Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Is it just me, or did 2014 zoom right on by? In just a few hours, it will be 2015, and it is time to review where I have been, and turn my energy and outlook to where I hope to go in the coming year.

Last year, I did not blog about specific goals.  Instead, I wrote that I wanted to embrace a theme of “Focus and Selectivity” for 2014.  [See “2013 Year in Review: Lucky or Unlucky?”]. 

So…How did I do? 

2014 seemed like such a whirlwind.  On the plus side, I was always busy and never without an abundance of work; on the minus side—I was always busy and often overworked.  Being self-employed presents unique challenges including self-discipline, time management, self-motivation, and more. There is also a huge degree of uncertainty—worrying about getting the next writing or teaching assignment, or speaking engagement, meeting enrollment minimums for courses, selling books and other products to make sure there is a steady stream of royalties/income.

I left my 2014 goals general on purpose: They can be summarized as follows: Focus more on my writing, spend time with the people I love, and try to enjoy more of the good things in life. I did well in the writing area. I have not counted them, but I wrote a substantial number of magazine articles.  I published my own QuickSheet on Scrivener, and wrote a guide on Teaching College and Online Education Programs for GenBiz Solutions™.  I also wrote two new courses for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Lecturing was another way I spent my time in 2014. I presented at numerous genealogy conferences that took me to Salt Lake City, Richmond, San Antonio, Burbank, as well as other locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin, and I taught at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I presented more webinars than I ever have, and also presented for Family Tree University’s two virtual conferences. 

In addition, I continued my partnership with Thomas MacEntee, presenting several genealogy Boot Camps on topics such as Blogging, Self-Publishing, and Evernote for Genealogy. I was also an instructor for his new Genealogy Intensive initiative. The first offering of my course, “The Write Stuff: Build Your Family Writing Skills,” (Fall 2014), sold out in 3 days! [Note: I am starting a new session of this Writing Intensive on Monday, 5 January 2015—there are just a few seats left for anyone who would like to improve their family history writing skills.  Click here to register].

As for the personal goals, I did make time for family and friends, but it didn’t seem to be enough.  I need to work on doing better in this area.

So, yes…it has been quite a year, and I am only now able to catch my breath—for a day or so before I start work on 2015 projects.  Did I accomplish everything I set out to in 2014? No.  I wanted to blog more, wanted to publish a kindle version of my book Three Slovak Women, and still haven’t finished a lingering nonfiction book project (I took baby steps in 2014, but need to take the BIG steps in 2015 to finally get it done). I plan to ramp up my writing in 2015—articles, books, guides, blog posts…you name it.  And, venture more into self-publishing. As a genealogist, I will also be participating in the Genealogy Do-Over starting 2 January 2015 (see my post “Embracing My Mistakes: Why I Am Participating in the "Genealogy Do-Over" in 2015”].

My Theme for 2015

For 2015, I have settled on the theme of MOVE/MOVEMENT.  I feel a huge need to move more, both in my personal and professional life. I have divided the “Movement” theme into four categories:

Physical – More exercise.  I love to walk, so I plan on doing more of it in 2015. Besides the health benefits, walking helps me to clear my head and think through ideas.

Mental  – I must move out of the space of negative thinking, and of listening to a lot of the “noise” that is out there in the world and on social media. 

Location – 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.

Productivity – I must move to a place of more fulfilling work for better and more consistent pay. One of the keys to doing this is to thinking less like a creative and more like an entrepreneur.

Thank you 2014, it has been an interesting year, but I am ready to MOVE on to 2015!

Copyright, 2014, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Embracing My Mistakes: Why I Am Participating in the "Genealogy Do-Over" in 2015

Hey world, I'm not perfect, and neither is my genealogy. But, I'm getting a chance to be better in 2015, and it is called the "Genealogy Do-Over."

Image Credit: Thomas MacEntee

When my colleague and friend, Thomas MacEntee, first informed me of his plans to launch a 13-week Genealogy Do-Over, on 2 January 2015, (please read his post on Geneabloggers), I immediately said, “I’m in!”

I never intended to become a genealogist.  When I began exploring my family history more than 25 years ago, I thought that the process would simply be a means to an end.  I was focused on being a writer, studying for my Master of Fine Arts Degree in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and I needed a topic for my thesis. Enter genealogy. I began asking my mother questions about my grandparents and my Slovak/Rusyn heritage. And so it began. [For more information, read my post The Accidental Genealogist from 2 July 2006]. I wrote my thesis about my grandmother’s immigration story, and eventually turned my thesis into a book, Three Slovak Women.

