Book Review: At Home in Lansing: The Journals of Maurice L. Reed 1927-1931, by Claudia C. Breland

at home in lansing - cropped(Disclaimer: I was given a review copy by the author)

Reading At Home in Lansing: The Journals of Maurice L. Reed 1927-1931, by Claudia C. Breland, felt like sitting down for a long and lovely conversation with my grandparents, who were somewhat younger contemporaries of Maurice and Ruby Reed. I grew up in Michigan in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I don’t think I know anybody anymore who uses Michigan-isms like “forenoon” instead of “morning,” among others. My grandparents did and so does Maurice – it was delightful to hear them again.

If you’re lucky enough to be related to anyone mentioned in the book, you’ll find it a double treat to know what those relatives were doing on a particular day. If you’re not related (I’m not), but have family who were in Michigan during this period between the world wars, Maurice’s diaries are a fascinating window into the daily life of the time. This kind of social history is indispensable for filling in the experiences of our ancestors and telling their stories. Reading diaries is a more immediate experience than reading or listening to someone’s recollections, because the diarist is writing about present life, rather than remembering the past. Those of us who don’t have diaries like this from family members can be glad that Maurice has recorded his world and his granddaughter Claudia Breland has shared it with us.

My grandmother used to joke that she was born with wheels under her. It’s a pretty typical Michigan experience in the first half of the 20th century to own a car. Automobiles were relatively inexpensive and were manufactured nearby, gas was cheap, and roads were being improved to make auto travel easier. People would go for rides in the car as a form of entertainment. From Maurice we learn just how many things can go wrong and how much maintenance these early vehicles required, almost all of it done by himself.

He also repairs an amazing range of other items used in daily life: garage doors, shoes, the furnace. He builds furniture, puts in an irrigation system for his newly-planted trees, modifies a trailer for hauling materials and camping gear. He attacks life with vigor and optimism and is a delightful guide through this world that is quite different from ours in many ways.

Entertainment during this time is deeply rooted in socializing with friends, neighbors and family. Playing cards and other games, going to dance parties and costume parties hosted by friends, going for picnics and roasting weenies are common forms of entertainment, most of which my grandparents were still doing when I was a kid. Picking flowers and berries, singing and making music, going skating and to movies, plays, concerts also keep the Reeds on the go.

We learn how much money Maurice spends on items ranging from nails to flour to dresses for his wife Ruby and daughter Jane. We accompany him on not one, but two, camping vacations to Yellowstone, and learn how much preparation and determination it takes to make these trips happen.

When his infant son dies, Maurice makes the casket himself, loads it into the car to drive “up north” for burial in the family plot, stopping at relatives’ homes along the way so they can view the tiny body. When he arrives at the graveyard, he presents his permit to the caretaker, then digs the grave himself. This is so far removed from our own experience of death today that I had to marvel at Maurice’s fortitude.

Maurice Reed is a practical, hard-working man, very interested in learning and self-improvement. His voice and personality make him an easy companion through the book, and I was sorry when it ended. I feel privileged to have been allowed access to his world.

Grad School for Genealogists 3: ProGen Study Group

With generosity typical of the genealogy community, several genealogists responded to my Grad School post about homework with recommendations about programs that are challenging, rewarding, and also have homework! My next few posts will discuss these programs.

ProGenToday, we’ll begin with the ProGen Study Group, a 19-month small group study program that uses Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, as its text.

Angela Packer McGhie, former ProGen program administrator and now on the board of directors, said in an email, “In the ProGen Study Program the participants study one or two chapters of the book Professional Genealogy each month and then complete a practical assignment on the topic. This immediate application of the material is vital. The assignments are reviewed by the other members of the study group, who give feedback to each other on how to improve. Most of this is peer feedback, but the study group mentors now also give feedback to the group members on a few assignments such as writing research reports, proof arguments and family narratives.”

I was glad to hear that the study group mentors now give feedback. According to the ProGen Study Group website, each group is mentored by a BCG certified genealogist. While study group members are expected to be experienced genealogists and can certainly learn a lot from each other, having the mentor’s feedback on some assignments is a huge plus. In fact, the only complaint I’ve ever heard about ProGen is that so much of the experience depends on getting a good group that’s willing and able to give constructive and useful feedback on assignments.

So how does the program work?

First, applicants are expected to be experienced genealogists. Individuals interested in participating are asked to read the Frequently Asked Questions and look at the Lesson Samples on the website to get a clear idea of what the program involves. Then they fill out a checklist (click on Waiting List on the website to pull this up) to determine if they’re ready for the level of work ProGen involves. If they feel they are ready (including having 20 hours a month to devote to the program for 19 months), they can submit their application to be placed on the waiting list.

When I did the checklist the first time, it became clear to me that I did not have as much experience researching in repositories as was expected. So I set about remedying that gap in my genealogical experience and then applied once I felt ready. I soon received an email that indicated that I am now on the waiting list.

