May I Introduce to You . . . Dana Stewart Leeds

Come meet genealogy blogger Dana Stewart Leeds, author of The Enthusiastic Genealogist, in this interview by Michelle Taggart at GeneaBloggers.

I am excited to introduce to you Dana Stewart Leeds and her blog, The Enthusiastic Genealogist. On her blog Dana highlights the people and stories from her family tree in addition to the learning experiences she has as she works to become a better genealogist. When you read her experiences at GRIP, the variety of resources she uses and her ancestors’ stories, I think you will agree, she truly is “The Enthusiastic Genealogist.”

Dana, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what is your current hometown?

“Ark City, Kansas was my childhood home. Our blue house was two stories tall and built in the late 1800s. I have fond memories of the house, but even fonder memories of our yard and the pretend games we would play.

“I now live in a suburb of Houston, Texas, with my husband of 22 years and our 14 year-old daughter who is a sophomore in high school. We don’t have any family nearby, but travel to visit them in the Dallas area and in Oklahoma as often as we can. None of my immediate family still lives in Ark City, but I still have cousins, an aunt and an uncle, and other family living there and love to visit my childhood hometown.”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“In 1998, our family was preparing for a family reunion. We didn’t have reunions on a regular basis, and I hadn’t attended any of them since I had married 5 years earlier. Once again, I would not be able to attend.

“But, the invitation mentioned the family history research my dad’s Aunt Beulah had been doing. I was interested in learning more and contacted her via email. She eagerly and generously began sharing both her files and her knowledge with her young student.

“One of the best lessons she taught me happened within those first few months. I did a lot of my research in my local genealogy library, the incredible Clayton Genealogy Library in Houston. But, I also did a lot of work online, often through queries.

“One day when I was working with the tree Aunt Beulah had sent me, I discovered another researcher who had taken one of our branches back several more generations. I happily added all of the names, dates, and places and then told my aunt about my wonderful find. She quickly and firmly explained that this was not the way to do genealogy. You couldn’t just find someone else’s tree and add all the information. You had to have sufficient evidence before adding to your tree. I’m grateful to have learned that wonderful lesson as a new researcher.”

When and why did you start your genealogy blog? 

“I had our first and only child a couple of years after starting genealogy in 1998. I homeschooled her for most of her life, but as she’s gotten older and more independent, I’ve had more free time. So, though I’ve technically been a genealogist for about 17 years, it’s only been the past few years that I’ve once again had time to work on it weekly, if not daily.

“As I dove deeper into genealogy, I started making some incredible discoveries. Near the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I made my first “leap across the pond” when I found one immigrant family’s original village in Germany. I quickly found another branch’s hometown, also in Germany, and then a third branch’s place of origin in England.

“Besides these wonderful discoveries, I have also had wonderful success with newspaper work. I haven’t just uncovered the typical obituaries, I have also uncovered two murders in my family and more details about a third. And, there were stories about hurricanes, train and car wrecks, strange medical conditions, and more. I just had to share these stories!

“So, in March of 2013, I started my blog. It’s a place for me to share the incredible stories of these ordinary people: my family.” 

How did you choose the name of your blog?

“Shortly before starting my blog, I was visiting the genealogy floor of the Dallas library for the first time. I met two wonderful librarians and we shared stories about our research and our ancestors. I certainly wasn’t using a library voice as I exclaimed over several new finds that day and shared them with the librarians. One of the discoveries was the hometown of my Eastwood family in England.  The volunteer sitting at the front sign-in desk came over to me and told me how much she enjoyed my enthusiasm. When I decided to start a blog, I thought the name fit. I am definitely an enthusiastic genealogist!”

What is your favorite post(s) on your blog?

“It’s hard to choose a single favorite, so I’ve chosen three that I love:

“The first was about my 4x great grandfather and his pet bear – yes, bear! – which went missing one morning. What happened when they found it? The answer is in my post called My 4x Great Grandfather Had a Pet Bear!!!

“The second was about my great, great grandmother and the unusual object she threw up in 1917. Was it really a lizard? You can find out more at My Great, Great Grandmother Threw up WHAT?!?

“And, a third post is also one of my most popular posts. It’s about the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. My husband’s 3x great grandfather’s brother was a Confederate soldier who was present that day. What happened to these soldiers? Read Was Your Ancestor Paroled at Appomattox Courthouse with Lee’s Surrender?

How has genealogy made a difference in your life?

“In school, my favorite subjects were science and math. My least favorite subject, by far, was social studies. I found learning about all the wars, dates, and places incredibly boring.