Three Slovak Women. Image Credit: Lisa Alzo

When I began exploring my roots, genealogy was pretty much a solitary activity.  I didn't know how or where to start, and I couldn't Google the answer. There was no, no FamilySearch website, and no Ellis Island Database. Because there was no World Wide Web, I spent long hours in libraries and traveling to repositories, writing letters/requests for records, and chasing down relatives to interview.  Eventually I connected with a few other genealogists thanks to queries in publications and by joining the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International. I didn't have a genealogy database (I did my Pedigree charts by hand). I fumbled my way through the research, winging it as I went along. I made my share of mistakes, including blindly collecting names, buying too much into family lore, and neglecting to cite my sources. Now I have an opportunity to for a "Take Two."  

Why Do the Do-Over?

Why would I want to put aside 25 years of research to start again? Well, I haven’t lost my mind, and it is not because I desire to “follow the crowd.” Here are my personal reasons for wanting to make a fresh start with my genealogy. 

1. Accountability.  Recognizing all of the errors I made as a “newbie,” I view this exercise as a cathartic process during which I embrace my mistakes and learn from them to become an even better genealogist.

2. See the Holes in My Research. With all of the starts and stops in my research over 25 years I have more holes than I can count.  With more thorough and thoughtful research practices, I hope to fill them in. With a research log I will be able to keep better track of what, when, where, and how I search.

3. Documentation and Proof Analysis. When I first began my research, I had to document the key sources I consulted to prepare
 a bibliography for my thesis. Did I record source citations for every single document or piece of information I found?. No (I only recorded those that made it in to the final document).  Did I use the proper format as designated for genealogy? No. Did I conduct a thorough analysis of each and every record?  Not always.

4. Gain a Deeper Understanding of My Ancestors. I was never about just gathering names, dates, and places.  I always wanted “the story.”  And I did get the “stories” for many of my ancestors, but some of them still remain a mystery.  I want to learn more about those ancestors. I would like to develop a better knowledge of who they were, and as a result, have a deeper understanding of who I am.
5. Walking the Walk. As a genealogy writer, instructor, and lecturer, I share research tips, techniques, and advice.  My audience often includes many beginners.  I want to be a good example to those who read my articles, attend my seminars and webinars, or take my courses.

One of the best aspects of this Genealogy Do-Over is that you can make the experience your own. There is a schedule of topics that outlines suggested tasks for each week, and an interactive collaborative group on Facebook for connecting and sharing with others who are participating in the 13-week journey, but nothing is mandatory.

If I Knew Then, What I Know Now…

My ancestry goes back to Eastern Europe. When I began genealogy, finding information “over there” was challenging and difficult. My choices were to: 1) Travel to Slovakia myself (something I was not in a position to do at the time, but have since done—see “Sojourn in Slovakia”); 2) Hire a researcher (which can get expensive), or 3) Rely on the microfilms that could be ordered from the Family History Library.  While I was able to do option #3, and view church records from my ancestral villages, there were a limited number of records available.  Now, most of the records I previously viewed are online and there are also new collections that have been digitized and put online at FamilySearch and other websites.

Documenting My Journey

While I won’t be sharing publicly every step of my own journey, I will focus my posts on some of the common myths and misconceptions in genealogy and how I worked through them. 

I am preparing in advance for the Genealogy Do-Over by setting up a new database in my genealogy software program, customizing my research log template, and creating a special notebook in Evernote where I will store notes, and other important documents and materials. 

I want to make 2015 my best genealogy year ever. I can’t wait to get started!

Copyright 2014, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Whose Story Will You Explore in 2015? New Session of The Genealogy Writing Intensive Begins 5 January

Have you been putting off writing that family history?  Do you want to make 2015 the year you finally tell your ancestors’ stories?  Perhaps you have doubts or fears about how to get started, what to write about, or how to craft a compelling narrative. If so, then join me for a new session of The Write Stuff: Build Your Family Writing Skills,  Genealogy Intensiveoffered through In this six week, interactive course (5 January - 9 February 2015), you will build your skills as a writer and learn about the tools and techniques to produce a quality family history.

The Fall 2014 version of The Write Stuff sold out in 3 DAYS!  Reserve your spot 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 23 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!

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