Below is the information for the Genealogical Society of New Jersey’s annual seminar, where I will be speaking on June 4th. If you are in the area, I hope you will register, attend, and say hello!

The Genealogical Society of New Jersey—2016 Seminar
Saturday, 4 June |

Co-Chairs and Hosts:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, East Brunswick Ward
303 Dunhams Corner Road, East Brunswick, New Jersey 08816

Join us for an all-day program on researching at repositories, immigration, skill-building, and research abroad—all designed to help you advance your New Jersey research! This year’s GSNJ Seminar will present a variety of talks in two concurrent lecture tracks (attendees can switch between tracks).

The first lecture track includes talks on analysis and correlation, discovering your immigrant’s origins, finding Italian-Americans in the Old Country, indirect evidence, and global research from home.

Our New Jersey-focused lecture track will explore three important repositories for New Jersey research, as well as websites and important, underused New Jersey record sets.

We hope you’ll join us on Saturday, 4 June and discover something new that will inspire your research!

Seminar fees include five talks (two tracks, some talks concurrent, please see schedule), lunch, beverages, luncheon presentation, chance of door prizes, parking, and printed syllabus covering all 10 lectures (except lunch presentation where there is no syllabus).

GSNJ Members and LDS Church Members: $48
Non-Members: $58

See website for schedule details, directions, sign-up, and more information. We look forward to seeing you there!


Three New Presentation Topics Added

Hopefully a few more will be added soon, but three topics have been added to my speaking page. They are:

He Used to Be My Ancestor: Avoiding Seven Common Research Mistakes
Finding time to research our ancestors is challenging enough. We don’t want to spend time researching people we thought were our ancestor, only to find out later that they aren’t. Learn to identify and avoid seven common research pitfalls that can confuse identity and create those “former ancestors.”

How Do You Know What You Know? Moving Beyond Your Genealogy Database
Genealogical databases are a great tool to store and maintain our family tree. However, they don’t accurately reflect the most important thing we do as researchers—think, analyze, and explain. Databases are simply a list of sources and conclusions. Learn to document the reasoning that connects those sources and conclusions.

The Rest of the Story: Getting to Know Your Ancestor
Names and dates are an important part of genealogical research. Our ancestors did things on a particular day in a particular place which we can identify and record. But does that help us to know and understand them? Researching extended relatives and friends can reveal the rest of the story.

Back to the Future: I’m Off to the 2016 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference

In just a few hours, I’ll be southbound to Mason, Ohio for the 2016 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference. Last night, as I tried to remember I need to bring to both attend and present at this thing, I started thinking back to the tight connection between OGS conferences and the course my genealogical and professional life has taken to this point. 

The 2009 conference at Sawmill Creek was the first genealogical event I ever attended. Fortunately, I had registered well in advance. One month before the conference, I was laid off from my job of 15 years. Fortunately, it was close enough I could commute. It was the first of several genealogy getaways, where I could put real life behind me and immerse myself in the experience. I knew no one going into this conference. While waiting for a session about Civil War records to begin, I was chatting with the couple next to me. He was originally from the Cleveland area, and suggested that after the conference, I attend a meeting of the East Cuyahoga Genealogical Society, adding that they had an excellent speaker scheduled that night. 

“Who?” I asked. 

“Me!” he replied.

That’s how I met Brent Morgan, and that’s how I became involved in the local genealogy scene. I haven’t looked back since. Things moved fast between the 2009 and 2010 conferences. I was working again, and I had also immersed myself in genealogical research to the point I began exploring it as a career. My focus at this conference was picking the brains of all the speakers and advanced genealogists I could find. I met so many people at the 2010 conference, I can’t list them all. It was the springboard to the current terrific network of people I am proud to call friends and associates. 

The 2011 Conference was in my town, Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately I couldn’t take time off work to attend. I did stop by a couple of times, and manned a table in the exhibit hall for a few hours. Oddly, despite the fact I wasn’t attending, this conference opened up a new professional avenue for me. I ran into Sunny Morton, who asked if I’d like to be introduced to her editor. Of course, I would. Mind you, I was only a couple of years removed from a job search, so I knew all about the elevator speech and selling myself, yada, yada. And I totally blew it. Afterward, I sent a follow-up email trying for damage-control. In the end, this encounter resulted in my first paid writing gig. I went from “Wow, did I blow that,” to “What? I have to write two articles at the same time…and there are deadlines?!” in the span of a month. So even the conference I didn’t actually attend helped push me forward. 

