In this Olive Tree Genealogy interview, LoveToKnow sat down with Lorine McGinnis Schulze, the creator of Olive Tree Genealogy, one of the longest-running genealogy research sites on the web. Olive Tree Genealogy has made huge contributions to the world of free family history research. We spoke with Lorine about the inspiration for Olive Tree, how genealogy research has changed over the years, and ways new and expert genealogists can improve their research methods.
About Lorine McGinnis Schulze and Olive Tree Genealogy
LoveToKnow (LTK): Have you always been interested in genealogy? What do you love about it?
Lorine McGinnis Schulze (LMS): I first started trying to find out about my ancestors at the age of 14. My father had just died, and he was instrumental in sparking my interest, as he always talked about wanting to know where our McGinnis family came from in Ireland. After his death, I began asking my relatives questions and noting their answers on ruled paper which I kept in a binder. I created charts to help understand the family structure. I still have those notes!
I love finding out about the people and their lives. It's not about the names or dates for me, and it's not about collecting as many ancestors as possible. It's all about finding out how they lived and what they experienced. I love the challenge of the hunt.
LTK: What inspired you to create Olive Tree?
LMS: Shortly after my husband died in 1993 I was injured at school and could not work for a year. Being housebound meant I had to find things to occupy my time. The Internet was just starting to become available to the general public. There were not many websites online for genealogy.
Finding my first ship's passenger list with an ancestor's name on it in a book made me think how wonderful it would be to share such findings online. Perhaps another researcher would find an ancestor's name on that same list. So I started looking at source codes of the very few genealogy sites online and taught myself how to create a website. From that one ship's passenger list, which was my first document shared freely online, grew the Olive Tree Genealogy website.
LTK: Where did the site's name come from?
LMS: The name "Olive Tree Genealogy" came from my own middle name of Olive, which is in honor of my father's mother, Olive. So I thought - family tree, Olive and Genealogy, okay there's a perfect name for my site - Olive Tree Genealogy
Olive Tree Genealogy Interview with Lorine McGinnis Schulze
LTK: What is your favorite part of Olive Tree?
LMS: I have to confess that I am fascinated by ships' passenger lists. I love finding and transcribing them and putting them online for other researchers.
LTK: Olive Tree has been around since 1996. That's a long time in the world of the Internet. How has online genealogy research changed since you started the site?
LMS: In 1996 there was very little genealogy online; for example Ancestry did not exist. Rootsweb did not exist. US GenWeb did not exist. Most of the larger well-known genealogy sites didn't exist. Online genealogy research was much more difficult to conduct, as there was very little available. Most of it consisted of a few people like me who brought documents online as they were able to. Now we have the absolutely amazing ability to search records that once were only available on microfilm or in archives or libraries. The world of genealogy has come to our fingertips and we can do much of our research from the comfort of our easy chair in our own home.
Lorine McGinnis Schulze's Advice for Genealogists
LTK: Olive Tree is an excellent site for free and low-cost genealogy resources; it goes a long way toward making family history research accessible to everyone. What advice would you give to genealogists who want to research their ancestry without spending a fortune?
LMS: I would urge genealogists to do three things:
- Visit libraries, archives and local repositories to conduct research offline.
- Seek out those online sites offering free resources. Don't be confused by sites displaying ads (but offering free data) and sites that require a fee to access data. In other words don't dismiss a great free site because it carries ads.
- Take advantage of the free trials offered by large companies, such as Ancestry.com.
LTK: The site has some great tips for beginning genealogists. What do you think are the most important things to consider when starting family history research?
LMS: It's very important to keep good track of your sources and where you have searched. As you continue researching you'll find yourself forgetting if you looked in a certain book or on a certain microfilm, and you can very easily start to look in resources previously consulted. You need your sources because you will undoubtedly find conflicting information, and you will need to assess which source is most reliable.
LTK: What is often neglected by new genealogists?
LMS: An area that I find many genealogists overlook is searching siblings of their direct ancestors. This is very important, as a genealogist may find information on the family when searching a sibling, that was not available when they searched their direct ancestor. For example a researcher might find an obit for a sibling of their great-grandfather, and that obit might provide details of immigration or parents or home country, etc.
LTK: Most genealogists have hit a few brick walls during the course of their research. Do you have any tips for them?
LMS: My main tip would be DON'T GIVE UP! Don't expect an easy or fast solution when you hit that brick wall. It may take you weeks or months or years to solve the problem. Think outside the box - what other facts can you gather to help you get around that wall? How else can you approach the problem?
Because this is such a common problem for all of us, I wrote three articles outlining how to find alternate resources for events. For example the one for births is called Ancestor Birth Record Finder, and it outlines other resources that genealogists might not think of consulting. I also have Ancestor Marriage Record Finder and Ancestor Death Record Finder online. These illustrate the importance of thinking creatively when tackling a difficult problem.
Future Plans for Olive Tree Genealogy
LTK: How can individuals help out with Olive Tree?
LMS: The main way individuals can help is to spread the word about the site. Olive Tree Genealogy is my pride and joy, and I love having genealogists visit and use the site to find an ancestor!
Volunteers to transcribe the free databases are always welcome. Olive Tree has no volunteers at present, so the data is going online very slowly as I have time to transcribe and get it ready for publication.
LTK: Olive Tree seems to be growing and changing all the time. What's next for the site?
LMS: Well, I do have a few projects in mind for the site. One involves my Lost Faces Project. This consists of over 3,000 Civil War era identified photographs, which I have collected over the years. At present some thumbnails of the photos from the albums are online, but my goal is to provide all photos full size, which genealogists may download at no cost. This is a huge undertaking and is going to take me quite awhile to complete. Because of the size of this project, it will eventually be online under a unique site name and not housed on the Olive Tree Genealogy site. I'm excited to think of the genealogists who will find a photo of an ancestor they have never seen before.
I'm also looking at providing a mentoring service as part of the site. My idea is to recruit volunteers who agree to be Mentors. These would be individuals experienced in navigating and finding the free records on Olive Tree Genealogy. These volunteer Mentors would help newcomers to the site find their way to the free data. Olive Tree Genealogy is a huge site, well over 1,700 pages, and can be confusing to researchers. Mentors would be available to explain how to get to the section of Olive Tree Genealogy that contains the records the visitor is looking for.
More Information About Olive Tree Genealogy
LoveToKnow Genealogy thanks Lorine McGinnis Schulze for participating in this Olive Tree Genealogy interview. If you'd like to learn more about Lorine or her site, you can view Lorine's genealogy publications or visit the Olive Tree Genealogy Blog.