Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thinking Spring?

Well, winter finally arrived in Central New York about a week or so ago and it came full force! It has been bitter cold and snowing and it sounds like we are in for "colder than cold" next week according to weather forecasters!

So, all this winter weather has me thinking spring in a major way! Spring weather means I will go back on the road again for talks and book signings. I am looking forward to visiting some new places this year and I hope to possibly be able to meet some of you who read this blog on a regular basis!

Here's a list of some of the places I will be presenting in the Spring/Summer:

April 14th - Bridgeport, CT - Mini-Slavic Symposium - details and location TBA

April 21st - Community Library of Allegheny Valley, Natrona Hts., PA "Slovak Pittsburgh"

April 28th - Greater Omaha Genealogical Society Conference/Workshop
Omaha, Nebraska (Details TBA)

May 12, 2007 - Central New York Genealogical Society, Syracuse, NY "Finding Your Elusive Eastern European Ancestors" and "Identifying Immigrant Cluster Communities" 01 June, 2007 Ontario Genealogical Society , Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada "Demystifying Eastern European Research" "Write Your Family History Step by Step" 13 July, 2007 Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies , Salt Lake City, UT "Researching Your Slovak Roots in the 21st Century" "Are You Carpatho-Rusyn? How to Tell and Where to Find the Proof"

May 21, 2007 - Polish Heritage Society, Syracuse, NY - Details TBA

June 1-3, 2007 Ontario Genealogical Society , Algonquin College, Ottawa, Canada "Demystifying Eastern European Research" "Write Your Family History Step by Step" 13 July, 2007 Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies , Salt Lake City, UT "Researching Your Slovak Roots in the 21st Century" "Are You Carpatho-Rusyn? How to Tell and Where to Find the Proof"

July 13, 2007 Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies , Salt Lake City, UT "Researching Your Slovak Roots in the 21st Century" "Are You Carpatho-Rusyn? How to Tell and Where to Find the Proof"

I will post updates as plans are finalized.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Getting Excited About Writing Again

It has been a long time since I have been excited about my writing. In addition to working on a number of articles for my usual favorite genealogy magazines, I've got two great book projects in "active mode" and one on the "back burner," and I am really looking forward to finishing all three of them!

For two out of the three books I am working with co-authors I truly respect both personally and professionally. So, "props" to Alby and Dan. I am honored to be working with you on these respective projects which could not be more different in scope (the first an historical photo book focusing on sports in Western Pennsylvania, and the second a nonfiction narrative I wrote about previously in this Blog). The third book is a memoir that celebrates my father's days as a star high school and semi-professional basketball player.

It feels good to be excited about my writing again. It's been quite awhile.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Conquering Clutter

"We love stuff. We hate stuff. How did we get so much? And how can we ever dig out?"

This timely article, "Conquering Clutter" by David Dudley, appeared in the January & February 2007 issue of AARP Magazine. I think most genealogists can relate to dealing with clutter--after all, aren't we the ultimate pack rats? I am not sure I totally agree with his approach to some of the items discovered in his parents house, but having had to do the same thing this summer while preparing to sell my own parents' place, I can understand and sympathize. One sentence in the piece actually sounds like I could have written it: "Left behind in their vacated home was yet another subset of that stuff, the stubborn dead-enders. For several weekends I labored at this archaeological dig until the last holdouts were donated, auctioned off, or stuffed into my garage and basement to await some uncertain fate."

In addition to all of the family documents, photographs and other memorabilia that I save because I know they are valuable to my genealogical research, I am also stuck with about 50 vases of all shapes, sizes and colors (my mother must have received a lot of flowers during her lifetime), all of my mother's dishes from milestone anniversaries, boxes of tools from my father who was a carpenter and did not just have one hammer, but 10, multiple wrenches, saws, and other tools, and every size bolt, nut, nail and screw imaginable!

