The Genlighten Blog

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Featured Provider: roots4all


Featured provider roots4all earned a degree in Family History-Genealogy from Brigham Young University with a focus on New England, Mid-Atlantic states, Eastern European, British, general American, and Canadian family history. Her undergraduate course work included paleography, writing family histories, and intensive research cases. Roots4all interned with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and worked for where she taught at genealogical conferences, wrote for their newsletter, and authored an e-book.

Currently in a master’s program in Digital Humanities at Loyola University Chicago, roots4all hopes to use her newly-acquired coding and programming skills to create new genealogical applications to address needs in the community.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

The first time I saw a pedigree chart, I was five years old, vacationing at my grandma’s house on the Pennsylvania/New York border. She had pedigree charts out in the morning on the kitchen table and I asked about a particular person that grabbed my attention—Morgan Maxon Spoor. I couldn’t read his name yet, but after she told me who he was, I felt like I should ask if she had any pictures to go with stories. Two paper grocery bags filled to the brim later, it was a fun morning and early afternoon. My grandparents met in high school and during vacations my grandmother would drive my sister and me around the farm lands and towns where their families grew up. I performed my first genealogical data entry at twelve when my grandmother was visiting my family.

My first repository research was at sixteen with a family friend at the National Archives in DC and at the DAR Library. I grew up outside of DC so these were simple day trips. My first job at seventeen was as a summer intern for a local professional genealogist. I majored in the field during my bachelor degree in Family History-Genealogy at BYU-Provo, and have continued honing and learning skills since then.

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

I’m not sure if these are weird quirks or super-powers but I can read American hand-writing going back at least to the 1700’s (trained to read back to 1600’s). I can also typically identify what facial features a person inherited from an ancestor if there is a picture or painting to compare. I can place people’s features over time for confirming ancestors without the need of software assistance. I can also almost always spell people’s names and/or pronounce them correctly the first time without assistance when hearing or reading them.

Describe challenging research problems you’re proud of having solved.

Growing up, I never thought that I would be able to find my father’s Slovak roots. Eventually, I took a class where I was able to find the proper name for the town in a gazetteer and I used that to find the corresponding record film.

When the reel came from the Vault, the records were written in Latin base in a Hungarian form. In order to find the correct entries, I had to be able to speak, read, and understand the basics of three languages and the record-keeping of a different religion than my own. I also had to figure out historical border changes for a country frequently in political turmoil for the period. I had taken Latin in high school, which helped. My father was impressed when he learned that it took three languages and understanding parts of at least two other cultures and organizational systems to figure it out.

In another example, a client gave me a good family summary with parents, siblings, and general locations for ancestors for a basic search but the family did not show up ANYWHERE using normal search strategies. I tried looking for first names only and another family emerged with a different surname (not even close to the original name) in the right location and with the right ages. After asking the client about the strange, yet remote, possibility, the client checked back with her relatives who confirmed the different surname. Although I was a little surprised, I was glad to have gone beyond the obvious to try multiple searches for this family.

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My favorite ancestors were farmers of good standing. While searching for them, however, a few little tidbits have cropped up.

  • One of my mother’s ancestors (1700’s) was struck by lightning while being under a tree with a woman who was not his wife.
  • On my father’s side, a multiple-times great uncle had his head blown off in a mortar experiment while working on Union ordnance at the West Point Foundry during the Civil War.
  • My Mom’s great-great grandfather was a farmer who ran off to join the circus and left it after his trapeze-walking love fell to her death. (I’m still trying to confirm that one.)
  • One of my grandmothers was a Slovak immigrant who became an artist, taught dance, and knew Arthur Murray.

I notice trends in the family—music, dance, and art, a love of learning, bakers and cooks, engineering, masonry and architecture, technology, and people who weren’t perfect. Knowing the past gives me hope for my life and hope for positive change.

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

The newest resource I have access to is, a site set up by Barry Fleig to help Chicago in its identification of those interred in the Dunning incarnation of the Chicago City Cemetery. Mr. Fleig’s efforts stretch back at least to the late 1980’s and continue as there is still work to do regarding the Dunning cemetery site records.

What’s the one must-visit repository for visitors doing research in your area?

Researchers should give the Newberry Library at least one day, even if it’s the only place that they can visit on a trip to Chicago. However, if you KNOW that your ancestors were in Chicago, and you have a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday morning open, the Wilmette Family History Center has a fabulous collection of microfilmed original records for the Chicago/Cook County area and beyond including Catholic church records. The films correspond to many of the current Chicago record offerings on FamilySearch.

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

I got married recently and my husband loves planes. We live close to cemeteries (for me) and close to an airport (for him). I’m learning how to identify commercial airplanes by sight, as they are landing (e.g., A340, 747, CRJ’s, ERJ’s, 777, etc.). It’s a little game we play in the car.

I’ve also become a baker. I already cooked and love working with new flavor palettes and techniques, but I inherited my mother-in-law’s incredible (and a little hard-to-duplicate) chocolate chip cookie recipe and got it right! From there, I have become proficient at cake creation and basic decoration, and I am interested in professional-quality cake baking, transportation, display, etc.

I am starting to focus more on learning to sew and quilt, though I also knit and crochet for friends. I also garden. Otherwise, I am getting back into singing and recently started conducting my local church choir.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I love researching places and people from other cultures than my own. Learning new record groups and resources is not easy, but it allows me flexibility. My dream would be to have a helpful answer for anyone who asks me a question regarding their genealogy. In the meantime, I am learning more about Chinese-American culture to help client work, and I will start learning German to get a handle on that aspect of my personal family history.

Since I moved to Chicago, I’ve rarely researched the same location twice with the exception of my family’s locations in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Every case I am asked to research involves learning new resources and new places, but the methodology is generally the same.

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