Jump ahead to the 2014 Conference at Kalahari. My department at work was being outsourced and my boss retiring. They still needed someone to manage the work, and I applied for the job, even though I wasn’t sure whether this was the time to boldly jump into the frigid waters of self-employment. A quick look at the books indicated we were broke and getting broker. Amid all this unrest, I was preparing to speak for the first time at the state conference. One presentation was brand new, and the other two I had only done once. I’m not sure I had done three presentations in one month, let alone three presentations in one weekend. I was a little nervous…Okay, I was way nervous. 

Two days before I was set to leave for the conference, I got a call from work: “We’d like you to come in for an interview [on the very day I was leaving for the conference].” So I did. Remember that bit about me knowing all about the right things to do during and after interviews? I did it all wrong. I couldn’t focus on both being interviewed and the presentations, so I picked the presentations and winged the interview. I did the interview, got in the car, and headed to Sandusky.

Oddly, the presentations didn’t go quite as well as I would have liked, but while I got the call at the conference, the evening before my Saturday presentation: “We’d like you to come back for a second interview.” Somehow, I had managed to survive both my first speaking experience at that level while also managing to land a new day job. 

And here I am now, getting ready to head to the 2016 conference, one day after getting the good news that two of my presentations were selected for the 2016 Genealogical Society of New Jersey conference in June. I don’t what it is about all the good things that seem to happen around conference time, but I’m going to make sure that I keep going year after year. You should, too. I won’t give you the laundry list of benefits that a genealogist of any level enjoys at a conference. Suffice it to say that there is such a list. You never know where that next conference will lead you!

The Tragic Tale of Enoch Staats and Elizabeth McWilliams

My 4th great grandfather, Elijah Staats, came from a long line of elusive ancestors and passed this ability on to many of his children. While his line of ancestors might be long, his line of known ancestors is not. In any event, shifting the focus to his descendants–

Elijah had eleven children, possibly twelve.1 Of those twelve children, the ultimate fate of five of those children is unknown. It used to be six.

Enoch Staats was born in Ohio about 1816, presumably in Freeport Twp., Harrison, Ohio where the family resided at the time.2 He is enumerated in the 1850 Union Twp., Monroe, Ohio census with wife Elizabeth and children Phillip M., age 11, and James, age 6. They are next door to Elizabeth’s parents, Phillip and Elizabeth McWilliams.3


1850 Union Twp, Monroe, Ohio Census


Attempts to locate the family in the 1860 census were unsuccessful. The last known record of Enoch and Elizabeth is 19 Apr 1858 when Enoch and Elizabeth sign as having received their share of Phillip McWilliams estate4


After that, they no longer appear in any Noble County record (this portion of Monroe County became part of Noble County upon it’s formation in 1851). An Elizabeth Staats appears in both the 1870 and 1880 Noble County censuses.5 Is this the same Elizabeth (McWilliams) Staats?

While working on a presentation about Google Books, I stumbled across a clue that ultimately provided the answer and so much more. I went to Google Books, and did a search that I’m sure I’ve done a number of times: [“noble county” staats]. This time I got a result from a Gov Docs, List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883. It listed an Elizabeth Staats in Sarahsville (Center Twp), certificate no. 32,286, as a dependent mother.6Armed with this new information, I headed to Ancestry to search Civil War pensions. Sure enough, I found an entry for Phillip M. Staats, for whom Elizabeth was applying for a dependent mother’s pension. Phillip served in Company A, 63rd Illinois Infantry.7 The certificate number matched the Google Books entry.

A little research revealed that this company mustered in Richland County, Illinois. A search of the 1860 Richland County Census for a Phillip, born in 1839, returned a result indexed as “Phillip Sailor.” This was the family of Elisabeth, Philllip, and James Staats. Enoch was not listed.8I would never have known to look in Richland County, Illinois, nor would I have ever thought of a variation that would have included “Sailor.” I requested copies of the pension file. The contents were amazing, even if only a few pages.

In her application, Elizabeth’s declaration states that she is the widow of Enoch Staats “who died the 28th day of Sept 1858…”9 Depositions were also provided by George and Catherine McWilliams, Elizabeth’s brother and sister-in-law. They attested that they “were well acquainted with Enoch Staats and Elizabeth McWilliams before their marriage…” and “that they were present at the county of Monroe State of Ohio on the 26th day of October 1837 and saw Enoch Staats and Elizabeth McWilliams married…”10 In 1867, the probate court in Monroe County burned, and all records were lost. Nor do any church records exist for this couple. This is the only record recording Enoch and Elizabeth’s marriage date.