Three or four times a year, groups of 24 are organized from the waiting list. Each group is divided into three small groups of eight for the purposes of evaluating each other’s assignments in online discussions.

Cost for the program is $95 and need-based scholarships are available.

If your ultimate goal is BCG Certification, you should take note of this information from the FAQ page:

“Those applying for certification through BCG generally have broad experience with both research and educational programs. The ProGen Study Program contains assignments similar to the BCG requirements that may help applicants gain experience in the skills necessary to prepare a successful portfolio. Study group members that plan to apply to BCG need to be careful not to use any families or projects they would like to include in their portfolio for their ProGen Study Group assignments. While we practice the skills necessary, your portfolio must be your own work.”

Does the ProGen Study group program meet my (still evolving) criteria for Genealogy Grad School?

1. Expert instruction: Yes, the textbook, Professional Genealogy, is written by recognized authorities in our field, and the group mentors are BCG certified genealogists.

2. Advanced-level course design: Yes, the study group format is like a seminar course in which the professor is there to guide the discussion but a great deal of the learning comes from fellow students.

3. Not for beginners: Yes, the expectation is that applicants are experienced genealogists.

4. Homework: Yes, mostly peer feedback, but also some mentor feedback.

ProGen definitely looks like part of Genealogy Grad School.



Book Review: Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

nothing daunted 2Historical background helps us understand the time and place in which our ancestors lived and what their lives would have been like. Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, by Dorothy Wickenden, combines a delightful read with a research story and valuable details about life in northwestern Colorado in 1916-1917.

Wickenden, executive editor of The New Yorker magazine, tells the story of her grandmother, Dorothy Woodruff, and Dorothy’s best friend, Rosamund Underwood, two Smith College graduates from well-to-do families. They were 29 years old and had “done” college and a European tour — and they weren’t ready to settle for any of the young men who were courting them. Through their Smith connections, they learned that a small community in Colorado was trying to establish a school and was looking for two teachers. With lots of enthusiasm — and no teaching experience — they applied for the jobs, were accepted, and set off for the farming and ranching community of Elkhead.

Their life and adventures in Elkhead during the school year of 1916-17 are fun to read about, and Wickenden takes time to tell us about the history of the area and the people who lived there, so the book provides valuable background on the area and the time.

Beyond that, however, she also shares the story of her research for the book, which was inspired when she discovered the letters Dorothy had written home to her family in Auburn, New York, during that time. For anyone interested in writing a family history, this book is an exceptional resource.


Grad School for Genealogists 2: I Want Homework

One obvious difference between grad school at a university and grad school for genealogists had escaped me till this morning. So far most of the genealogy education opportunities I’ve encountered don’t involve homework.

Sometimes a class will include practical exercises completed and evaluated during class time, but most classes, seminars, and webinars I’ve attended so far are lectures. While they’re usually packed with great information and illuminating case studies, it’s easy (for me, anyway) to say to myself, “Wow, I need to practice that,” but never quite get around to it.

I must admit it: I learn best when I have to apply the lessons I’ve been taught to an out-of-class assignment that has a deadline and that I know I will receive feedback on. In other words, I need homework!

Good to know as I put together my education plan.

So I either need to find opportunities that involve homework or (sigh) I need to discipline myself to create my own homework assignments. The only problem with the second plan is how to get feedback. Still working on that one….


Grad School for Genealogists 1

Two things are true about genealogy: you’re never done researching and you’re never done learning.

book-and-glassesEach year I put together an education plan for myself when Bill, my husband and business partner, and I do our business and personal budgets. While working on my 2015 plan, I was thinking about the difference between going to graduate school and trying to construct what amounts to my own “genealogy grad school.”

When I showed up at the University of Michigan in 1986, my program was pretty much laid out for me: these courses are required, pick your electives from these other courses, study and work hard for a set period of time, and at the end of it all pick up your M.A. and go forth.

It’s a bit of a different story, though, when I try to construct a coherent education plan that will challenge and improve my skills as a genealogist. The project requires lots of research to try to figure out how to get the biggest bang for both my educational buck and my educational time.

When I was at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy earlier this month, I talked about this with a classmate who agreed that she felt the same kind of frustration in trying to further her genealogy education.

So I thought it might be useful to blog from time to time about my genealogy grad school project and how it’s going. Perhaps I can get advice from other genealogists to help with my education plan, and perhaps I can help others who are also trying to figure out the best way to advance their genealogy education.

Cheers! Annette

Scholarships Announced for Foresic Genealogy Institute

Here is a press release from the Council for Advancement of Forensic Genealogy. Anyone interested in this branch of genealogical research should probably consider applying.

