Welcome to the MGS Events Blog

MGS logoWelcome to the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s Events Blog. We’ll be using our blog to keep you up to date on what’s going on at MGS .

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Finding Urban Ancestors — May 9 class at MHS

Big cities pose some challenges for genealogical research, but at the same time offer rich opportunities for fleshing out your family’s history. Board-certified genealogist J. H. Fonkert will lead you on a urban genealogy discovery tour 10 a.m., Saturday May 9, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

You will learn about city directories, fire insurance maps, newspaper research, tricks for urban census research and more. The class will highlight resources for Minneapolis-St. Paul research, but will also explore strategies for research in other large cities across the country. During the class, students will have an opportunity for hands-on exploration in the MHS library.

Registration information is available under the “Events” tab on the MGS website or at http://sites.mnhs.org/library/attend-library-class.

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The Early Bird Gets the Best Price! Don’t Miss It.

Early Bird registration ends Sunday April 5th for the Minnesota Genealogical Society Spring Conference on April 24 and 25.  The Conference will feature four presentations by Craig R. Scott, CGSM, FUGA, on learning about ancestors in military records.  Breakout sessions will focus on DNA, family stories, lineage societies, American migrations, beyond the basics, federal land records, Minnesota military records and basics of evidence analysis – something for every family researcher.  The conference is at Normandale Community College.  Further info and registration details are the MGS website at  http://mngs.org.    See you at the Conference!      

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Learn how to take your family tree back before 1850

If you’ve spent much time researching your American family tree, you realize how much harder the research is when you get back before 1850. As part of MGS’s series of classes at the Minnesota History Center, J. H. Fonkert, CG, will teach you about useful sources and demonstrate strategies for pre-1850 research. Topics include interpretation of pre-1850 censuses, wills and probate records, guardianship records, tax records, and court records.

This 2-hour class begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, November 8  at the Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul. Registration, available online at http://events.mnhs.org/calendar/Results.cfm?TypeID=4&HP=Yes&bhcp=1, is $28 for MGS and MHS members, and $32 for non-members.

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Free Webinar: Adding DNA to Your Genealogy Toolkit

Mark your calendar for another FREE MGS webinar, Wednesday November 5, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Central time. J. H. (“Jay”) Fonkert, CG, will review the basics of Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA, emphasizing how DNA results can supplement traditional genealogy research.

“Who in the World is the Common Ancestor?” will bring beginners and experienced researchers up to speed on how to use DNA. Genealogists use DNA in three ways: exploring deep genetic origins, fishing for distant cousins, and testing research hypotheses. The webinar will review DNA basics and explore ways in which DNA can be combined with traditional research to solve genealogical problems.

Live broadcasts of MGS webinars are free and open to the public. To get the link you need to join the webinar, you’ll need to pre-register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4887406512155640834.

The webinars are recorded, and MGS members have access to the archived webinars in the Members Only area of the MGS website. Contact membership@mngs.org if you need login information.

If you’re new to webinars, check out this link: Webinar Attendee Quick Reference Guide.


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5th Annual Family History Fair is November 1

It’s time for the 2014 Family History Fair at Minneapolis Central Library! This year’s theme is “Finding Ancestors in All the Right Places.” The fair features an opening talk by Alice Eichholz, Ph. D., CG, and nine short talks aimed at beginner- and intermediate-level family history researchers. In addition, Twin Cities area ethnic and genealogy groups, as well as area repositories, will have exhibits and be ready to answer your questions. Minneapolis library staff and volunteers will lead a tour of the library’s genealogy resources.

Sponsored by Hennepin County Libraries in collaboration with MGS, the fair will take place Saturday, November 1 at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m.; classes and exhibits run until 3 p.m. Admission is FREE. Pre-registration is encouraged.  Register at https://apps.hclib.org/events/register.cfm?SessionNo=29915.

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Reason 5 for Attending North Star: Door Prizes

As the 2014 North Star Conference approaches, you’ll want to know about the extra added benefits of attending. Our series of blog posts has told you how attending the conference can help you find clues for your research,  learn from genealogy Rock Star Judy G. Russell, expand your knowledge of genealogical records, and add to your repertoire of tips, tricks, and methods.

Now we want to focus on a fifth reason to attend: door prizes, available only to attendees. MGS vendors, partners, and sponsors have donated lots of door prizes including

  • Books and DVDs–Danish research, genealogy standards, DNA
  • Certificates–tuition for MGS classes, discounted tuition for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, DNA testing with FTDNA
  • Free registration–MGS spring 2015 conference
  • Research–certificates for research services
  • Memberships–Ancestry.com, Genealogy Bank, Mocavo, MGS.

