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Interview with Chris Saats, ISGS Fall Conference Speaker

Chris Staats is a Cleveland, Ohio-based professional genealogical researcher, presenter, and writer. Chris has given presentations covering methodology, resources, technology, and other topics at genealogical societies and libraries across Ohio. He is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, chapter representative for the Great Lakes APG chapter, and Seminar Chairperson for the Western Reserve Historical Society's Genealogical Committee. He has also written articles for Family Tree Magazine, Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, and other publications.

ISGS is thrilled to have Chris Saats as one of our Fall Conference Speakers! Chris was kind enough to take the time to tell us more about his background and genealogical interests, plus give us a sneak peek of one of his exciting lectures for the Conference!

How did you become interested in genealogy?  How long have you been researching?
Although I was interested in genealogy at an early age, the seeds weren’t really planted until my senior year in high school, which happened to also be my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. At their party, a distant relative had a photo album and family record book that originally belonged to my great-great grandparents. Those photos stuck in my head, and although it would be another several years before I began researching in the late 1990s, tracking down that relative and those books were one of the first things I did once I became interested in family history. Over the years, I developed a relationship with those distant cousins, and once they passed away, the family decided I should have those albums. They are among my most cherished possessions. 

     Who is your favorite person (ancestor or otherwise) to research? Why?
     I really enjoy discovering and telling the stories of those collateral ancestors who no longer have any descendants to tell that story and would otherwise be lost forever. As genealogists and keepers of our family lore, if we don’t accept that burden and keep those stories alive, who will? I do have a favorite ancestor though, but you’ll have to go to my “Secrets Within Us” presentation to learn who and why—it’s a long story, but a good one. 

     What has been a defining moment in your career as a genealogist?
     Well, there was that time when I reluctantly agreed to give speaking a try despite my then-aversion to public speaking 😊 In all seriousness, though, attending my first genealogy conference—the 2009 Ohio Genealogical Society conference. For a good 10-12 years prior, I had pursued genealogy in complete isolation, unaware of any larger genealogical community. Just prior to that conference, I had gotten serious about genealogy as a career. I was on the waiting list for the next ProGen study group (I’m a ProGen 8 alum!) but had not yet started. When I asked if I could attend the ProGen gathering at the conference even though I hadn’t started yet, I was welcomed. I made so many friends at that conference--at that gathering, with other attendees, and with many of the speakers, it was overwhelming. I was laid off my job of 14 years about a month before that conference. I had been attending job-seeker groups and learning all about “networking,” which I absolutely loathed. But suddenly, surrounded by people with a shared passion, it was no longer networking, but simply making new friends. There’s no way I can overstate its importance in my development—it paved the way for everything that followed. Take advantage of this conference to make friends with your fellow attendees and speakers who share your passion and uniquely understand your research frustrations. I know I will. 

What are you most looking forward to at the ISGS annual fall conference?
      Learning! Sharing! The beauty of genealogy is that everyone comes at it from different angles and experiences. As a speaker that typically focuses on methodology and case studies, I love questions from people who think deeply and differently about the problems than I do. The other thing I am looking forward to is sharing a pretty amazing story about a genealogical mystery that hit pretty close to home—one that we accidentally discovered via DNA testing, and one that has a happy ending. 

·    What should conference attendees look forward to at your lectures?
     All of my presentations seek to interactively engage the attendees. I focus on example-based methodology and story-telling. As an attendee myself, I like being drawn into a case, seeing the documents involved, having a chance to think about them, and then seeing how the presenter used them to solve a difficult problem. I focus on the “why” and then sort of sneak in the “how.” It’s the “why” that grabs people. If they don’t know why they should care about a topic, the most thorough and explicit set of instructions won’t compel them to do something. And I want people who come to my sessions to leave inspired to do something. That’s always my goal. 

Is there a genealogist or a historian that you look up to? Who and why?
To name just one or two people would be unfair to the genealogical community as a whole. So many people have helped me, both directly and indirectly. As a group, even at the most “elite” levels, genealogists are the most approachable, unassuming group of amazing professionals I’ve ever encountered. Anyone I’ve ever reached to—to ask a question, to review a proof argument, whatever—have been nothing but supportive. Again, everyone comes at this field with different backgrounds and perspectives. Hear them all, take what works for you, and synthesize all that knowledge into your own, unique approach.

·    Can you tell us about some of your recent or upcoming projects?
     In my day job, I work at a private school. Apparently I talk quite a bit about genealogy at work, as I’ve increasingly been asked to be an advisor for special projects or speak to students about genealogy. And I love it! Being able to help a middle school kid learn how to research, to be able to encourage and develop their interest at that age is such a joy and privilege. I’m also, although it’s still in the formulation phase, working out an idea for a book that’s part memoir, part genealogy, that explores self-identity and the components and experiences that collide to define it. That idea was spurred by the second case study in “Secrets Within Us.”  

Chris will be presenting "Secrets Within Us" during our Saturday conference sessions!

The ISGS Fall Conference will be held on October 25-26 in Naperville, Illinois. Learn more and register online HERE!

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