family tree, transitional genealogist

Are You a Transitional Genealogist?

Editor’s Note: The following post, originally published in 2008, is written by Christy Fillerup, a self-proclaimed transitional genealogist. She has been researching her own family lines and those of friends and in-laws for over ten years. She lives in Salt Lake City where she dove into the professional genealogy pond by conducting record search services for other professional genealogists at the Family History Library. She completed the University of Toronto’s Professional Learning Certificate of Genealogical Studies in English. Christy is a graduate of the English track at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies as well as the ProGen study group. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS). Her website can be found at

Call it genealogy, call it family history, I simply call it addicting. I also call it my career goal. I am one of many family history hobbyists working to make their living through genealogy, whether by researching, lecturing, teaching, or writing. Classically, genealogists have been categorized in one of two ways: “Professionals” or “Hobbyists.” Although the definitions of these terms are a topic of hot debate, for the purpose of this article, I define “professional” genealogists as those making some portion of their living from any of the afore-mentioned genealogical activities.

I began my journey to professional genealogy by reading the wonderful posts of the pros on the Association of Professional Genealogist’s Rootsweb mailing list. These thought-provoking posts were full of obscure record source references and detailed source citation questions—they were terrifying. It was with some trepidation that I posted my first query to the APG List, hoping for the secret to a long and fruitful life as a professional genealogist.  What I received was a lot of good advice and the realization that the transition between hobbyist and professional was much bigger than me – there were a lot of us toiling in obscurity.

Most individuals aspiring to make this transition find themselves traveling a lonely and often confusing road. There is hope, however, for genealogists working toward making their hobby into their career. A largely overlooked Rootsweb mailing list, the “Transitional Genealogists Forum,” (TGF List) enjoyed a revival in December 2007, and it has become home to many genealogists striving to make a career from genealogical pursuits. It has grown over the past nine months and is populated by some promising new professional genealogists. The benefits of coalescing into a community have been many and varied. Some benefit from the networking and mentoring relationships. Others enjoy opportunities to refine research skills by participating in one or both of the list serve’s current online study groups. It provides younger genealogists with the chance to ask often admittedly obvious questions of the willing professionals monitoring our little corner of the world. More than anything else, the list provides companionship and road signs for those walking the winding paths of professional genealogy. I would highly recommend the TGF List archives to anyone just now joining the TGF List.

The APG List has periodically debated the need for a formal mentoring process within the professional genealogy arena. This online community has enabled many well-established professional genealogists, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Elissa Scalise Powell and Mary Douglass, among others, to mentor professional hopefuls on a large scale. In addition many private mentoring relationships have developed as a result of discussion on this list.

Rondina P. Muncy, owner of Ancestral Analysis, is an active participant in the mentoring process. During a recent conversation about the benefits of mentoring, she said, “Normally, the mentor/mentee relationship is one that evolves into a mutually beneficial arrangement. I find that I have strengths that help my mentors and my mentee has strengths that help me. The easiest way to establish this kind of relationship is to be vocal on the APG and TGF lists. You have to put aside your fear of saying something foolish and take the risk of stating your opinions and asking the harder questions. You also have to take the time to answer questions. There will always be someone that knows more about a specific area than you that you will benefit from and someone that can benefit from the expertise you have gained.”

Networking is a huge part of any successful entrepreneurial endeavor. The TGF List has not only allowed many mentoring relationships to develop, but also many symbiotic relationships between peers.  Sheri Fenley said it best on her blog when she wrote, “I have become part of a community of like-minded individuals who are collectively striving for the highest level of truth and accuracy in their research. This community cares about the quality of research that they will be leaving behind for future generations. I have stepped way out of my comfort zone in the area of social networking (you know, making friends and playing nice with others) and have found that it’s not as intimidating as first thought.” She has given me permission to broaden her emphasis from the blogosphere of her original post to the transitional genealogy community at large. Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings similarly believes that “the TGSG [another name for the NGSQ article study group] and ProGen chats have enabled me to know my group colleagues better.”

The transitional genealogy community has also come together to form two online study groups, both the brain-children of transitional genealogist Lee Anders The first to develop was a group studying the articles published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. The study group is based on the William Litchman model that was advocated widely by the highly respected genealogical educator Ken Aitken. Angela McGhie leads one of the discussion groups and believes the exercise has been beneficial. She says, “I have appreciated the TGF mailing list and especially the well known professionals that monitor the list and take time to answer questions.  One of the best things that has come from the list is the online study groups.  I have been a part of the Transitional Genealogists study group from the beginning and have enjoyed the focus on studying methodology. As a group we work to see if we feel the case study meets the Genealogical Proof Standard.  We discuss the sources and the methods of using them to solve genealogical problems.  I have gained great insights and feel more prepared to apply the principles of evidence analysis to my own research.” What hopeful professional can’t benefit from a brush-up on methodology?

