His first topic addressed Research Techniques for Genealogy, and focused on little-used resources. Among those were:
- Original vital records created by physicians and undertakers, rather than town records which are often secondary sources
- Baptisms which occurred sometimes in places other than the place of birth and sometimes were done for several children at once rather than in birth order
- A person’s burial date which is not the date of death normally
- 18th century Warnings Out lists where indigent persons were asked to leave a community and listed the person’s original town of residence
- Account books and records kept by justices of the peace
- Published family papers
- Probate records, including appeals to a court, which sometimes give valuable genealogical information;
- Archives.gov site which has a genealogy section
- FamilySearch’s pilot site where digitization is occurring on many records not previously available on-line
- Internetarchive.org, which is better than Google books for some information; the use of Wayback Machine to learn the content of a now defunct website
- FindaGrave.com site
- British National Archives website (http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/) on ways to read old documents
Michael's second topic was Breaking Through Brick Walls in Genealogy. He suggested several strategies to use.
First, do a register-style sketch of all that is known so far, and include the sources used; then list what information is missing and the records which are yet to be searched. Once that's done, broaden the search to siblings, parents, cousins, and even neighbors—next to whom lived the relative and with whom relatives often migrated or traveled to other places.
Spelling variations are important. To help find alternate possible spellings of a name, Michael suggested pronouncing the name to someone and then asking them what are the possible ways they would spell it. Often census takers or city clerks had to spell names in their records according to how they heard them.
He recommended still other strategies, including: questioning everything that one has so far; remembering that “Junior” as a title does not necessarily mean that the father was the “Senior”; and being careful about taking information in “Mug Books” as totally truthful.
Michael said that the "brick wall" may well be one generation different from where one may think it is. Looking at the burial order in a cemetery record may be useful, as well as looking at the names of individuals who are buried in nearby rows, rather than only individuals who are in the same plot.
He advised using maps that show both geopolitical boundaries and physical features to see where one family might have interacted with other families. Service records in the military may give where the military unit was “raised”. Poll taxes do not necessarily correlate with a person’s citizenship. Finally, he pointed out that DNA testing has promise for resolving family history puzzles in the future.
Overall, the two presentations provided much assistance to family historians.