On Saturday, I returned from my second summer at the week-long genealogy institute in Pittsburgh known as GRIP: Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. This year, I enjoyed a course taught by Michael D. Lacopo, DVM and Sharon Cook MacInnes, PhD titled "Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State."
While trying to decide which course to take, I recognized Dr. Lacopo's name from his blog, "Hoosier Daddy?" I wondered how this Indiana native could be an expert on Pennsylvania research. I was pleasantly surprised!
Michael, a former veterinarian, now works full time as a genealogy researcher, writer, blogger, and lecturer. He has graciously allowed me to interview him about his first experience teaching at GRIP, Pennsylvania research, and his fascinating blog.
|Dr. Michael D Lacopo with me and two other friends at GRIP|
You co-taught “Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State” last week at GRIP in Pittsburgh. What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Anyone who has seen me lecture knows that I get rather excited about the topic of genealogy, especially my Pennsylvania ancestors. And of course, the biggest complaint I receive of my teaching style is that I speak too quickly. But it’s all a manifestation of my excitement and passion. So I think the biggest enjoyment for me is sharing my knowledge and experiences and hoping that my enthusiasm is contagious. Any hey, we’re all colleagues with the same kind of goals. We all “get” each other. Who else spends a week in the summer in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh learning about courthouse research in Pennsylvania?
How long have you known your GRIP co-coordinator, Sharon Cook MacInnes, and how did the two of you decide to teach a course specifically about researching in Pennsylvania?
I believe Sharon began publishing her Early Landowners of Pennsylvania book and CD series in 2004. I was made aware of her presence then, and we met shortly thereafter at a national genealogy conference. Of course, the shared passion for Pennsylvania research made us very quick allies. The credit for the birth of the Pennsylvania GRIP course lies squarely on Sharon’s shoulders. She proposed the course to the administrators at GRIP, and started the ball rolling. She asked me shortly thereafter to join forces with her. I eagerly accepted.
While the course focused on research in Pennsylvania, many of the techniques would be valuable for research in any state. Are there unique aspects of researching in the Keystone State?
You are exactly right! When I discuss finding treasures in manuscript collections, I can highlight certain Pennsylvania repositories, but we ALL should be digging into those types of records regardless of where our ancestors lived! My teaching style is more of a “thinking” style. I will show you how to access things, and I will help you think outside the box, but it is up to you to do the digging. I want people to be broader, more creative thinkers. There is an enormous amount of information out there for us to find, but if you are constantly thinking surname, surname, surname, you are going to miss it all.
I think the lecture I gave on the county courthouse offices of Pennsylvania and the records found within them was the most Pennsylvania-specific lecture. I mean, really, who doesn’t raise an eyebrow in confusion when you talk about Prothonotaries and Courts of Oyer and Terminer? Even now, Microsoft Word tells me all those are misspellings. It makes Pennsylvania a “scary” state to research for newcomers. The terminology does not make sense intuitively for those walking into their first Pennsylvania courthouse to do research.
For those who are researching their Pennsylvania ancestors but aren’t able to travel to the state to do research, can you share a favorite site or tip?
I tell all genealogists that they should hug an archivist every day. There are tremendously amazing things nestled in archival and manuscript collections. Not only are they grossly underutilized, but they are usually within the jurisdiction of archivists and librarians who LOVE to share them with people. So although it takes travel to access the things you find in archives, I do love poking through the online finding aids of the Pennsylvania State Archives or of the Genealogical and Historical Societies of Pennsylvania. I can also spend hours throwing random search terms into ArchiveGrid to see what goodies are lurking in other repositories.
You live in Indiana where you write your blog, “Hoosier Daddy?” While living out-of-state, how did you become an expert on Pennsylvania genealogy?
I have said this to people before, and I try to do it without sounding too flaky. Although born and raised in northern Indiana, I have always felt at home in southeastern Pennsylvania. Although I have poked around the entire state doing research, the bulk of my Pennsylvania ancestors are in the corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Many of them are colonial Germans, and they reach out to me. They are my “favorite” ancestors, and I cannot give you a real reason why. I have been fascinated with the 18th century immigration of Germans to Pennsylvania since beginning my research in 1980. It doesn’t hurt either that Pennsylvania didn’t experience the record destruction of, say, Virginia. So it has spoiled me.
You’ve left your blog readers with a cliffhanger as you’ve been recounting the tale of searching for and finding your grandfather. How are your house repairs going? And, do you have an idea of when you’ll be able to continue telling your incredible story?
Let me just tell my readers this… there is a LOT more to the story. Finding my grandfather seems like it was a wild ride, but you have no idea what you have in store for you! From the history behind my grandfather’s life, his own amazing journeys and adventures, and the aftermath of the reunion, the story rivals any work of fiction you can pluck off the shelf at the nearest bookstore. But now that I am dealing with the living, and the here and now, there are unique issues regarding how I tell the story. That is one hurdle.
The second hurdle is that the story is still unfolding. I keep uncovering tidbits of my grandfather’s past that he has kept secret to all those in his life. As genealogists, we all understand the concept: “let me find one more thing…” We research and research and research, and we postpone writing. I need to deal with that.
And thirdly, the last blog ended with the destruction of my office and home from water. The office is back in working order, but the remainder of the house is not. There are still insurance battles, re-flooring, and remodeling in my near future. Combined with travel and lectures, it has significantly cut into my writing time. The light is visible at the end of the tunnel, but all I can do now is beg a wee bit more patience from my readers. I should be back at it very soon.
It will be worth it. J