“When my daughter was young, she loved books. But, one of her favorite types of books was picture book biographies. Through her eyes and these stories, I became interested in history. Learning history through one person at a time was infinitely more interesting than learning history from a ‘big picture’ perspective.

“As a genealogist, I love to learn about the history that has affected my ancestors. Did an ancestor fight in a particular battle? I’ll study about the battle. Did an ancestor attend a world’s fair? I’ll study the world’s fair. Did an ancestor take place in an Oklahoma land run? Then, I’ll study about the land run.

“Genealogy has also opened my eyes to the wonderful world of geography. How did mountain ranges and rivers affect the migration of my ancestors? Where was Prussia and what happened to it? How did droughts and floods affect my ancestors?

“Genealogy has also affected my life in that I’m purposefully trying to learn how to be a better writer. As I learn about my family, I want to be able to share the stories in such a way that others are both informed and entertained and want to learn more. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I blog!” 

What is your favorite genealogy research tool or source?

“My favorite research tool is Newspapers.com. I now have clipped over 700 stories about my family from that site. There are the usual obituaries, marriage announcements, etc., but there are also stories of three murders in my family. There is also the story of my great, great grandmother throwing up what they believed to be a lizard. I find the most interesting family stories in newspapers and I’ve had the most success with Newspapers.com.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“My daughter is in high school and still at home, but when she graduates, my genealogy bucket list will include a lot of traveling! In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered three of the villages my German ancestors came from and the small town in England where another branch lived. Of course, I’d love to visit all of these places! But, I’d also love to visit Ohio, the state where one of the German families settled. I would also like to spend weeks in Pennsylvania, where my father’s dad’s family lived for generations, and time in both Salt Lake City and at the National Archive. I could go on and on!

“Besides traveling to the places where my family came from, I also want to attend some of the national genealogy conventions. And, I’d also love to take one of the new genealogy cruises!

“The other items on my bucket list would be to write a book about my families so that the information I’ve uncovered will never be lost. I recently started this by adding a chapter about one of my families as a contributing author to a family book. I’m also hoping to complete two short family books as Christmas gifts this year, one for each side of my family.”

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Please take a moment to visit Dana’s blog The Enthusiastic Genealogist and see why that name so aptly fits her.  You will want to check out some of her tips and read through some of the wonderful stories she has to share. Be sure and leave a comment to let her know you stopped by. Thank you Dana for sharing your thoughts and your blog with us!

© 2016, copyright Michelle Ganus Taggart, All rights reserved 

Michelle Ganus Taggart lives in Kaysville, Utah, where she enjoys the beautiful outdoors, time with family and researching her ancestors.  She shares her passion for her southern research in her blog, A Southern Sleuth.  Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . . “ series?  If so, contact Michelle  via email shelltag1@gmail.com

May I Introduce to You . . . Don Taylor

Come meet genealogy blogger Don Taylor, author of the D. Taylor's Genealogy blog, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

I am very proud to introduce to you Don Taylor of D. Taylor’s Genealogy. Don writes primarily about his family lines out of Minnesota, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan. He also writes about general genealogy topics and the use of DNA for genealogy. Anyone researching one of Don’s family names will find the organization of his blog extremely helpful. Family pages provide a family tree with internal links to the stories Don has posted about each ancestor.

Don, can you tell a little about yourself?

I was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1950; I currently live near Portland, Maine. When I was about six weeks old, my mother moved us to Minnesota, where I was raised. My mother moved my grandmother and me many times to find work, so I went to ten different schools before I was eighteen years old. After graduating from high school, I enlisted in the Navy and spent nearly eleven years active duty. After my discharge, I returned to Minnesota and I attended college using the GI Bill; I received a BA from Metropolitan State University with a major in political science.

How did you get interested in doing your family history?

I became interested in family history and genealogy after watching the 1977 TV miniseries, “Roots.” For the next twenty years or so, I was only able to do limited research while I concentrated on providing for my family. In 1994, my mother called and asked me if I remembered returning to Oregon when I was three. Of course, I remembered nothing, so she explained that I had a sister whom she was forced to give up for adoption before we returned to Minnesota. Through a series of what some people may call miracles, my sister found us and moved her family to Minnesota to get to know her birth family. I wanted to share our family history with my new-found sister but I knew very little. I began researching and soon discovered that I enjoyed being the family detective.

What do you enjoy the most about doing genealogy?

