Speaking Topics

I lecture at genealogy conferences, family reunions, baby boomer/life planning seminars and other events where perspectives on legacy or heritage are welcome. Click here for more details about my all-day seminar lecture lineups. Your group will love my informative and entertaining presentations! Please contact me about specific dates and speaking fees. For travel past metro Cleveland, Ohio, travel and hotel accommodations must be included.


Your Powerful Legacy. One of the most powerful and unique legacies you can share is the story of who you are and where you came from. Research shows that children are more resilient when they know stories about their roots. I’ve met thousands of family history buffs who express a deeper sense of identity, purpose and connectedness because they can define stronger links between themselves and the past. I’ll talk about why this is so and leave you with strategies for starting to reconstruct and share your heritage. The handout includes inspiring, get-started-now resources to trace your heritage.

Your Stories Matter. Every life is fascinating when it’s well shared. Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories YOU have that are worth telling. Hear several inspiring reasons to write them down–for both your own benefit and that of others. Learn why some memories are more vivid than others and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories. The handout includes a life story writing exercise worksheet to help you get started.


Comparing the Genealogy Giants: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. These “genealogy giants” all provide international audiences with tools and records for researching family trees online. But which should you use? Learn why you should be familiar with all four sites; subscription and free access options; and how they compare for historical record content, family trees and DNA tools. Get insider tips on each site’s best features—and cautions or challenges for working with each. This has been an extremely popular lecture with audiences at RootsTech, Legacy Tree Genealogists and elsewhere. See great reviews from experts Dick Eastman and Lisa Alzo and purchase my companion guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.

Finding Historical Records on the Giant Genealogy Websites. This session offers a close-up, comparative look at historical record content on Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Consider how similar-looking records might actually be different when used at different websites. Learn about specific geographical and record-type strengths for each site, with head-to-head comparisons for major U.S. records collections and others (these can be customized for your group). Watch live demos to help you dig more effectively for the records you need on each site. This lecture is already available with customized comparisons for researching Jewish and Australian ancestors.

Must-Use U.S. Record Collections You Might Not Know About on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Meet my favorite U.S. record collections on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage! Become acquainted with powerhouse collections that are easy to ignore but tough to beat for the genealogical gems they reveal: U.S. special census schedules; newspaper gems; city directories; genealogical periodical articles and more.

NEW! Should You Take the Hint? Automated Record Hinting on the Giant Genealogy Websites. Learn how automated record hints on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com can help you discover records that may be about your family. Discover how hints may differ from search results and how to use both tools most effectively. Learn valuable tips on evaluating records and incorporating details into your tree.

NEW! Digitized U.S. Newspaper Collections You May Be Missing on Your Favorite Genealogy Websites. Newspaper collections on the giant genealogy websites are oft-overlooked, but genealogically rich and available at your fingertips. Explore Findmypast’s vast U.S. newspaper collections; MyHeritage’s rapidly-growing U.S. state collections and FamilySearch’s indexed obituaries. Learn tips for searching effectively and see examples that will inspire you to delve into them yourself.

Digging for Historical Records on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is arguably the world’s biggest free online portal to genealogical records. However, it’s easy to miss some of its valuable content, so join this insider’s tour of five places to find records on (and off) the site. This beginner-friendly lecture also helps experienced researchers to understand why the site is organized like it is—and to find records they may be missing, especially now that microfilm lending has ended.

Finding Your Way on Findmypast.com. This genealogy giant is lesser-known among U.S. audiences but is a crucial site for tracing your ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. And it’s got two unique and absolutely brick-wall-busting resources for tracing your U.S. ancestors, too! Meet this wonderful website, learn how to navigate it (it’s a little tricky), why it’s worth using and your options for accessing it.

5 Ways to Facebook Your Family History. Use Facebook to share heritage with young and old relatives! This lecture demonstrates successful ways I’ve used Facebook to connect more meaningfully with kin, ask genealogy research questions, share discoveries, honor deceased relatives and even plan a family reunion. The handout includes a helpful how-to mini-manual to help users learn to navigate Facebook more confidently and with better privacy controls.