Anyway, for anyone who is faced with the task of cleaning out their parents' or elderly relative's house, or for those who find themselves collecting stuff "just in case" or because it is "cool to have" I think this article provides some good points for reflection!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Digital Ice Age

Here's an interesting article concerning a subject genealogists and family historians have a vested interest in--will how we save our files today enable them to be readable/accessible in the future? Below is just the first two lines of this article, published in the December 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics. The National Archives is mentioned in the article. Click on the link to read the rest.

The Digital Ice Age

The documents of our time are being recorded as bits and bytes with no guarantee of future readability. As technologies change, we may find our files frozen in forgotten formats. Will an entire era of human history be lost?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

23 Websites to Fire Up Your Family History
I've got a new article in the current issue (March 2007) of Internet Genealogy Magazine: "23 Websites to Fire Up Your Family History."

I really enjoyed writing this article after exploring some "old favorites" as well as some "new kids on the genealogy block." So, if you're missing that spark in your own genealogy, the sites I write about may just help to make your research sizzle!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Writer's Block

This week I have been experiencing a severe case of "writer's block." I am working on a new book with a very good friend of mine. While I don't want to divulge the details of this book, I can say that it is going to be a work of creative nonfiction telling the story of a shocking crime that happened in a small town some 70 years ago. We've got a great story to tell. It has many twists and turns and one surprising fact after another. We also have an outline--a basic structure for the book.

The problem is where and how to begin. The beginning has to be something gripping enough to peak the reader's interest without giving too much away! It's a bit tricky. When I write an article I usually know exactly how I am going to start (able to identify the "hook") and often know how I will wrap it up. And even with my other books I didn't have a problem with the introductions. But this project is different and is taking me back to my days of studying creative nonfiction in graduate school. It is the most challenging project I have taken on in a long time. I am both excited and nervous about it.

My co-author and I have discussed this problem and he's stumped too. But we hope that as we just start to write hopefully the beginning or "hook" will become obvious to us.

I guess the first step is to recognize the writer's block. The next step is to find a small way to chisel through it. I've read all the "tips" in the writer's magazines and hope to try to implement some of them.

For now, I plan to "sleep on it." Perhaps some inspiration will come to me while my mind is at rest.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I’ve Been Tagged. Now You’re It!

Randy Seaver has tagged me to be a part of the internet “Genea-tag” game going on in the online genealogical community (thanks, Randy!) and I’ve been asked to reveal "Five Things You Didn't Know About Me."

So, here goes:

1. When I was a child I had both the mumps and the chicken pox twice! This really baffled the doctors and worried my mother! I had the mumps and chicken pox together when I was about 3 or 4 years old, and the infection was so bad in the glands in my neck that I had to endure an operation. My glands were lanced to get the infection out. I still have the scars on either side of my neck. The second round of each came at about ages 8 and 9. My Slovak grandmother had some interesting home remedies for these maladies. For the mumps, my grandmother and mother cooked sauerkraut and wrapped it in a cloth for me to wear around my neck to reduce the swelling. I think it worked, but it was awful! To this day, the very smell of sauerkraut stirs this memory and I can’t eat sauerkraut!

The second time I came down with the chicken pox, I was sitting at the breakfast table eating my bowl of cereal and scratching the side of my head. I said “Mommy, look at this big mosquito bite on my head.” Well, it was the middle of winter in Pennsylvania—unlikely it was a mosquito bite. My mother called my grandmother and she told my mother to give me something very sour such as a grapefruit or lemon. This was her home remedy that was supposed to bring out the chicken pox. I remember insisting to my mother “I was not sick” and that “I WAS going to school!” Imagine a kid insisting on going to school! My mother just said “Okay” as she watched the chicken pox start popping out on my face, arms, legs, etc.! Needless to say I did not go to school for a week!

2. My favorite musical group when I was younger was the Bee Gees. I even took disco lessons and begged my aunt and cousin to take me to see Saturday Night Fever at the movie theatre. My mother refused to take me saying the content was not appropriate. My aunt and cousin covered my eyes and ears during those so-called parts of the movie, but my mother was still furious when she eventually found out that I had seen it! And I confess: I still listen to the Bee Gees today. They are but one group I include in the mix of music on my MP3 Player that ranges from Neil Diamond to Tim McGraw to U2 (my favorite group—I’ve seen them in concert 4 times!).

