Happy New Year 2023!

How can I explain what a terrible 3 years this has been for me? Starting in 2020. I mean….everyone, had bad years since then right? Well mine included back surgery, complications, a hole in my right retina which surgery could not repair and that has affected my sight, more complications, COVID, selling our house in order to buy one in Kelowna BC, only to find out that after 5 days, COVID locked everyone down and we had to walk away from the deal. We already had sold our house in Ontario, so we were stuck with having to rent and look to a plan B. NO ONE had any idea how long these lockdowns were going to take, so we waited to see if we could buy it a few months later, but it sold. It was our dream, our dream house, our future plan….all gone.

Then, as we came to realization that we were stuck here in Ontario, we decided to tear down our cottage a rebuild a permanent home. This was/is the most stressful thing you can do, I believe! We have now rented 3 houses and moved 4 times in past 2 1/2 years and we are STILL not in our new home! We are ALMOST there.

To top it off, we lost our beloved dog Murphy at the end of June to cancer. Not a week later, I was involved in a horrific car accident on a beautiful July day. As I was driving home from sightseeing in Toronto with a European cousin, someone decided to pass a transport truck ON THE SHOULDER, and when they were about to hit a sign, they cut in front of that transport causing the transport and the at fault driver to both strike me head on. I had about 1 second to react (which was a blessing) and then BANG! Next thing I knew, I was flying through the air and I rolled my car 4 times down an embankment into a ravine, landing upside down.

I am very spiritual, but, in this case, it was and absolute miracle I survived. I never lost consciousness, I had no broken bones or internal injuries and not a single window in my vehicle blew out. Not a single tree on that embankment impaled my car. I had severe bruising, whiplash and concussion with, of course, shock. There was no way I should have walked away from that accident. But I did. And here I am!

I’m now well enough to focus on my genealogy again. I want to have clients and I want to work! It’s been a few years from hell, including my husband and I both getting COVID…but in the end, I want to start 2023 with a positive, hopeful and joyful outlook. I only want the best for my self, my family, my friends and everyone I know. Hopefully, I’ll get to know some of you and your ancestors!

Here’s to better times ahead! All the best to everyone for a healthy, successful and happy 2023. May we all feel the blessing we are long over due for!


Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on Pexels.com
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Well Hello again….I’m back!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here. It’s been a journey for me in so many ways. I’m still actively researching and I’m now the genealogist for Clan Donald of Canada. I’m attending their AGM in 2 weeks and get to meet the Chief of Glengarry!

I’m also moving in 2 weeks. Just before Covid, we had purchased a how in West Kelowna, BC and then BAM- the world stopped. We decided to not move, but instead build our dream home here in Ontario. Although it’s going to be fabulous…we all know the stresses of moving. This will be our 4th move in 2 years!

I have a new website http://www.sandramoffattgenealogicalresearch.com which I invite you all to visit. My love for the detective work in genealogy never wavers and I’d love to be able to help anyone interesting in discovering more about their ancestry.

Alexander Macdonald III of Boisdale, an ancestor of my husband. He fought for the British in the American revolution.

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How our ancestor came to Plymouth, England-a short story….

*This is my first attempt at writing a short story (or a beginning chapter) on one of our ancestors. Please be kind!


Plymouth, Devonshire 1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Plymouth, Devonshire 1832 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Purchased 1986 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T04585

With the mist barely risen from the sea, and the sound of the waves hitting the pebbles on the shore, Hugh took a deep breath in, and wondered how he ended up in this place.

It was the year 1828 and England was changing faster than the people could adjust to. The manufacturing industry was fastly becoming more mechanized and the labour force which once could make a living by hand through weaving etc., were having to seek out work in large factories. People were not happy. Hugh was not happy.

Hugh’s unhappiness though, came from a much different place.

He had left Scotland years before, mostly due to his father’s mismanagement of his birthright as the next Laird. After having to place their lands and monies in trust to be managed by a factor, it was impossible to continue living in his country. The constant litigation and battle to maintain his dignity in the face of his family’s financial ruin became too much to bear and he made the decision to move to England- the furthest point of England to be exact.

Plymouth was a bustling port city with all manner of seafaring entertainment. There were the fishermen who arose before daylight to haul their vessels out to sea to catch their daily wages. Then there were the straggling military men who had spent a little too long at the seaside pubs on the previous night and were to be found here and there, sleeping in the alleyways running along side the piers.


