Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oops...I Almost Missed it Again: Celebrating Nine Years of Blogging at The Accidental Genealogist

I can't believe I almost missed it again--my blogiversary! 

I happened to be looking through my blog the other day and realized that today, 28 June 2015 is my ninth anniversary of blogging at The Accidental Genealogist.

I don't know why I can't remember this date. My very first post was on 28 June 2006! I really didn't know what a blog was, what I would write about, or whether anyone would read it! One of my very first readers who reached out to me was Randy Seaver who writes the Genea-Musings blog (which happens to be one of my personal favorites)--thanks, Randy!

Perhaps the date slips my mind because I am busy with other things--you know trying to make a living as a writer, instructor and lecturer. Or maybe it is down to the fact that I haven't been blogging as much as I would like (out of sight, out of mind). It could be that since it the blogiversary date falls in the summer, I am just not as attentive to it as I should be.  

Whatever the reason, it doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed sharing my genealogical finds, or my thoughts about writing family history.  

For the December/January 2015 issue of Internet Genealogy Magazine, I wrote an article entitled "Confessions of a Geneablogger" in which I shared my thoughts on creating, building and maintaining a better genealogy blog.  In this article I confess that I am not always the best blogger I can be.  I list five reasons to blog (giving ancestors a voice, connecting with cousins, inspiring and educating others, engaging with other genealogists, and marketing). I also list five things that stop me from blogging (privacy concerns, the "who cares?' syndrome, technology glitches/issues, finding good images, and fear of rejection). 

You can read the full article by clicking here. Thanks to Ed Zapletal, Editor/Publisher of Internet Genealogy for permission to share the article. (Disclosure: I am a paid freelance contributor to IG).

As I enter my tenth year of blogging, I am thinking about some of my favorite posts from the past nine years.  These include posts for my "Fearless Females" Blogging Prompts Series (which I launched in March 2010 in celebration of Women's History Month, my Sojourn in Slovakia posts (which chronicled my two trips to my ancestral villages in Slovakia in 2010 and 2012), the numerous posts I have written to honor my ancestors, including "Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Father" and "Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Mother," and those that covered the topic of writing such as "Free Video for The Write Stuff: Using Nonfiction Writing Techniques to Write a Better Family History"--the post I wrote about celebrating 25 years as a nonfiction writer.  

In addition, as I move into year ten, I hope to blog more regularly than I have been. I have a few ideas in the works, in particular more "how-to" type posts related to the combination of my two favorite subjects--genealogy and creative nonfiction writing. If there are any topics you would like to see me write about on this blog, feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions!

In the meantime, I invite you to take a look at my other professional website (LisaAlzo-Dot- Com) and Immersion Genealogy - a new website I have created to share information and resources about the increasingly popular area of genea-tourism/heritage travel. I have recently starting presenting on this topic. Most recently for a livestream session entitled "No Easy Button: Using Immersion Genealogy to Understand Your Ancestors" for the Southern California Genealogical Society Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank, California earlier this month. Click here to learn more. 

I would like to thank everyone who has followed me and this blog for the past nine years, and especially those who have taken the time to leave comments. Here's to another year! 

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Father

“What do I care about those people they’re dead…I didn’t know them.” Imagine my surprise when I received this response from my father, John Alzo, when I once asked him what he could tell me about his ancestors. 

While my dad was not all that interested in genealogy, he said he appreciated that I was and that it was  “a lot of work.”  Since I wrote a post on Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Mother for Mother’s Day, I thought I would remember Dad on Father’s Day with a similar post.

Daddy and me. Image from family photo collection; held for private use by Lisa A. Alzo 

1. Generosity goes a long way.  My father was one of the most generous people I know. When my father passed away in 2005, one of my cousins, said the following about him: “If all the people in the world could have someone like him in their lives, the world would be a much better place and there would be peace through out.”  I try to be generous with my time and sharing my knowledge with the genealogy community.  

2. It really is important to talk to your relatives. The fact that my father said “he couldn’t help me” made me realize how I should have asked questions of family members while they were still around.  

