Interview with Dear Myrtle

Posted November 3, 2010 by Geni | No Comment
This week we interviewed Myrt, a popular genealogist and the voice behind the DearMYRTLE blog, one of the Internet’s leading resources for novice genealogists.  Check out Myrt’s book Joy of Genealogy on Lulu.

What originally piqued your interest in family history and genealogy?  Was there a point where it turned from a casual hobby to the serious hobby that it now is for you?

You want the truth? A dump truck hit me, and I couldn’t walk for about a year. I had to do something — so computerizing my parents old-fashioned paper family group sheets seemed like a productive use of my time. Later as I ventured out with a walker, solving some ancestral brick walls seemed doable when research at archives and family history centers meant there would be no little kids running around to knock me over.

Fortunately my research has come a long way since then. Now it’s my delight to visit ancestral courthouses where the records have not yet been microfilmed or digitized. There’s nothing like unearthing land plats and then walking the actual ground where an ancestor once lived. The trees may have come and gone during the last 200 years, but the mountains were there watching time go by.

DearMYRTLE, Genea Blogger

On your blog you create a lot of content based around software how-tos and reviews, providing tips to bloggers, and educating the community in general.  Have you found that your efforts in educating people have made an impact?  What would you consider the best content that you’ve created in terms of helping the genealogy community?

Our greatest success as genealogy bloggers happens when we preserve the past for future generations. Recently, my oldest grandson was prompted by a 7th grade school assignment to call me and ask why our ancestors moved to the Americas. I chose five different ancestral groups, from various countries and time periods to explain it wasn’t all about religious freedom. (Children often equate all immigrants with those seeking religious freedom like early Plymouth Colony residents). At twelve, my grandson hadn’t considered that repeated crop failures, decades of war, or the desire to own property could also be push factors.

Blogs are easy to create and provide genealogists a viable method to honor a specific ancestor and explore research possibilities in an open format. Because of my family blog entries, I found very distant relatives who inherited the only known picture of my 3rd great-grandfather. In turn, I was able to share pages from the old family bible that came down through our side of the family tree.

The focus of DearMYRTLE’s genealogy blogs is for beginners. One cannot just drop a copy of Evidence Explained in a newbie’s lap or he’d be overwhelmed and quit before getting out of the starting gate. So, Ol’ Myrt here cheers people along the path to improved research, pointing from time to time to the Genealogical Proof Standard as attainable goals governing research strategies.  I hope that my docu-challenge series, published 4 times a year, will prove useful in genealogy classroom settings to invoke discussion and to use as models for improving initial research methodology. Oddly enough, some of Ol’ Myrt’s most popular blog entries involve family traditions such as making jam.

What do you consider to be the best tips or shortcuts for someone who is just beginning to research their family history and genealogy?

1. Join with other genealogists online and in your local community, as group discussions will improve your understanding of the craft.

2. Cite the source of every fact for an individual on your family tree right from the get-go. Don’t be shy. Even if it is “personal knowledge of Aunt Jessie (Stevens) Peterson about her grand nieces and nephews”, cite the source!

3. Use Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills and all of her inexpensive laminated “Quick Sheets” as guides for understanding both the “why” and the “how” of citing each source. Intermediate researchers can progress to Mills’ Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition 2nd edition, where the first two chapters should be closely studied on a regular basis.

4. Don’t believe everything you read in a genealogy book or on the internet. Previously compiled genealogies can have honest mistakes. Instead, take the time to prove/disprove each assertion after canvassing documents created as close to the ancestor’s life events as possible. Don’t forget to consider the motivation of the person who wrote that old record. Was it a personal opinion, or was he/she acting in her official capacity, say at the local courthouse or church parish office?

5. Routinely check back at all genealogy websites at least quarterly, as additional records may have been added that include info about your ancestors.

In what ways do you think the Internet has helped genealogists in their research?  What online resources do you use on a regular basis while researching your family history?

Initially the Internet improved communication among genealogists working the same family lines. (RootsWeb mailing lists and message boards, now owned by come to mind here). Now we’re able to access online scanned images of original documents with good indexes created using double, blind data entry with arbitration.

Certainly assist with my US original documents research. My husband has Swedish research, so‘s 18 million church records archives have proved invaluable. It is great when governments decide to archive records online and/or partner with commercial websites such as and (for England and Wales).