There were ships, anchored, patiently waiting for the passengers that they would bring to new places in the world, hopefully, to begin wonderful lives that could not be had on this side of the ocean. Finally, there were the cargo ships that were chock-a-block full of items brought there to be sold or laden with cargo to be sold in another part of the world.

Those cargo ships were Hugh’s favourite. It brought back memories of the ships his family filled full to the brim with kelp. Kelp is what brought his family wealth. Yes, they had owned a lot of land and various islands, but it was the harvest and sale of kelp that his grandfather had so brilliantly managed,and that filled his family’s coffers and allowed them be able to live the life of richness that many believed was the reality of lairds. Little did they know that, in reality, the life of most of the clan chiefs and lairds was far from such a vision. Most struggled to eek out a living on a harsh, barren land that produced little in way of crops and hardly gave them enough to live on, let alone live well. They had tenants who were desperately poor and who relied on them to be their saviours, leaders and helpers.

After the Jacobites (who his family were proud supporters of) lost, most of the old way of Clan life was lost or not permitted. Hugh’s grandfather would regale him with stories of how his clan members would surround him waiting with baited breath… for the clan sennachie, or story teller, to tell them about his great grandfather’s brush with Bonnie Prince Charlie. How his great grandfather was put in prison for awhile for his part in giving the Prince advice that was never taken! Luckily for his great grandfather, there were many witnesses to the fact that the Prince did not heed his warnings and that most probably saved his great grandfather’s life.

His father, on the other hand, was not at all like his grandfather. He spent all their money rather than earn it. He lived like it would be forever appearing in the bank legers, miraculously arriving whenever he felt the need for it. Hugh’s grandfather was married 3 times. His final wife was from the Campbell clan- just as powerful as his and she made it known to all that she was now the matriarch and that HER children by her new husband would be favoured. As it turned out, this is exactly what happened.

She left most of her estate to her eldest son, Reginald. He became known as Staffa. He married well and lived an extremely luxurious life. He was friends with all the upper class elite of Edinburgh society, including Sir Walter Scott. Hugh had also known Sir Walter, but in a different way. His father had been his friend and together they spent a lot of time visiting at Scott’s cottage in Lasswade. Hugh’s father died in 1818 in Lasswade. Lasswade had become a symbol of both the wonderfulness of his Scottish heritage and the horribleness of his father’s indulgences.

Hugh took another breath as he mulled over the fact that as the first son of his grandfather’s first born son, HE should have become the next Captain of Clanranald. By the time his half-cousin, by his grandfather’s 2nd wife, had been given the title, Hugh was no longer living in Scotland and not considered a possible candidate anymore. Although he considered himself as the rightful heir, he was still living abroad, so to speak, on the rentals of the property in Scotland. Little did he know how the decision to leave would affect the rest of his life.

In a way, Hugh thought, it was just as well, as he really was not happy. Not happy in Scotland, and not happy with where his life ended up. With every step he took along the cobblestoned pier, he gazed out onto the sea, where his family’s past wealth came from, and where he hoped his future would take him next. Anything would be better than where he was now, he thought.

A small boy ran past him, brushing him roughly as he tried to outrun the rather angry man who was trying to retrieve the apples the boy had taken.

How sad, Hugh thought, that this child had to steal to eat. The sight of this child made him think of his son Hector. Hector would be 2 now, he thought. He missed the boy, but knew that he was better off with his mother. Hugh had not married the woman but he supported his son. He could not make peace with the fact that she was a crofters daughter. A mistake that was made on a lonely night while he visited an island he detested.

Then there were his 2 daughters, Amelia and Charlotte. They were born a decade before Hector, while he was living in York. Hugh had gone to school there. His father having secured his education while he lived in York, basically exiled to live there while his estate was being mismanaged and put in trust. In his early twenties, Hugh met a lovely local woman who he fell in love with, but could not marry. It was to be one of the saddest times of his life. Although he loved her, his father, at the time, deemed the match unsuitable. His daughter’s births were considered, by some, to be an acceptable side effect of a gentleman’s desires. Politely acknowledged but not spoken of.

At the time, he was so full of hope and desire to be who he had been groomed to be, the next laird. Instead, he was stuck living in a rented townhome, listening to his father read aloud letters that were constant reminders that they survived on charity most of the time and that their debts were only increasing, making his future look grim. Their benefactors, or let’s call them bankers (as they truly were) were becoming increasinly aggressive in their desire to get paid back what his father owed. Litigations over ever single detail of their financial life bored him to tears and he had had it with his father’s constant rantings that “this was not fair”.