Elizabeth’s declaration continued:
““…Phillip Staats…was their son, who died at Richland Co., Ill on or about 4 April 1863 of disease contracted while in the service of the United States…James Staats late a private in Co. A 63 Reg’t Ill. Volunteers deceased at Mound City, Ill on or about the 9th day of August 1862.” and that “[Elizabeth] was dependent on her said son Phillip and James Staats for her support, that she is without means and that her said sons both died by reason of disease…”11

So there it was in those four or five pages. Enoch died four months after signing a receipt in his father-in-law’s estate. Having settled the estate, packing up and moving west to Illinois with their two children…Enoch didn’t even make it through the summer. Though she still had her brother, and quite possible other Noble County family and friends around her, she was now in Illinois, a widow with two sons and no means of support. But she managed to make it work. At least until a few years later when the Civil War broke out and both her sons enlisted. Neither one survived the war– and sadly, neither one even made it out of the state. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth returned to Ohio, living with relatives and friends.

The search for Enoch and family was over. I wish they had descendants with whom I could share their tale. But there aren’t. The best I can do is share the tale with the world, and hope that it in some small way helps memorialize a family that has no one else to tell their story.

  1. Internet sources often attribute a Harriet Staats, who married a Pennell to this family. To date, no evidence has been found for this claim, though it appears to originate in a book entitled A Record of the Descendants of George and Jane Chandler (1937). If true, she left no issue and was deceased by the time Elijah died in 1845, as she is not among those listed in the partition case partitioning Elijah’s property. []
  2. 1850 U.S. census, Monroe, OH, population schedule, Union Twp, p. 297 (stamped), dwelling 304, family 304, Enoch States; digital images, ( : accessed 11 Apr 2009); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll M432_712. []
  3. ibid. For relationship, see Noble, Ohio, Estate Files, Case no. 711, box 70, estate of Phillip W. McWilliams (1857); Noble County Probate Court, Caldwell. []
  4. Estate of Phillip W. McWilliams, receipt of Enoch and Elizabeth Staats (1858.)  []
  5. 1870: 1870 U.S. census, Noble, OH, population schedule, Center Twp., p. 65A, dwelling 285, family 275, Margarett Pettay household; digital images, ( : accessed 16 Apr 2016); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M593, roll M593_1252. 1880: 1880 U.S. census, Noble, Ohio, population schedule, Center Twp., enumeration district (ED) 188, p. 57A, dwelling 288, family 288, Nancy Jones household; digital images, ( : accessed 16 Apr 2016); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll 1055. []
  6. United States Senate, editor, List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883: Giving the Name of Each Pensioner, the Cause for which Pensioned, the Post-office Address, the Rate of Pension Per Month, and the Date of Original Allowance, as Called for by Senate Resolution of December 8, 1882, Volume 3; Google Books ( : downloaded 16 Apr 2016), 269. []
  7. “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” database and images, ( : accessed 16 Apr 2016); Phillip M. Staats, certificate no. 32286; original source: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 546 rolls. []
  8. 1860 U.S. census, Richland, Illinois, population schedule, Preston Twp., p. 238, dwelling 242, family 568, Elisabeth Staats household; digital images, ( : accessed 16 Apr 2016); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M593, roll M653_222. []
  9.  “Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, ca. 1861 – ca. 1910,” database and images, ( : accessed 16 Apr 2016); Elizabeth Staats, certificate no. 32,286, petition of Elizabeth Staats, 20 Jul 1864. []
  10. ibid., depositions of George and Catherine McWilliams, 22 Jul 1863  []
  11. ibid., petition of Elizabeth Staats []

WRHS Spring Seminar featuring John Philip Colletta, Ph.D.

Happy New Year, Genealogists!

The following announcement is from the Seminar Chair of the Genealogical Committee at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. I know him pretty well!:

I’m excited to let you know about our upcoming seminar this spring with Dr. John Philip Colletta. Please feel free to share the news with your groups and genealogy friends. We can’t wait!

The Genealogical Committee of the Western Reserve Historical Society is pleased to announce this year’s spring seminar featuring Dr. John Philip Colletta. On Saturday, April 9, 2016. Dr. Colletta will be presenting a full-day seminar featuring four presentations, “Getting to Know Your Immigrant Ancestor,” at the WRHS History Center in University Circle. One of America’s most popular genealogical lecturers Dr. Colletta and the author of several well-known genealogy books, including They Came in Ships, Finding Italian Roots, and Only a Few Bones.

Registration begins at 9:00 am. Cost for the event is $45. For complete information and online registration, please visit: (link shortened) We hope to see you there! Registration will be limited, so don’t miss out! If you have any questions, please contact Chris Staats at

Please note: To register online, scroll to the Tickets section at the bottom of the page linked above, select the number attending, and click Add to Cart.

