Saturday, January 09, 2016

Why You Should Write a Family History in 2016: Last Call to Register for The Write Stuff Genealogy Writing Intensive

Have you been putting off writing that family history?  Is it a task you keep leaving on your "I'll get to it someday" list? 

Here are three tips to make 2016 the year you FINALLY stop procrastinating and start writing. 
Image Credit: (Author: thinglass)

And if you need some encouragement, there's still time to register for The Write Stuff Genealogy Writing Intensive that begins on 11 January 2016.

No More Excuses!

Most genealogists I know are dedicated, passionate, and persistent.  We’ll spend countless hours researching online databases, in courthouses or libraries, travel across the country or around the world to walk in our great-grandma’s footsteps, and even go to extreme measures to “dig up the dirt” on that “black sheep” uncle. But, when it comes to compiling the years of research, charts, photographs, and other data into an interesting, informative, and captivating format, how many of us become creatively paralyzed before our fingers even hit the keyboard?  Perhaps, we don’t know where to start, we’re overwhelmed by the amount of information we’ve gathered, or we simply say “I don’t have time.” 

If you are ready to get serious about documenting the stories of your ancestors, here are three tips.

1. Think like a writer, not a genealogist. The first thing you need to do is get over your “fear of writing.”  Many people mistakenly believe they need to have formal training in order to write a family narrative.  I was a writer before I was a genealogist (this is the reason I call my Blog “The Accidental Genealogist”), and I consider myself more of a story gatherer as opposed to a name collector, so I’m always looking for the best ways to record, store, and share information. You may not have the same training or experience, but don’t be intimidated.  You can do it—you may just need more practice!

2. Have a focus.  Decide what it is you want to write.  Is it a 250-page book?  A series of profiles, or character sketches?  A house history?  Do you want to focus on one particular ancestor, one family, or several generations?  Take some time to think about what story you want to tell and write down your writing goals and the steps you will take to achieve them. Then, set reasonable and realistic deadlines and stick to them.

3. Play Favorites.  A popular piece of advice given to writers is: “Write what you know.” You can apply this to family history writing as well.  It will be much harder to write about an ancestor for whom you have very little information, so choose a good candidate.  You can also select a favorite ancestor or one who has a “juicy” backstory.  Start with the “easy” subjects before you tackle the harder ones.

These are just a few of the topics I will address in The Write Stuff Genealogy Writing Intensive starting on 11 January 2016.

There are still a couple of spots left, so if you are willing to take writing a family history off of the "someday" list, now is your chance. Click here for more details and to register.

You CAN do this!

[Disclosure: I have been hired as a freelance instructor this intensive by HackGenealogy, and I will be receive payment for leading this intensive.]

©2016, copyright Lisa A. Alzo. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 08, 2016

It Still Takes a Village: Trace Eastern European Ancestors with New Genealogy Guide

When my Slovak grandparents arrived in America, they settled in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, a "cluster community," where they were surrounded by relatives, friends, and neighbors--all the people who formed the extension of their villages in the New World. They could count on these people for friendship, support and help with life's ups and downs.

Group gathering, Ostur┼ła, Slovakia; photo courtesy of Lisa A. Alzo

Many decades later, I found myself channeling this sense of community while working on The Family Tree Polish, Czech, and Slovak GenealogyGuide. I have been been a freelance writer for FamilyTree Magazine since 2005, and since that time I have written a number of articles on various Eastern European Genealogy topics, so it seemed a natural fit to expand that work for the Ethnic Research Guides series.

This guide will walk you step-by-step through the exciting--and challenging--journey of finding your Polish, Czech, or Slovak roots. You'll learn how to identify immigrant ancestors, find your family's town of origin, locate key genealogical resources, decipher foreign-language records, and untangle the region's complicated history. The guide also includes timelines, sample records, resource lists, and sample record request letters to aid your research. 

In particular, those just beginning the research process will find this guide to be useful starting point for how to discover their Eastern European ancestors and trace their stories from American shores back to the old country. An extensive Appendix lists other books and resources to follow up with for advanced research in each group (including one of my personal favorites, Going Home: A Guide to Polish-American Research by Jonathan Shea).

