March 14 Family History Research Workshop at the Erie Canal Museum
By Pamela Vittorio, guest writer
Visit for more information and to register.

Over the last twenty years, the digitization of genealogical records has become the mainstay of online sites like Family Search and Ancestry. The ability to retrieve and download records from the comfort of one’s home has allowed millions of family historians to add ancestors and information to the constantly expanding databases.

Just as conducting research in a repository can be time consuming; searching through digitized records requires as much patience. Typing a family surname with its modern spelling into a database and hitting “enter” does not always provide desired results. That’s when it’s time to employ different strategies, like using wild cards, spelling variations, or conducting a Boolean search. Some unindexed record sets—like New York State Land Records on—often necessitate image-by-image browsing. This time-consuming process differs very little from turning pages in an oversized tome at the court house. Finding answers to genealogical questions, no matter how a researcher goes about it, takes time.

At some point, almost every researcher—from the experienced professional genealogist to the fledgling family historian—hits a proverbial brick wall. The joy of receiving a great-great grandfather’s death record in the mail can quickly deflate when, the parents’ names are “unknown,” or, the informant left the mother’s maiden name blank. The result: A roadblock. Rules for accessing vital records differ state by state, and sometimes vary from city to town. Documents that are governed by privacy laws (HIPAA) will probably never be accessible.

Researchers have to find ways to work around or through such obstacles. That’s when it’s time to turn to a very twenty-first century genealogical tool: DNA testing. Sifting through and analyzing DNA matches also requires patience. Learning how to interpret DNA results helps achieve research goals, but more importantly, avoid misunderstandings or “red herrings.” More often than not, DNA results lead to finding new documents, and subsequently, finding ancestors.

On Saturday, March 14 beginning at 12 p.m., the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse will host two workshops focusing on strategies for expanding your tree, understanding and using DNA tests, and chasing that paper trail. Admission for the general public is $15 for one session and $25 for both, and $12 for one session and $22 for both for Erie Canal Museum members. The workshop is limited to 30 people, and all proceeds benefit the library and archives of the Erie Canal Museum. Visit for more information and to register.

Pamela Vittorio is a professional genealogist and historian. Her research specialties include the Erie Canal, the Civil War, migration, and cartography. She is a native of Chittenango, New York, and works as an educator and genealogist in New York City.