I’m Michael Cassara and I’m a professional genealogist based in New York City. I started DigiRoots in 2012 and use this site to update my speaking schedule, and occasionally share blog posts about my research and things I encounter along the way. I’m currently serving as the Co-President of the Italian Genealogical Group – if you’re pursuing Italian research I hope you’ll consider becoming a member.
I had such a nice time chatting with my friend Drew Smith, on today’s episode of Genealogy Connection, part of his beloved Genealogy Guys Podcast series. I’ve been listening to Drew’s podcasts for many years, and loved having a chance to tell some of my favorite genealogy stories, and share a bit about my journey.
Listen here, or on their site, or wherever you listen to podcasts!
Just a quick post to mention that I’ll be giving a talk at RootsTech this year. On Thursday morning, 2/28, at 9:30 AM, I’ll be presenting: Surname Studies: Follow That Surname!(RT5424), in Room 250A. Here’s the description:
Have you ever met someone with one of your family surnames, and wondered if you might be related to each other? A one-name (or surname) study is a project that catalogs all known occurrences of a given surname, and its variants. This class will dive into the practice of surname studies and examine how they can help lead a researcher to major breakthroughs. Offering valuable information for both beginning and advanced genealogists – attendees will be given an overview of related topics including DNA studies, surname mapping, and research methodology, while also looking at some case studies and existing surname projects.
I’ve been to every RootsTech except the first one, and this is my 4th time presenting there – it’s always a highlight of the year for me. Hope to see/meet many of you during the week!
(This is part of an ongoing series of photos and family artifacts that are NOT related to my own lines, but rather things I have found in the world – at flea markets, antique stores, eBay auctions, and beyond: valuable genealogical artifacts, desperately needing to be returned to their families. Since 2009, I have managed to reunite over 250 of these items with descendants and relatives, but there are still many cases where I’ve yet to find a rightful heir. If the people depicted below are of interest to you, or if you have additional information, feel free to contact me – I’d love to speak further.)
I’ve spent much of this year organizing and researching some photos I obtained early in my “photo rescuing” efforts. Unfortunately, with these, I have no idea where I bought them, and I’ve yet to make a successful “reunion” for many of them. But, armed with the desire to find a more permanent home for these, I’ve decided to start this blog series. If nothing else, I can document my attempts and put this information on the web, where someone might stumble upon it. Today’s entry is one such photo, a cabinet card, probably from the 1880s or 1890s, featuring two brothers.
“A. J. Hersh / Hanson Hersh – Brothers”
The only real clues I had, to start, were these names written on the back of this cabinet card. I knew the photo was taken in Hanover, Pennsylvania, due to the photographer’s logo on the front. (As far as technology has progressed, I constantly find myself grateful to the advertising mechanisms of the 19th century photography trade: they’ve helped me identify hundreds of photographs over the years!)
I took the few clues and headed over to Ancestry.com. For this type of photo reunion project, it’s usually my first stop – given the wide array of available resources – and also the proliferation of Member Trees, where I might locate a descendant with relative ease.
Having searched for a Hanson Hersh who lived in Hanover, PA, the first promising lead was a FindAGrave page, and, as luck would have it, it linked to a sibling, Alfred John. Given the relative timeline and location, I was certain I had found our gentlemen – but of course wanted to consult some primary sources as well. I found the brothers together in the 1850 U.S. Census1 and other supporting documents made it clear that these were the same brothers in question, and I could further posture that this picture might have been taken while A.J. was visiting Hanson, as Hanson lived most of his life in close proximity to Hanover, where the shot was taken.
Though it’s always a joy to find an identified photo, we’re often greeted with dilemmas. In this case, there’s no easy to way to distinguish the two brothers from one another. Although I’m exceedingly grateful for the relationship identifier, they were born just two years apart – it would be speculative guesswork to assign an identity to one or the other.
While, to my eye, the man on the right looks older than the man on the left, I think a case could be made in either direction. If I were to conduct in-depth research, here, I’d look for any sort of physical description in extant records. These men would have been too old for the 1917 World War I draft (and Hanson died in 19152 but who’s to say that facial hair or lack thereof would remain constant through the decades. That would, however, be a place to start. Beyond that, I’d attempt to find extant photographs of either man – to see if an exact identification is possible.
For now, I’ve reached out to the person who maintains many of the family graves and inter-linked relationships on FindAGrave, to see how she is connected. When time allows, I’ll begin doing some descendancy research: both men had children, but I haven’t had time to go much beyond that first generation. For the time being however, I’ve scanned the photo on both sides and uploaded it here – if you know anything about this family, or if you’re researching these gentlemen, don’t hesitate to reach out!
