The Genlighten Blog

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Featured Provider: familymatters2u


Genlighten provider familymatters2u has done client research since 1995. He is a genealogy guide at the National Archives and his research specialties include military service and pension research, and German translation. His most popular Genlighten offerings are Civil War Pension Files and Civil War Widows’ Pensions.

1. How did you get started doing genealogy research?

In my college days, a great-aunt gave me a dozen family group sheets. I was fascinated to discover that our Pennsylvania-German family stretched back so far and sprang from so many surnames. When I moved to Washington to start a diplomatic career, I spent spare time in the National Archives cranking through census microfilms. I was hooked.

2. How have you developed your research skills?

Returning from overseas assignments, I took a genealogy course offered in the community education program. I also enrolled in some NGS courses. The NGS Home Study course built a solid foundation for further research.

3. Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

That’s easy: it’s my address! Living in the Washington, DC area, I have access to the National Archives, the Library of Congress, DAR, Bureau of Land Management, etc. Even better, I meet and work with nationally-recognized experts who are generous in sharing their advice and expertise.

4. Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

A client was looking for Civil War records of an ancestor. But except for a brief Compiled Military Service Record covering a few months, I could find very little. Pensions? Nothing. Bounty land? Nothing. Gravestone application? Nothing. At last I found him: he was included in the Registers of Court Martial Cases, 1800 – 1890.” He was found guilty of desertion.

5. Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My wife and I joined a tour of Switzerland for descendants of Mennonites who were persecuted there and emigrated to Pennsylvania. We came to the village of Hirzel where my 8G Grandfather, Hans Heinrich Landis, had lived. We visited the village church where he had worshipped. I was invited to read a passage from the German Bible. I felt strong connections to my ancestors: same village, same church, same language, and same faith. (see photo above)

6. What’s the most unique record source that you access for research?

The richest source of genealogical information, which is not available online, is the National Archive’s vast collection of military pension records, including those of the Civil War. The Widows’ Pension files, especially, often hold 50-200 documents that tell of a soldier’s birth, his enlistment, his marriage, his military service, his wounds or illnesses, his widow and their children.

7. What’s the one must-visit repository for out-of-town visitors doing research in your area?

Visitors should plan to visit the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). There are two facilities: Archives I in Washington and Archives II in Greenbelt, MD. Genealogists will probably want to start with the microfilmed and original records at Archives I. (And don’t forget the Library of Congress and DAR.)

8. What tools do you use to create the reports/images that you provide to clients?

For reports, I keep a copy on hand of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained. For images I use a high-resolution digital camera and attach the images to the reports sent via Genlighten.

9. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break through a
brick wall?

Ask. Ask a local librarian or court clerk. Ask your friends and colleagues. Ask mailing lists and genealogy forums online. Ask a professional. Ask Genlighten.

10. What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?

Choral singing. Nothing clears the mind like making or listening to great music.

11. Anything else you’d like to share?

Remember: One source yields a fact. Two sources yield a confirmed fact. Three sources yield contradictory facts.

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