3. Work hard and then work even harder. Despite the popular perception today of “everything is online,” genealogy research is hard work.  My father worked as a carpenter and used different tools and skills than I do as a researcher and writer, but in a way we are both builders. Dad always finished his jobs through to completion and I feel compelled to do the same. 

4. Smile. My father had a beautiful smile. He was generally a happy guy who loved to laugh and joke. It is important to smile through the brick walls in both genealogy and in life. 

5. Surround yourself with trusted friends. My dad had the same circle of friends from the time he was in high school up until he passed away. Dad taught me how to be a good friend. Many of my closest friends today are fellow genealogists. We bonded because of our love for chasing ancestors, and the common interest has helped us to develop a deeper friendship. 

6. Build a solid foundation. My father’s family was his foundation and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for those he loved. I always keep in mind that the reason I do genealogy is to honor my family—my foundation.

John Alzo (front, center) with his family (L-R): Elizabeth Alzo (mother), Betty Alzo (sister), Anna (Sr. Mary Camilla) Alzo, sister, Helen Alzo (sister), John Alzo (father). From Alzo private photo collection, held for private use by Lisa A. Alzo

7. Love what you do. My father had a real passion for his work and also for play—as in playing basketball.  Things were not always easy on the job or on the court, but Dad stuck it out because he loved carpentry and loved the game of basketball. I am passionate about researching and writing about family history and about inspiring others to learn more about their roots and ethnic heritage.

8. Be proud of your accomplishments, but don’t brag. Dad was a star basketball player in high school and when he played for local fraternal teams in Pittsburgh, and several semi-professional teams. I have Dad’s scrapbook of all of the newspaper articles written about him during that time of his life. Yet, Dad never bragged. I had to ask him about his accolades and only then could I see he was proud of his contributions to the wins of the various teams he played for. I am lucky to be able to work in a field I enjoy, and I feel proud of the work I have done as a genealogist and a writer, but like my father, I don’t always feel the need to talk about it.

9. Appreciate the time you have with living relatives. I spent 14 years as a caregiver for my parents. I don’t regret a day of it. I’m grateful for the times I spent with my mother and father. As genealogists, we spend time and money to seek information mostly about dead relatives, but sometimes we forget about our living family members. It is important to call, video chat, message, and spend time in person just talking with those who are still around. One day it will be too late. 

10. Shoot Your Best Shot! Dad used basketball as a metaphor throughout his life. He met the challenges of life like he would a tough opponent on the court; with one simple phrase in mind: “When the chips are down, shoot your best shot.”  Whether I’m facing a perplexing research problem or just general challenges in my own life, I try to think how my father would tackle a problem or address a situation and try to keep this phrase in mind.

Today is the tenth Father’s Day since my father passed away. Recently, while looking through some family memorabilia, I came across a Father's Day present I made for my dad in 1972. It's a paper heart booklet. On the front cover is a paper cutout of my hand and in the center is my school picture from the third grade.

The inside pages contained some special verses in honor of Father's day which I neatly printed:

"I give my heart to love you Daddy dear.
I give my hand to work for you each year.
I give you myself, my prayers to bring you cheer
On Father’s Day this year."

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I miss you!

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Mother

My mother was not a genealogist, but she was largely responsible for helping me to become one.  On this Mother’s Day, I thought I would share some of the life lessons Mom taught me and how I have been able to apply those lessons to my personal family history research and in my career as a genealogy professional.

Anna Alzo, 1943

1. It’s all about family. Anna (my mother) was the oldest of seven children, and was the “mother hen” to her three sisters and three brothers. She also assumed a primary caregiver role for her parents (my grandparents) during their respective illnesses. She carried out her responsibilities fully, lovingly, and without complaint. She was also a devoted wife and mother and she took a sincere interest in her relatives whether they lived nearby or far away. She had a deep love for her family, and she had a tender way of making everyone who knew her feel special. She was someone who really listened to what was going on in your life and she worried about you—your well-being and safety, whether you had to travel across town or around the world. While I spend a lot of time chasing down ancestors who have long passed away, I am often reminded that it is important to cultivate my relationships with living relatives.