As a conference attendee, you will receive a supply of tickets which you will be able to enter for the door prizes of your choice.

Don’t delay–advance registration for the conference closes Sunday September 28. Click here to register for the conference. Don’t forget to also register for Judy G. Russell’s Thursday evening lecture on DNA Goes Genderless.

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About a Week Left to Register Online Before North Star!

Advance registration for the 2014 North Star Conference ends Sunday September 28.

Advantages of registering in advance are

  • Access to the pre-registered lines, speeding you through check-in at Colonial Church and giving you more time to network with speakers and other attendees, and browse the exhibit tables.
  • Access to the downloadable conference handouts before you go to the conference. You can either print copies of the handouts or load them on your tablet, notebook, or other device to use during conference sessions.
  • Making sure the organizers have arranged for enough space and lunches for all the registrants. While the organizers order extra lunches, they cannot guarantee that walk-in registrants will receive a lunch.

Don’t worry–if you can’t register in advance, you’ll still be able to register on site.

Oh, have you heard?  Judy Russell is the 2014 gold medal Genealogy Rock Star.  What’s a genealogy rock star?  Read all about all about it here.

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Reason 4 for Attending North Star: How to Sessions

There are so many tricks, tips, methods, processes, etc., and we’ll give you some new ideas to add to your research toolbox.

How to Find Resources: If you need help finding materials, on- or off-line, you’ll be interested in Tom Rice’s talk Finding Books and Manuscripts Online–NUCMC, WorldCat, MNLink, Oh My! on Friday at 11. You’ll also like Paula Stuart-Warren’s Midwestern Gems: Back Issues of Genealogical, Historical, and Sociological Journals on Saturday at the same time.

How to Use DNA: If you want to learn more about DNA, check out Judy G. Russell’s talk DNA Goes Genderless on Thursday evening at 7. You might also like Kristie Strum’s Why DNA? session Friday at 11 or the MGS DNA Interest Group’s panel discussion DNA Q&A Saturday at 1:30.

How to Analyze Evidence and Write Reports: If you want to kick your analysis skills up a notch, check out Paula Stuart-Warren’s Research Reports to Ourselves: More Than a Research Log on Friday at 11. Joel A. Watne’s talk It Ain’t Necessarily So: Adventures in Assessing Some Common Written Sources Friday at 1:30 will also help, as will Valerie Eichler Lair’s Citing Sources Properly Saturday at 11 and Jay Fonkert’s How Do We Know What We Think We Know: Basics of Evidence Analysis Saturday at 1:30.

How to Use Technology: Technophiles will enjoy Tom Rice’s talk on ScreenShot Captor–A Free Tool for Capturing Anything on Your Computer Screen and Mary Wickersham’s Explore Ancestry.com, both on Friday at 1:30. Technology learning continues with Joel A. Watne’s Introduction to The Master Genealogist (TMG), v. 9 Saturday at 1:30.

How to Write and Publish: If you’re interested in writing and publishing, you’ll want to hear Linda Coffin talk about Social History & Context: How Do I Add It to My Family History? on Saturday at 11, and Cathi Weber’s Publishing Your Family History Friday at 1:30.

How to Keep out of Copyright Trouble: Every genealogist needs to know how to correctly use and credit the materials they find. What better way is there to learn than Judy G. Russell’s Facts, Photos, and Fair Use talk on Friday at 9.

Register to learn about how-to topics at North Star here. Are there several sessions you want to see in a single timeslot? No worries, every registrant receives access to downloadable copies of every handout.

Even if you can’t attend North Star, you can still learn how to work. Check out TechTrek speaker Thomas MacEntee’s Research Toolbox at http://destinationaustinfamily.blogspot.com/p/research-toolbox.html, and the Genealogy How-To Index at About.com.

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Reason 3 for Attending North Star: Records Sessions

Whether online or in print, many resources and records hold the information genealogists are seeking. You’re not done once you find a record, though, you have to know what to do with it, how to interpret it, and how to incorporate it into your family history.

MGS’ North Star Conference is full of sessions to help you learn about records and how to use them.

Friday at 11, two sessions can help you learn about records. Valerie Eichler Lair will be talking about Naturalization: the Process of Becoming an American. Jere G. Mackin will show you how 20th Century Military Records are different from previous ones, and how to use them in your research. During the same time block, Paula Stuart-Warren will show you how writing research reports helps you understand the records you find, in her talk Research Reports to Ourselves: More Than a Research Log.

Friday at 1:30 Joel A. Watne will point out some of the pitfalls in using the records you find when he talks about It Ain’t Necessarily So: Adventures in Assessing Some Common Written Sources.