By the time his father died, Hugh was the father of 2 daughters and 1 son out of wedlock. He inherited some money, and with that, plus the rentals from his lands in Scotland, he decided he would forever leave his life there. Although he supported his children, he could not be their “father”.

No more Edinburgh, no more South Uist in the Western Isles, no more York. From now on, he was disengaging from his previous associations and starting anew.

And that’s how he ended up here, in this city, walking along this pier.



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Should I write it?

Lady Boisdale ad June 1875

Mary Macdonald 1857- Liverpool

Mary MacDonald (nee Hender 1805-1881) aka “Lady Boisdale”



Should I write it?

I still remember when the book ROOTS came out, and how it was a massive hit which was then made into a movie.

It was the first time, that I can recall, that a book was written about the genealogy of one person, traced back to his slave roots. It was a genealogical book, written in such a great way that it captivated the public. It brought us back generations and told the fascinating story of a man and how he came to be who he was. The book was written by taking stories from all the amazing experiences his ancestors had gone through- both good and bad, and making it flow forward into the life of the man telling the story.

I have such a story. It’s not fiction either. It’s very real and continues to this day. I’ve been working on it for 35+ years but am ready to share it now. I should write a fictional novel based on fact. This is the only way it can be told because there are gaps in this story that have to be filled in.

The above woman is only one tiny part of the story I’d write.  She would be the character known as “Lady Boisdale” as she referred to herself. She was the wife of a Scottish laird who left Scotland and moved to England. He lived on the money he inherited after his land was sold off.

Lady Boisdale (or Mary Hender)  was only about 15-18 when she met him and was illiterate. He was 39 by this time and had had at least 3 prior illegitimate children before her. Her father was quite a character and so was she!

She had 9 children before she “officially” married him in a secret wedding called an irregular marriage. Together they had 12 children and he had at least 15 that I’m aware of.

He directly descended from the great Macdonald of Clanranald clan that can be traced back to Somerled.  She was of Cornish stock, descended from a shoemaker and somehow ended up living as a proper lady but without the legitimacy.

The truly amazing part is that she was a rough and tough lady who ended up in court for various reasons and always represented herself rather than hire a lawyer. She was accused of stealing, had a baby left on her doorstep who died within the day, got beat up for not paying her rent for over 6 months and charged with various other offenses. She ran a boarding house when her husband went AWOL, in order to support herself.

For about 30 years they lived as gentleman/woman with nice homes and lots of servants. They moved from Plymouth, to Swansea, and finally to Liverpool. By 1857, he was put in debtors prison for insolvency and then disappeared for a few years.

Once back, they moved in with their only son who hadn’t emigrated and spent the last decade or so in virtual poverty. Their children either died young in the UK or emigrated and then died young where they moved to. Each child has their own fascinating and tragic story as well.

To top it off there is a possibility that there might be a claim to the chieftainship of the clan because of the story I discovered.

My husband is descended from this family. The genealogy was done just to find his ancestors names. The story was discovered while I was doing the work finding them. I’ve been told so many times that this would make a great novel. There is only one problem.

I’ve never written a book! I’ve only written a short story. I’m not sure if I should write short stories about each person or try and put it all together as a novel. This is going to be my project for the next few years.  What’s a Button, by the way? (see above photo of ad)

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“When in Rome…”


First experience with racism in my life!


Me (2nd from left) with my 2 sisters and my Italian cousin (2nd from right)

Last summer we had the amazing pleasure of having 7 relatives from Italy come and surprise my mother for her 80th birthday. They included my aunt, her daughter and son-in-law, her granddaughter and husband and some cousins.

It was a magical time that was so much fun! We are extremely close with our family in Italy and visit at least once a year. My mother and aunt have lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic for over 59 years but are as close today as they were when they were in their 20s.

I grew up in a household where my parents spoke Italian to each other and us. It was mostly my father’s dialect but I also took Italian in high school (along with French) to learn the “proper” way to speak it. I love speaking English, Italian and French and I’m proud of the fact that I can! It’s helped me immensely in doing genealogical research and it comes completely naturally to me.

No one, in my entire life, has ever made a racist comment to me about being Italian descent. I grew up in Toronto which is hugely multi-cultural and although I lived in a mostly white Anglo Saxon Protestant suburb, everyone knew and accepted that we all came from a different country at least 1-3 generations prior.