3. I am an only child and spent 14 years as primary caregiver for my mother and father during their various illnesses. I took care of my father through a stroke, a bout with cancer, a near amputation of his foot, and heart problems, and my mother during triple bypass surgery and three years on kidney dialysis. I did all of this while working my way through graduate school at Pitt and later on moving to Central NY for my job. My parents (and grandparents) stressed the importance of family above all else. Very few people know the personal and professional sacrifices I made during this time.

A picture with my parents, Ann & John Alzo taken on the day of my high school graduation

4. I have had some interesting comments from participants at conferences where I have been a speaker. The remarks had nothing to do with my presentations. For example: one woman asked me “When do you sleep?” after I mentioned all of the different activities I am involved in along with my full-time job and freelance writing work. Another gentleman told me: “You need a new picture [in the genealogy magazines] you are much prettier in person.” Finally, another individual once told me at a Czech/Slovak genealogy conference that I had a “beautiful complexion” and should “forget about genealogy and go into the cosmetics industry!”

5. This one may come as a shock to some. I do not breathe, sleep, and live genealogy. While I enjoy performing research, learning about my ancestors, and writing and speaking about family history, it’s not something that is “all- consuming” for me. Now, I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone by this statement. It is actually more of a self-criticism because I know that I get bored very easily with tasks – even those that are genealogy related! It may be because I am a Sagittarius—a fire sign, and we Archers are characterized as wanting to experience as much of life as we can. We’re unhappy when tied down to a routine, and happiest when starting off on something new (which is probably why I sometimes jump from family line to family line during the research process). Sagittarians also have restless, adventurous minds, and like to take up new studies. Perhaps this is why I could not decide between “Nutrition” and “English” as my college major, so I studied both as a double major! I also find myself always juggling at least 3-4 diverse projects at any one time and have many interests outside of genealogy.

Now, I have to list five people I would like to tag. Since I don’t like to follow the crowd, I am going to be a bit unconventional in the folks I tag, so here goes:

Dan Burns, my good friend, fellow writer and blogger, and current collaborator on a new book project
Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine
Allison Stacy and/or Diane Haddad, Family Tree Magazine
Halvor Moorshead, Family Chronicle, Internet Genealogy and History magazines
Steve Morse, creator of the fabulous “One-Step Web Pages”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Short on Time? You Can Still Work on Your Genealogy!

If you're like me, you probably feel you never have enough time for your family history research. It's rare when I can find an uninterrupted hour or two to just scour online database, review notes, update my family tree, or do as much genealogy as I want to.

Thankfully, however, I discovered that I can still make some progress towards my family history research goals every day--even if only in small segments.

I compiled a list of 50 tasks that can be done in 15 minutes or less and published these in an article "Express Genealogy..." for the March/April 2006 issue of Family Chronicle magazine.

Click here to download and read a PDF copy of this article. Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Searching for Elusive Eastern European Ancestors?

If you've got Eastern European Roots and don't know where or how to begin your search, why not consider signing up for my new class "Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 1 (Basic)" on

The class begins February 1st and will last four weeks, with eight lessons and four class chats. The class costs $29.95.

Here's the course description:

"A vast number of immigrants from came to America from various areas in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This class will show you how to begin researching your Central and Eastern European roots using both traditional and online sources. Learn how to identify your ancestral village (whether in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, the Ukraine, or other areas), locate and interpret vital records, contact possible relatives, trace your ancestors through census and immigration records, organize your research, and much more!"

Click here to view an outline of the eight lessons.

Register now for this course or any of the other great February courses via this link. Hope to meet you in class!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Five Brick Wall Busting Quick Tips

Whenever I am faced with a perplexing brick wall in the search for my ancestors, I review these five quick tips:

1. Check in unlikely places for information
2. Be open to all possibilities
3. Review all of your research data and then review it again; perhaps you missed something
4. Believe in serendipity (sometimes the information will present itself to you in a way that is
unexplainable (see the book Psychic Roots by Hank Jones for examples).
5. Never give up!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

How to Bust Those Brick Walls

At one time or another every genealogist hits the “proverbial brick wall.” While it may seem impossible that we will find that missing piece of our puzzle, there may be ways to locate the information we desire. But, it takes work and a good deal of patience! Below are 15 tips to that may give you a fresh insight into your toughest research problems.