Saturday at 1:30, Tom Rice will talk about Minnesota Death Record Research – Finding Them Wherever They Are, and Valerie Eichler Lair will talk about Land Platting: Emphasis on the Rectangular Land Survey System.

Register to learn about records at North Star here. Are there several sessions you want to see in a single timeslot? No worries, every registrant receives access to downloadable copies of every handout.

If you can’t attend the conference, you can learn about different kinds of genealogical records, how to interpret them, and how to use them in the Ancestry.com and FamilySearch wikis. The Ancestry.com wiki has the complete text of Ancestry’s Red Book and The Source. It’s free even if you’re not an Ancestry subscriber. Check it out here. The free FamilySearch Research Wiki has articles on places and record types, and even guides to vocabulary and handwriting. Check it out here.

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Reason 2 for Attending North Star: Judy G. Russell

MGS members J. H. Fonkert and Lois Abromitis Mackin caught up with North Star speaker Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL while she was teaching at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. Judy graciously agreed to answer some questions about her genealogy experience for the benefit of our MGS North Star audience.

MGS: How did you get started in family history?

Judy: I’m mostly Scots-Irish on my mother’s side. That means I grew up listening to family stories, sitting out under the trees at my grandparents’ Virginia farm every summer. My mother and her parents were not just Scots-Irish but Texans to boot, so tall tales were the order of the day. It wasn’t until the first member of my own generation died that it dawned on me that I’d better start checking to see if any of the tales had any truth to them. Once I got started, and attended my first genealogy conference, well, I was hooked.

MGS: What’s your favorite family history topic?

Judy: Yes.

Oh, you mean I have to choose just one?

Yikes. That’s tough. Obviously I love the interplay of genealogy and the law — not surprising since I’m a genealogist with a law degree. A particular mantra of mine is that, to understand the records we use, we have to understand the law at the time and in the place the records were created. Without that, we run the risk of missing so much of what the records are telling us.

But I also love the way genealogy and science are coming together with DNA testing. Being able to identify cousins, near and far, and to work with them to shed light on our ancestors is just wonderful.

And I have to add methodology to the mix — the way we feel as genealogists when we use genealogy’s best practices to work around a difficult brick wall problem and can put an ancestor into his or her right place in the family tree.

MGS: What do you like best about speaking at conferences?

Judy: I love having folks come up to me afterwards and tell me that I’d given them some ideas for breaking through tough research challenges that they hadn’t had before. And I really love getting great questions from the folks who attend. It’s what motivates and pushes me to learn more myself.

MGS: Tell us about your favorite genealogical record.

Judy: On a generic level, it’s court minutes. Any kind of court minutes. The day to day record of what went on in what really were the people’s courts of the country. Court minutes tell us so much about people and their triumphs and their tragedies, their lives and their deaths. They really are a wonderful source of local history — and local color.

On a personal level, it’s one particular court minute — the one showing my second great grandfather being indicted for bigamy. It’s just so typical of that particular scoundrel that it makes me laugh every time I think about it.

MGS: How did you get started writing your blog, The Legal Genealogist?

Judy: Almost from the day I got serious about doing genealogical research, I realized that most genealogists didn’t have a real understanding of the law — and many were just plain afraid of trying to work with legal records. I knew I could help with that, and it could be my way of giving back to the genealogical community which has done so much for me. I had wanted to write it for a long time, but finally decided to launch it when I finished putting together my portfolio as a candidate to be board-certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

MGS: What tips would you give family historians who want to write their own blog?

Judy: Do it. Do it. Do it. It’s really not that hard from a technological standpoint. There are lots of platforms and aids that make it easier. What’s critical is that we not lose one more family story because the keeper of that tale has passed on without the story being told. I think it’s important to document what we’re writing — to cite our sources — so people know how we’ve reached our conclusions, but what’s essential is telling the story, even if we make it clear it’s just a story.

MGS: If you could give advice to beginners, what would it be?

Judy: “Do as I say; not as I did.”


I made every single mistake every beginner makes. I didn’t interview my grandparents when they were alive. I didn’t write everything down, especially where I’d gotten this paper or that document. I didn’t keep a research log. And I didn’t want to have to admit that some people in my family tree database weren’t in my family tree at all; I’d been too quick to jump to conclusions when I decided they were.

More than anything else, beginners (and a lot of fairly experienced folks too!) need to understand that it isn’t all online. It won’t ever all be online in our lifetimes — or even the lifetimes of our grandchildren or great grandchildren. We have to get up, get out and go where the records are.

For more wisdom from Judy, you can read her daily blog at The Legal Genealogist.

Sign up for Judy’s DNA talk Thursday October 2 here, and register to see Judy at North Star here.

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