for my ancestors!”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“My mom has been a genealogy aficionado since she was a teenager. I like to joke that she raised me with more ancestral stories than fairy tales, but it is actually true. Her stories sparked something in me, and I was working in DOS-based PAF files by the time *I* was a teenager, too!”

When and why did you start your genealogy blog?

“Just a couple of years ago, because I was about to inherit a room full of genealogy files from a relative who liked to sit and collect records, but didn’t take the time to process them properly. Now I get to do all that hard work myself—parse the records for important information, create citations, and generate the reports/family narratives. As I mentioned earlier, my genealogy students often complained to me about not wanting to process their records, either, so I’m hoping to teach my readers how to do this, so that the younger generations of the future don’t inherit rooms full of unprocessed documents. All those “maybes” and “might-be-an-ancestor” documents that you think might be important and spent years collecting for possible proof arguments? They’ll become recycle bin fodder for the younger generations who will have no clue what they are worth if you don’t process them properly today!”

How did you choose the name for your blog?

“It was pretty easy: it takes discipline to stop myself from searching willy-nilly and process the records I’ve found before moving on to another search. We all LOVE to sit and search—it is what drew us to genealogy in the first place! None of us joined because making citations was such a blast, but we have to do it or we end up with boxes of MESS and the answers we usually need are typically already buried in the boxes anyway, but we don’t know it because we haven’t sorted out those files for hidden clues!”

What are your tips for new bloggers?

“I bet all the expert blogging tutorials tell you to blog often, but I’m not a disciplined blogger—I’m a disciplined genealogist, which means that I have less time for blogging. I blog rarely as a result, alas. I probably don’t get a lot of traffic compared to other blogs. I don’t even know what counts as a successful blog! I just know that I care about making sure nobody else inherits a room full of unprocessed boxes like I did, because not everybody’s descendants will take the time to process them as I am doing. Can you imagine somebody sending such a large quantity of genealogy work to the shredder, or the garbage dump? Perish the thought! But to an uninformed eye, it does look like junk.

Please tell us about your favorite post(s) on your blog.

“Probably this one, because it shows how I am cleaning up the electronic files of my relative. Plus, it has received the most hits of any other post I’ve ever written—I’m not sure why. For some reason, it generated a TON of web traffic, and I don’t really do much to promote my blog—I don’t do ads or anything like that. But this post must have really excited everyone. Maybe my readers are looking for ways to organize their family data electronically?”

How much time do you spend on family history research?

“I spend about 20 hours per week working for the genealogy business I run out of my home, and every other waking moment working for my living family that includes five children and three pets! 🙂 I would love to spend more time working on my own ancestors, but that is something I rarely have time for—a luxury I will get to enjoy hopefully more often when I retire, as is the case with most genealogy lovers, I understand (who statistically tend to take it up as a hobby in their golden years). For now, client work helps maintain us and my own ancestors do not, so clients have to come first.”

Who is your favorite ancestor(s) and why?

“Three dear ancestresses who are ALL named Helen, because three generations of men in my family tree (a father, his son, and then his son) ALL married women with the same first name! Their stories are all just amazing. Gosh, I can’t wait to spend more time on THEIR research so I can do justice to their life stories—I plan to write a book about my three Helens! SO exciting!”

How has genealogy improved your life?

“As everybody engaged in this work already knows: it is SO fun! The ultimate catharsis. I love it.”

What do you love the most about genealogy?

“The feeling of scrolling through a perfectly polished report. Like that rush you get just before handing in a perfectly crafted thesis to your professor: each citation is worthy of commendation, each paragraph is perfect (no widows or orphans!). Graphics are sharp and add luster to the narrative. The heart swells as you read it—the new discoveries! The heretofore unknown mysteries solved! I’m totally like the boy on A Christmas Story (daydreaming about all the accolades he is going to receive from his joyous teacher when he hands her his term paper) each time I aspire for the tears of joy I want to see from a client when they read my genealogy reports about their ancestors. Like the boy in the movie, that never happens to me, but I picture it just the same, to keep me moving and disciplined! I want an ancestor’s life story to always be presented as accurately, professionally, cleanly, and in as organized a fashion as possible.”