1. Analyze what you have – did you miss something?
2. Surround the roadblock/brick wall – have you found or done the following:
Located birth certificate
Located death certificate
Searched obituaries
Performed researched on children, siblings, and collateral lines
3. Use an old map to find the nearest cemetery, church, city.
4. Visit the cemetery (check all records: cemetery plot, inscription, church, office, and mortuary records)
5. Work backwards from a theory
6. Join E-mail lists
7. Search LDS Family History Library catalog for your ancestor’s town and nearby towns
8. Question all of your cousins and extended family members (especially those of the older
9. Oral History – write down family folklore/stories and document the source(s)
10. Keep notes of all resources consulted and methods tried
11. Explore any towns that may have your surname
12. Ask questions and be assertive – if you don’t ask you may never know!
13. Join a genealogical or historical society to network with other researchers
14. Remember that current geography does not equal historical geography (double check boundaries using old maps, gazetteers and atlases)
15. Explore “chain migration” – immigrants often formed “cluster communities” in the New

These are just a few examples of some techniques to apply to your tough research problems. If you have some extremely difficult brick walls to break through, there are two books that may be able to help you.

500 Brick Wall Solutions to Genealogy Problems; Family Chronicle. Softcover, 432 pages; $25 US and $30 CDN (includes shipping)

More Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems; Family Chronicle. Softcover, 192 pages; $15 US and $18 CDN (includes shipping)

Both books are published by Family Chronicle. You can order them online at or through an order form supplied in any issue of Family Chronicle Magazine.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kudos to Pittsburgh's Slovaks!

I have to give a shout out to everyone who has supported my new book, Slovak Pittsburgh (Arcadia Publishing). First, I want to thank Ashley at the Barnes & Noble store at the Waterfront in Homestead, PA and the Dan & Sarah Burns and the Mifflin Township Historical Society for the super job with publicizing my book signing that took place on Wednesday evening, January 17th. The turnout was excellent, especially for a Wednesday evening in the middle of January, and I am grateful to all of those folks who purchased the book.

In addition, I've been tracking the sales of my book on and Slovak Pittsburgh has been holding steady in the top 5 for sales of Arcadia books in Pennsylvania. Thanks to everyone who has purchased the book.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

No Posts for a Few Days

I am going to be out of town for a few days doing research for two book projects I am working on so will be taking a break from blogging.

I will also be appearing at the Waterfront Barnes & Noble, Homestead, PA on Wednesday, January 17th at 7 p.m. signing copies of my new book, Slovak Pittsburgh.

I will post again later this week!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

When the "Hunter" Becomes the "Hunted"

Over the holidays I experienced an event that many genealogists tend to initiate. I received a voice mail message from a gentleman who said he was "certain he was related to me" and could I please call him back right away. Now, this has happened to me before. Since I've been doing genealogy and even more so since I've published my books, I've had folks contact me saying they shared one of the surnames I was researching and "could we be related?" What made this message stand out was the fact that the gentleman said he was connected to me on my Alzo side of the family. In the 16 years I have been researching my roots, I have only had one other person contact me saying they were researching the Alzo name. So, needless to say this message really piqued my interest and I picked up the phone and returned the call.

It turns out that this gentleman was absolutely correct: We are related. He said that he read my book, Three Slovak Women and also showed the book to his mother who recognized many of the names in the book and who as a young girl lived where my family did in Duquesne, PA. His mother said she used to stay with her "aunt and uncle, John and Elizabeth Alzo" in Duquesne. When this gentleman first told me his mother's maiden name, I did not recognize it as a surname on the Alzo side of my family tree. However, as he continued to provide details, he mentioned the name "Frena"and then the bells went off! It turns out, his mother's mother, Mary, was my grandfather John Alzo's sister. She had been married in Slovakia and had a daughter, also named Mary. Her first husband died of influenza and the two left there to come to America. In order to support her daughter, Mary went to work and my grandparents watched her daughter. Then Mary met a man, John Frena whose wife had died and he had three children. After the two married, they had three additional children. Mary (the daughter) went to New York to work when she was a young woman so I never met her. She married and settled there. And the best part is, Mary is still alive and at 89 still has an excellent memory! I was able to speak with her by phone and she remembered many members of the Alzo family including my late father and his sisters (all deceased). She said she even has pictures from the old country!