The second online study group studies Professional Genealogy, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001, reprinted 2010). This study group’s focus has been on the more practical side of starting a genealogy business. Topics have included contracts, setting rates, creating business plans. Look for more on this group in the coming months from creator Lee Anders. Lee has excelled in organizing our community into productive study groups bent on furthering our own knowledge of good business tactics, good research skills, and good communication.

The free exchange of ideas and information is the lifeblood of any profession. The TGF list provides a safe environment for genealogists transitioning from hobbyist to professional to explore the expectations of the professional genealogy world. As the next generation of professional genealogists begin to rise, it is vital that they discuss important issues facing the profession, seek guidance in shaping our best practices, and discussing ways to educate the public about what we do. The Transitional Genealogist Forum List allows us to do this with ease.

Image Credit: By Johann Caspar Höckner ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Augusta, Maine, Maine Genealogy

Maine Genealogy Resources, Part II

Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of Denise R. Larson’s articles on Maine genealogy resources. In Maine Genealogy Resources Part I, Ms. Larson described the historical forces and settlement patterns that form the background to Maine genealogy. Denise Larson is the author of Maine, Genealogy at a Glance: French-Canadian Genealogy Research. Her contribution to the Genealogy at a Glance series is particularly helpful when searching for French-Canadian immigrants, and offers historical background notes and pointers on where to look for census returns, vital records, and other documentation.

In the concluding installment on Maine genealogy, Ms. Larson offers excellent practical advice on the how and where to conduct Maine genealogical research, as well as additional publications that will assist you on this search. 

Great places to do Maine Genealogy

Of particular note in the search for genealogical materials is the Cultural Center on State Street in Augusta, which houses the Maine State Archives, Library, and Museum.

Maine State Archives

The Maine State Archives (207-287-5795) has online databases for general search, early court cases, maps, municipal records, photographs.

The archives’ genealogy research website offers an index to vital statistics (birth, death, marriage) 1908-1922. Copies of certificates are available from 1892-1922 at the cost of $10 per copy; certified copies are $15.

Many official records are on microfilm and can be viewed in the archives’ Search Room. These include vital records 1922-1955, U.S. Census returns 1790-1930, an index of Revolutionary War land grants and pension applications, and a good collection of photographs of officers.

Prior to 1892, the towns and cities of Maine kept the local records of births, marriages, and deaths. As of 1892, the state became responsible for vital records. Municipalities were asked to provide copies of the pre-1892 records, and they are included in the Delayed Vital Records microfilm. The records of some of the noncompliant towns were later microfilmed and added to the collection but not all were included and some town records were lost through flood, fire, or mishap.

Staff members at the Maine State Archives will search within a five-year period for a record upon request and receipt of payment. The search fee is included in the cost of the copy, which is nonrefundable if a record is not found.

Copies of vital records and divorce decrees from 1923 and later are available from Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics, State House Station #11, 244 Water St., Augusta, ME 04333-0011; 1-888-664-9491; 207-287-5500.

Genealogical Publishing and Broderbund collaborated on Early Maine and New Hampshire Settlers, a CD that displays images of pages from fourteen publications and offers a single electronic name index that allows users to search all volumes, which include biographies, the 1790 census, gravestone inscriptions, pensioners of the American Revolution, probate records, vital records, and wills. Continue reading…

Maine Genealogy

Maine Genealogy Resources, Part I

Editor’s Note: The following article, “Maine Genealogy Resources,” is by Denise R. Larson. Ms. Larson is the acclaimed author of Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. She has also authored other posts on this blog including the informative “Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People” about how to find “lost” relatives in your family history.

In this article, Ms. Larson discusses some of the treasures found in Maine genealogy collections, as well as early migration into the state. Part II of this piece will include the resources and repositories most beneficial for Maine genealogy and genealogical research, and will be available on the blog next week. 

Maine Genealogy Resources

Just as the Smithsonian is said to be the nation’s attic, Maine is New England’s attic. Among Maine’s many treasures and whatnots are several early nineteenth-century embroidery samplers that are more than elaborate fruits and flowers surrounding a carefully stitched alphabet. The fine silk threads sewn into the linen of these special samplers sketch family genealogies. In the collection of the Maine State Library in Augusta include pedigree samplers for the Cooper, Twombly, Pool, and Swan families.

Watercolorists also took up the subject of family lines. An 1830 watercolor depicts the Libby lineage, and one done in 1831 with pen and ink as well as watercolor was done for William and Rhoda Thompson.

Both the samplers and the watercolors can be viewed online at the Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society that brings together the collections of more than two hundred organizations in the state.