Turning US Census Entries into Stories. Boost your use of U.S. census records to reconstruct families and their stories! See from fascinating and inspiring examples what unexpected genealogical clues may appear in census population schedules, how original instructions for census-takers can clarify your understanding and how to use what you learn to take the next research steps. This is a great stand-alone lecture but also pairs well with the lecture below.

What’s So Special about Special Censuses? Learn to find and use fantastic “extras” from US censuses (1840-1910), many of which are now online: the Veterans, Mortality, Slave, Agriculture, Manufacturer and Social Statistics Schedules. These often reveal details about ancestors’ vital events, work, health, military service and communities, in the process pointing to additional records. This lively lecture shares the stories behind each of the special censuses–why the government gathered this information at this time–and offers clues that help you know when to look for an ancestor on a special census.

Intro to U.S. Church Records: Why We Care Where Grandma Went to Church. U.S. church records of many denominations can reveal ancestors’ vital events, family relationships, overseas birthplaces and other residences and religious lives. From the author of a forthcoming book on the topic, learn what these records may look like, how to identify an ancestral church, locate extant records and access them. This standalone lecture pairs well with the companion follow-up lecture below.

“They Once Were Lost but Now are Found:” Using U.S. Church Records to Solve Genealogical Mysteries. Church records can be challenging to locate and access in the U.S. When are they worth your while? When you’re trying to answer specific kinds of questions.  I’ll share lively case studies that use church records from various time periods, denominations and ethnic groups to address common types of research problems.

NEW! On the Record Trail of My LDS Immigrant Ancestor. Explore unique and fascinating historical records about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons or LDS) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Using research on my own ancestor, I’ll share examples of–and tips for finding–congregational membership records; group immigration resources; missionary diaries; ward minutes, and local histories of areas settled by LDS pioneers.

Find Your Family in Catholic Church Records. Roman Catholic sacramental records often contain vital events, relationships, and overseas hometowns. They’re also confidential, so they can be tricky to access–except that millions are coming online. Learn about Catholicism in the U.S., what’s in sacramental records and what they look like, how to identify an ancestral parish, and tips for accessing Catholic records. You’ll take home a handout packed with tools for tracing your Catholic ancestors’ records.

NEW! How Social Security Can Help Your Family History Research. The U.S. Social Security system produced lesser-known record types key to tracing families during the late 1800s/early 1900s (during a period of intense immigration, before widespread birth records and during the 1890 census gap). See genealogical discoveries made using original Social Security applications, not one but TWO important Social Security indexes, and delayed birth records, which were often created for Social Security purposes.


NEW: Meet PERSI, and Discover Treasures in Genealogy Periodicals. You may be missing out on up to 30% of genealogy discoveries if you’re not digging into history and genealogy newsletters, journals and magazines. Biographical profiles, stories about ancestral churches or schools, how-to tips for researching a locale, indexes and transcripts of local records are all among those treasures. Learn to find and access this content using PERSI, the Periodical Source Index, and other resources. See clever strategies for navigating PERSI on Findmypast (even when you’re not even sure what topic you’re looking for) and success stories that can inspire your own foray into periodical research.

Relatively Recent Relatives: 20th Century Research. Learning more about your immediate forebears can strengthen emotional bonds—and your family trees. But privacy and copyright restrictions on modern records can be daunting. Learn about 20th-century records that can minimize these barriers. See lively examples of how to combine information from several records to discover meaningful stories and build a more solid “trunk” for your family tree.

Collateral Kin: Indirect Routes to Direct Ancestors. The most direct route to information about direct ancestors may be through other relatives and in-laws. Three concise case studies demonstrate the value of researching these “collateral kin.” See how collateral research helped prove an ancestor’s parents, solve a migration mystery and fill gaps in an ancestor’s biography.

Lies, Errors and Bias—Oh, My! Consider Your Sources. If your sources aren’t reliable and strong, your family history “facts” and stories won’t be, either. Learn to look critically at the sources that inform your research: the “what, who, when and why.” These criteria may indicate how much you can trust what individual sources say about your ancestors. 

