Q&A: Lisa A. Alzo

On Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012, Family Tree University conducted a live Q&A on Facebook with Fall 2012 Virtual Conference presenter Lisa A. Alzo as part of our ‘Meet the Presenter’ series. Here is the full transcript:

Family Tree University: Hello and welcome to our Live Q&A for the Fall 2012 Virtual Conference’s ‘Meet the Presenters’ series. You can View the entire series schedule at the link below. Our subject is Lisa A. Alzo, genealogy expert and senior Family Tree University instructor. Feel free to submit your own questions to Lisa by Commenting on this post.

So, Lisa, first question: Your doing a presentation on Secrets to Tracing Female Ancestors. What makes this such an interesting topic for genealogists?

Lisa Alzo: Hi Everyone! I am happy to be here! Females are historically more difficult to trace, especially prior to the 20th century because it was the men who owned the property, ran the businesses and government, and it was the male surname that was carried to the next generation. Also, there were many cultural influences on how women were regarded and treated.

Family Tree University: In your opinion, what is the most difficult aspect of digging for female ancestors online?

Lisa Alzo: I think it’s trying to track down a maiden name, especially if you have a common first name (e.g. Mary or Anna). We all know search engines are not perfect and more often than not spelling and transcription errors often make it tough to draw a female ancestor out of hiding.

Family Tree University: In that vein, could you give us just a taste of one of your top tips for finding females?

Lisa Alzo: Look to those she spent time with including her husband, siblings, children relatives, friends, neighbors, etc. Try to get your hands on every record you possibly can. And now—here is the shocker—you WILL have to go offline to search for records in courthouses, churches, libraries and repositories. Always check the names of witnesses in marriage documents, baptismal records, naturalization petitions, etc. for key clues.

Family Tree University: Wow–never really thought about looking at the witnesses!

Diane Haddad: I find it interesting to learn details about the daily lives of my female ancestors—maybe because I can relate to their lives? Even though times have really changed, there are some constants.

Lisa Alzo: I agree. You can learn a lot by reading diaries written by other women who lived during the same time period and by learning social history.

Diane Haddad: My great-grandmother was difficult to find in passenger lists because the clerk wrote her down as “Wife Maria” on the line beneath her husband. (The clerk also reversed the last name-first name order halfway down the list, so both of my great-grandparents were indexed with their first and last names reversed.) I’ve also heard genealogists’ stories of female ancestors with gravestone inscriptions reading just “His Wife.”

Family Tree University: Tell us a little bit about your own experience finding female ancestors. Who was your toughest female to find info on?

Lisa Alzo: Well, when I was a “baby” genealogist (about 22 years) ago, (LOL), not knowing any better, I actually started out researching a female (my grandmother). But my biggest mistake was never asking her ANY questions about her life (she died when I was in college). It never crossed my mind to ask and communication was limited since I could not speak my grandmother’s native language (Slovak). However, I was fortunate in one respect that I knew her maiden name, and my mother was a “packrat” and she saved a number of my grandmother’s documents (baptismal certificate, passport, etc.). My grandmother was the inspiration for my first book, Three Slovak Women. My toughest female ancestor to trace so far is one of my great grandmothers—I had found her baptismal and marriage record (using FamilySearch microfilm), but did not know when or where she died until I went to Slovakia this summer and finally located her death record.

Family Tree University: That’s an incredible story, Lisa. Can you tell us a little bit more about that experience? Was it worth the big expense?

Allison Dolan:Congrats on breaking through that brick wall, Lisa! Your research trip to Slovakia must have been amazing.

Lisa Alzo: It most definitely was worth every penny! The internet is wonderful, but nothing beats walking in the footsteps of your ancestors, standing on land that you knew they worked on, eating the traditional foods and experiencing the culture. If you want to go, start a “genealogy trip” savings account and make plans sooner than later to increase your chances of connecting with those long-lost cousins!

Lisa Alzo: Yes Allison, it was great. I felt like a true detective…going from village to village, archive to archive trying to get the answers!

Family Tree University: I think we all dream of taking a trip back to that idyllic ‘ancestral village’.

Family Tree University: And for some, that could be up to the Great White North! Your second presentation is on Canadian Immigration Records. What is something that every genealogist should know before digging into Canadian records?

Lisa Alzo: Perhaps the first thing is that Canada is a relatively “young country,” with most of the settlement coming in the past century and a half. And you are dealing with 10 provinces, and 3 territories. For some, Canada may just be a stop along the way–perhaps coming to the US or going to another country.

Family Tree University:In your opinion, what is the main factor that distinguishes Canadian records from US records?

Lisa Alzo: The types of documents you will search for are basically the same (vital, census, immigration, military records, etc.) but the availability, privacy restrictions, and where and how to obtain them will be different. You will be doing a lot of searching in the territories and provinces (as opposed to “states”). As always when doing genealogy, you need to do a little “homework” and learn about the time period you’re researching, the history and geography and any laws governing records access or restrictions.

Denise Levenick: Lucky you finding clues in the “attic”!

Lisa Alzo: As you know, many times finding all those things in the attic can be both a blessing and a curse! But it is wonderful when you are a genealogist and the items you find have key information you need!

Denise Levenick: It can be a surprise to find answers right In your own home.

LJ Skena W.: I have been trying to find the maiden name for my Elizabeth, she was born about 1765-70, I think in Pennsylvania. She died in 1849 in Allegheny Co., PA. I have not found a marriage record, they are pretty scarce in that era. I have looked at the executors of her will, and the executors of her husbands will, but not found any connection yet. Suggestions?

Lisa Alzo: LJ: If you have not contacted the Pennsylvania Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, you should do so. They have the best records in that area. There are also great records at the University of Pittsburgh (books, histories, etc.) and many local societies.

Diane Haddad:  LJ, I’ve also read that examining land records can be helpful in formulating hypotheses about marriages, because many people married neighbors.

Lisa Alzo: Yes, Diane, that is true. Immigrants tended to settle around or near family or friends from the old country. Land records are good sources to check for sure.

Family Tree University: Lisa, tell us a bit about your family line in Canada. How did you approach your research on them?

Lisa Alzo:  Well, when I was about 8 or 9 years old my family took a road trip to Ontario to visit my father’s cousin, Mike and his family. My father was a carpenter and was putting a new roof on Mike’s house. I was curious as to why he lived so far away. It wasn’t until I started researching my father’s side of the family a few years ago that I discovered the reasons why Mike (and before him, his father) lived in Canada, so I started looking at some of the immigration and border crossing records on Ancestry.com and then at records in Slovakia. My presentation for the virtual conference will cover many different sites and sources for such records.

Family Tree University: Lisa, thanks so much for joining us this afternoon! For those who have yet to register, use the Coupon Code FTU0912 at checkout to save $40 on the Fall VC. Thanks again for joining us and happy family searching!

Lisa Alzo: I have enjoyed doing this chat! I hope that everyone will take advantage of the price discount ($40 off) and sign up for the Virtual Conference!




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