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May I Introduce to You . . . Jo Henn

Come meet blogger Jo Henn of the Climbing My Family Tree blog as interviewed by Michelle Taggart at GeneaBloggers!


I love getting to know other GeneaBloggers through this series, and it’s been fun to see that while GeneaBloggers all share a passion for learning about their ancestors, their own backgrounds and their style of sharing is as varied as the bloggers themselves. Enter Jo Henn!  A lucky recipient of her parent’s genealogical collection, Jo uses her blog to share what she has learned as well as the steps she is taking to learn more. I am pleased to introduce to you, Jo Henn, author of the blog, Climbing My Family Tree.

Jo, tell us a little about yourself.

“Before I started doing genealogy research, I would have told you that I’m an American of primarily German descent. (Henn and Snyder sound awfully German, don’t they?) However, I’ve discovered that I’m primarily of SCOTTISH descent, with some German and some Irish thrown in the mix.

“I don’t have any kids but I have great nieces and a nephew that I started the blog for.

“I have been a New York state Administrative Law Judge about 24 years. Before that I worked for Prisoners Legal Services of NY, and the Legal Aid Society of Dayton, Ohio.  While the specific area of law I now work in has nothing to do with genealogy, being an ALJ/lawyer has greatly influenced how I approach genealogy research, analyze evidence, and write about my conclusions (I have a thing about credible documentable sources).

“As for hobbies, I’m a bookworm, and I’m doing a 365 Photography Project, a photo a day challenge on Instagram this year. I’m also a deacon in my church and currently on the Consistory (Board).”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“I’ve only been doing genealogy for about three or four years, and blogging just about as long. I came across my grandpa’s genealogy research while visiting my parents. It was more of what I call the ‘Begats’ or BMD tradition than what I do in my blog, which is a history essay keyed around an ancestor. But it got me started, and then Mom pointed me to a box of photos and memories from her side of the family. Very intriguing!

“I jumped into the deep end of blogging by starting Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestor in 52 Weeks Project about three months after I started blogging and maybe five months after I began researching. So all of a sudden I had to research the selected ancestor the same week I was writing about them because I didn’t have an archive of previously researched people.”

Have you been the lucky recipient of any family heirlooms or genealogical treasures?

“My parents down-sized this past year and luckily they thought of me instead of throwing out old family documents and photos, and Mom’s recipe box. I also have a quilt pieced by my great-grandmother and a great aunt from drapery fabrics from the great-aunt’s drapery shop. My mom tied it (it’s way too heavy to quilt). As a result of my parents’ move, I also got Grandma’s china cabinet and china.”

You are a very busy woman with many interests. How do you find time to pursue genealogy and blog?

“It’s really hard. In addition to my job, I’ve had some major health issues for a decade, which have left me with some energy problems. When I run out of energy, nothing gets done, not even reading/researching. This year it’s showing as I haven’t managed to do very many substantive posts. The first year or so I posted 1-2 times a week because of the 52 Ancestors project. Also, I had been doing a series I called ‘Noteworthy Reads’ based on reading a couple hundred blog posts a week and highlighting interesting and/or technically helpful ones. Keeping up with that is interesting but cuts into my research. I intend to pick up that series again but realistically that probably won’t be until the photography project is over. I think next year I’ll do less photography and more genealogy and blogging. Maybe I’ll alternate years until I can retire.

“I’ve had two very recent breakthroughs in my genealogy that I’m pursuing that will lead to more profile posts, one breakthrough of my own doing and one from a recent contact through AncestryDNA. My contact has been doing genealogy for quite a number of years longer than I have and has given me some very helpful advice on getting further with my McFarlanes on Dad’s side. It’s balancing against my desire to follow through on my own breakthrough with my Bailey’s on Mom’s side.”

How do you decide what to blog about?

“I’ve decided I’m a Family History Blogger, not a genealogy blogger. I can’t write on how to improve one’s genealogy research like some geneabloggers do as I don’t have the time or the experience. I like writing in-depth pieces on my ancestors and the times in which they lived, which helps with the ‘generations upon generations of farmers’ issue, as the times and places in which they lived changed. I can write about the impact that may have had on them, too.