Dallas, Texas – November 6, 2014 – The Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG) is now accepting applications for a $225 scholarship to the 4th Annual Forensic Genealogy Institute (FGI), to be held March 26-28, 2015, at the Wyndham Love Field Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Registration is now open at Tuition for each course is $445, and the scholarship covers more than 50% of that fee.

“The scholarship to CAFG’s Forensic Genealogy Institute is intended to ease the financial burden of advanced, professional education,” says Leslie Lawson, CAFG President. “The scholarship gives up-and-coming forensic/genetic genealogists the opportunity to advance their career and increase their skills.”

FGI 2015 will be the largest-ever offering of forensic genealogy for intermediate and advanced genealogists. Each FGI course offers 20 hours of instruction by expert forensic and genetic genealogists in just three days, minimizing travel costs and time away from family and work. Seats are limited at FGI, and registration is already more than 65% full, so early registration is encouraged.

Scholarship Application Process
The FGI scholarship is open to all FGI 2015 registrants. Individuals interested in financial assistance to attend the institute should send a request of not more than 400 words to explaining how they feel receiving the FGI Scholarship might best help them and the field of forensic genealogy. Applications are due Friday, December 5, 2014. The scholarship recipient will receive a partial tuition refund of $225.

Those wanting to apply for the scholarship but who have not yet registered for FGI can do so online at before submitting their application.

Brand-New, Advanced Training
FGI 2015 features two brand-new, concurrent courses designed for intermediate and advanced forensic genealogists:

  • Advanced Genetic Genealogy and Unknown-Parentage Cases
  • Forensic Genealogy Master Practicum

Taught by renowned genetic genealogists CeCe Moore and Angie Bush, the “Advanced Genetic Genealogy and Unknown-Parentage Cases” course applies DNA and traditional genealogical research to uncovering the genetic heritage of individuals with unknown parentage. This area of forensic research is expanding rapidly, and genealogists who can use DNA to successfully address unknown-parentage cases are in great demand. Full course details are available at
The “Forensic Genealogy Master Practicum” offers practical, real-life experience. Students will leave the course having written 3 forensic reports and participated in a mock trial. In the most recent CAFG newsletter, Master Practicum coordinator Wanda Smith offers an in-depth explanation of this hands-on, interactive course:

Courses are expected to fill, so early registration is encouraged at

About CAFG
Established in 2011, the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG) is a business league with a professional membership dedicated to the advancement of forensic genealogy, which is research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications. CAFG promotes high standards of professional and ethical conduct, provides education and training opportunities, and assists in professional development though mentorship, full membership, credentialing, and awarding of fellowships. Learn more at

Genealogy Education: Free Webinars for 2015 from the Illinois State Genealogical Society

The Illinois State Genealogical Society just published their webinar schedule for 2015. Live broadcasts of all 12 webinars are free and open to the public. There are some very good topics on offer. Here is the post from their blog, which they’ve invited people to share in its entirety:

The Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS) is happy to announce the continuation of its popular FREE monthly webinar program in 2015. The 2015 ISGS Webinar Series would not be possible without the generous contributions received throughout 2014 and the generous sponsorship provided by FamilySearch.

Registration for the 2015 webinars is now open! You’ll find a fantastic lineup of presentations and speakers and we hope you will join us for a wonderful educational experience.

The ISGS webinars, which are live lectures/presentations that you can attend via a computer with an internet connection, are held as a live broadcast on thesecond Tuesday of each month at 8:00 PM Central. The live broadcast of each webinars is FREE to the public. ISGS members who are unable to attend the live broadcast are able to access recordings of all past webinars through the Members Section of the ISGS website, to watch at their convenience.

ISGS 2015 Webinar Schedule

So what does 2015 have in store? Here is our amazing lineup!

January 13 – Using Google Earth for Genealogy
Presenter: Lisa Louise Cooke

February 3 – Basic Scandinavian Research*
Presenter: Diana Crisman Smith
* Note: This webinar is scheduled on the first Tuesday of the month due to the RootsTech conference taking place the following week.

March 10 – Finding Your Femme Fatales: Exploring the Dark Side of Female Ancestors
Presenter: Lisa Alzo

April 14 – Using Evernote as Your Primary Tool for Capturing Notes and Ideas
Presenter: Drew Smith

May 12 – Need Direction? Try City Directories!
Presenter: Jean Wilcox Hibben, CG

June 9 – Understanding Our Families, Understanding Ourselves
Presenter: Ron Arons

July 14 – Dissect Obituaries for New Clues
Presenter: George G. Morgan

August 11 – School Daze – Finding and Using School Records to Trace Our Ancestors
Presenter: Peggy Clemens Lauritzen, AG

September 8 – Using Tax Records for Genealogical Problem Solving
Presenter: Dr. Michael D. Lacopo

October 13 – Polish Genealogy – Four Steps to Successful Research
Presenter: Steve Szabados

November 10 – In-laws and Outlaws: The Bylaws of Talking About The Family Skeletons
Presenter: Janet Hovorka
Registration: Stay tuned!**
** GoToWebinar only allows scheduling less than one year in advance. Check back after November 10th for the registration link.