Of those two hundred contributors to the Maine Memory Network, many are libraries that have a history & genealogy room or special genealogical collections about local families. History holds an honored place in the hearts of Mainers. Continue reading…

spanish flu, how our ancestors died

How Our Ancestors Died

Editor’s Note: The following article is written by author Dr. Terrence Punch. His work includes multiple volumes on Irish immigration to Atlantic Canada, Some Early Scots in Maritime Canada, Volumes I-III, North America’s Maritime FunnelThe Ships that Brought the Irish, 1749-1852 and Montbeliard Immigration to Nova Scotia, 1749-1752. Dr. Punch has authored other articles we’ve shared on this blog including Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, Part I and Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, Part II. He can also be heard as a resident genealogist on CBC Radio. 

In this article, “What Our Ancestors Died Of,” Dr. Punch shares tips on how to identify how our ancestors died when the causes can be mislabeled or unclear. This piece contains a list of frequently seen causes of death, and what they actually mean, as well as additional resources to help you on your search. 

Some genealogists collect only ancestors, that is, people from whom they are personally descended. When traced out on a sheet of paper or a spreadsheet you often have a pattern resembling an inverted Christmas tree, wide at the top and pointed at the bottom. Others take a great deal of trouble to track down collateral relatives, the siblings of ancestors and their descendants. If they began with a couple of progenitors, the result will tend to spread more widely with the passing of the generations.

This is not always the case. One couple had eleven children, sixteen grandchildren, but just four great-grandchildren, all four of whom grew to adulthood, two of them married and none of them had children. Within three generations a large family had completely died out. Imagine the original matriarch, dying in 1883 leaving eight children and nine grandchildren, and in 2003 her last descendant died, childless.

One of the reasons why people try to compile genealogies linking collateral relatives as well as direct ancestors is to produce a health history of their wider family circle. They ask questions about age at death, causes of death, conditions that appeared to run in the family, handicaps, tendency to accidents and mishaps, even towards suicide. Continue reading…

Military Ancestry

Bogus Stories Complicate Search for Military Ancestry

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Richard Hite’s book, Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends, entitled “Military Service of Ancestors.” As Mr. Hite points out, bogus stories of military ancestors can confound family historians, and make tracing your military ancestry a much murkier and more difficult task. However, confounding stories of military forebears illustrates just one way genealogists can be lead down the primrose path in their research. Mr. Hite’s acclaimed book, Sustainable Genealogy is full of such cautionary tales and ways to avoid pitfalls and missteps. 

When I hear of some of the wildly exaggerated claims of the military exploits of my own ancestors and anyone else’s, I am reminded of “The Battle of Mayberry” episode of the Andy Griffith Show.  In one episode, Opie’s class was assigned to write an essay about the so-called “Battle of Mayberry” which had involved the early settlers of the town of Mayberry and the Native American population two centuries earlier.  Andy and Aunt Bea immediately told Opie about his own ancestor, Colonel Carlton Taylor who, by their account, played a leading role in the battle.  Opie then went on to talk to all of the major characters in the town  . . . [who] all told stories about ancestors who held the rank of “Colonel” at the time of the battle.  All of them described the settlers winning the battle with only fifty armed men facing 500 Native Americans.  Andy, realizing Opie’s confusion over the conflicting accounts, took him to visit a local Native American named Tom Strongbow . . .  who told of his own ancestor, Chief Strongbow, leading fifty warriors to a victory over 500 armed settlers.  . . .  Finally, Andy took Opie to Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capital, to give him an opportunity to look up contemporary accounts of the battle.  What Opie found was a newspaper account that told of a dispute that started over a cow accidentally killed by a Native American in Mayberry.  Instead of fighting a battle though, fifty settlers and fifty braves settled the dispute by sharing several jugs of liquor and killing some deer to compensate the owner of the cow.

From Private to Major

That whole story is, of course, fictitious but exaggerated accounts of ancestors’ military exploits are a dime a dozen in oral history whether “truly oral” or “written oral.”  One of the most common mistakes is an inflated rank assigned to an ancestor.  A likely source of this, particularly for Civil War soldiers, stems from the late 19th and early 20th century habit of referring to elderly veterans of that war as “Colonel” or “Major” – even for those that never rose above the rank of private.  This was most common for Confederate veterans, but Union veterans were also referred to by these honorary titles in some instances.  It is easy for overeager descendants who hear an ancestor referred to by an honorary rank to jump to the conclusion that he actually did hold such a rank while in the service.  Usually, these claims of such high rank are relatively easy to check, especially for Civil War soldiers.  Records for soldiers in earlier wars are not so voluminous but there are many, nonetheless.  Service records and pension applications give the ranks soldiers achieved and it is not at all unusual to learn that an honorary major never actually rose above the rank of private.  In the case of common names, proof (or disproof) may be a bit more of a challenge.  A descendant of a private named John Smith will undoubtedly have little trouble finding a colonel or a major with that rank in some regiment from the state their own ancestor served from.  In this kind of a case, researchers should examine the economic circumstances of the ancestors, before and after the war.  Assuming that a man named John Smith, who owned less than fifty dollars’ worth of real estate at the time of the 1860 and 1870 census enumerations held the rank of “Colonel” during the Civil War is not a leap of faith I would make. Continue reading…