Family History Seminars

I am an award-winning writer and popular genealogy speaker whose lectures share my unique brand of warmth, humor, expertise and industry knowledge. I am a Contributing Editor for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; a Contributing Editor and the Genealogy Insider columnist for Family Tree Magazine; a writing coach for Family Tree University and Co-Editor of Ohio Genealogy News. I am also the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites and Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy and the forthcoming Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records.

Below are suggested packages for all-day seminars, but you can customize your own from my current lecture list, too. Contact me about pricing and availability; I’m currently booking through 2019. For travel past metro Cleveland, Ohio, travel and hotel accommodations must be included. Discounted rates for local groups who book me for an all-day seminar.

A Day with the Giant Genealogy Websites

At RootsTech 2017, I live-streamed an unprecedented type of lecture before a global audience: a comparison of the four major genealogy websites (,, Findmypast, and MyHeritage), and made the case for why genealogists should be aware of what’s on all four–and using all of them, whenever possible. (Watch that lecture here.) This presentation got a great review from Dick Eastman and has proven so popular that I’ve developed a companion guide and additional lectures that take you even deeper–and in more detail–into these must-use online resources.

  • Comparing the Genealogy Giants:,, and 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 overall historical, tree and DNA record content. See general geographic strengths and how to find specific geographic content on each, as well as my favorite features and cautions/challenges for working with each.
  • NEW! Historical Records on the Giant Genealogy Websites. This session offers close-up, comparative look at JUST the historical record content on Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Learn about core content for several countries that is common to multiple sites (and subtle differences between some of these databases). Learn about specific geographical and record-type strengths for each site, with head-to-head comparisons for U.S. census, Scandinavian and Australian record content. Learn how different ways of counting their records affect the way you should evaluate overall statistics for record content on each site. This lecture is especially relevant now that FamilySearch has discontinued its microfilm lending program: you’ll leave with the tools you need to find the records you want on these websites!
  • Should I Take the Hint? The giant genealogy websites all offer automated technologies for matching your ancestors to their historical records (think’s “shaky leaves). Some sites also match your tree against other trees and even genetic data. Learn more about these hinting systems, how they differ from regular searches, and how to be smart and effective about using them.
  • Digging for Historical Records on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is arguably the world’s biggest free portal especially to genealogical records. However, the site is so enormous and organized such that it’s easy to miss some of its valuable content. This lecture offers a behind-the-scenes tour with an expert who has quizzed top FamilySearch officers in-depth about why and how the site is organized like it is. You’ll explore four different ways of using FamilySearch to find records of all kinds on the site AND even at other genealogy websites and offline! This lecture is friendly to beginners on the site but also shows experienced researchers how to find the records that now aren’t available from FamilySearch microfilm lending any more.

Discovering Your U.S. Ancestors

Whether your family has been in the U.S. for two generations or two hundred years, this series helps you explore your U.S. roots in lively, one-hour segments targeted to the advanced beginner and intermediate genealogist.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Why We Care Where Grandma Went to Church: An In-Depth Look at U.S. Religious Records. Church records can reveal US ancestors’ vital events, family relationships and prior/subsequent residences (including overseas birthplaces!). From the author of the forthcoming How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records, learn what church records look like, how to identify an ancestral church and locate and access its records.
  • Urban Genealogy. Many of our U.S. relatives lived in cities—big and small—which may offer unique genealogy research resources. Learn tips from the author of several of Family Tree Magazine’s City Guides for finding ancestors in city directories, urban and suburban maps, voting records, local histories and other rich local records.

You’re the Family Storyteller: How to Reconstruct and Write Your Family History

  • “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.
  • Share Your Life Stories More Meaningfully. 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–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. The handout includes a life story writing exercise worksheet to help you get started.
  • “I, Genealogist:” Writing the Family History Memoir. Family history begins with memories of your life and relatives. Learn to write about these (and other “genealogical journeys”) in the first-person voice, following best practices of acclaimed family memoir writers. Consider potential pitfalls when writing history subjectively; your “sources” and how to cite them; reconstructing the past with emotional truths when facts are sparse and more.
  • 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.

The Ultimate Beginner’s Workshop

This workshop arms beginning genealogists (and those who want to start from scratch with great methodology) with how-tos—and how not-tos—for tracing family history. Among the skills taught in this workshop are tree-building, basic interviewing, how to use popular genealogy websites, essential genealogical record types, and an introduction to how to analyze and understand the information you find. Originally designed as a 6-hour workshop (to be taken over the course of three, two-hour sessions), it can now be customized to meet the needs and schedule of your group.

1 thought on “Family History Seminars

  1. Chris French

    Sunny Morton,

    My name is Chris French and I have recently been elected as the 1st Vice President Programs for Computer Assisted Genealogy Group (CAGG) Cleveland Area . At a recent Board meeting your name was given to me as a possible speaker at our monthly meeting held on the third Saturday of the month held at the Cuyahoga County Library Fairview Park Branch.
    What do I need to achieve this goal? Any assistance would be appreciated because I am truly treading water to keep my nose above the surface, LOL. By the way my phone number is 216-513-0083.

    Thanks, Chris French

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