Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SLIG Series: John Philip Colletta

1.       When did you first start researching your family history? Was there a moment when you knew you were “hooked?” One summer when I was 13 or 14 and whining about having nothing to do, my mother suggested I create a family tree. She had just read an article about it in Family Circle magazine. I began interviewing my two grandmothers and took to genealogy in a big way immediately.

2.       Do you have a pet ancestor? Can you tell us a little bit about what makes this person so special to you as a researcher? No, I have no “pet ancestor.” I feel particularly close to my mother’s mother’s parents, though, Andrew and Frances Noeth. They were born in Bavaria and came to Buffalo, New York, in 1886. Since my mother was very close to her grandparents (their back yards adjoined and the fence had a gate in it), I have heard more stories about Andrew and Frances Noeth than any other ancestors. It’s almost as though I knew them. Temperamentally, however, I feel a closer kinship to my father’s Sicilian ancestors.

3.       What record set to you believe is the most under-utilized? What advice would you give students in using this record set? Court records in general are under-utilized because accessing and searching them takes time and effort. But they contain a wealth of information about our ancestors. I encourage family historians to explore the records created by our federal courts, 1789-1911, which are in the 13 regional archives of our National Archives and Records Administration (RG21). The court’s docket book may serve as an index. Newspapers, too, report the docket when the court is in session. Federal Cases, a thirty-volume set in any law library also helps to identify federal court suits involving specific ancestors.

4.       What books and periodicals would you recommend for intermediate to advanced researchers? Are there any lesser-known texts you advise? I subscribe to the major scholarly genealogical periodicals, such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, The American Genealogist, and so forth. Their articles are the best in the field and offer a tremendous variety of lessons—and enjoyable reading—for all family historians.

5.       What is the most rewarding thing about being a genealogical educator? What advice would you give for those who would follow in your footsteps? Helping people learn more about their own heritage, ancestor by ancestor, is very gratifying, because I know how much it means to them personally. More than that, though, meeting people, one on one, across the country, who are engaged in family research is great fun. It broadens in a most delightful way the horizons of my own experience and knowledge. Genealogists are the best!

6.       Why would you recommend a student attend SLIG in general? SLIG provides a tremendous amount of practical instruction in an ideal setting a few blocks from the LDS Family History Library… and at a very reasonable cost, too! The physical environment is comfortable and the faculty, staff and attendees all share their knowledge, experience and personalities in a genial atmosphere. A week at SLIG adds up to a lot more than a week at SLIG. It is more than an educational institute. It is a coming together of fellow ancestor hunters from across the country, a festival of sharing and camaraderie.

7.       Will you tell us a little bit about what makes your SLIG course unique among genealogical education offerings? “Producing a Quality Family Narrative” is unique among the courses offered at national genealogical institutes and conferences. It is the flagship course of my 28-career. No other course explores the process of arranging and recording the huge quantity of information gathered over many years of genealogical research and demonstrates how to narrate the stories of the ancestors in an engaging way. No matter who your ancestors were or where or when they lived, “Producing a Quality Family Narrative” sets you on the path to telling their stories to future generations.

8.       Do you have a website where students can learn more about you? My website is

9.       Will you share something with us that students may not know about you? Perhaps a non-genealogical hobby? I have resided in Washington, D.C., for thirty-five years, a beautiful city on a human scale, with lots of greenery, splendid architecture, picturesque bridges and statuary—and totally walkable. Washington, D.C., is not a large city. I do not own a car. Almost all of my travel is by bicycle—errands, business, leisure, pleasure…. I also love to walk and, when necessary, the city’s public transportation is excellent. Taxis are always available, too! Just getting to the National Archives or Library of Congress or DAR Library is a pleasure.

Any parting thoughts or advice? See you in my course! J

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