Last summer I had an incident happen that shocked me to my core!

The lovely lady in the photo above- 2nd from the right- is my cousin Rossella. She is Italian and has always lived in Italy. Her mother is my mother’s sister. We are very close and see each other yearly and have even vacationed together. She’s a newly retired pharmacist who is enjoying being a first time grandmother. She’s also very smart and speaks English very well….as do a LOT of Europeans. In their countries, they are almost all taught to speak English.

Rossella and my sister and I had gone into the closest town to me- Orangeville, Ontario- to pick up some groceries for dinner. Rossella had offered to pay for them and we joked about making sure we went on a Wednesday because it was “seniors” day so that we could get a discount.

We had a great time going up and down the aisles, discussing how different the food selection was, and the cost of the items too. Once we were done, we got into line at the check-out.

As usual, Seniors Day at the store was crowded. There were many people in line waiting to pay for their items. In our particular line, we waited patiently and started talking to each other about our day and laughed about our mothers and how they nattered at each other all the time. We were oblivious to the fact that we were speaking Italian because we switched back and forth from English to Italian and it was just easier for us to speak Italian because we were better at it than Rossella was at speaking English.

Rossella was busy paying for the food when mid way through a sentence, a man standing behind me in line, interrupted me to ask what language we were speaking. I was happy to answer him and said “Italian”. I thought he was just interested. His next words to me were so shocking that it took me a few seconds to realize he wasn’t being friendly at all.

“Sometimes, I don’t even know what country I live in anymore” was his comment. I didn’t quite get the comment at first so I said “What do you mean?” and he said “Well, you know what they say….”When in Rome do as the Romans do” “!! I was completely taken aback, and frankly amused that he used that exact saying because of the reference to Italy. “What?” I said, again confused…”When you’re in this country, you should speak English”, he said.

By this point I knew that he was being confrontational. I was put on the spot and said, “Well, I AM from this country. I was born and raised here. We have company from Italy who are visiting us and it’s just easier to speak to them in Italian.”  I don’t know why I felt the need to explain anything to him but I said it instinctively. His response????

“Well, you know, there’s a place in downtown Toronto that’s called Little Italy. Maybe your company would feel more comfortable there”. I was in complete and utter shock by this point and couldn’t believe what was happening. No one else in the line said a word. I’m not sure they even heard him, but they probably did.

Orangeville, Ontario is mostly white but there are a lot of East Indians, Mennonites, African Canadians and who knows what other nationalities living there. Orangeville is surrounded by mostly farmland. This man was very obviously from a rural area because he was wearing coveralls from working on a farm and he was in his late 60s. Maybe I’m making excuses for him…I don’t know. I shouldn’t judge him from what he’s wearing anyway. I think I’m just trying to find a reason for his way of thinking but I can’t.

“Why would you say that to us?”, I asked. He said with a completely straight face…..”You live in an English country and you should speak English”.

At this point there was NO DOUBT that he was not joking and I just followed my sister and cousin out of the store. Luckily, my cousin heard none of this conversation until I told her about it in the parking lot. I was fuming. She was shocked as was my sister. Luckily my sister hadn’t heard or she would have made a huge scene!

This whole scenario happened in about 2 minutes.

I learned a lot that day.

  1. Racism is ugly.
  2. Just because I am white, and born in Canada does not mean that I will not experience this ugliness.
  3. People can be so ignorant and mean spirited.
  4. I have a HUGE new understanding and empathy for minorities who are subjected to this on a daily basis.
  5.  I decided to share this story as many times as I could so that people would know that it can happen anywhere to anyone and it needs to stop.
  6.  I learned that I would not let some small minded individual ruin my wonderful day with people I love. This was HIS issue not mine, but I learned that next time this happens that I would make a point of singling such comments by repeating them back to the person  LOUDLY so that others could see this ugliness…is this wrong? childish? Maybe.

I asked my mother when I got home if she ever experienced racism when she first came to Canada in 1957. We had never spoken of it before. Her answer hurt me.

She said that a lot of times she’d enter a store and be greeted with a smile and a nice “Hello”. From the outside, she looked just like everyone else. Once she opened her mouth to speak and her thick Italian accent came out and she had trouble speaking in English, the demeanor and attitude of the person serving her would change completely. They would be brusk and impatient and she felt very small, hurt and centered out.