Speaking and Research Pages Updated

Hello World,

It’s been awhile! I’ve made a few updates to the site.

First,  I updated my speaking page to include some new topics and add brief descriptions of each topic. I hope to continue to add a few new ideas in the upcoming months. Also, if you are part of a library or society that doesn’t have access to many local speakers, I can present any of these topics in a live webinar format.

Second, I removed the research services page. Due to my current schedule, a cannot currently take on any new client work. I do hope to return to the research-for-hire world once time permits.

Despite my time limitations, I hope to make a return to regular posting. Being on an academic calendar, my year turns over at the end f June. Look for my New Academic-Year resolutions post soon!



Creativity and the Genealogical Proof Standard

I’ve recently been musing about my personal need for creativity, and where creativity fits in the genealogy world. I’m still in the musing process and apologize in advance for mixed metaphors, but throw this out there:

At first glance, the Genealogical Proof Standard seems anything but creative:

1. A reasonably exhaustive search
2. Complete and accurate citation of sources
3. Analysis and correlation of the collected information
4. Resolution of conflicting evidence
5. Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion1

Exhaustive searches? Citations? Analysis and correlation? Conflict resolution and logical reasoning? That sounds like the sorts of things that would send the eyes of great creative minds rolling wildly in their heads. Or is it?

The docket books we struggle to lift, the manuscript pages we gingerly turn– even those websites we click through with wild abandon– are all physical, tangible things. The information we extract from those sources exists. We can put our finger directly on that information in the docket book, manuscript, or computer screen.

What doesn’t exist, though, is evidence. Evidence does not exist until we create it. We create it by applying that information in a way that answers or helps to answer a question, which we’ve also created. No matter how rigorously we collect, analyze, and correlate information, we have to create evidence. Have you ever watched the show “Chopped” on the Food Network? Three chefs are given identical baskets of ingredients, and judged on the dishes they create with them. Not all dishes are created equal. Some chefs have a better understanding of the ingredients and how to prepare them. Other chefs pull different items from the kitchen to combine with those ingredients to make a better final dish. Some chefs are simply more creative– successfully combining ingredients in a way that wouldn’t have occurred to other chefs. Sound familiar? Any product that never before existed requires creativity, and the level of creativity can have a direct impact on the final product, whether it’s a gourmet meal or a proof argument.

Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, affirms the need for the Genealogical Proof Standard (stay with me): “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but my lack of control over them.”2 Is there a genealogical researcher ever that didn’t experience that same passion and lack of control when we first jumped into family history? The GPS provides a means for us to control our passion, to make our work as accurate as possible. That controlled, logical approach doesn’t extinguish creativity, however. Flannery O’Conner best describes the relationship between creativity and the need for logical, methodical analysis: “The artist uses his reason to discover an answering reason in everything he sees.”3

Of course, the final step of the GPS is where we actually create our art as genealogists– the soundly-reasoned, coherently-written conclusion. It’s Kerouac’s On the Road, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, a Mozart piano concerto, the perfect soufflé. Though speaking about fiction writing, Ms. O’Conner describes every well-written genealogical proof summary, proof argument, or journal article: “The novelist makes his statements by selection, and if he is any good, he selects every word for a reason, every detail for a reason, and every incident for a reason, and then arranges them in a certain time-sequence for a reason.”4 No matter what previous professional background you bring with you to genealogy, you have to be willing to create– indeed driven to create.

Since I’ve already leaned heavily on Flannery O’ Conner (one of my favorite writers, if you haven’t guessed by now), I will let her have the final word (well, almost final):

Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look. The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn’t require his attention.5

And there is nothing that doesn’t require the genealogist’s attention. Now go forth! Create!

  1. []
  2. Allen Ginsberg, Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952 (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2006),199;Google Books ( accessed 3 Jan 2015). Quote is often attributed to Jack Kerouac. []
  3. Flannery O’Conner, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Strause, and Giroux, 1970), 82; Google Books ( accessed 3 Jan 2015) []
  4. ibid., 75 []
  5. ibid., 84. []

Registration Open for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference Columbus, Ohio, 8-11 April 2015

Woohoo! The OGS conference is one of my personal favorites of each genealogical year. I hope to see many old friends, make many new ones, and spend three days in a genealogical bubble! Below is the release by Program Chair, Shelley Bishop, who has rocked the whole programming thing for this conference!

Registration Open for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference, Columbus, Ohio, 8-11 April 2015

Bellville, OH, 29 December 2014: The Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS) is pleased to announce the program schedule and registration for its 54th Annual Conference, OHIO: Your Genealogical Cornerstone. The conference will be held April 9-11, 2015, at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capitol Square in Columbus, with numerous pre-conference activities on April 8. The Legal Genealogist, Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, will give the keynote address.