What family story or heirloom do you cherish?

“A vase painted by one of my Helens, with both her signature and the date “1888” on the bottom. Also, I inherited a cookbook from another of my Helens—I dream of one day starting a blog in which I cook everything in her cookbook, and research the newspaper that it came from (all her recipes are clipped from newspapers), along with what was happening at that time, based on the surrounding articles in that newspaper. But who has time with five kids and a full client roster? Not me, lol. I will add that to my post-retirement bucket list, haha.”

Besides major websites like Ancestry and FamilySearch, what research tool or source has been helpful in researching your family history?

“Since I spend more time on client family history than my own family, and I specialize in Italian family history, I will say that the Antenati web site at is the site I use most often, because it is the web’s largest repository of original Italian records.”

Which genealogy blogs inspire you?

“Confession: I don’t read blogs for inspiration. I read them for information and education. I troll them for genealogy tips, resources, methods, repository insights, or to learn about obscure record groups, etc. For example, when somebody posts about their trip to a courthouse I haven’t visited yet, I might click on their post to see if they have any helpful photos or insights about obscure record collections I may not have heard of before. I skim the post to see if there is any such content. If there is, then I read it closely and learn all that I can, then pin the post to my “Profession” Pinterest board (where I have collected all of my most valuable mentors’ teachings over the years!). I do the same when they post about an ancestor’s record, to see where they found it, etc.”

What interesting connections have you made through blogging?

“Not many; you will notice maybe two comments on my entire blog. I really am not an expert blogger. Genealogy is more my “thing,” lol. A couple of years ago I tried starting a blog where I answer people’s research questions. Now THAT blog REALLY took off and I met LOTS of people! Folks emailed me daily, to where I couldn’t keep up with all of the research questions I received. I had to call in another genealogist for help! But alas, I had inadvertently given the blog and its URL the same name as a column in a major genealogy magazine, so I took it down. I didn’t have the energy (or money) to restart another one after that. And really, it took up *way* too much time; time that I should be spending with clients. I always ended up doing free research for the blog participants, you know? Genealogy is so addicting that way, lol!”

What do you think is the most interesting change in the past ten years in genealogy/family history?

“DNA! I know too many folks who adamantly refuse to participate, either because they so adore their adoptive parents that they want to honor their legal, adoptive family or because they were raised in an era where convention said that legal family equals family, so they don’t want some genealogist to make them acknowledge biological kin as their family. Now that some genealogy publications are starting to require DNA sources in their articles, I find it interesting that there is rarely any distinction between legal (on-paper) family and biological (blood) family in the literature. The industry seems to be adopting a “blood equals kinship” mentality, but I know a lot of adoptees and same-sex couple families who will beg to differ. As time marches on, this should make for an interesting debate as the younger generations grow up and become the leading scholars in our field.”

If you wanted to leave a message for future generations, what would you tell them?

“Don’t become too focused on your blood ties; remember the lessons that history taught us with the British monarchy and the War of the Roses (basically, it is the Game of Thrones, only without the fantasy—it was all real and just as gory/horrific, because of a nation’s obsession with bloodlines). It is okay to keep a separate documentary history of your legal family history, too, even if your DNA kit results lead you to construct a slightly separate tree. If somebody took in and cared for one of your ancestors but turned out not to be their biological parent, I believe that they deserve to be acknowledged for their efforts as a guardian and provider, at least, because their efforts to sustain the life of that ancestor helped result in your eventual birth. Preserve that person’s story somewhere, even if not on the biological family tree chart.”

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Please take a moment to head over to Jenny’s blog, The Disciplined Genealogist and leave her a comment, letting her know you stopped by. Thank you Jenny for telling us about yourself and your blog. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better.

© 2016, copyright Jana Last. All rights reserved.

Jana Last is a wife, mom and grandma living in sunny California. She loves family history and enjoys learning about her ancestors. She started her family history research in 1996 after the death of her maternal grandfather. She is the author of three blogs and a website: Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog, Grandpa’s Postcards, Jana’s Place and Jana’s Genealogy and Social Media Hub. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Jana via email at