I had never heard of this story before!

Has anything like this happened to you? It amazes me that he didn’t realize that even HE originated from an ancestor from another country- even if he was 5 or 6 generations Canadian. I should have pointed that out, but I didn’t think of it until later. There is no excuse for rudeness. No reason for him to single us out in a public place like that. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing I walked away. He might have made it an even uglier scene and that would have not made him any more enlightened or made our day any more pleasant.


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Using Google Maps for Genealogy

George Speed with his aunt Meg Wilson Forret

George Speed with his aunt Meg Wilson Forret at 6 Corby Avenue, Toronto, Ontario circa 1921

Today I was looking at my collection of old family photographs when it dawned on me that I should see if some of the houses in the photos are still standing.

The above photo has been in my possession for over 30 years. With the help of the internet and especially Google Maps, I was able to do some detective work and find this house today. I’ve used it in the past on client’s reports and it’s fascinating to see if 1. the house is still standing and 2. how much it’s changed since the photo was taken.

First, I knew that the family had emigrated to Canada in 1920 because the wife was a WW1 widow and came over with the pension she was given for her husband’s service.

Secondly, I looked up the family in the 1921 Canadian census through my subscription to Ancestry. I found them (the widow and her 3 surviving children) living at 6 Corby Avenue, Toronto.

The boy in the photo is the youngest son of the widow. I wanted to know if this was his home or the home of the woman who is with him (his aunt). She lived someone where else in Toronto.

Thirdly, I looked up the aunt’s information in the 1921 Canadian census and found her to be living at 121 Perth Ave, Toronto.

Finally, I did a search on Google Maps with both of these address and found both of the homes still standing. I compared them to the above photo and discovered that the above photo was taken at 6 Corby Ave which is the home of the widow not the aunt.

Here is what the house looks like today!



6 Corby Ave Toronto 2016

You can see that the house is exactly the same in regards to windows, and doors but that the exterior of the house has been modified extensively. This street is now in what is called “Little Italy” in Toronto. Ironically, this was the home of my husband’s great grandmother who was Scottish and I’m Italian and when my parents emigrated in the 1950s, they lived only a few houses away on the adjoining street!

It’s a fun thing to do if you have old photos and you have an idea of where the photo was taken.  You should try it!

In the next photo, you can see the same boy from above with his much older sister. They emigrated in 1920 and by 1925 she had died so I know that this photo was taken in the 4 years since they arrived and at the same house.

The detective work of genealogy is always so much fun for me!

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Genealogy work is real work.


View from Tintagel Castle in Devon

I’m sorry I’ve been away from my blog for awhile. It’s been tough trying to maintain my household, 2 part time jobs (that I need because my genealogy work isn’t paying the bills) and surviving the job of being mom to 16 and 20 year old young men!

Guess what people? Genealogy IS a real job! When I went back to university to get my Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Studies (which took 2 years), I had this pie in the sky idea that once I had graduated that I’d magically have enough clients to make a living. I marketed myself through my blog, my business Facebook page and my website. I have written articles and contributed to many events. It just never ceases to amaze me that whenever I get a request from someone to help them solve their family history story that they are shocked at what I charge. Really??

I work for my clients after my other jobs well into the night. I travel to archives and libraries and subscribe to many databases to help  find the information they are looking for. I spend way more time on their reports than I charge for and yet there is this feeling that what I do should cost less. Almost every time I get an email request there is the question of what I think it will cost and then the almost certain response that this is a lot more than they were planning on paying.

Some of these people have been doing their own genealogy work for decades and are stuck. They want the advice and help of someone who knows how to help but are hesitant to pay for it. I’m not bitter about their reaction, just frustrated.

My work is my passion. I LOVE IT! If I could do genealogy full time (24 hours a day) I would! It’s almost always on my mind. It’s a job that doesn’t feel like a job but yet it IS a job. It’s my time and my effort and my skills that are being paid for.

If you want a shocking example….here is one. I work part time as a nanny. I make $20/hour to watch an infant and the same amount to watch 2 toddler siblings. $20 cash….per…hour. People are begging me to do more jobs for them because they need reliable help for their precious children. I get that. I DO! I have 2 sons who I stayed home with for 18 years so that I could give them my undivided attention. I get that I was one of the lucky ones and that some people can’t afford to stay home.

