Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A. is a writer and genealogist specializing in Eastern European research, finding female ancestors, and writing family history.
Lisa grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and currently resides in New York. She has been researching her Slovak ancestors for more than 20 years, and is the author of nine books and numerous articles on genealogy and history.
Lisa is an instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies and serves on the Board of Directors for the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International. She is a frequently invited speaker for conferences, and genealogical/historical societies, and chronicles her genealogical journey on her blog, The Accidental Genealogist.
Favorite Genealogy Quote
"What do I care about those people, they're dead. I didn't know them." - John Alzo
What are your specific genealogical interests?
I am a big advocate of recording, preserving and writing family history, using formats that are both informative and compelling to read. I am interested in following the research trail to Eastern Europe, especially Slovakia. I also enjoy the challenge of researching female ancestors, researching cluster communities, and using social history to place the lives of my ancestors in historical context.
What got you into genealogy?
I wish I could say that some family experience, medical reason, or curiosity inspired me to search for my Slovak ancestors, but to tell the truth I became a genealogist quite by accident.
I was in my second year of the Master of Fine Arts Degree program in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Pittsburgh and enrolled in a class, "The Literature of Pittsburgh" for which one of the required readings was Out of This Furnace, Thomas Bell's classic novel about three generations of Slovak men working in the steel mills of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Bell's book prompted me to ask my mother about our family history and I subsequently learned about the life of my grandmother, Verona, who immigrated to the United States from the tiny village of Milpos, Slovakia in 1922. As the details of Verona's background, journey to America and struggles as an immigrant woman were revealed to me, I came to appreciate her as more than just my grandmother, but someone with a poignant life story.
Thus, I embarked on my genealogical journey, researching my maternal grandmother's side of the family. This was long before the Internet was an integral part of daily life. Before the availability of millions of genealogical Web sites, online census records and immigration databases, I searched for documents in courthouses, spent countless hours viewing microfilm and submitting written research requests to repositories, conducted over 30 oral history interviews, traveled to the towns such where my grandparents had lived including Barton, OH, and Wilkes-Barre, PA. I also read numerous books and articles on Slovak history and culture, immigration, the Great Depression and other topics. Through years of diligent and careful research I was able to successfully trace my Slovak ancestry, and I've been "hooked" on genealogy ever since.
Most surprising genealogical find:
Making connections with two cousins on my Alzo side whom I didn't even know existed. They found me through my web site and from reading my book, Three Slovak Women. This was a big deal because I had been doing research on my father's family for many years and never found anyone else researching the Alzo name. My own father was a bit of genealogical skeptic. Several years before he passed away I asked him what he knew about his ancestors in Slovakia. When he replied that he knew nothing, I persisted, "Didn't you ever ask your mother or father about their parents or grandparents?" I was stunned by his reply: "What do I care about those people. They're dead. I didn't know them." Dad's response was funny, disappointing, and frustrating all at the same time, but sadly, not an uncommon one. Many genealogists have experienced a similar lack of interest from their relatives.
This is why Dad's statement is one of my favorite genealogy quotes—because it reminds me that I do care about my ancestors and if I don't track them down, who will? His words inspire me to keep searching.
If you could find the family history of any historical great, who would it be and why?
I prefer to research the non-famous. I like tracing the family histories of those who didn't make the headlines—the farmers, coal miners, steelworkers, housewives—giving a voice to the everyday men and women whose stories are just as interesting and compelling.
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