“I originally started blogging about my finds in order to tell my brothers and their adult children about their ancestors. My cousins like reading the ancestor profile posts, too. I’m trying to tell as many of the women’s stories as I can. Too many women get lost in history because the histories are written by men, but our female ancestors were incredibly brave and resourceful. I want my nieces to know they have that in their blood.”

How has blogging helped you in your research?

“Blogging helps my research a lot in different ways. 1) Writing out my ancestors’ stories and placing them in history gives me ideas of sources or at least localities to look for sources that I might not have thought of. For example, I have at least two lines that are starting to look as though I should be looking in Canadian/British Loyalist sources and British-side Revolutionary War sources.  2) I do timelines for every person I write a profile on before I start writing. This helps me see where I have gaping holes to try to fill in, or where what I have is not logically possible. Obviously some of it doesn’t belong to my guy and I need to figure out what to let go of. Timelines help me see patterns that may help confirm the legitimacy of new pieces of evidence. And 3) I connect with distant cousins who stumble across the blog; they have shared new information which is helping solve puzzles and have sometimes shared photos. All of the photos on my Bailey posts are from a new-to-me cousin.”

What interesting discoveries have you made in your research?

“I discovered where my grandparents eloped to and that they lied about their ages and addresses on the marriage application and license. We had known they’d secretly married, but not much more until Dara of the Black Raven Genealogy blog found it for me after I blogged about not being able to find it.

“I discovered that my 2nd grand-aunt Rosa Henn Strauss was adjudged insane and spent many years in an asylum, that we’ve got Amish roots, that I’m related to at least 6 men who fought in the Civil War, and that likely I’m descended from folks on both sides of the American Revolution and therefore descended from the founding people of two countries, as many of those who sided with the British in the American Revolution moved their families to the remaining British Colonies to the north where they helped found Canada.

“But I haven’t managed to prove the family tales that we’re related to Rob Roy McGregor, or the Roger Williams of Rhode Island yet. Still trying.”

What is one of your favorite blog posts (on your own blog) and why?

“One of my favorite posts is about Great-Aunt Myrtle. In a time before women had the right to vote, the right to do much of anything here, she decided to go to China and live an adventure trying to help others. She never married but served as a missionary in a very foreign country far from home, running schools for children and fundraising for them. She survived two revolutions and an invasion and occupation. I found quite a lot on her life because the local newspaper for her hometown of Findlay, Ohio liked to write about her. I think they used her stories as an entrée to write about foreign policy in Asia. I did a lot of research to understand what was happening in China at the time; I found first-hand accounts of the prisoner of war exchange in the online archives of various church magazines. I read a fascinating book by Jane Hunter on women missionaries in China, The Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-Century China.

“Another favorite is the one on my third great grandparents, Simon Wilcox and his wife Lydia Sharp Wilcox. It explains why I disagree with one of the family genealogies given to me by my grandfather that I know quite a few trees rely on.”

I notice that you have had DNA tests done on several family members. How has that helped your research?

“Mostly it has helped me when someone who understands it a whole lot better than I do contacts me and helps me figure out how we’re related. (I was a history major not a science major!) But I didn’t want to wait until I understood it to ask my parents and their siblings to test because I was afraid they’d die before I really figured it out. I’ve ordered a couple of books to help me learn to understand and use it better. I also read some blogs on Genetic Genealogy: DNAeXplained; Kitty Cooper’s blog; The Genetic Genealogist.”

You have created quite an extensive list of resources. What are some of your favorite resources besides the well-known sites of Ancestry and FamilySearch?

“Probably my favorites in no particular order are these: 1) Google Play books – I check place names by city, county, and state, and occupations by state; surnames and known communities. 2) The historical newspaper websites. 3) Local, state, and province historical and genealogical and archives websites – many have transcribed records available online. 4) Google. 5) County and/or state GenWeb sites. 6) Cyndi’s List.”

What suggestions do you have for someone wanting to start a blog?

Just start it. If you’re intimidated by other people’s blogs and think you can’t do that, go into their archives and look at their earliest posts – they’re generally pretty awkward. We all get better over time. Pick a platform and start. I use Blogger because the platform was easy for me to figure out, and it works with my Dragon NaturallySpeaking program. And join GeneaBloggers. Thomas MacEntee and the community are wonderfully helpful with any blogging issue and with many genealogy questions.”
© 2017, 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