And, here I thought that my father was the oldest living member of his family and that when he passed away so did my final link to the past. It just goes to show you never know!

After an hour long conversation, we agreed that we would meet in person some day soon. It turns out they only live about 4 hours from me so I plan on making a road trip in the near future. I can't wait to meet my newly found cousins!

This is one time I am glad that the tables were turned and that these relatives found me (apparently they have been trying to reach me for awhile - e-mails they sent bounced; but finally they were able to find my phone number!). So, the lesson here is when you do genealogical research and you put it out there for others to discover you never know who may contact you. I am used to being the "hunter" when trying to find family members or ancestors, but this time I was the "hunted"! And I couldn't be more delighted!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Want to Write Your Family's History?

If you've been thinking about writing your family's story but don't know how or where to begin, I would like to help you.

I will be teaching the 4-week online course, "Write Your Family History Step-by-Step" beginning February 1st on GenClass.

You don't have to be a prize-winning novelist to capture your family's story on paper! This class will cover how to document your family's story in simple manageable steps. Learn how to conduct an oral history interview-including what questions to ask, when and how to record an interview, how to handle privacy issues, how to write from family photographs and documents, and how to blend genealogical and historical facts with family stories to produce a compelling and lasting narrative.

The class is $29.95 and will contain 8 lessons plus class chats. A number of individuals have already signed up for this course. Hurry space is limited! I hope you'll join us!

Check out the other great classes being offered too!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

World Vital Records

I've been spending some time using a new Web site: World Vital Records.

At first glance, this site shows a lot of promise.

This new web site, created by Paul Allen (one of the founders of currently contains free and subscription-based ($49.95 annual US) content. will offer users international record databases, references to top genealogical resources, a blog planet, podcasts, videocasts, Webinars, expert advice, training, and user-generated content. WVR’s stated aim is to become the number two player in the genealogy industry behind

One of the features I like is some new accompaniments to searching the Social Security Death Index. Once you locate someone in the SSDI, and click on his or her name you are taken to a screen which shows the basic data but also has a couple of interesting new features such as a listing of “nearby cemeteries” and also a tab “See Neighbors” which takes you to another list of names of the individual’s neighbors (folks from the same zip/locality) who died +/- two years within that of the individual whom you are searching. There is also an “historical events” tab that lets you view important happenings on birth and death dates of the person. There is also a Geo Mapping Tool—a unique mapping feature that places information relevant to your searches on dynamically generated maps. For example, when you search for a surname, a map is created showing you the location of that individual's death, as well as the deaths of other individuals in the local area. On the map you can see nearby towns, roads, relevant information (like nearby cemeteries) and even historical timeline data.

The site also has newspapers from 33 states as well as other interesting content.

The site is currently advertising a special offer: Enroll today and get a TWO year membership for the price of one. Just $49.95! A pretty good deal in my opinion.

This site is another in the market promising the “one-stop” search for data that genealogists crave.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Historic passenger lists of ships go online

This announcement was posted on Reuters. This will be a major resource for many genealogists whose ancestors came to the U.S. via British ports. I've subscribed to Findmypast (formerly 1837online) for quite sometime and cab't wait to start searching these lists.


LONDON (Reuters) - People looking to track ancestors who emigrated from British ports will from Wednesday be able to search online passenger lists of the ships that carried them to new lands.

Released by Britain's National Archives, the passenger manifests give an insight into all long-distance trips made by 30 million travelers from the country's ports between 1890 and 1960, including that of the Titanic which sank in 1912.