In the past twenty-five years, I have had the good fortune of working with many skilled research colleagues who were instrumental in helping me navigate the complexities of Eastern European genealogy. My journey back to find my ancestors would not have been possible without the guidance of many others. One of the biggest lessons I learned early on as a genealogist is the importance of collaboration and networking with those researching similar surnames or geographical areas. While researching our individual families, we might have a tendency to hold on tightly to knowledge gleaned from our efforts, but there is a lot to be said for sharing what we learn. Thanks to collaborative efforts with other East European genealogists, I have been able to break down many of my own research brick walls.

In the same collaborative spirit, this guide is designed to teach and inspire others who have an interest in exploring their Polish, Czech, or Slovak heritage.

Writing is often viewed as a solo endeavor, but the truth is it really takes a village to produce a guide of this scope, and I am particularly grateful to my research colleagues (especially Professor Jonathan Shea, Michal Razus, and Jan Ebert), as well as others who contributed photographs or other stories or anecdotes, and of course, the editors and copy editors at Family Tree Magazine.

The book is currently available for pre-order at ShopFamilyTree and Amazon.

[Disclosure: Articles on this website may use affiliate links.  Please see my Disclosure Policy in the About section for more information]

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Trying Again: Another Chance at the Genealogy Do-Over ~ Review of The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook

Thank goodness for genealogy second chances....

I need to re-do my Genealogy Do-Over I tried last year. I confess I did not get very far and had to stop just two weeks into it. But this time I have a secret weapon, and it is called The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook, recently published by Thomas MacEntee.

Finally...the book so many genealogists (myself included) have been waiting for is here! I have been a genealogist for more than 25 years, but when I started out, I didn't know much about methodology or how to properly format source citations, or even how to find the best resources. I learned through trial and error and by making plenty of mistakes along the way. 

So in January 2015, when Thomas MacEntee shared this concept with the genealogical community, I made the decision that a "do-over" was just what I needed. [See my post, "Embracing My Mistakes: Why I Am Participating in the "Genealogy Do-Over" in 2015"]. 

But life got in the way and I had to stop after just a few weeks. While the guidelines for the Genealogy Do-Over were posted online and through a Facebook group, many genealogists were asking for a book version. 

Newly released, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook is an easy-to-follow, success driven program designed to help genealogists improve their skills, Whether you have been working on your genealogy for two months or 20 years, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook will help you learn and/or review the key research concepts and techniques, and discover the tools and technologies you need to be a better genealogist so that you can effectively share your family history information with future generations. The best part is that if I get sidetracked again, I can always use the workbook to start the Do-Over at a time that is more convenient for me.

Now that I have this Kindle version, I am armed and ready to "redo" my own "Genealogy Do-Over" in 2016!

Yes, thank goodness for genealogy second chances...and in some instances, third and fourth...

UPDATE AS OF 06 JANUARY 2016: The paperback version of the The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook is now available to order at Amazon.

[Note:  I purchased this Kindle book on my own and have not received any form of compensation in exchange for this review. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.

[Disclosure: Articles on this website may use affiliate links.  Please see my Disclosure Policy in the About section for more information]

Friday, January 01, 2016

On the Road and Online: Where to Find the Accidental Genealogist in 2016

It's the start of the New Year and I am happily working on calendar planning for 2016. It is going to be a busy year for The Accidental Genealogist and I can't wait to start talking about genealogy again to audiences near, far and in cyberspace! 

Lisa (The Accidental Genealogist) presenting at the 2015 CGSI Conference in Cedar Rapids, IA

Below is where you can catch me in 2016:

  • 3-6 RootsTech, Salt Lake City, UT
  • 3-6 Genealogy Gems Think Tank Sessions at RootsTech, Salt Lake City, UT

Additional dates and events may be added.

I am very blessed to have a supportive spouse who doesn't mind staying home while I go on the speaking circuit. 

It is going to be a spectacular year for genealogy!  I hope to meet many of my blog readers at these events!

©2016, copyright Lisa A. Alzo. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

No Looking Back: Why I'm Choosing Myself in 2016!

Well, here we are again, saying goodbye to another year. I would say that 2015 was not the best year for me, but not the worst year either. 

For the past several years I have done some "Year in Review" posts reflecting on happenings and accomplishments, and outlining goals for the New Year. I went back and read my post from last year, "2014 Year in Review: Looking Back and Moving Forward," and overall I did a pretty good job with what I outlined for 2015, coming up short really in just one area: Location (I wrote, "One of my hopes is to relocate somewhere other than where I currently reside. I have one specific locality in mind, but am leaving my options open"). For a whole host of reasons that did not happen, and so it stays on the list for 2016.