December 8 – The US Federal Census: Good, Bad and Ugly for Genealogists
Presenter: Gary Smith
Registration: Stay tuned!**
** GoToWebinar only allows scheduling less than one year in advance. Check back after December 8th for the registration link.

Additional Webinar Information

  • All webinars take place at 8:00 PM Central.
  • For additional information on our webinar series, visit our ISGS Webinars page at
  • You may also want to review our Webinar FAQs at
  • Don’t forget to spread the word! Forward this email onto your friends and colleagues, post the information to social media sites and/or your blog/website, or print out a few copies of our webinar flyer to hand out at your local society meetings. The flyer for the 2015 series can be accessed at

Again, a big thank-you to all of the webinar donation fund contributors and to FamilySearch for sponsoring the entire 2015 webinar series! We couldn’t do it without you!!


Exploring Genealogy at a National Conference

Genealogists – whether we’re beginners, intermediates or advanced – are never done learning, and we’re fortunate these days to have a number of ways to improve our knowledge and skills. There are classes, webinars, books, society presentations, podcasts, wikis, and so many more. But attending a national genealogy conference is an experience like no other.

Earlier this year, I attended RootsTech 2014 in Salt Lake City. What an incredible experience. People from all over the world attended, including the whole galaxy of genealogy “rock stars” from whom we learn so very much. Over three days, the educational sessions covered every technology-related genealogy topic I could imagine (and some I hadn’t imagined). Just walking through the vendors hall and chatting with the folks at the exhibits was an education in itself. And I met so many great people. I came home with renewed excitement and energy and a million new ideas.

In 2015, RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) are having their national conferences jointly in Salt Lake City February 11th through the 14th. Here’s the description of the joint conference:

“The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and RootsTech are teaming up for a one-time special genealogy event at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, February 11–14, 2015. FGS and RootsTech will share the expo hall, general sessions, activities, and more while each conference offers their own program of sessions. FGS sessions will focus on methodology, records, ethnic research, and migration for honing your research skills and society issues to motivate and inspire society volunteers. RootsTech will offer a program of technology-based solutions for the genealogy needs of both individuals and societies.”

Click here for more information about the conferences and registration.

FGS’s 2015 conference theme is Connect.Explore.Refresh. I think it captures well the benefits of attending a national conference. Connecting with other genealogists and family historians, while exploring new information and adding to our skills, results in our being refreshed and energized as genealogists.

American Loyalists in the Revolution: As American as the Patriots

Exploring Online and Print Resources for Genealogists

Americans usually feel pride in discovering Revolutionary War soldiers in the family tree, but there’s also no shame in finding you have “Tories,” more properly called Loyalists, among your ancestors. In some cases, as I did, you may discover that you have both not only within your family tree, but even within one family.

Public domain map of New Brunswick, Canada
Public domain map of New Brunswick, Canada

Not too long ago, I was researching a Loyalist family from New York who emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada, after the Revolution, and I wanted to increase my knowledge about these Americans who wanted so badly to remain British subjects that they would leave their homes for a new land.

I found Liberty’s Exiles¹, by Maya Jasanoff, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in exploring the Loyalist experience. In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Thomas Bender, who teaches American history at New York University, called the book a “smart, deeply researched and elegantly written history” of the Americans “who made the choice to embrace imperial Britain.”²

In many more cases than not, Jasanoff tells us, Loyalists objected to the same injustices that spurred the Patriots to fight for independence, but they felt that justice could be achieved within a continued relationship with Great Britain.

I think there is a tendency to think of Loyalists as fat cats who were primarily interested in their own economic well-being. But Jasanoff, a Harvard history professor, shows us that Loyalism crossed socio-economic boundaries and was a result of a complicated interweaving of factors having to do with the heart as well as with the pocketbook.

Jasanoff follows the fortunes of Loyalists from all social strata and conditions, including the Indian nations who fought for the Crown and free and enslaved Blacks in the Revolutionary era. Slaves were offered freedom if they fought with the Redcoats, and many ran away from their masters and joined the British side. Thousands who remained enslaved became refugees along with their Loyalist owners after the British defeat.

I had been familiar with the evacuation of Loyalists to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as a result of my genealogy research, but I learned that the Loyalist diaspora was much more extensive than just flight to Canada. Loyalists fled to Britain, the West Indies, northern Africa, India, and other parts of the British Empire.

It’s an amazing American story and Jasanoff tells it well.


  1. Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).
  2. Thomas Bender, “The King’s Men, After the American Revolution,” The New York Times Sunday Book Review, 29 April 2011, online archives ( : accessed 02 September 2014).