Why can’t potential genealogy clients see what I do in this field as equally important. We are talking about finding information about ancestors that they’ve searched for -for decades-and couldn’t find. There are gaps in their family history or questions that need answering and it’s driving them crazy. I can help. But I need to get paid!

maddalena matias_b_1707

Enter a caption

Italian entry in baptismal record from 1707- transcribed by me!


Yet, when I ask for $30/hour for my genealogy work it’s almost always a shock. Maybe there is not enough information out there on what it costs to be a genealogist or how much it costs to hire one. The popular shows out now like Who Do You Think You Are and previous shows like Ancestors in the Attic have added to the already huge trend in genealogy as a hobby. I’m very pleased we are getting more attention because I used to have to actually explain to people what a “genealogist” was in the past. I was a hobby genealogist for 20+ years and I know how exciting it is when you first start. All genealogists share information from time to time and try to help out in volunteer chat rooms or societies to add to the community but at some point we all have to pay our bills.

If you know of anyone who is trying to do their family history, by all means help them if you can. But don’t give away your skills and time for free. Your time and effort are worth something. Everyone is good at something. I’ve invested in my genealogy and now I’d like to try and make a living at it.

There….my rant is over! Lol, sorry if I’ve offended anyone but this post is a long time coming and I work hard for my clients.


Have a great weekend everyone!


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Genetics- When your children are so different than you are!

download (1)

Our adopted sons are SO different than us!


Ok, so we’re at that phase in our life when we have a 16 and 20 year old son. That, in itself, is a tough time!

Our boys are adopted. They each come with a completely different set of genes that they inherited from their birth parents.

There is that saying that there is a difference between “nurture versus nature”. All the parenting in the world doesn’t matter when you have 2 children who are so biologically different than their parents. Sure, they will learn from our examples, and hopefully incorporate that in the way that they become caring, successful adults. Nature, on the other hand dealt them cards that I’m wholly unaware of. Who were their ancestors and what did they inherit?

Our sons come from opposite ends of the planet. One is part Italian, Irish and English but born in Canada. The other is part Russian Jewish and part Tajikistani Muslim from an orphanage in Siberia. One was adopted at birth, the other at 15 months.

As a genealogist, it’s in my nature to want to hark back to my ancestors to look for similar traits, features, personality characteristics etc. This is so hard for us as we can’t draw on any of the familiar “YOU ARE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER” sayings! Or, “THE APPLE DOESN”T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE”, “OH WOW, HE’S JUST LIKE UNCLE so-and so!”

We know little of their backgrounds, especially the younger one. We know that we’ve parented them exactly as we would have parented biological children, with maybe a bit more empathy due to the fact that they would have to deal with loss at some point.

My husband is a jock. Number one reason for being,for him, is to get that adrenaline rush, compete, win, start a new project, create a new business. I’m an academic, with a long history of selflessness and service in my family.

Our boys have no interest in sports, except maybe snowboarding and mountain biking.

They are not competitive. They are also not particularly studious, even though the older one is amazingly bright.

This, is not THE most difficult aspect anyway. The hardest part of having biologically different offspring is that they are EXTREMELY different people than would otherwise be in our family. It’s a constant battle to figure out why they say what they say, do what they do, feel what they feel. It’s a dance where we all try to move to our family rhythm in a way that works for all of us, while not treading on anyone’s toes.

It’s hard on all of us, especially them. I wish I could ask questions of THEIR ancestors to get some insight in how to be a better parent. I wish an unknown great grandfather could whisper in my ear “oh, that’s no big deal, I did that all the time and I became…..such and such.” or “wow, he’s JUST like my dad!”

This would be such a comforting whisper. A bit of a shoulder to lean on to know that we are doing the best we can and they will know it one day. We’ve learned along the way that we can only do our best and so can they. We all love each other and we all try to work on blending….on being part of this “crazy family”, as my son says.

I wish I knew more about their inherited medical history, their bio families mental health issues, and any other important factors that would help me be a better parent.

Being a genealogist with a desire to know a family’s past is so difficult when you have 2 members of your OWN family that you know very little about!!


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Private Client Work


Private Client Work-Good and Bad


For many years, the only kind of genealogical work I wanted to do was private client work. That’s where I’m hired by an individual to research a specific question they have about their family history, or they hire me to do a report of their family history.

This can include, but is not limited to, just one direct line of research (for instance, they only want to know about the direct father-son line of their father’s ancestors). This is sometimes because they are interested in the family name. Sometimes,  they want me to do a complete family history which includes every possible ancestor from all their lines as far as I can go!

