I have a range of talks and workshops that I can deliver, in person or remotely.  These are suitable for conference talks or webinars at genealogical and local historical societies as well, as for adult enrichment programs at public libraries or community centers.  Most of these are flexible in length, for 60-90 minute events, including Q&A.

10 Genealogical Brick Walls You Will Face (and How to Demolish Them)

In genealogy, a brick wall is an ancestor who seemingly refuses, despite repeated attempts, to reveal their origins. No matter how hard you try, you are unable to connect them to your family tree. They remain the stubborn puzzle piece who refuses to fit in. In this presentation we will survey the most common kinds of brick walls and learn some tricks for demolishing them. From immigrants to paupers, sojourners to pioneers, name shifters to hushed up family secrets, nearly every genealogist will come across these types.

This is a talk that works well with a mixed audience that includes absolute beginners as well as intermediate and more advanced genealogists. The beginner will learn about some brick walls they will eventually face, the intermediate research will learn how to tackle some that they are already facing, and the more advanced genealogist will learn a different way to think about what they are probably already doing.

DNA for the Overwhelmed: Easy First Steps for Working with Shared Matches

The test kit was on sale. You bought one, dutifully deposited your saliva in the plastic tube and mailed it in. Now, a few weeks later the results are in: haplotypes and ethnicity estimates, something about earwax type, and a giant list of 537 people who (apparently) are your kinfolk. It is all a bit overwhelming.

In this talk we’ll cut through the distractions and walk you through the exact steps to take to find, organize and interpret shared matches, a technique that works with all the major DNA testing services, and can be done with a spreadsheet, a word processor, or even a stack of index cards. Using this technique, we’ll make sense of the chaos and start extracting genealogical value from our DNA.

This is designed to be a practical “how to” talk on genetic genealogy. I keep jargon to a minimum, and focus on a simple way to work with shared matches. This method taught is applicable to all DNA services, including those like Ancestry DNA which do not provide their customers segment-level match data.

No prior background with genetic genealogy is assumed.

Genealogical Reasoning with DNA

In this workshop we’ll discuss what a DNA test really is, and how it can help with our genealogy. We’ll discuss how DNA is passed down from generation to generation. We’ll then review the types of genealogical questions which can be resolved with evidence from DNA testing, breaking it down into easy recipes.  We’ll then apply our knowledge by working through and discussing a series of progressively more difficult problems.

This intermediate-level talk is rigorous and covers a lot of information. The focus is on developing a good mental model of the four ways in which DNA is passed down in a family tree, and how to use this knowledge to reason about DNA evidence.

The material ideally fits into a 90 minute session, though I have a shorter version that runs 60 minutes, with Q&A.

17th Century Handwriting: Reading Bradford’s Journal

As New England marks this year the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower, join us for a workshop on William Bradford’s journal, “Of Plimoth Plantation.” Bradford was a Mayflower passenger and the longest-serving governor of Plymouth Colony. He maintained a journal that documented events in the colony from 1608 to 1647.

You’ll hear the story of Plymouth Colony and the surprising story of the manuscript itself, and then receive a tutorial on how to read early 17th century handwriting. It is easier than you might think!

Finally, we’ll work through selected passages from Bradford’s journal, and together experience the satisfaction of reading and understanding a 400-year-old handwritten manuscript.  Passages include: the first encounters with the natives, the origins of the the Mayflower Compact, the sickness and death of the first winter, and the first bountiful harvest the following year.

This one was designed specifically to be delivered as an interactive workshop over Zoom.  Participants download in advance a PDF with the reading materials and a sample alphabet and print that out at home.  They follow along using that, as well as what I have on the screen.  Unlike an in-person workshop, where the writing on the screen looks large to those in the front row, and smaller to those in the back, everyone in a remote presentation gets the same high-quality view.

This is also something that will be of interest to multiple groups, including genealogists working on ancestors from this time period, local history buffs who want to work with primary documents from this time period,  and anyone interested in Pilgrim history, especially in 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage.

Transcribing and Editing Historical Documents

Transcribing is the act of taking writing in one form, often a handwritten manuscript, and turning it into another form, often a typeset report, book or web page.  Doing a transcription can take the text of a manuscript that is currently accessible to only a few specialists, and make it more broadly available to the public.

But as soon as we attempt a transcription project, numerous details arise, questions of how to deal with letter forms no longer in use, archaic spelling, capitalization and punctuation, missing text in the original due to damage, readings that are unclear, and so on.  How do we make a faithful version of a handwritten document in type?

In this talk, we’ll discuss the issues most-commonly faced by transcribers and review the various conventions for transcribing historical manuscripts, and their their trade-offs.  We’ll focus especially on the semi-diplomatic style, as appropriate for genealogy and local history.

This talk is geared toward local history organizations looking to start up a transcription project.  I try to adapt the talk to their specific needs.

A Closer Look at Vital Records

They seem to be the simplest and most direct of all genealogical records, an official government document stating the facts of a birth, marriage or death.  But with vital records there is more here than meets the eye.  We’ll explore a range of complications, from unfaithful record copies, to uninformed informants, from marriages that never were, to births and deaths that didn’t happen where the record says they did.  The goal is to hone our record analysis skills and thereby become better genealogists.

This talk is focused on the improving genealogist, looking to take his or her analysis skills to the next level.  Depending on the mix of experience levels in the group, I can tilt the presentation more toward beginner or more toward intermediate skill levels.

The examples used are drawn from New England, from the 18th to 20th centuries.

It’s a Date!

A skill-building workshop delving into the finer points of dates, calendars and ages.  We’ll review the Julian versus Gregorian calendars, explain double-dating, and look at regnal and Quaker dating.  We’ll also explore the most important forms of date calculations, including how best to combine dates and ages from multiple documents.  We’ll work through an example of how to analyze a record book where we are unsure of what calendar system was in use.  Finally, we’ll look at what rules of thumb can be used to estimate dates where records are lacking.

This talk covers a core skill set that every genealogist needs to acquire to be successful.  This is a good presentation for groups of mixed skill level.

Genealogical Gold in New England Town Books and Reports

In this presentation we examine two important, but underused, town-level resources.  Old town books, as maintained by town clerks since colonial times, and town annual reports, published from the mid-19th century to the present, can provide the breakthrough clues needed to demolish your genealogical brick wall.  Where census and compiled vital records fail us, these resources can save the day.

I will cover where to find these resources, how to interpret them, and how to use them to solve your genealogical conundrums.

This talk focuses on using direct and indirect evidence from old town record books and reports.  The examples are drawn from all over New England, and where possible I add in an example or two from the town of the hosting organization.

I also do a variation of the talk where I dive deeper into town books, but don’t discuss town annual reports.  That focused version is more appropriate for an intermediate audience.

Ancestry Library Edition

Although half the joy of genealogy is in visiting town halls, museums, local historical societies, and other repositories, there is much you can do from the comfort of your local library.

With Ancestry Library Edition billions of genealogical records are now available to you, just a few mouse clicks away.

Learn how to get started with Ancestry and get some pro-tips for how best to use this resource. Also, learn about some other free and online resources that complement what Ancestry offers.

This is a live demo of Ancestry Library Edition, with examples showing how to use this resource to answer questions in genealogy and local history.  Where possible, I adapt the presentation to use examples drawn from the town of the hosting organization.
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