I really enjoy getting to know my ancestors. I am fascinated with what happened to them, what their trials and tribulations were, and recognizing what traits and values they passed down to me. I also enjoy dispelling family myths. For instance, my mother-in-law has always strongly identified with her Swiss heritage, believing that she was 50% Swiss. Using all of the tools available to me, I discovered that she was mostly English and that intrigued her. I watched her face carefully as her initial puzzlement dissolved into a fresh realization. In that moment, some of the stories that she heard as a child began to make more sense to her. She began to see the family stories in a new light that may result in aligning the oral family traditions with what actually happened.

What is your favorite genealogy research tool or source?

Certainly, Ancestry.com and Family Search are the sources I use most often. However, my favorite research tool is the one that answers the big questions regarding missing relatives. For example, I used Classmates.com and queried every person who might have attended school with my uncle in 1944 to see if any of them had contact information for him. Finally, one person did have information. My uncle spent his adult life in the Marshall Islands and lost contact with my mother and his mother in the early 1950s. He and my mother finally reunited after fifty years. Sixty-Minutes II filmed their meeting and broadcast it during a segment on Classmates.com.

Why did you start a genealogy blog?

I started my blog in March 2012. Initially, I blogged to share my findings with family members. That quickly expanded to sharing my findings with friends and acquaintances for whom I was also doing research. Subsequently, I’ve added reviews, lessons learned, fresh ideas for describing the eras and environment that our ancestors lived in. For example, at one historical society meeting the group turned to advertising that was done in the year books from the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s and gained a more personal understanding of the times.

Where do you get your inspiration or ideas for your blog posts?

When I look beyond the vital statistics, locations, and occupations, I am inspired by the things that they did or didn’t do and how they managed living their lives in times of peace, war, and financial and political upheaval. No matter how menial or mundane a life may appear on the surface, everyone has a fantastic story that is waiting to be discovered. I often write about individuals on their birthdays. I do this to honor them and provide an opportunity for their descendants to know more about who they were and what they accomplished.

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

My grandmother, Madonna Mae Montran, has one of the most interesting lives of anyone I have come to know through my detective work. She was one of Mack Sennett’s bathing beauties in the 1910s, flew in a biplane in 1915, and was in numerous vaudeville shows during the 1920s. She led an extremely interesting and nomadic life. Writing about her various shows and experiences enthralls me and, based on the responses I receive, these stories interest people who research the history of vaudeville. I have a page dedicated to her and dozens of blogs highlighting her experiences and the theatres where she performed.

What interesting connections have you made through blogging?

Blogging helps me maintain established links; however, I do make new connections occasionally. For example, the stepson of my granduncle recently contacted me regarding my blog post about a half-brother that he didn’t know existed. It pleased me to learn that my blog provided new information to a distant relative.

How do you motivate yourself to keep blogging?

My desire to share what I find keeps me motivated. I find that my readers are excited about my discoveries. They are also grateful for the helpful hints I provide. I enjoy turning on people’s lights and fostering bettering understanding of themselves by seeing live through their ancestors’ eyes.

Another reason blogging motivates me is because it is an organic process, something akin to journaling. The blogging process forces me to examine my thoughts carefully and to elucidate those thoughts so that others can understand them as well. Often, the blogging process forces me to analyze and more fully evaluate and express my opinions.

What kind of networking do you use to attract readers to your blog?

Certainly, I use Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus to attract readers but I also talk about my blog at the genealogical society meetings that I attend and other venues.

What future plans do you have for your blog?

I plan to allow my blog to grow organically. I want it to fill the needs of my readers within the framework of the genealogical areas that interest me. I would also like to expand the blog to include more guest bloggers. Finally, I plan to thoroughly document Madonna Montran’s life through my blog then use that information to write a book about her amazing life.

What other genealogy blogs inspire you?

Genea-Musings, particularly Randy Seaver’s “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun,” inspires me. He prompts me to look at things in my family that hadn’t previously occurred to me, for example, “last name unknown” ancestors or couples who were married over 50 years. It energizes me to look at facts in new ways.

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

Learning the identity of my biological father, and perhaps meeting him and/or any of my half-siblings (if they exist) is on the top of my bucket list. I know that I am getting closer. This is exciting and frightening at the same time. My Y-DNA test suggests that my father was a “Roberts” because the five closest Y-DNA matches were all surnamed Roberts. Through my autosomal DNA testing, I have found two matches who share a large segment that all three of us have in common. This strongly suggests that we share a common ancestor. Finding that common ancestor may lead to success.

Do you have any tips for new genealogy bloggers?

If your purpose in writing a blog is to make money, quit now and do something else. If your purpose is to share what you know and love, then keep that purpose in the forefront of your writing and you will be happy with the results.