I am grateful for many blessings in both my personal and professional life. In 2015 I traveled a lot. I had plenty of opportunities to speak about genealogy to wonderful groups in Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Fountain Hills Arizona, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Iowa. I also presented a number of webinars and coached family history writers in two Genealogy Writing Intensives. I wrote my tenth book (I can't say much about it because it has not yet been officially released by the publisher, but it is on genealogy and a subject I enjoy writing and teaching about). I worked hard in 2015 and I anticipate doing more of the same in 2016, but with one big change:  I am choosing myself!

What exactly does that mean? Well, I recently read a book called Choose Yourself! by James Altucher and it really opened my eyes. It talks about how we're all suffering from "post-societal traumatic stress disorder." The global economy has shifted and society is changing and we need to be able to make that shift to succeed. The basic premise is to shake off what we are taught--that "we are not good enough" and about having the confidence to make things happen for yourself, not waiting around for things to come to you, and not asking permission. There is so much in this book about exploring our creativity and using our entrepreneurship muscles. 

And, this is exactly what I want to do in 2016. I am not being selfish when I say this (trust me, anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a selfish person--this is evidenced in the fact that I spent 14 years as a primary caregiver for my parents during major illnesses, making many personal sacrifices and passing up a number of professional opportunities. And I have no regrets--I would do it all again in a heartbeat). But it is time for me to make some real changes in how I live and work.  

A few areas I will be working on include:

  • Downsizing my physical living space and possessions.
  • Choosing work that fulfills me rather than just taking on any project or doing work for little or no payment, or that doesn't fit my current business model. 
  • Focusing more on my own writing (including more posts to this blog) and self-publishing 
  • Expanding my work inspiring genealogists and family history writers by offering more personalized instruction through online courses and virtual learning experiences. 
  • Making more time for personal genealogy research and for enjoying life.

See you later, 2015. I am so ready to start choosing myself in 2016!

©2015, copyright Lisa A. Alzo. All rights reserved.

[Disclosure: From time to time, I include affiliate links in my blog posts (see my disclosure policy) What does this mean? Well if you click on the link and make a purchase, I get a small sales commission.]

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Take Your Scrivener Skills to the Next Level: Scrivener II: Beyond the Basics Mini Boot Camp – Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is writing your family history on your list of goals for 2016?  Do you plan to use Scrivener, but want to learn how to get more out of this amazing writing tool?  Then, you won't want to miss the Scrivener II: Beyond the Basics Mini Boot Camp – Saturday, January 23, 2016 presented by yours truly, and hosted at HackGenealogy. 

Here is the official announcement and instructions on how to reserve your spot today. 


Are you ready to take your Scrivener skills to the next level? Perhaps you have been exploring how to use this combination word processor and project management tool for your genealogy/family history writing projects. Now, it’s time to build on the introductory instruction of the Getting Started with Scrivener Mini Boot Camp and tap into the true power of Scrivener.
Here’s what you will get in Scrivener II: Beyond the Basics Mini Boot Camp:
  • Review the Scrivener interface, and its four main modes: Outline, Document View, Corkboard, and Scrivenings.
  • Learn how to use Scrivener’s organizational tools such as labels, collections, the outliner, project notes, scratch pad, and more!
  • Get tips on how the best ways to import research files and other content, and how to customize your Scrivener experience.
  • Learn how to do more with the “Inspector” and how to use it to monitor your work.
  • Develop a better understanding of working with revisions, printing, compiling, and exporting your work.
  • Walk through a mini-writing project from start to finish: starting with a template, and following it through writing mode, corkboard mode, and outline mode.
  • And much more!
*Pre-Requisite:  To get the most out of this boot camp, it is highly recommended that attendees watch the “Getting Started with Scrivener” Boot Camp video ( or have experience using Scrivener on their own. Also, if you haven’t done so, it is also highly recommended that you download the free trial version of Scrivener (Available for Mac or Windows) at before the boot camp in order to maximize your learning experience.
Bonus Handout:  In addition to the webinar handout, attendees will receive a free “Family History Writer Toolkit” complete with links to Scrivener resources and an “Ancestor Profile” template (Mac and Windows versions) [Note: The templates will be .scriv files, designed to work specifically with the Scrivener program].
SPECIAL BONUS: Lisa Alzo has negotiated a special 20% OFF DISCOUNT on the purchase of Scrivener for those attending the Scrivener II Beyond the Basics Mini Boot Camp. To take advantage of this discount, select the regular license for Scrivener for either Mac ( or Windows ( and add it to the shopping cart, then enter the coupon code LISAALZO in the “Coupon Code:” field at the top of the shopping cart page. A 20% discount will be shown in the shopping cart, and license details will be sent upon completion of the purchase.

