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Genealogy for the New, the Frustrated, and the Reluctant: Our Conversation with a Professional

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
September 07, 2023

Reading time: 7 minutes 

We see you! You’re curious about something in your family history but are no genealogy pro. You are strapped for time and fear the complexities and cost involved in getting started and doing the research right.

The good news is that you do not need to become a genealogist to benefit from the voluminous records available online and via traditional hardcopy archives of old. We always encourage you to start “old school” with what you may have at home. Check out our Genealogy Gems checklist.

Notebook paper with list of genealogy research items in your home

In today’s conversation, you’ll learn about how professional genealogists can support your efforts to gain new information no matter if you are a highly experienced researcher or an amateur family historian who loves a good story. Who doesn’t after all? Myths, legends, campfire tales are all about good stories. Even better when they stories are your family’s stories!

Genealogy Research with the Pros

Sheri Bennett, a professional genealogist and project manager with Legacy Tree Genealogists, knows a thing or two about genealogy. A practicing professional for nearly two decades with a degree from Brigham Young University (BYU) and first-hand research experience in Mexico and Chile, she’s seen a lot. Enjoy our chat with Sheri as we explore what professional genealogists bring to the table to resolve your family history puzzles and curiosities. 

Ellen Goodwin: It’s not every day I get to chat with a professional genealogist. I’m hardly even a hobbyist. More an admirer! And you have a deep professional background and interesting specialties, too.

Sheri Bennett: Well, you’re in good company with Legacy Tree Genealogists, because we work with all types of people interested in genealogy. But, yes, you gave my technical background, and that’s been bolstered by my own family research while I was at BYU and over the course of my career. My dad was from Tennessee and my husband the south as well, so between researching their ancestry and my own time in Chile and Mexico, I have developed specialties in the US South and Midwest as well as supporting Spanish-language research.

Goodwin: In your experience, is there a common theme as to why clients hire professional genealogists?

Bennett: The specifics vary but, in general, they simply want to know – what are our stories, who were my people, where did they live and work, why did they move? They want concrete answers.

Sometimes to get these answers you need help that stretches beyond a passive hobby, because as we all know, not all information is created equal. I was shocked when a professor once told me that all those many many many family trees out there are only ~40% accurate! People think they are related to people they are not related to if they accept others’ trees.

Goodwin: That sounds … messy. Does that mean you spend a lot of time correcting trees?

Bennett: A lot of time, no, not necessarily, but it is a very common request from clients. We use two documents per relationship to validate and/or correct a relationship. One document is never enough. Someone else’s tree is never enough.

Goodwin: I think that’s a major draw for people like myself: In seeking these answers, you offer reassurance. Your work meets standards that mean your clients have concrete answers and can avoid passing down inaccurate information.

Bennett: As professional genealogists, the genealogical proof standards from the Board for Certification of Genealogists are the cornerstone of our work and our core values at Legacy Tree Genealogists, too: Care – Cooperation – Accuracy – Respect – Efficiency.

We have an obligation to undertake “reasonable exhaustive research.” The key word being exhaustive. What record could contain the needed information? Tax records, probate, … may all be relevant. And what archive, where, would hold that document?

Goodwin: I love how excited and passionate you get about this work as we’re chatting. Even a document is not just a document to you. For so many, it’s hard to breathe life or context into a piece of paper.

Bennett: Documents are so exciting. It’s a connection! They aren’t just paper – if you know how to interpret them, they can tell a story. Where they were born, to whom, was dad not even listed and was that normal for the time? If you’re lucky, like in some Latin countries, even grandparents are listed in a birth certificate, and you get three generations in one document!

Audio icon on beige background labeled "Listen in!"

Stories are there, hidden in those documents.

Goodwin: I’m excited just imagining what all that information you research could mean for today’s descendants. I can picture it: here's the city so-and-so was born and raised in, and the church where she was married—see their signatures on the marriage license—and the location where the bakery she and her family operated once stood, and so on.

Bennett: Yes, seeing it all in black and white, it’s amazing. And to your point of envisioning it, we even map those locations out for clients. You could use it to plan a family heritage trip! It’s another way we can bring the research to life for our clients – real people, real places, real relations and roots of yours.