2. Don’t just talk to your relatives.  Really listen to them. Beginning genealogists are always advised to “talk to their relatives” to gather information about names, dates and places. My mother always took time to listen to her parents, siblings, and cousins.  She remembered their stories and she was able to tell them to me when I became interested in learning more about our family’s background. Some of the times I enjoy most at family reunions are those times we can just sit and talk…and listen.

3. Save important items. My mother was a packrat. This was both a blessing and a curse.  After my parents passed away, the burden for cleaning out their house fell solely on me since I am an only child.  I sorted through dozens of vases, boxes of old unused greeting cards, and endless supplies of pens, key chains, and so many other miscellaneous items I would never use.  However, I also found my grandparents’ baptismal certificates, their passports, boxes of family photographs, and other items of great genealogical value. As a family historian I was lucky to find so much information right at home.

4. Keep good records. My mother was an excellent record keeper. Her "Bridal Book" has complete names and addresses of all the guests who attended her wedding and what she received from each person. Mom also saved important information, such as paperwork related to my grandparents’ house, and detailed receipts from medical appointments, including my health and immunization record book (this comes in really handy to have now with all of the news of adults needing to ask their doctors about getting booster shots for diseases like mumps or whooping cough).  Keeping good records is essential in the genealogy field.

5. It’s all in the details (they matter).  Because my mother was so meticulous, I have some really great resources that help me to learn more about her.  I have her autograph book she had in high school and it offers a glimpse into how her peers viewed her. Another treasure is a little notebook where she lists every item she or my Dad purchased for their wedding in 1947, and how much each item cost (from the wedding rings to the blood test to how many pounds of ground meat used for the holupky (stuffed cabbage) prepared for the wedding reception. I love to sort through the details I find in records and then select the best ones to include when writing family histories.

6. Respect others. One of the biggest lessons my mother taught me was to respect others.  When I was a child she made sure that I showed respect for the adults in my life (aunts, uncles, teachers, neighbors) and taught me the value of things that she bought me. Respect goes a long way in the genealogy community—whether you are requesting help from a county court clerk, a priest, or a colleague.  I’m not perfect, but I try to remember what my mother taught me about respect.

7. Pass on family recipes and traditions. Mom was a master cook and baker. She flawlessly prepared all of the traditional Slovak foods our family enjoyed, and her Lady Locks cookies were family favorites.  She passed on the recipes she received from my grandmother.  I have collected and preserved these recipes in my book, Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions.

8. Be patient. As genealogists we need to be patient as we search the many online databases for a glimpse of our ancestors, or as we wait for vital records certificates or pension files to arrive in the mail. I wholeheartedly admit that patience is not a virtue I practice well and I often find myself asking my mom to help me be patient with a person, situation, or a research problem.

9. Be yourself. During her life my mother met many people who had more money, better jobs, better houses, and other advantages. She wasn’t fond of people who tried to be something they were not and she told me to just be myself. Mom was a lovely woman, and yet her true beauty was on the inside. She was generous and kind—always giving to those around her without expectation of anything in return. In today’s world there is always pressure to do this or that, say the right thing and to put on a face to the world and to “reinvent” oneself. We can often lose ourselves in the competition of the professional world where there are only so many slots on conference speaking schedules, or other limited opportunities to develop a niche or specialty. I have to remember to be just “me”—someone who has a unique skill set and personality.

10. Never give up. As genealogists we often hit “brick walls” in our research. We also encounter many obstacles in real life. In both instances, it is often tempting to give up when the going gets tough or a task seems impossible to accomplish.  My mother taught me to never give up and to just do my best and things will work out.

My mother was a very smart woman, and while at the time I couldn't fully comprehend the lessons or principles she was trying to teach, I can truly appreciate them now.

Today is the 15th Mother’s Day since my mother passed away, and while I can’t physically be with my mother today, I want to thank her for helping me become a devoted genealogist, but more importantly for teaching how to keep striving to be a better person.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Free Video for The Write Stuff: Using Nonfiction Writing Techniques to Write a Better Family History

Life is full of anniversaries, and 25 years ago, I began my journey as both a genealogist and a nonfiction writer. I was enrolled in the graduate program in creative nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh and decided to write my thesis about my grandmother and tell the story of her immigration to America from Slovakia. This final manuscript project evolved into my first published book, Three Slovak Women. To mark this 25-year milestone, I am offering a free video of one of my most popular genealogy talks: “The Write Stuff: Using Nonfiction Writing Techniques to Write a Better Family History.”