In my personal research, I’ve been spending a lot of time using genetic genealogy to untangle some long-standing family mysteries (including some that have only appeared *because* of genetic genealogy!). The power of DNA remains awe-inspiring – have you had your DNA tested yet?
On Saturday, October 8th at 10 AM, I’ll be speaking at the Westchester County Genealogical Society. The topic is Cemetery Crowdsourcing for Genealogy, adapted from the talk I gave at RootsTech earlier this year. Doors will open at 9:30 and the meeting is open to the public – it will be held at the Aldersgate Memorial United Methodist Church, 600 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry, NY. Hope to see some of you there!
I decided to attend GRIP largely because of its excellent reputation and incredible course offerings, but also due to the timing. As a business owner, it’s hard for me to get away from New York City for more than a couple days at a time – so it was a real treat to get to spend a whole week studying advanced genealogical topics.
On the first day of class we all introduced ourselves and, when asked why we had selected this particular course, “citation anxiety” was the number one answer given (present company included) . The general skill level among my classmates was quite advanced (including multiple Certified Genealogists), but I noted a commonality among all of us: we all had a strong desire to do things the “right” way, and to be able to write professional and thorough citations without being overly dependent upon templates and examples. As a young(er) genealogist (I was dubbed the lone/resident “Gen X’er” by a classmate), I have many questions about citation and the function of thoroughly-cited sources in research, particularly with the emergence of digital sources. I came in with a goal of augmenting my knowledge of traditional citation standards and methodologies, and I feel I was able to get a much better sense of not only how to write thorough citations, but how to do so “from scratch”. Though I wish I could rewind and re-live many of the discussions we had during our 5-day course, I left GRIP with much greater confidence in my own citation ability, and found the entire experience to be wholly worthwhile.
GRIP also offers supplementary programming in the form of free lectures (open to the public) for a number of evenings during the Institute. I attended two of three lectures: Marian L. Fisher’s “Thinking Over Time: Researching USCIS Records” was a big highlight for me as I’m currently doing in-depth research with a number of USCIS record sets, and learned a great deal from Ms. Fisher’s excellent presentation. I was also able to attend F. Warren Bittner, CG‘s talk, “Understanding Illegitimacy: The Bittner Bastards of Bavaria”, which was very enlightening regarding social conditions surrounding illegitimacy rates (and how illegitimacy was defined) in European cultures.
Another highlight of GRIP was the opportunity to reconnect with genealogical colleagues and friends, and to make some new ones. I opted for the dorm-room/meal-plan option and, though the dorms are pretty barebones, the convenience of staying on campus and not needing a car was valuable. The classwork kept me quite busy, but I had a nice chance to catch up with my friend Tammy Hepps (who was not attending, but is living in the area doing amazing research on her Homestead, PA ancestors – check out her exemplary site, Homestead Hebrews), and also Rich Venezia, who recently moved to the area and has previously attended GRIP. Michael Lacopo, whose must-read blog about his own family discoveries will keep you on the edge of your seat, taught one of the other GRIP courses on Pennsylvania research, and it was great to catch up with him, as well.
Tomorrow, the July session of GRIP will begin – and how I wish I could join them. Leading Italian genealogist Melanie D. Holtz is offering an amazing course on Italian research, but, alas, the dates don’t work out for me this time around. All in all, I gained a great deal from my GRIP experience and am hopeful that I’ll be able to return for a future session.
GRIP 2017 will not begin to accept registrations until after the new year, but the courses have been announced, and it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone – perhaps you’ll attend!
I was so happy to be asked by the Italian Genealogical Group to give a talk at their May meeting, yesterday morning. Although I have been an IGG member for many years, I had only previously attended one meeting – so it was nice to revisit their home at the Bethpage Public Library and give a brand-new talk: “One-Name (Surname) Studies for Italian Genealogy”.
A photo posted by Michael Cassara (@michaelcassara) on
A One-Name Study is in-depth research on all occurrences of a single surname. In 2013 I registered the surname Cuono with the Guild of One-Name Studies, and I’ve been pursuing research ever since. Though there are fewer than 10 Italian surnames registered with the Guild at the current time, I believe that Italian genealogy and one-name studies are a perfect fit, and was excited to premiere this talk to a capacity audience of fellow Italian genealogists.
