MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . Michael Dyer
Offering a smorgasbord of topics pertinent to genealogy, blogger Michael Dyer truly has something for everyone. When asked how he would describe his blog, Michael said, “Family Sleuther is a family history journal that documents my interest in ancestry and shares helpful, practical research tips. It’s where I detail my excavations into the past, solve family mysteries, and bring life back to those who are history. Readers’ genealogies benefit from my mistakes and successes as I share best practices and lessons learned.”
Not only does Michael take us along on his research trips and other genealogical adventures, he shares his passion for genealogy in a way that ensures that we never get bored. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you, Michael Dyer of the Family Sleuther.
Michael, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what is your current hometown?
“I was born in Denver and grew up in the shadows of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain foothills. After university, I moved to Washington, DC to work in international development. My day job indulges my interest in other countries and cultures, and affords me opportunities to support the growth of emerging global leaders committed to the development of their communities.”
How did you get started in genealogy?
“In the summer of 2010, I started asking my family questions about our Italian background. There was a large knowledge gap about my Italian great-grandparents who were living just decades prior. How was it possible that my direct ancestors were already unknowns and largely forgotten? The thought was disheartening and I felt like we could do a better job of honoring their memory while growing our family’s sense of identity. That prompted my detective work and initial foray into genealogy.
“My first research project unearthed a remarkable journey: as a 19-year old kid, my great-grandfather sailed to a new country with only $10 to his name. He didn’t speak English, yet he was able to land a job and start a new life for himself.
“While my great-grandfather’s story wasn’t particularly unique, the magnitude of his epic yet forgotten journey ignited an insatiable interest in family history. There’s something compelling about placing your own kin in their historical place and rediscovering people the world has long forgotten. I wanted to learn other forgotten stories. I quickly developed a love for researching my ancestors, and the hunt for the documents that yielded those names and brought them back to life.”
What have been some of the highlights in your family history research?
“Recently, I learned of a Non-Paternal Event (NPE) for my grandfather. I was able to use both traditional and genetic genealogy to identify his father. This was a huge victory because many of the story’s key players are deceased and the NPE occurred nearly 80 years ago.
“Another highlight came in October 2014 after my maternal grandmother passed away. I set off in a cramped rental car with my mother and aunt on a 7-day family history road trip. We covered 2,200 miles, five states, and paid our respects at the graves of 36 of our direct ancestors.”
When and why did you start your genealogy blog?
“I created my blog in June 2013 because I wanted a venue to share the research and stories I was uncovering. My family and friends have a limited threshold for genealogy excitement (you know, the eyes glazing over routine). The blog is a platform to share those stories with an audience that fully appreciates the research and history I uncover.”
You have a good variety of posts on your blog. How do you get your inspiration or ideas for your blog posts?
“I write about whatever I am currently researching. As a result, my posts touch on an array of topics, people, and records. The diversity keeps me engaged, and appeals – I hope – to the readers.
“For example, on a recent trip back to Kansas, I drove by my great-grandparents old farm house. As I studied the century-old home, I realized the house itself was a story. I penciled the idea into my blogging queue. It’ll be my first post about a family home – more new blogging territory.”
You utilize social media as you research. Share with us some of the ways social media has helped you with your genealogy.
“Social media has played an important role in handing me some exciting genealogy wins. Earlier this summer, I used Facebook to organize a reunion that drew 100 family members from across the country after years of dwindling attendance (see A Family Reunion Revived).
“In another victory, I was able to track down a distant cousin on Facebook who confirmed that my 4th great-grandfather was in an unlabeled photograph I own. In fact, she had the exact same photo hanging on her dining room wall! (See Facebook Tags Forgotten Ancestor.)
“Twitter has helped me, too. I caught a tweet by Ancestry.com advertising a new record collection of Oklahoma oral histories. On a whim I decided to check for my ancestral surnames and discovered that a maternal great-grandfather had been interviewed about his controversial work assimilating Native American tribes. (see Tweet & Tell: Oral History Surfaces).”
What do you enjoy most about blogging?
“I most enjoy connecting with my readers and hearing their thoughts on a post and their recommendations for advancing my research. That connection is motivating and makes me a better blogger.”
How has blogging helped you in your research?
“Blogging strengthens my genealogy. When I write a post, holes in my research and overlooked next steps become more apparent.
“Blogging also provides me a sounding board that elevates my research. Feedback from my readers with tips and next steps helps me conduct better, more thorough investigations. In a way, blogging is like having my genealogy peer-reviewed.”
What tips can you share with someone just starting a family history blog?
“Write regularly. When I began, I published in fits and starts. My irregular blogging made it difficult for me to stay in the groove, build momentum, or grow readership. Commit and keep at it.
“Also, as soon as you think of an idea, jot it down. If I have an idea but I’m not prepared to write the full post, I’ll quickly log in to Blogger and create just a blog post title. The titled post will sit in my queue until I’m ready to write, and I don’t have to worry that a good idea will be forgotten.”
What are some of your favorite post(s) on your blog and why?
“My favorite posts are usually about discoveries that I didn’t expect or cases I’ve been researching for a while. Among my favorites are:
Disease in the Civil War is the story of conducting research in the National Archives, handling original Civil War pension files, learning about the military service of two of my third-great grandfathers, and discovering that disease was far more prevalent and lethal than battle.
DNA Doesn’t Lie is the concluding chapter of a four-part series where I was able to bust through a Non-Paternal Event’s brick wall and learn the identity of my paternal great-grandfather.”
How has genealogy made a difference in your life?
“It has certainly helped me hone my research and critical thinking skills. Genealogy is a never-ending puzzle that requires careful attention to detail, an ability to think critically about evidence, and synthesize it to make sense of it all while determining next research steps. Family historians are constantly shifting pieces of the Rubik’s cube to figure out the correct relationships and make families whole again.
“But, perhaps more importantly, it’s empowering to know your ancestors’ stories and to understand their lives’ hardships and accomplishments – and to see similarities across time and context. Willa Cather wrote that, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” When you learn your ancestors’ stories you begin to see parallels to your own journey. It shifts your thinking about life and identity to know that you have this wealth of experience behind you in your pedigree and in your genes still today guiding you forward.”
What other genealogy blogs inspire you?
“I read a lot of blogs, usually depending on the topic I’m researching at the time.
“I credit Amy Johnson Crow’s blog No Stories Too Small and her 52 Ancestors Challenge with motivating me to blog more regularly.
“There’s a great community of genealogy bloggers on Facebook and GeneaBloggers that I follow. I also read Judy Russell’s The Legal Genealogist, Jan Last’s Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog for her weekly compilation of must-reads, Linda Stufflebean’s Empty Branches on the Family Tree, and genetic genealogy blogs like Blaine Bettinger’s The Genetic Genealogist, Roberta Estes’ DNAeXplained-Genetic Genealogy, and Kitty Cooper’s Blog .
What is on your genealogy bucket list?
“I want to bust through my brick wall for my 5th great-grandfather Thomas Kirk (1778-1846) who lived in Licking County, Ohio. I’m trying to learn who his parents were and what his ancestral background was. My goal is to eventually learn who my immigrant Kirk ancestor was.”
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Please take a moment and visit Michael’s blog Family Sleuther. Be sure and leave him a comment to let him know you stopped by. Thank you Michael for sharing your blog and your thoughts 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 firstname.lastname@example.org