Saturday, August 9, 2014

GRIP ON THE ROAD: Orchard Lake, Michigan

This past week I attended the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) ( “On the Road” event in beautiful Orchard Lake, Oakland County, Michigan, just a few miles from my home.  I will share my experience from the eyes of a commuter.  The people who stayed in the campus dorm rooms probably had a more intense experience, but commuters can benefit greatly from the experience as well.

Orchard Lake, Michigan

The conference was structured nicely with classes starting at 8:30, a mid-morning break, more classes, lunch, classes, an afternoon snack and yet more classes. The dining hall was a short walk from our building. The classes were important, but the mingling during breaks and lunchtime was an integral part of the experience. It was a time to share research interests, our various surnames, past careers, future careers, software preferences, family tales and geographic locations.  Some people want to become certified; others just love researching their family. Some students had been to prior GRIP events, but for others this was their first time. Below is a photograph of the central area where we took our breaks.

Maia's Books was onsite as well so we all got to browse through and purchase books during breaks. In addition, if you are seeking BCG certification, there were sample portfolios available for your review during breaks.  I am always in awe when I examine the detailed work of successful candidates for certification.

Display by Maia's Books

There were four educational tracks from which to choose. I elected to attend Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper.  The main instructor in my track was Paula Stuart-Warren.  In addition, Joshua Taylor and Debbie Mieszala each gave three presentations as well.  Click here for the faculty bios.

Paula Stuart-Warren

Paula was a thoroughly-prepared and approachable instructor. Think of your favorite homeroom teacher when you were a child.

In the first session, Paula discussed the importance of research plans and how you should design one that works for you. A research plan is essential to guide you along the research trail. In the beginning, I did not do research plans and, consequently, I repeated much of the same research over and over again. Research plans are efficient and essential for your success if you want to make it in this field.

She sectioned us into groups of four and gave us a common document to analyze.  Our goal was to design a research plan jointly and learn about the parties mentioned in the document. Later in the week we presented our results.  From one document we learned the history of an extremely complex family. The records we researched along the way were tricky and sometimes full of errors. It was very challenging. Good choice, Paula!

In other sessions, Paula discussed at length:
  • Manuscript collections
  • Vital records
  • The WPA
  • Discovering places of origin
  • Probate records
  • Civil and criminal court records
  • Military records
  • State archives
  • Federal government records
  • Institutional records

One of the biggest laughs of the week came during Paula’s presentation about institutional records—mental institutions, prisons, etc. During class, one of the female students (her name will remain anonymous to protect the innocent) accidentally entangled the bracelet on her left wrist with the bracelet on her right wrist. The result?  Yes—it looked like she was wearing handcuffs. We roared! You will be glad to know that she was released.

Several students also submitted “brick wall” problems in their own research, and the class discussed a few of these problems each day. There were many benefits to this exercise. First, we learned about the backgrounds of our classmates.  Second, we had to expand our thinking from our own heritage and research sources to those of others. Third, we needed to explore the resources of other states where we may never have done research.  Four, the comments by other students were educational. And, finally, it made us think on our feet quickly about how we would advise someone. It was great practice, and I think we all got better at it as the week progressed.

So, a good time was had by all, but in the process we were learning new methods and resources for our genealogy pastime/career. Paula’s syllabus material was comprehensive, and I know I will be referring to it often. 

Orchard Lake, Michigan

Joshua Taylor

If you watched Genealogy Roadshow ( last year, you saw Joshua Taylor.  He is a wonderful speaker, and I always enjoy listening to him.  Josh gave three amazing presentations during GRIP:


If you have not used JSTOR (, you need to start. I had used this resource prior to Josh’s lecture, but Josh gave us many helpful tips on how to ferret out the best results from our searches.

“Going Digital”

In this session, Josh described the elaborate and incredible way that he got (and stays) organized. We were all stunned at the complexity and exactitude of the way he organizes his research. We all left in shame, but inspired to do better.

“Printed Legends and Missing Footnotes”

Our final talk from Josh was about compiled genealogies. You know—the books we all first grabbed when we were trying to research our family. In my case, it was A Cutler Memorial and Genealogical History and Thomas Boyden and His Descendants. Josh taught us how to analyze and dissect these genealogies. He told us how they were compiled and how to figure out if what you are reading is possibly the truth.

These three presentations will be very useful.  I am past the beginning stage of genealogy and now need to:
  • perform research in unique resources
  • organize the vast amount of research I have amassed
  • analyze carefully the material I am using to back up my findings

Debra Mieszala

I was looking forward to hearing Debra speak. Not only is she a certified genealogist but she is also a legal assistant, as am I.  She specializes in forensic genealogy, which seems like a great fit for someone with a legal background.  

Debra’s first talk was a rollicking explanation of how to cite documents. She made it fun!! Yes, fun.  I especially liked the fact that she gave us “hands on” documents to cite. It is one thing to listen to a lecture and quite a different thing to actually write a citation. There are rules, of course, but there is a bit of artistic freedom too.

Our second presentation from Debra was about how to transcribe documents, an important skill that we need in our toolkit.  Once again, she helped us to learn while doubling us with laughter at the same time. 

Debra’s last talk was on performing newspaper research. I have done a great deal of research in newspapers and have taken an advanced course at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in newspaper research. However, Debra gave me many additional ideas about where to find these gems of ancestral information.

I really enjoyed listening to Debra, and I look forward to hearing her in the future. 

Orchard Lake, Michigan

On Thursday, they photographed the various classes. Many people were wearing their GRIP polo shirts, which was an optional purchase. The team that designed GRIP really has figured out how to design an event just right. The camaraderie of the instructors, staff and students was evident. Although they don’t currently plan to have a GRIP event in 2015 in Michigan, I still plan to attend one of the sessions in Pittsburgh.  Click here for more information on next year’s events.  As you can see, I heartily recommend the GRIP experience. 


  1. Thank you for the kind comments. I love teaching at genealogy institutes. It's even better when the class has great people like you!

  2. Thanks, Paula. It is quite a feat to make learning so much fun. You and your team should be very proud of yourselves.