The October, 2016 General Meeting featured the presentation entitled “Found It Online; Must Be True: The Case of Plato Denney of Liverpool, England” by Allen Petersen. For the second in our series of blog interviews, Dana Leeds asked Allen about how he got started in genealogy, how he first got published in the NGSQ, how he gained experience in British genealogy while living in the United States, and more.
We hope you enjoy learning more about our presenter.
When did you start doing genealogy and what got you interested?
I have been interested in my family origins for as long as I can remember. When I was about eight, my mother showed me some charts depicting my English ancestors. I stared at the charts for a long time, wondering who these people were. My father told me stories about my Danish ancestors and the hardships they endured when they came to Utah.
As a geologist, I developed very detailed skills used in finding oil and gas. It has been an easy transition applying some of these skills to genealogical research.
Besides the Denney article, what is one of your favorite articles you’ve had published?
“Greetings from Winchester Gaol: The Plight of Robert Arnold,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 99 (September 2011): 213-32. Robert wrote a heart-felt letter to the Duke of Portland from Winchester gaol in 1769 in a feeble attempt to gain freedom. He had been imprisoned for debt. It is a fascinating story about a young man of humble origins that married a rich widow, fifteen years his senior, for her deceased husband’s lease on a corn mill in Botley, Hampshire. The Duke owned the mill. Robert then took a lease on a farm from the Duke during a time when the growing season in England was only one month (the “Little Ice Age”). The mill burned, the crops failed, and his wife died. He left town in the middle of the night, but the Duke caught up with him in a pub, where he was working as a bar tender, and had him imprisoned. There are side stories. For example the Duke’s agent, Clement Walcot, was a crook and played a part in Arnold’s imprisonment. Clement was ultimately disgraced and fired.
What was the process like in getting your first article published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ)?
I had to write a case study for my certification portfolio. After certifying, Dr. Thomas Jones emailed me. He indicated he had read my case study and that I should consider publishing it in the Q. Dr. Jones told me to trim my thirty-eight-pages down because they would not publish that many pages. I worked on it for a few months and got it down to eighteen pages. I submitted it for peer review, made the corrections, and it was accepted for publication. The published article was about ten pages and none of the original content was lost. This left me with a desire to learn how to write concise case studies. Dr. Jones suggested I take his course at IGHR; I did, and it was a marvelous experience. Since then, I have gotten to know Dr. Jones pretty well. He has been the lead editor on five of the articles I’ve published in the Q. I’ve learned much from him and co-editor Melinde Byrne, particularly how to write “tight.” Writing for the Q is a humbling but positive experience. The peer review process is a real eye-opener. The editing staff is excellent.
Do you have advice for others who are interested in getting an article published in a journal like the NGSQ?
You should do it! And you will not be sorry you did. I have learned much from the reviewer’s comments. If you are willing to listen to critique, publishing an article in the Q can be a positive learning experience. Be concise and follow the editor’s directions.
Have you ever lived in Great Britain? If not, how did you gain experience researching British genealogy?
I have not lived in Great Britain. I have been there five times and have researched in The National Archives in Kew. My father had been doing Danish genealogical research for forty years. In the early 1990s I realized that not much had been done on my English side, and I decided that is what I would do. I gained experience by doing it. I have also had some great mentors along the way. I took the English and Irish research courses at IGHR. Volunteering as a consultant in the Family History Center has taught me many things.
For others interested in researching their British ancestors, do you have a tip or a favorite website you could recommend?
England and Wales are blessed with county record offices that have online catalogs. My favorite is in the Lancashire Record Office in Preston (LANCAT). Online catalogs have permitted me to do much research from home. I can search the catalog for documents needed in my research, order copies, and within a few weeks they are on my desk. Not all records are in online catalogs. Occasionally, an agent has to be hired to obtain a needed record. However, most archivists in the record offices are helpful in locating records not mentioned in their online catalogs. I simply email them, and they usually respond within a few days. Some, like the archivist in the Ryland’s Library in Manchester, have even provided digital images at no cost.
How long have you been a certified genealogist with the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG)? And did you become certified to do genealogy professionally or was there another reason?
I certified in March 2007. Right now I do not take clients; I am still employed as a geologist, and that takes much of my time. I spend my genealogical time writing articles. I became certified because I wanted to be associated with an organization with a solid set of research standards. I also wanted to see if I could pass the test—I like those kind of challenges.
Who is your favorite ancestor or what has been one of your favorite genealogical discoveries?
Hamnet Hyde. What’s not to love about a guy with the name Hamnet? I stood on his grave in Mellor, Derbyshire and had information about his marriage and his children, but I could not figure out where he was born. It took fifteen years to discover he was born in neighboring Cheshire County. The lesson learned was that county boundaries were invisible to our ancestors.