Now obviously, the latter would take months and months and cost a LOT of money. Most of this cost would be in my time in researching and in documenting all the information and sources in a way that gives them a good report, that’s interesting, and makes sense.

Sometimes the results of this work is excellent and other times it’s unrewarding. You can spend weeks searching for information that just isn’t there.

You can find that some clients give you a family tree full of incorrect or incomplete details that throw you off the path. It’s amazing how many people “remember” details AFTER you have done research and not found it and they suddenly remember that the person’s real name is different, or “oops, I forgot to mention that they were not family, only family friends who we considered family” etc., etc.

You may find that a lot of clients are SO excited to get their family history done UNTIL they find out the cost. Suddenly, it’s not that important or exciting.

It amazes me how some consider what we do as genealogists as “just a hobby” and that our time is not worth anything. It’s a difficult discussion to have with someone trying to explain that we can spend weeks researching and not finding the answer, which is disappointing, but we should still get paid for the effort.

We subscribe to many databases, pay for memberships to various genealogical societies and libraries, archives and repositories in order to get the information we are looking for. We also do a lot of leg work in the form of driving. Most of these places are not near where we live. We can also be asked to go to cemeteries or libraries in other towns. This all costs money. We are accredited or have diplomas in this science…and it is a science! We have to follow a standard and have to provide proof for every single piece of evidence we find and corroborate that with the question we are being asked.


The response you get from some clients is worth every cent invested in doing what we do. Recently I just finished a family history for a client in the UK. I live in Canada. She found me via my website and asked me to find her “missing grandmother”. She had tried for years to do this online herself. Within an hour, I found this lady and within a few days I had all her answers. Her response was amazing!

“I’m all goosebumps and a bit tearful. It’s 8.00 in the morning here, and I’m just having my breakfast, but I wanted to reply and say thanks straight away.

It is truly fabulous for me to have this info at last (I’m 61).

I can see how it must be so gratifying to do this work – and I’m glad you’re out there doing it for me.

I look forward to the report. I expect I’ll want to take it further at some point – there’s bound to be more questions. But what an amazing start. Thank you!”


Some responses to my work have not been so encouraging. People are funny. They have a pre-perceived idea of what to expect sometimes. My job is to inform the client from the beginning what to expect and what the costs will be, but sometimes this isn’t enough.

One example I had was from a client in the U.S. who’s family story for generations was that they were related to Alexander Hamilton, one of the most influential promoters of the U.S. Constitution. The client had little family history beyond the fact that they came from Kentucky in the mid-1800s and after doing a thorough research and looking at census records, and other original sources that tied into her family (along with a well known family website of Hamilton), I concluded that they were NOT, in fact, related.

This did NOT go over well at all. She believed I was mistaken.

How could this story be in her family for all these years if it were not true? How could there be no connection?

I explained how I came to my conclusion, and showed her the proof with all the documentation. She still was not happy and thought she shouldn’t have to pay for my work. I did get half of the payment up front, but not full payment. This was a very hard lesson to learn on MY part.

Luckily for me, this client was a friend of a friend and the payment was eventually received.

Sometimes we discover family secrets. These secrets can come as a complete surprise to people and are either received as interesting or horrible, unwelcome pieces of knowledge.

It’s a fine line in being tactful about your findings in this respect. A client may be wholly unaware that their grandmother was previously married or had a child out of wedlock etc.

Some fellow genealogists I know refuse to do private client research for just this reason. People are all different and have different personalities, expectations, demands and ideas of what we should provide.

Some only do research, or blog, or write or teach. Others lecture. I continue to do private research work because the GOOD outweighs the BAD for me.

I have learned how to know from the outset what a client is truly expecting and get full payment up front. If this is not how they wish to proceed, they have the option of doing the work in stages. They pay up front for a portion of the work. If they like it, and want to know more, then they pay for another block of time.



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How do you make money with genealogy?

Aspects of Genealogy

You can make money working as a family historian or a professional genealogist.

There are many different ways to earn some money doing what you love. Granted, from my experience, there are not a lot of genealogists earning a really good income, but most genealogists do it for the love of it too. The lucky few, have found their niche, or specialize in an area of genealogy that make them more sought after. These genealogists have almost always made a name for themselves through marketing themselves as a brand or through social media. They are authors or have worked for organizations like Ancestry or other genealogical societies. They are well known in the genealogical circle because they have devoted themselves to furthering our reputation by developing standards and criteria that must be met in order for us to be regarded as professionals at what we do.