Goodwin: Your specialties, local knowledge, and archival access across your global team must be an incredible asset to your clients. I know that in my mother’s family, the paternal line was the subject of a self-published book in 1992, but the author mentions at the outset all sorts of gaps where no matter how many letters she wrote to archives in England, Germany, and elsewhere, she never found certain records.

Bennett: Absolutely. We have researchers who specialize in different areas across the world. Often when hobbyists or amateur genealogists hit brick walls like your family member did, it’s because they are working online and cannot access the old churches, tax offices, and other archives where original records are kept.

Goodwin: Thinking about those original records, validating places of birth and marriage, for example, are more black and white sorts of records searches. Surely people also come to you with information more akin to family lore that they want you to explore?

Bennett: Ha, yes. And I’m sure you read a lot of family lore at Artifcts, too. Curiosity certainly motivates people. They want to know if the family legends are true. Do we have a Cherokee princess in the family line? Are we really related to Jessie James? Did my ancestors come over on the Mayflower? They are curious, but they don’t have time to unearth this information themselves.

They want to know, are the legends true?

Goodwin: In seeking these answers, you deliver insights and the proof we spoke about earlier. Clients receive a written report, along with a fan chart, copies of the original documents, and even a data file that they can upload to genealogy software to update their tree. Did I miss anything?

Bennett: All of our findings are delivered in a binder and a password protected website, too. And, keep in mind, it's all the research findings along the way, too.

One of our clients in Cuba was trying to trace his family’s origins back to Spain. But it wasn’t as simple as going one or two generations back. Ten generations back and at last we landed his family in Spain. All of our research discoveries along the way, even the dead ends, were valuable and validating.

Nil results are still progress!

Goodwin: What’s one detail about family history and genealogy research that people might easily overlook?

Bennett: The photos. Often clients want us to find photos of their ancestors, and here there’s an important “yes, but” to consider.

Audio icon on beige background

Was your ancestor in the newspaper? That would help.

Goodwin: I know exactly what you mean about the feeling of connection when you discover new details and context. I Artifcted a family brooch after a lengthy episode of chasing family history and had I known more about it earlier, I would have worn it on my wedding day.

If I were a client of yours, could I share that Artifct with you to support your research? 

Bennett: Yes! We prefer clients to share files with us digitally, if possible, so we can easily access and review them and avoid duplicating any progress they may have already made in their family research.

We certainly do not want you to send us a brooch or original photo or document. If those resources are Artifcted, all the better! We can weave Artifcts into the biography along with the photos and documents within each Artifct, too.

<<End Interview>>

There’s that age old saying, working smarter not harder. And sometimes, yes, that means calling in a professional genealogist for a course correction, powering through a brick wall, or inspiring your search down paths you’ve never even caught a glimpse of. We love that your Artifcts can capture and boost those genealogy discoveries and sharing and hope you’ll have a lot of fun as you continue your family history research!

Happy Artifcting!


You may also enjoy these additional ARTIcles by Artifcts:

Did You Know Great Grandpa was an Inventor?

Grandma's Secret, Not-So-Secret, Coin Collection

She's the Last of Her Generation


© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MassChallenge Invites Artifcts Into Early-Stage Accelerator

We interrupt your normal Wednesday ARTIcles story to offer you greetings from Boston, Massachusetts. The Artifcts co-founders flew to Boston yesterday to take part in a multi-day launch of the MassChallenge Early-Stage Accelerator program, one of the world’s top accelerator programs. What’s that? Read on!

As a self-funded, patented startup poised to become a household name—because, let’s face it, who doesn’t have stuff or stories—the team at Artifcts wants to ensure that we’re delivering to you not just the best product to capture the stories, history, and value of all you collect, accumulate, and inherit in life, but that we do so always with an eye toward the best in tech, the best in how we operate (lean!), and more.

MassChallenge is a global network for innovators working to solve massive challenges. MassChallenge connects startups, experts, corporations, and communities to grow and transform businesses and does not take any equity from companies who participate. According to Mass Challenge, the early-stage accelerator has facilitated a remarkable $9B+ in funding for its cohorts.

Of the 1,300+ companies to apply, Artifcts was selected along with approximately 120 others to work together over the next 3 months with industry mentors and partners to challenge how we operate, means to improve, and of course how to grow. While you won’t see any immediate change at Artifcts as we work through the program, we hope that we’ll come out stronger than ever and with new ideas for how to better connect with you and help you to enjoy all that Artifcts offers.