The twelve-page program brochure is now available to view and download at Registration is open for both online and mail-in options. Hotel reservations may be made at the special conference rate via a link from the above site. Attendees will enjoy free Wifi in all guest rooms and conference facilities, as well as complimentary parking for one car per room.

Pre-conference activities on Wednesday, April 8, include tours and research opportunities at the Ohio History Center, tours of the Ohio Statehouse, and several workshops at the hotel. From Thursday through Saturday, family historians of all experience levels can select from over 90 presentations on a wide variety of topics to enhance their genealogical skills and understanding of their ancestors. The conference features 44 expert speakers from across the country. Tracks include:

Thursday: Organizing & Productivity, Problem-Solving Strategies, Records & Resources, Across the Ocean, Sharing Family History, and Forensic Genealogy.

Friday: Skill Building, Technology Tools, German Ancestors, Methods for Success, Military Research, and African American & Southern Ancestors.

Saturday: Getting Started, Records & Resources, DNA/Genetic Genealogy, Ohio Ancestors, Research Challenges, and Preserving Your Heritage.

A variety of social events, including luncheons and an informal evening gathering with live music, are offered for attendees to make and renew connections with others who share a passion for genealogy. New this year are express breakfast and grab-and-go lunch options. Businesses and societies will offer their products, books, software, expertise, and more in the exhibit hall.

Sign up to receive posts from the OGS Conference Blog,, for updates and details about conference activities.

Visit to view the program brochure, register, and make your hotel reservations. The Ohio Genealogical Society, founded in 1959, is the largest state genealogical society in the nation. We look forward to welcoming you to Columbus in April!

Researching Stark County, Ohio Property Records Is Free and Easy

While Stark County happens to be the county in which I was born, I rarely have had any need to research there. However, if you DO have Stark County research, be sure to take advantage of one of the handful of counties in Ohio that have digitized all of their deeds and made them available for free, directly through the County Recorder’s website. While it may seem less than intuitive, once you figure out how the system works, you’ll see that it’s actually quite efficient.

First, go to the Stark County Recorder’s site. Click on the “Search Records” link from the menu on the left-hand side of the screen. Acknowledge the disclaimer to continue. On the next screen, you will need to register for your free account (all that’s asked for is name and email address).



Once you’ve registered, you arrive at the main search page. Assuming you are doing historical research, select “Archive Search.”


In the archive search, you will have a split screen. The top of the screen is where you search the indexes. The bottom is where you select the book, volume and page once you have found it in the index.



The index system seems a little clunky, but once you work through it a few times, it’s actually pretty slick. From the index section, you need to select: Which record group you are searching, the time period, the specific range within that time period (forget the fact that the site refers to this as “Alpha”), and then the page of the index you need. How do you know which page? Selecting the “1 Pg Name/Corp” page brings you to the index key. Just as an example, let’s look for the earliest deeds for Martin Funk:

Here are the selections to start the index search for early Martin Funk deeds:




Selecting the Pg Name\Corp brings us to the index key:


The left-hand column is the first letter of the surname, and the letters across are the first letter of the given name. The nice thing about this index is that it is consistent across the books. Once you know the page for the name you’re searching for, you don’t need to look it up each time. Here we are looking for page 163, so we can go back and select that from the index search:


The actual page numbers are listed in parenthesis, so there is no need to guess image numbers– the pages referred to in the docket books are correctly listed on the search page. This is the page image for our selection:


The first deed listed for Martin Funk is found in B:377. We can now go back to the bottom half of the search screen and get that page:















And that’s it! We now have the deed we were looking for. It can be printed and saved directly from your browser.



If we had not found any deeds in the date range we were looking for, all we need do is go back to the index selections, pick a new range, and go to page 163 of that book (since we already know the page on which surname F, first name M appears).

Happy Hunting!


Claire Bettag Seminar, NARA Land Records and Gov Docs!

On Saturday, September 27, 2014 from 9am to 4pm, don’t miss a rare chance to see one of the great genealogical speakers, Claire Bettag! Claire will be doing an all-day seminar at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. The focus of the seminar is research in NARA land records and Gov Docs. I had the pleasure of attending Tom Jones’ Advanced Research Methods at GRIP in 2012. Claire taught several classes in that course, and I got to hear at least two of these. Fortunately, they are those sorts of lectures you could hear 10 times and still learn something new. I can’t wait to hear them again!

You don’t want to miss this– Claire doesn’t venture this way too often, so take advantage of the opportunity! For complete information and online registration go to


Click the image for a printable pdf version of the flyer and registration form.