When we left off, I had just finished attending the final RootsTech session of the day on Thursday. I had hoped to cram in some research time at the Family History Library that evening but an unfortunate power outage meant they had to close early. I decided to just grab some dinner and head back to the hotel. One of the nice things about RootsTech being at the Salt Palace Convention Center is that there are a great deal of non-genealogical destinations to explore within a very short walk. The shops at City Creek are terrific, and there are many good restaurants, all within walking distance of the numerous hotels that house conference attendees. In the 5 years I’ve attended RootsTech, I’ve never rented a car; Salt Lake City has fantastic public transit – and lots of good private car (taxi, Uber, Lyft) options as well.
I caught an early dinner and a bit of the Democratic Debate, and turned in early. I spent much of Friday exploring the Expo Hall. Although there are always worthwhile presentations and classes at RootsTech, I find tremendous value in walking around the (gigantic) hall and chatting with the various exhibitors, learning about their products. I visited friends from the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, E-Z Photo Scan, WikiTree and many others. I met Fisher from the Extreme Genes genealogy radio program, chatted with the RootsMagic folks about their (incredibly exciting) just announced Ancestry.com integration, and I learned about a number of new and exciting projects.
After grabbing lunch, I spent a good portion of the afternoon back at the booth for the Guild of One-Name Studies. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had never done the “exhibitor” thing before, and I really enjoyed the one-on-one conversations with so many attendees. We had a constant flow of interested attendees – it was quite fulfilling to participate in this capacity.
Friday night there was an after-party, sponsored by MyHeritage – the first time they’ve held such an event – and it was a very enjoyable way to spend the evening. Although I don’t think I’ll ever be one to say “boy, that karaoke sure was fun” – it was certainly unique to watch dozens of top genealogy personalities, belting their lungs out(!)
Saturday was the final day of the conference, and I kept most of the morning open since I was speaking that afternoon. I was honored to be asked to speak for a third straight year, and I was particularly excited to get to speak on the topic of “Cemetery Crowdsourcing”. Even better than that, my talk was chosen to be recorded by FamilySearch. The attendance was a little disappointing, but many people do understandably skip the sessions that are being recorded in favor of ones that will not be viewable later. Additionally, many folks tend to cut out by Saturday afternoon. So, while I didn’t have a huge audience (when I spoke on Italian Genealogy in 2015, they had to turn people away!) it was a very engaged and delightful audience, with wonderful questions and serious interest in the subject matter. Beyond that, the opportunity to be recorded is super exciting – and I’ve already heard from people who have watched it!
Overall, I felt very good about the talk – and I hope that you can give it a watch when you have a moment!
After the talk was over, I decided to do another lap around the expo hall, and then I helped close out the day at the Guild’s booth. I got a quick drink with some of my fellow NYC-based researchers (most of whom I only got to meet upon being in Utah! Funny how the world works, isn’t it…)
Dick Eastman almost always holds a closing-night dinner for those friends and readers of his newsletter who would like to attend, and this year was no exception. I’ve attended for a number of years and always find it to be a highlight of RootsTech – there’s just something wonderful about being in a room full of kindred spirits, sharing what we’ve learned at the conference and getting to know one another at a more leisurely pace. As the dinner came to a close, Dick and I split a cab to the airport as we were both on the same red-eye flight back to points east. Part of the fun of RootsTech is that genealogists are everywhere.
While waiting for my flight to depart, I spotted a RootsTech lanyard and struck up a brief conversation with another genealogist about to board a red-eye. It turned out to be True Lewis, I knew of her from her wonderful blog. When I first attended RootsTech in 2012 I didn’t know a single person in the genealogy community. I now look forward to running into friends and fellow researchers at every turn and, in this case, meeting someone I had yet to meet. The work of my colleagues inspires me to no end and it is a thrill to explore genealogy in their company and with their guidance.
I should mention, the dates have now been set for next year’s RootsTech: February 8th to 11th, 2017. I certainly hope to be there! If you’ve never attended, perhaps 2017 will be your year! It is, truly, my favorite week of the year – and this year was no exception.
For a third straight year I had the honor of speaking at RootsTech, the world’s largest family history conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. This year I spoke on the topic of “Cemetery Crowdsourcing” – how genealogists can use BillionGraves, FindAGrave and other new websites and technologies to help catalog the world’s cemetery records.
The video of my talk has just been posted on the RootsTech site – and now you can watch it from the comfort of your own home! I was scheduled in the last slot of the day on the final day of the conference, so attendance was a bit light, but it was a hearty bunch – and I’m very glad that the presentation is now watchable worldwide.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday and I’m finally back home in New York City. I had an incredible time at the RootsTech conference and figured it might be nice to recap the week a bit. This post will be part 1, covering everything up through Thursday night, and later this week I’ll post the second installment.