Opening session of MassChallenge, Boston, July 9

Andrew Bialecki, CEO & Founder of Klaviyo, shares his startup journey during the opening event.

In the meantime, please, continue to Artifct. Share Artifcts with friends and family. We may not have the marketing budget of a goliath corporation, but we have amazing community members who want to see Artifcts succeed. We’re so grateful. And, if you have ideas of what you’d like to see next at Artifcts, or even suggestions for what we could do to make your experience better, let us know! We love and take feedback from our ARTI community to heart.

Wish us luck as we roll up our sleeves and dive into the MassChallenge world!


Curious about what else we've been up to?

Explore some of Artifcts' other "As featured in" and awards through the years.

© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Preserving Your Best Travel Memories

As co-founders, Ellen and I are always meeting interesting people at Artifcts. We were very fortunate to be introduced this spring to Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association, former senior executive with National Geographic, and an avid traveler. We loved talking with Rainer so much that we invited him to be our first guest author at ARTIcles. Read on to learn more about his story and experience using Artifcts to remember his 2022 travels in Africa.


My wife Carol and I recently returned from a vacation we took to Africa with 25 other people, most of whom we’d never met before, but all who had some kind of connection to the tour’s organizers, Henry and Claire Kartagener. In my case, I’ve worked in the travel industry with Henry Kartagener for years. He’s also been directly responsible for getting Carol and me to Southern Africa several times already, including our first visit back in 1992 that took us on a safari during which we actually ended up getting engaged. Thirty years later, we found ourselves returning yet again, but this time as part of a “Friends of Henry” contingent, some of whom had been to the continent before, many of whom had not.

As I’ve noticed on other trips we’ve been on as part of a group, conversations between people often turn to sharing travel stories. Some just recount something that happened that day, while others recall experiences from previous adventures. It’s as though the act of sharing travel memories with others somehow reinforces their meaning – and all the while, hopefully inspiring those who are listening.

It’s as though the act of sharing travel memories with others somehow reinforces their meaning...

I can relate. For me personally the tales from my life’s adventures traversing the planet and displaying some of the things I picked up along the way represent some of my favorite memories and what I’m most fond of in my life. I think we all probably feel that way in some way no matter how much of the world we’ve traveled. Either way, this idea only strengthens my conviction that traveling is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

...Travelling is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

Taking it a step further, if I were asked to recall what our conversations were about, I’d say they usually revolved around the things most of us do while traveling, which include (in no particular order): visiting new places, trying new things, meeting new people, buying souvenirs, and of course, sharing pictures. In fact, it would be pretty easy to argue that thanks to the advances in cellphone technology, capturing and sharing the highlights of our journeys through pictures, whether they be bucket list vacations or just weekend getaways, seems to be the most common activity we almost all now seem to engage in.


Victoria falls at sunriseVictoria Falls at sunrise. Click the image to view the Artifct.

But while putting our best-looking pictures on social media has become such an integral part of what we do while traveling, we usually do so without telling the broader stories behind the images we post. Sure, the photos themselves may look great and often make those we share them with envious. But on their own, they rarely capture why the person took it or what it means to them personally.


The king protea, national flower of South AfricaThe national flora of South Africa is the King Protea, symbolizing diversity, change and courage. Click the image to view the Artifct.

After recently having discovered Artifcts, I’ve found that it’s now possible to not only preserve and organize the special moments from my travels, I can now do so by also documenting the stories behind them. The very same stories I just might share with fellow travelers somewhere down the road.

Which brings us to what happened when I returned home after spending more than two weeks in Africa with 25 of my new best friends. As usual, I had 100s of images to sort through and edit. But this time, I did so with a different purpose and perspective. Sure, I still tried to pick out the ones that were the most visually compelling. But this time I made sure to set aside some photos of things I usually wouldn’t display in an album or share on social media. Instead, I paid special attention to the photos and videos of those things that best told the story of our trip. Best of all, I used the Artifcts I created to produce a virtual album I shared with those I spent my vacation with. For the purpose of this story, I’ve also made it available to the public in hopes it might inspire others to give it a try. Just go to my Artifcts page to check it out.

Happy Trails . . . and Happy Artifcting!