Many family historians or genealogists write blogs. You don’t even need to be a professional because some have made a name for themselves by just posting about their love of genealogy and their own personal family stories. Some have side bars with ads that pay them per click or per subscription by that particular company. Some are associates with other companies and feature them and their products on their blogs.


Many well known genealogists are also authors. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG is famous for her contribution to our field through her books like Professional Genealogy, A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians, 2001 or Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian, 1997. She has given the best, in my opinion, resources for genealogists to do their work properly.

From the above book, you can see how genealogy can branch out into many other fields.

Tom W. Jones, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA has also written a book called Mastering Genealogical Proof, 2013 which is the go to book used by genealogists to use the correct method to PROVING their findings.


Some genealogists prefer just doing lectures or speaking engagements. They are seen on a regular basis at various conferences, meetings, schools etc. speaking about their particular fields of genealogy or their specialties in that field, such as specializing in American Civil War history, or Irish ancestry etc.

They usually get paid a stipend or charge a fee for their lectures. Sometimes they are paid for their travel expenses such as hotel accommodation, food and airfare.

In North America we have large conferences such as RootsTech, Ontario Genealogical Society Conference, NGS (National Genealogical Society) Conference , Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR), Federation of Genealogical Societies National Conference (FGS) and more.

Each of these functions requires speakers for their classes or lectures. Some lecturers come from overseas and some are local, but all are paid.


Some genealogists write courses for genealogy classes at universities and colleges. They also do online webinars for these institutions.

Archivist, or Librarian

Genealogists or family historians can be hired by local Archives or libraries. They are responsible for helping run and  maintain the archives or library or support them in a customer service aspect by helping people who come to these places looking for help on their own family histories.


This is my personal favourite. Just plain research. I do research for individuals or what we call Private Client Work. This is usually done by someone contacting us via our website or blog or association that we belong to. They hire us to do work for them and we earn money by charging them for our time and expertise in putting together a professional report along with all the sources to prove our findings. Some genealogists do research for other, busier genealogists! They help do some of the leg work because these genealogists have many jobs on the go at the same time.

We also get asked to do research for people, or genealogists who live overseas but need help in the particular area we live in, or in the area of expertise we specialize in.

Genealogical Travel

Some genealogists organize travel/research trips for individuals or groups who want to go to the country of their ancestors but have no idea where to begin to get their research done. The organizer plans everything out- from the airfare, to the hotel accommodations, to the restaurants and sightseeing trips. They also take care of the pre-booked visits to the archives and repositories that are needed for these individuals. For about 6 months to a year prior to the trip, the organizer holds meetings (in person or via a webinar) coaching the participants on what they will need to have in advance (such as making sure they have all the family history documents already in their possession, etc.) They also explain to them what they will actually be doing when they arrive at the archives.

Some of these trips include visits to the local parish churches, cemeteries and villages of their ancestors.


One area of genealogy that has become important is transcribing and translations. Most North Americans are originally from somewhere else in the world. If you go back far enough, there is most likely another language involved, such as French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German etc.  Even if you are of English, Irish or Scottish descent, the documents from the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries can be extremely difficult to read. These documents were usually written by a secretary who was trained in a certain handwriting to write these papers because most people were illiterate at the time. Spellings and actual letters were written differently and some documents, like wills, had monetary information that would be different than what we know today. I’ve personally hired these specialists to transcribe a will from 1585 and 1651 because it was nearly impossible for me to read them (even though it was in English and I had taken classes on how to decipher this handwriting!).  These people are experts in what they do and it’s worth the money to know exactly what an ancestor from 400 years ago was saying!

So you see…..genealogy is a multi faceted career. It can be anything from just wanting to do your own family tree to becoming an author, historian, lecturer, blogger, researcher and even an archivist. You can write articles for genealogical magazines, teach, do travel trips and transcribe or translate documents. You can specialize in a specific type of genealogy- like only working on Native American ancestry, be a Military expert or specialize in French Canadian ancestry, DNA research…the possibilities are endless.

Lastly, if you don’t care about making money and want to contribute, you can volunteer by joining all kinds of organizations that do cemetery transcriptions, help at conferences, do look ups for people (if you belong to an organization that allows this), and work for local genealogical societies (most of which are ONLY run by volunteers).


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