Image by Lisa A. Alzo

Presentation Description

As genealogists we often focus on facts and uncover so much information that our research can have a tendency to produce nothing but boring lists. But do you really know what happened during the course of your ancestors’ lives? How can you share that information in a compelling and interesting way? An all-encompassing family history is so much more than just charts and graphs, boxes and lines, or a list of references. Writing about our ancestors and our heritage gives context, meaning, and purpose to all of the facts we have collected. This video discusses how to use nonfiction writing techniques to produce a “must read” family history that will keep the pages turning for generations to come. 

Since I chose to write about my grandmother for my first nonfiction book, I am happy to share this video in honor of her and to celebrate National Women’s History Month. 

Be sure to also download the FREE 4-page handout packed with my favorite writing tips and resources.

As a genealogy writer and educator I strive to teach others how to lose the intimidation and let go of their fears about writing to dig deeper into their family stories. I have published nine books have written hundreds of magazine articles. In addition, I currently teach family history writing and memoir writing at local colleges, and online through webinars, Boot Camps and writing intensives. Here is a representative (but not intended to be exhaustive) list:

Legacy Family Tree Webinars 

Available to watch at Family Tree Webinars (membership required)

  • Crafting Ancestor Profiles from Start to Finish
  • 10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Family History Narrative
  • Digital Writing Tools for Genealogists
  • Ready, Set, Write! Share Your Family's Story

Click here to read detailed descriptions of each webinar and for information on how to view them.

HackGenealogy Boot Camps and Intensives (with Thomas MacEntee)

  • Genealogy Writing Boot Camp
  • Scrivener Mini-Boot Camp: Getting Started with Scrivener – To Go!
  • Self-Publishing Boot Camp
  • Evernote Boot Camp
  • Blogger Boot Camp
  • The “Write Stuff” Genealogy Writing Intensive (watch HackGenealogy for an announcement about the next session).

Detailed information on purchasing the “Boot Camp To-Go” versions can be found on the Hack Genealogy Store.


In addition, you may wish to check out my other publications:

This guide contains useful information including the tips, tools, and tricks you’ll need to get beyond the names, dates and places to bring your family tree to life. Also included are writing exercises, links to handy apps, and self-publishing resources, to help you craft and publish a “can’t put down” narrative. 

Scrivener for Genealogists (laminated QuickSheet for Mac or Windows) 

Scrivener for Genealogists (PDF QuickSheet for Mac or Windows) – available from

This guide gives you all of the basics you need to know to get up and running with Scrivener—a popular combination word processor and project management tool produced by Literature and Latte

Writing Your Family History Book (Heritage Productions): Every family has a great story-or two, or twenty-two! Put it on paper... This book will help you from beginning to end in simple, manageable steps. You can do it!

While studying in the University of Pittsburgh’s highly acclaimed Creative Nonfiction Writing program, I learned from many of the best writers in the business. I am pleased to share some of the key principles of creative nonfiction writing with you through this short presentation.  

Don’t miss this free chance to learn the tips, tools, and techniques that will help take your family history writing to the next level.  

Sign up for my free newsletter to receive announcements about future learning opportunities with me in 2015.

Image Credit: © kaktus2536 -

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fearless Females Resources: Special Offer on Internet Genealogy Tracing Your Female Ancestors Special Issues

If you are looking for tips and resources to help you track your female ancestors, you can save 20% right now on the Tracing Your Female Ancestors Volume I Special issue of Internet Genealogy Magazine, published by Moorshead Magazines, and on your pre-order of Tracing Your Female Ancestors Volume II (available May 1, 2015).  

Here is a brief summary of what you will find in each issue. 