- Rainer Jenss


© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Every Room Has a Story: Kids Room Edition

Two weeks ago, we kicked off a series of ARTIcles to challenge us all to consider why we have the items we do, what they mean to us, why we keep them, and ultimately for some things, what we want others to know about them as well. We started with one of the most-used rooms in a house, the living room! 

This week we’re taking a trip down the hall to tackle all things kids and babies in our kid’s room edition of our “Every Room Has a Story” series. No matter how young or old your child may be, chances are there are memories, treasures, and other, “We still have this?” finds lurking within the walls and corners of our young (or young at heart) one's spaces.  

Remember When? 

Kids rooms are often filled with mementos (or piles!) big and small that invoke a “remember when” sentiment. It could be any combination of well-loved but out-grown toys, clothing, art supplies, and the like. You can surely relate. Picture this: Dear Child is late for school and needs THAT t-shirt for school today. You run into your kid’s room to help look, searching first under the bed. What do you find instead? A painted skateboard that had been a sixth-grade art project. And you wonder: We still have this because...? 

Time is tricky, and what seems like yesterday, may in fact be years ago. And those memories? We think we are going to remember them always, but all too often the small but oh-so-significant details start to slip away. We keep those childhood mementos in hopes of triggering or recalling those memories, but let’s face it, our memories aren’t perfect, and the details get a little fuzzy along with the dust bunnies under the beds. 

Our co-founder Heather lives in the city, and since space is at a premium, she and her daughter take time each June to Artifct the art projects, photos, cards, and travel souvenirs they want to keep and display. They also spend time Artifcting the items that may not make the cut (and then recycle them). Being a newly minted teen, this is the first year Heather’s daughter is self-directing this Artifcting project. We'll let you know how it goes!


Books, Books, and More Books 

Books may be one of the bulkier clutter culprits in any kid's room. The bookcases are always overflowing, and you find yourself tripping over piles of books when trying to vacuum. “How did we get so many books?” you wonder. Notice the word “get,” not “buy.” Library books count too, and easily add to the piles. 

Like adults, kids sometimes enjoy keeping books because they enjoy seeing what they have read. The books make up a visual checklist of how they’ve spent school vacations and rainy-day weekends. For parents, we love to think of books as inherently good and yet they can swiftly become a logistical nightmare meets Tetris challenge of epic proportions.  

This year, try a new approach. Does your kid have a dramatic side? Ask for a book review of all the books they no longer plan to read. Artifct those books and their own laugh-out-loud silly reviews. Pair this, as you should with any decluttering effort, with a clear goal. For example, our co-founder Heather plans to nudge her daughter to whittle down her collection to key favorites and the books she will read or re-read. That's it. Our other co-founder, Ellen, uses a different approach with her daughter as they declutter books and reads key passages of some of her daughter’s favorite books, creating one-of-a-kind Artifcts and lasting memories (while also gaining back a bit of space on the family bookshelf). 

Click the image to view the Artifct Ellen created for her daughter. 

Stuffed Animals, Lovies, and the Like 

What to do with stuffed animals is a favorite topic at Artifcts, so much so that we’ve even written a standalone piece on just that! I won’t rehash the entire ARTIcle here, but the bottom-line up front is the importance of capturing and preserving the memories before letting go. Stuffies have a place in our hearts for good reason, and sometimes it’s the memory that matters more than the battered, tattered, well-loved bunny collection.


Not all bunnies made the final cut. Click the image to view the Artifct. 

One More Thing...

...This is age agonistic advice: No matter how you declutter and organize those kids' rooms, set aside time to have fun, be a little goofy, and lean into the stories and memories of the space.  

Take a moment to ask your child(ren) about what those items mean to them, what memories they have for each item. Chances are their memories and their attachment to those items will be very different than our own. 

Remember too that decision fatigue is a real thing. Small doses work best no matter your age. 

And consider displaying—or what we’ve taken to calling “re-cluttering”—the items that bring them joy and/or create the most functional space. Find fun and age-appropriate storage solutions for the items that need to be put away, and for the items that may not be kept? Artifct that (or them!) and keep the memories while you make room for more age-appropriate ‘stuff.’  


What stories and moments make up your kid's room? Send them in to us at or join the conversation on Instagram (@TheArtiLife) or Facebook (@Artifcts). We'd be delighted to hear from you!


© 2024 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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