Reconstruct Your Ancestors’ Neighborhood: 5 Powerful Sources for Local History. Many of our U.S. relatives lived in cities and towns. Their local records offer unique insight into the daily lives of their residents. See powerful and creative examples for using city directories, urban and suburban maps, local histories, newspapers, business records and images to reconstruct your ancestors’ stories. This lecture is customizable for delivery at specific repositories, and may be combined with hands-on research experiences in specific libraries or archives for a unique attendee experience.

Which Way Did They Go?! A humorous song introduces this panoramic look at U.S. migration history and how to track our on-the-move ancestors. You’ll see what kinds of records mention old and new residences, a unique transportation timeline for U.S. history, where to learn about migration routes and how to correlate findings from several sources into a narrative about an ancestor’s life.


NEW! Fable or Fact? Verifying Old Family Stories. Don’t you wish you knew just HOW true certain family stories are? Though you may never be able to fully prove (or disprove) some stories, this lecture demonstrates how to “de-mythify” handed-down tales into truer ones that may be even more compelling. See the results when I investigated three stories on my tree: an immigrant scoundrel, an unlikely hero and an adoptee’s unusual origins.

NEW! “They Survived the Johnstown Flood?!” How to Reconstruct Your Ancestors’ Amazing Stories. A heroic rescue, a love story and a 30-foot wall of water. That’s just part of my ancestors’ experience in the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. Come learn how to reconstruct fascinating experiences from your own family history by combining clues from your family’s knowledge, documents from genealogy websites, good historical research and Googling to fill in the gaps. All while learning the riveting story of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.

Adding Your Own Stories to Your Family History. Family history begins with YOUR history. Learn from the author of  Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy  what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid than others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories. See how to integrate your personal stories, family memories and research discoveries. The handout includes a life story writing exercise worksheet to help you get started.

NEW! “I, Genealogist:” Writing the Family History Memoir. Learn tips for writing personal and family history in the first-person voice. This natural storytelling perspective can be perfect for sharing your memories and perspectives—but challenging when you’re also trying to write an objective historical account. See how acclaimed memoir writers have tackled the issues of historical objectivity, citing sources, reconstructing the past when documentation is sparse and more. Presenter Sunny Morton brings to this unique lecture her background as a professional writer, a student of both history and literature, and her exposure to the amazing writers she’s interviewed for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Plan Your Next Family History Writing Project: Hands-on Workshop. With worksheet and pen in hand, attendees will plan their next family history writing project. They’ll consider how to prioritize writing projects and target an audience; privacy concerns and family secrets; writing and citation styles; and how all these considerations affect what the final product looks like. This class is available in both one-hour and two-hour formats.

Climb Your Family Tree: How to Start Exploring Your Family History. Come learn how to get started tracing your family’s unique history! A nationally-known genealogy teacher walks you through the process of collecting family stories at home, finding old documents about ancestors, writing and sharing what you learn, and even taking DNA tests to find your biological roots. A resource-packed how-to handout is included.

I have also developed an 8-hour curriculum for beginning genealogists, meant to be taught as four 2-hour classes for adults. Contact me for further information about teaching this series to your group in the local Cleveland area.

3 thoughts on “Speaking Topics

  1. Frances Pickett

    Sonny….I believe you spoke a few months ago at the Hungarian Genealogy Association. I hope you are the same person I am thinking of. I am interested in discussing your availability for a presentation to the Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society. The particular date I have in mind is in January, 2013 (or another sometime in 2013 if January is not feasible.) Please email or call me. Home 440-232-2473 Cell 440-539-2326.

    Look forward to hearing from you… Frances Pickett, CVGS Vice President

  2. Teresa Rhodes, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, Salem Public Library, Salem, Ohio

    Are you booking speaking engagements this year? I read a press release online last year announcing that you would be speaking for the Hudson Genealogical Study Group. I am on the lookout for presenters of genealogical topics for Salem Public Library. If you are doing presentations this year would you provide me with topics and fees involved?

    Thank you for our time and assistance.
    Teresa Rhodes, Marketing & Outreach Coordinator
    Salem Public Library

  3. Gracine Wiggins

    Hi Sunny,

    Your name was given to me by Diana Rogers.

    I would love for you to present a beginning genealogy program at Willowick library.

    Please forward your fee and contact information.

    I’m looking to have you present a program in 2015 around the spring.


    Gracine Wiggins, Assistant Manager

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