Tracing Your Female Ancestors 

Image courtesy of Moorshead Magazines

Compiled by Gena Philibert-Ortega

Available in Print and PDF Format

Articles include: Online resources, Working Women, Women in the Military, African American Female Ancestors, Grandma Was an Alien, Female Ancestors Pre-1850, Women in the Civil War, Women and Divorce, Women and the Vote, Secret Lives of Women, Manuscript Collections Overview, Womens Clubs and Organizations and more! It also includes a special look at Women in Photographs by Maureen Taylor.
68-pages, magazine format, hi-gloss cover
Print Edition - $9.95 plus $4.50 shipping/handling. 
PDF Edition - $8.50 (the file will be sent via email) 

Tracing Your Female Ancestors Volume II
Image Courtesy of Moorshead Magazines

Compiled by Gena Philibert-Ortega
Available in Print and PDF Format
Available May 2015
Tracing Your Female Ancestors Volume II continues the success of our first volume with all new articles that reveal more research resources and strategies for finding your elusive female ancestors. Compiled by Gena Philibert-Ortega, with additional articles by Lisa Alzo, Jean Wilcox Hibben and Tammy Hepps, this exciting new issue includes: It's All in the Search; 10 Unusual Sources for Finding Female Ancestors, 50+ Online Resources for Female Research; Migration of Females to America; Researching Jewish Female Ancestors; 10 Ways to Tell Your Ancestors' Stories; Women in City Directories; Google Tools for Finding Female Ancestors; Finding Your Femmes Fatales; The FamilySearch Catalog and Your Female Ancestor and much more!
68-pages, magazine format, hi-gloss cover
Print Edition - $9.95 plus $4.50 shipping/handling. 
PDF Edition - $8.50 (the file will be sent via email) 

Click here to order from the Internet Genealogy website. At checkout enter the code:


You can also order both issues as a bundle a special price and use the code to save 20%.  Click here to learn more.

These special issues will give you plenty of resources for finding your elusive female ancestors.

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

[Disclosure:  I am a paid freelance writer for Internet Genealogy I have contributed two articles for Volume II of the Tracing Your Female Ancestors Special Issue]

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Fearless Females: Free Research Resources

Tracing the females in your family tree can be a daunting task.  But there are plenty of online resources to help you track them down.

Verona Straka and Mary Straka Yuhasz.  Photo courtesy of Lisa A. Alzo (personal collection).

During this month, I will be sharing a few of my favorite free websites and sources for finding female ancestors (click on the links to go to the sites). Here are the first three:

1. American Women’s History: A Research Guide.  This database provides access to digital collections of primary sources (photos, letters, diaries, artifacts, etc.) that document the history of women in the United States. Offers detailed descriptions and links to more than 600 digital collections.

2. Cyndi’s List: Female Ancestors. Cyndi’s List (run by Cyndi Ingle) has been around since 1996, and currently contains more than 330,000 links for family history, with more than 200 links for female ancestors.

3. National Women’s History Museum. The official website of the National Women’s History Museum located in Alexandria, Virginia. Watch a video clip of actress Meryl Streep introducing the museum, or take a virtual tour via the museum’s CyberExhibits covering a wide range of topics from Women in Industry to Rights for Women to Women of Jamestown. You’ll also find educational resources such as self-guided tours, biographies, and lesson plans and quizzes (for teachers).

Happy Searching!

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Join me at the Indiana Historical Society for an All-Day Seminar 21 March 2015

Attention Indiana-area genealogists: 

I am looking forward to presenting four talks for the Indiana Historical Society from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater, History Center:

  • Grandmothers, Mothers, and Daughters: Researching Your Female Lines
  • Three Slovak Women: Telling the Story of One Slovak-American Family Using Oral and Social History
  • Crossing the Pond: Successful Strategies for Researching Eastern European Ancestors
  • Murder, Mayhem, and Town Tragedy

Image Credit: Indiana Historical Society

The cost for the day-long seminar is $22; members $18, box lunch $12. Box lunch options: chicken salad on whole wheat; smoked turkey on whole wheat or veggie wrap. Box lunch includes sandwich, kettle chips, pickle, cookie and soda. Registration includes parking and same-day admission to the Indiana Experience.

I hope you will be able to join me as I talk about my favorite research areas: Researching female lines (timely for Women's History Month), finding heroes and villains in your family tree, oral and social history, and Eastern European genealogy.

Click here for more details or to register.

Copryight, 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

[Disclosure Statement: As a freelance speaker, I will receive an honorarium for my lectures at the Indiana Historical Society].