You’ve mentioned that you have several genealogy-related projects in the works.  What kind of details can you share, and what can the community expect to see in the near future?

I’m working feverishly to transcribe 3,000 photocopied pages of letters sent home by my good friend Elsie (Barks) Naylor as she served in the American Red Cross in England, France and Korea during WWII and in Japan during the Korean Conflict. She’s in an assisted living facility now, and interviewing her is vitally important to preserve her story. (How I wish I had more of this sort of thing on my US Civil War ancestors!) A few blog entries on the topic have already sparked interest among descendants of other WWII Red Cross workers. I’ll use a blog format to transcribe these letters and pair them with Elsie’s photos whenever possible. I’ll also provide links to related background material. This is a good model for others who wish to create an interactive web presence to honor an ancestor.

Time is of the essence as Elsie’s mind is fading. My goal is to take those blog entries and create a printed book for Elsie, since she has no earthly idea what a blog is. But with something tangible like her book, she will know that someone cares.

You’re going to be at the Atlanta Family History Expo this month.  How many of these events do you attend each year, and which ones would you consider to be the best?  What can your readers and other attendees expect from you at the Expo?

At the Family History Expo in Atlanta, I’ll speak twice about Blogging, and appear on two blogging panels. The balance of my time, I’ll spend in the vendors’ exhibit hall in the bloggers’ area, assisting those who wish to set up or tweak their family history blogs.

Genealogists must study to improve their understanding of what records have survived in a particular locality, what is available on or off the ‘net, how to deal with conflicting information, and how to accurately process and record information on each ancestor.

Large annual conferences such as the National Genealogical Society Conference, the Federation of Genealogical Society Conference, the new RootsTech ConferenceSouthern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, regional conferences from and state genealogical societies are among the leading general interest events to attend. Consider attending annual ethnic-specific conferences to hone in on the specifics of research touched upon by the other conferences.

It is Ol’ Myrt’s honor to be invited to travel about two weeknds a month to speak at conferences such as these. Fortunately the use of “virtual appearance” technology has begun to catch on, so I can add additional conference presentations in webinar format from the comfort of my own home. That’s saves me from the terrors of lost luggage. (Delta is now 2-for-2 over the past two years in Ol’ Myrt’s experience.) (Editor’s note:  Let’s call Delta 4-for-5 over the past two years.)

I should mention that additional indepth training is available for genealogists at these three favorite “institutes” which are decidedly different from expos, conferences or jamborees. Institutes involve spending 4-5 days under the tutilege of an experienced mentor (with a few additional specialists) in the study of one topic. See:

Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research – Samford University.
National Institute of Genealogical Research – National Archives in Washington, DC & College Park, MD.
Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy – Utah Genealogical Association

Have you had a chance to use Geni’s new Projects feature for any of your collaborative research efforts?  What are your thoughts on the feature, and where do you see opportunity for more collaboration in genealogy?

Certainly the wiki format provided by Geni’s new Projects is more interactive than the old-style message boards and mailing list I referred to earlier. I applaud Geni for offering this space for free to researchers. It is essential to develop workspaces like this for the exchange of information. We must avoid duplication of effort. Some of my best genealogy breakthroughs have occurred because another researcher was able to provide a vital clue.

Last question: Tell us why you and Tami are such huge fans of Second Life?
(Giggle) Tami Glatz and I are indeed huge fans of Second Life as an alternative method for online genealogy get-togethers, most of which are listed on Second Life’s Union of Genealogy Groups Google Calendar. Unlike a single chat room used once or twice a week for an hour, Second Life’s virtual world offers family historians a variety of genealogy, history and map venues to explore during times when meetings aren’t held. Recently the APG (Association of Professional Genealogists), announced approval of the Second Life Chapter, where Tami serves as Chapter President. There we join with other professionally-minded genealogists world-wide to explore research methodology, test our newest presentations for peer review, and discuss how to better serve the genealogy community.

Second Life (SL) is great because there I am a svelte blond with a huge wardrobe. All kidding aside, SL is a fun way to learn about family history. One of our more recent 3-part meetings featured a live 3-way comparison of RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree and Family Tree Maker 2011 featuring three power users of those software programs. That sort of side-by-side, option-by-option comparisons we never see in real life (RL).

I think of Second Life as Ol’ Myrt’s “research & development” department, where I can talk with newbie and experienced researchers to find out about current challenges and successes.

For more from Myrt, check out the DearMYRTLE blog.