Sign Up for the Scrivener II Beyond the Basics Mini Boot Camp Today!
With the Scrivener II Beyond the Basics Mini Boot Camp you’ll receive 1.5 hours of educational content for a special low price of $7.95! You’ll receive an extensive handout, a special Scrivener “freebie” created by instructor Lisa Alzo, as well access to the recorded version of the webinar for up to one year!
Register by Monday, 18 January 2016 and receive $2 off the registration price for a low $5.95! Space is limited and if you register but can’t attend, you’ll still receive the handout, the freebie and access to the recording!
Saturday 23 January 2016
Duration: 1.5 hours
Click here to register. Don't delay, space is limited and seats are filling up fast!

©2015, copyright Lisa A. Alzo. All rights reserved.

[Disclosure: I have been hired as a freelance presenter for this boot camp by HackGenealogy, and I will be paid an instructor's fee].

Monday, December 21, 2015

Are You Ready to Write that Family History? Get Started in January with Genealogy Intensive™ – The Write Stuff Spring 2016

Do you need a push to finally write that family history book in 2016? Will weekly motivation from writing coaches and fellow writers help you to put those fingers to the keyboard? 

Then, don't miss your chance to sign up for The Write Stuff Spring 2016 Genealogy Intensive™  offered through In this six week, interactive course (11 January - 15 February 2016), you will build your skills as a writer and learn about the tools and techniques to produce a quality family history. [And yes, the course starts in January, but we are calling it the Spring 2016 session - we prefer to "Think Spring" instead of Winter!]

Previous sessions (including the Fall 2015 installment) of The Write Stuff sold out quickly! Reserve your spot for the new session now by clicking here to register.

Why Am I Doing This?

As avid genealogists, we collect names, dates, places, and sources, and these are all essential to us learning about who we are. But a total family history is so much more just charts and graphs, boxes and lines, or references. Writing about our ancestors and our heritage gives context, meaning, and purpose to all of the facts we have collected, and I want to help you to learn how to lose the intimidation and let go of your fears about writing so that you can dig deeper into your family stories. As a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Creative Nonfiction Writing program, I learned from many of the best in the business, and I have spent years building my own career as freelance writer. I want to share my experience with you.

Why the “Intensive” Concept?

In the genealogy field, there are countless opportunities for learning about what records are available and how to search them. In addition, there are many study groups out there to help you build upon the methodology and research practices. However, when it comes to writing, there is not the same in-depth type of instruction readily available. Even presentations given at conferences and via webinars are typically only lectures that will “tell” you about some of the key techniques, but don’t always “show” you what to do (I know this because I have given many of these presentations). With six weeks of concentrated focus in this “intensive” format, you will receive “take away” assignments to put into practice what you learn, and get the kind of one-on-one interaction with the instructor that is not always possible in a conference or webinar setting.

Specifically, in “The Write Stuff” experience, you will:
  • Learn writing skills and techniques to produce a quality family history
  • Build on the skills each week.
  • Focus on getting a working draft.
  • Receive constructive and helpful feedback.
  • Learn to overcome fears and anxiety about writing.
  • Have fun!

Through on-line instructional sessions, weekly assignments, and collaboration with other participants, attendees will have access to an instructor with more than 24 years of writing experience, who will teach key nonfiction writing techniques used to produce a “can’t put down” family history that will keep the pages turning for generations.

The intimidation-free learning environment will offer you the chance to find your voice, and write without worry or fear that you are doing something wrong. You will learn the essential skills you need to be accurate and thorough in your writing while maximizing your creativity!

The cost to attend a The Write Stuff Genealogy Intensive™ over a six week period is $129 per person. A special discounted price of $99 will be available during the early registration period.

Click here for more details and to register. But don’t delay…there are only a limited number of seats available, and you will want to be sure to get the early bird discount. 

I hope you will join me so I can help you to stop worrying and start writing!

©2015, copyright Lisa A. Alzo. All rights reserved.

[Disclaimer: I have been hired as a freelance instructor this intensive by HackGenealogy, and I will be receive payment for leading this intensive.]