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Michael (michaelhait) is a professional genealogical researcher, author of numerous genealogy-related publications, and an APG Chapter Vice President. He specializes in Maryland research, African-American genealogy, and Civil War records. His research offerings include Maryland vital records, probate records, wills, and land patents. He can also retrieve Civil War Pension files (Union) from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
1) How did you get started doing genealogy research?
When I was about eight or nine years old, my grandmother showed me a “family tree” that her sister, an LDS convert, had compiled. This immediately intrigued me, and my grandmother and I began our own “research.” When I was about twenty, I really jumped into research vigorously, going to the National Archives in Washington DC every Saturday, writing letters to ancestral hometown historical and genealogical societies, etc., and discovered the Rootsweb mailing lists (no message boards yet). I have been researching ever since then.
2) Do you have a genealogy “superpower”? If so, what is it?
I would say that my “superpower” is my ability to locate evidence in records outside of the everyday record groups.
3) Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?
I have researched many tricky problems in five years as a professional genealogist. I am proud of them all, because each of them helps a family understand their heritage more. But I guess that I would choose a recent case involving an enslaved family, where the official records only offered indirect evidence and confusion ca. 1824. Then I located a family history book that reproduced pages from a family Bible containing all of the slaves’ births!
4) What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated research request?
The most important is to read every word of the offer. Sometimes there are outside factors that affect a particular project, such as years missing in the records due to fire, etc. If there are special instructions, etc., then there is also probably a reason for them. But overall, I feel that a well-formulated request should be very specific — it should include an exact name, relatively narrow date range, and specific location.
5) What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?
One of my specialties is African-American, particularly slave, genealogy, so any record group that provides information specific to individual enslaved people or families is of great interest to me. One of the most interesting record groups I located were registers of claims submitted to the Slave Claims Commissions during and following the Civil War. These Commissions were established to compensate loyal slave owners in the border states whose slaves joined the Union Army.
Each register includes the name and location of the slave owner, and the FULL name (given and surname) of each slave, as well as in some cases other details like the regiment and company in which the slave served. I am currently in the process of transcribing and publishing these registers. I have already published the short register of claims of the Delaware Slave Claims Commission, and am finishing up the much larger Kentucky register.
6) What technical tools do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?
I have a scanner with a top-load feeder so that I can scan many pages at once. I use the free Photoshop alternative GIMP to edit photos, and the free version of PrimoPDF to compile PDF reports.
7) Any new research offerings you’re considering?
I am thinking of offering several record groups available at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
8 ) What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a genealogy research provider?
Knowledge of the records is key to being able to efficiently and effectively search records. Before offering to perform research, be sure to have a lot of experience with the relevant record groups.
9) What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?
I am full-time genealogical researcher, so most of my time is spent conducting research, and writing. When I do have spare time for other activities, I usually spend it with my family, including my beautiful 4-year-old daughter, Mary.
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I have researched many tricky problems in five years as a professional genealogist. I am proud of them all, because each of them helps a family understand their heritage more.
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