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Please take a moment to visit Don at D. Taylor’s Genealogy and leave him a comment letting him know you stopped by. Thank-you, Don, 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 wendymath@cox.net.

May I Introduce to You . . . Melanie Frick

Come meet genealogy blogger Melanie Frick, author of the Homestead Genealogical Research blog in this interview by Gini Webb at GeneaBloggers.

MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . Melanie Frick

I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Melanie Frick and her blog, Homestead Genealogical Research, described as, “. . . Homestead Genealogical Research is a collection of vintage photographs and vignettes about the lives of my ancestors.”

Melanie, can you tell us a little about yourself?

“I was born and raised in Iowa and, thanks to a healthy dose of Little House on the Prairie, have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. This led to a B.A. in History and then an M.L.S. My husband and I met as undergraduates and bade farewell to the great Midwest in 2010. After spending a few years in the Washington, D.C. area, we now live in Southern California.”

How did you get interested in doing genealogy?

“My father was the genealogist in the family before me and knew how to throw out enticing tidbits from his research that tied into whatever subject I happened to be interested in at the time. It made a big impression on me as an eight-year-old when he told me that one of our French Canadian ancestors was rumored to have had Native American (First Nation) roots. I’m still working on that mystery! I was ten when I began to fill in my first family tree but really began my research journey at the age of twelve. Fortunately, I had a reasonably good eye for detail even at that age, and a benefit of beginning my research so young is that I feel by now that I’m on a first-name basis with many of my ancestors.”

Why did you start a genealogy blog?

“First and foremost, I wanted to share bite-sized pieces of family history with far-flung relatives and other interested readers, and I’ll admit that cousin bait is always on my mind. After spending an inordinate amount of time stewing about the idea of creating a blog, I finally launched Homestead Genealogical Research in 2013 thanks to some inspiration from the Boston University certificate course and the blogger summit at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree.”

Melanie’s Advice for New and Not-So-New Bloggers

“This may not be the most fun part of blogging for some, but don’t forget to proofread! When you’ve finished writing a new post, take a break and come back to give it a fresh look. Also, cite your sources. Please! Your blog is your own, so really, you can do this as formally or as informally as you want – but in the long run, source citations will be immensely helpful both to you and to anyone who stumbles across your research.”

Melanie’s Favorite Blog Posts

“About half of my research posts center around an antique photograph – picking out clues and gaining context, or sometimes even identifying unidentified individuals – and they are a lot of fun to write. I also love to share interesting bits and pieces about the lives of my ancestors, often highlighting specific records that bring color to an ancestor’s life. A few recent favorites are:

Melanie, who is your favorite ancestor and why?

“It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but one of the first to leave an impression on me was a great-great-aunt who was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in rural South Dakota during World War I. I first read her diary when I was in middle school, and I was completely enthralled when she wrote about her flirtations with a young soldier at a local barn dance. Her diary ended abruptly as she died in the midst of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 when she was only twenty-one. Several pages at the end of her diary were torn out, and I became fascinated with her story.”

How has genealogy improved your life?

“The perspective that genealogy can bring to one’s life is priceless. There’s something incredibly meaningful about discovering the trials and tribulations of your ancestors’ lives and their place in history, and having the privilege to share these stories with others. My life has also been enriched by the opportunity to connect with countless cousins, one of whom is collaborating with me on a book about our Danish immigrant ancestors. Finally, it’s been fantastic getting to know the greater genealogical community through blogging, conferences, and institutes. There are so many genealogists who inspire me on a daily basis, and I love being able to connect with other young genealogists as a volunteer with the NextGen Genealogy Network.”

What do you love most about doing genealogy?

“Honestly, while I’m all for highly organized research, sometimes there’s nothing more cathartic than curling up on my couch with my laptop, loading up my tree on Ancestry.com, and deciding at random which ancestor is going to be the subject of my search – whether for a few minutes while dinner cooks or for an entire lazy Sunday afternoon. New record sets appear online all the time, and of course, one thing almost always leads to another . . . .”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“I would love to explore more of the places where my ancestors once lived. I’ve been fortunate to visit some of my ancestral homelands in the United States and abroad, and am especially excited to one day retrace the paths of my French Canadian ancestors through their villages in Quebec, to northern New York, to the communities outside of Boston where they worked in the textile mills before relocating to the Midwest. Then, of course, along with identifying the origins of a few of my elusive frontiersmen (who could just maybe steer me to the DAR), there are many more stories I would like to write!”

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Please take a moment to head on over to Melanie’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Melanie, 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.