A photo posted by Michael Cassara (@michaelcassara) on
I spent Monday at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. One of the perks of RootsTech taking place in SLC is that it allows all of the visiting genealogists to spend some time doing research at the world-renowned FHL. After a full day of searching my paternal Cassarà line in Mistretta, Sicily, I boarded the Frontrunner train to Provo where I managed to grab dinner with Brooke Schreier Ganz and Tammy Hepps, two of the most remarkable genealogical minds I’ve encountered.
Tammy’s site/story-sharing platform, Treelines.com, was such a terrific addition to the community when it won the RootsTech Developer Challenge in 2013, but I was particularly intrigued to learn of the in-depth research (and reporting) she’s doing on her site, Homestead Hebrews, chronicling the Jewish community of Homestead, Pennsylvania. The site is a stellar example of how contemporary technology can bring records, pictures, stories and memories to life, in a vivid and remarkable manner.
In recent months, Brooke has turned the genealogical community on its head and, if you’re not already following the progress of her organization, Reclaim The Records, then you are missing out in a major way. Reclaim The Records is *successfully* filing Freedom of Information Act requests, liberating data from state agencies, and making it available on a large-scale. I can’t wait to see what they go after next and I know I speak for many when I express my immense gratitude for the outstanding work they are doing.
Wednesday night brought two group dinners at …The Olive Garden. The first was a small gathering for members of The Guild of One-Name Studies, organized by our chairman, Paul Howes. The 7 of us in attendance are overseeing surname studies on these unique surnames: Boddie (Drew Smith of the Genealogy Guys Podcast), Colt/Coult (FamilySearch’s Darris Williams), Cuono (studied by yours truly), Howes, Keough (studied by Tessa Keough, whose contributions to the Guild’s first-ever booth at RootsTech were beyond invaluable), Pikholz (studied by Jerusalem-based Israel Pickholtz, whose book is on my must-read list) and Stoops (studied by Yolanda Campbell Lifter, who focuses on research in my native Ohio). We discussed our studies and enjoyed each other’s company, along with, perhaps, a few too-many breadsticks.
As the GOONS (as those of us in the Guild are sometimes known) dinner concluded, I headed to another part of the restaurant for the tail-end of the NextGen Genealogy Network dinner. I was happy to see some familiar faces, and also to meet some new folks. NextGen was founded in 2013 to “create a community for other young genealogists”. I have to say, given how solitary an activity doing genealogical research can be, it’s always really wonderful to meet and connect with other like-minded researchers.
Following the good conversation and carb-loading, I turned in for the night – eagerly anticipating Thursday morning’s keynotes and kick-offs. Eastman’s Online Genealogy Blog has a terrific recap of Thursday’s RootsTech keynotes and other activities – and numerous videos, including the keynote addresses, have been uploaded to RootsTech.org, with more to follow soon. The Ancestry Insider also has a great post on Steve Rockwood’s keynote, along with some exciting statistics on this year’s RootsTech attendees.
On Thursday morning I attended my first session, “Free At Last: Irish Records, So Peculiar, So Cheap”, presented by John Grenham (who literally wrote the book on the subject) and he captivated the packed room as he discussed the foundations of Irish research, and the latest and greatest in available records.
As this was the first year that the Guild of One-Name Studies had a booth at RootsTech, attending members of the Guild were called upon to volunteer when available. Though I’ve attended every RootsTech since 2012, I’ve never gotten to wear the “exhibitor” hat and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with people one-on-one and tell them more about the Guild. It was an extremely successful outing and I believe that many dozens of one-name studies will be registered as a result of our presence and the pro-active nature of our members and participants. After my shift, I headed over to see the aforementioned Tammy Hepps speak on “The Ancestor Deep Dive”, and she wowed the audience with her approach to research methodology and case-study examples from her site. I finished the day listening to Geoff Rasmussen speak about the new Google Photos, and how he’s been using it for his own photo collections. Although definitive photo organization remains a constant struggle and challenge, I always enjoy hearing Geoff’s thoughts on the matter and, though it’s a few years old at this point, his book Digital Imaging Essentials is a must-read for anyone concerned with preserving and organizing their photo collection.
I’ll post a recap for Friday and Saturday later this week, but – suffice it to say – I think this was my favorite RootsTech so far – the conference just keeps getting better and better. As I head back into the real world, this week, I’m extremely grateful to have had the chance to see my genealogy friends, make some new ones, learn some new things, share a bit, and spend some precious time on my own research.