"We hope the digitization will open up a hugely valuable resource for genealogists and social historians all over the world," said Dan Jones, National Archives' head of business development.
The records, available via commercial Web site which was licensed by The National Archives, also show the passages of trans-European migrants.

Many were Jews fleeing persecution, who began their journeys in continental Europe and travelled to British ports like Southampton and Liverpool to catch cheap sailings.

During this period, thousands of Britons were propelled by economic reasons to seek new beginnings abroad. Between 1890 and 1914 an estimated 125,000 Britons emigrated every year to the United States, with 50,000 going to Canada and 25,000 to Australia.

Trips to all continents are covered with sailings to South America, the Caribbean, West Africa and all parts of Asia.

Initially only the period from 1890-1900 will be available but subsequent decades will be put online over the next few months.

The lists provide an intriguing glimpse of individual voyages. What, for example, did 40-year-old Glaswegian spinster dairy maid Elizabeth Barr make of New Zealand when she arrived in 1923 on the steamship Remuera?

Did she perhaps strike up an onboard friendship with John Woodrow, 21, a rabbit-catcher from Warwickshire or maybe she built a new life with another fellow passenger, 33-year-old London fireman Rufus Workman?

Although the passenger lists have been available at the archives' offices in Kew, southwest London, for some time they are indexed by port of departure only and not name, making it difficult to find a particular individual.

The passenger lists, which are available online in their original form vary. Some are typed, others are handwritten. Some record tantalizingly little detail while others give occupations, address and ultimate destination overseas.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Upcoming Talk

I am happy to be the January speaker for "What's Your History?" Night at the Waterfront Barnes & Noble, Homestead, PA on Wednesday, January 17th at 7:00 PM. I will be discussing and signing my new book, Slovak Pittsburgh. This event is sponsored by the Mifflin Township Historical Society.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area, why not drop by? I would enjoy meeting you!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sign Up Now for Great New Genealogy Classes!

Genealogy classes are now underway at Here are the courses being offered during February. Classes start Thursday February 1, 2007. Each class is just $29.95 for 4 weeks (8 lessons) and interaction with some of the top genealogy instructors in the field! Hurry and reserve your space now!!!

Adoption Investigative Class:
Detailed search advice and assistance for successfully locating and
reuniting adoptees and birth families.

Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 1 (Basic):
Getting started with ancestors from Eastern Europe, - history, geography, languages.

Jewish Genealogy - Basic Introduction (Part 1):
A step-by-step overview of what you need to know to track your family.

Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class:
Detailed search advice and assistance on the methods to use for
successfully tracing "lost" relatives and friends.

Organizing Your Family History:
Learn the techniques to ensure efficient organisation of your research.

Write Your Family History Step-by-Step:
How to write your own family history, - a detailed and step-by-step guide.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Toning Your Family History Physique

In a previous post I wrote about "Genealogical Fitness" goals for 2007. In keeping with this theme, here's a link to my article "Toning Your Family History Physique" that appeared in the May/June 2006 issue of Ancestry Magazine.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thank God for Technology!

The New Year has not started off in a good way. My husband came down with a stomach flu on New Year's Day, and three days later passed it on to me! I can't remember the last time I was this sick. Unfortunately, I really can't afford to be sick with writing deadlines, teaching a new online course, and working my full-time job. But, nevertheless, I am stuck in bed for awhile. Thank God for technology. I am able to use my notebook computer and our wireless home network to at least do some work when I feel just well enough to sit up in bed for a few minutes.

I hope that this will soon subside. Time to rest now.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

This is my first post for 2007 to start a new year of blogging! Since New Year's is all about making resolutions (I prefer the concept of setting goals myself), I thought I would share in this post a link to an article I wrote for the former Ancestry Daily News in 2006 entitled, "12 Steps to Genealogical Fitness." Although the article refers to "2006 goals" the tips I provide can be applied to any year.

I hope it will inspire you to set your own genealogical research goals this year, and more importantly, some ideas to help you follow through with them. I just read the article again myself and will be applying some of the tips to my own personal family history research "resolutions."

Wishing you much genealogical success in 2007!