Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with Thomas MacEntee

I like to count Thomas MacEntee as one of my genealogy buddies. This week I asked him to answer a few questions for me that I thought you guys might find interesting. If you don't know who Thomas MacEntee is you should really find out. He's a mover and a shaker. He really stirred things up in the genealogy world when he came on scene. I hope that this interview will help y'all get to know him a little better, and if you see him at a conference or speaking engagement tell him hi from me. 

You're going to be teaching at Salt Lake Institute for Genealogy this January. 
How many years have you offered this course? 

This is the first year that The Genealogist’s Guide to the Internet Galaxy track at SLIG has been offered.

Who is the class aimed at?

The target audience are genealogists who want to work smarter when it comes to genealogy and technology.

How is this different to put together vs say your gig at NGS or FGS?

This is the first time that I’ve coordinated an entire week’s worth of classes in an “institute” format around a specific topic.  Most of my other offerings – in-person lectures and webinars – are 50 minute slide presentations that are “Internet-active” (meaning I go out to the Internet and demo the websites and apps being covered).

What made you decide to offer a course at SLIG?

I was approached by the SLIG planners and we discussed the viability of a techno-centric track.

What direction do you see SLIG moving towards?

I think the “institute” concept of education in the genealogy industry will continue to grow.  However, I think in order to reach its maximum potential and a wider audience, consideration will have to be given to online participation perhaps through webinars or livestreaming of content.

Where do you see SLIG in 15 years?

SLIG will be an online learning channel as well as an in-person institute for those passionate about genealogy.

Where do you see yourself in 15 years?

In 15 years I hope to still be looking into the latest technology and figuring out if and how it can benefit the genealogy community.  My role currently, as I and several other see it, is one of “curator” – I take time to evaluate new technologies and summarize the pluses and minuses and then educate genealogists on practical applications in the pursuit of one’s ancestors.

What was the first class you taught to the genealogy world?

Social Networking: New Horizons for Genealogists.  This course is still one of my most popular topics.

Where did you teach it?

Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville, Illinois

Who are you outside of Genealogy?

There is no “outside of genealogy” for me.  My life and career are genealogy.

What is your background?

For over 25 years I worked in the Information Technology field, mainly for large global law firms with 2,000+ attorneys and an international, multi-office, multi-language presence.  I filled various roles from document processor, applications trainer, applications analyst to project manager.  My main skills involved analyzing information which is perfect for genealogy.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing genealogy?

Wasting away in Margaritaville

Where is your personal research? What part of the country? Or in which country?

I grew up in the Hudson Valley section of New York State.  My ancestors have lived in New York since the early 1600s.  I also have lines that originate from Rhode Island.  My main focus right now is New York and Illinois.

Have you jumped the pond?

You mean in terms of research or travel?  Yes – I’ve worked on several of my lines in England, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Prussia and other locales.

Do you have an AG or a CG?

No but 2013 is the year I intend to pursue my CG.

Do you think these are necessary? Useful? Desirable? Worth the time and effort?

I don’t believe that a post-nominal after your name makes you a better genealogist necessarily.  However it is an accomplishment and it is the closest thing we have to licensure in our profession.  I am more interested in the process and the journey than the outcome.  I may very well fail on my first attempt.  I may not succeed.  But I know I will be a better genealogist for having worked through the process.

If you were going to get a credential would it be AG or CG and why?

I may actually go for both but a CG seems to be more adaptable and functional for me as a genealogist.

Where is the most unusual place you've done research? (and I don't mean the bathtub) I mean what location in the world? Afghanistan? Persia? The Balkans? Kansas?

My 9th great-grandfather’s stone house which still stands in New Paltz, New York.

What was the weirdest thing you've had happen during a lecture?

This was not a genealogy lecture (but in my previous profession).  I had a “serial stripper” show up, sit in the back of the room and proceed to disrobe.  I was later informed by the venue that this is a regular occurrence and that “he means no harm.”

When did you begin doing genealogy?

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact time.  Interest started when the television miniseries Roots was broadcast in 1977.  Growing up I heard great family stories told by my great-grandparents.  My own research started about 1993 when my mother handed me a copy of The Genealogy of David Putman and His Descendants, 1645-1916 which listed my great-grandfather whom I knew personally and passed in 1977.

Do you consider yourself a professional genealogist?

Right now I prefer the term “genealogy professional” only because I don’t accept research clients at this time.  I focus on the educational aspects of genealogy as well as tracking and analyzing the genealogy industry.

When did you transition to professional and what did that look like?

When I was laid off in late 2008, I decided to turn my passion and hobby into a career.

Why do you do genealogy?

It is like CSI without the icky bodies.

What's coming up for you in the next six months? What's on your plate?

I have a full lecture schedule, both in-person and online via webinar.  I am actually booked out until 2015.  In 2013, I will be flying from my home in Chicago to the West Coast a total of 5 times in 6 weeks to present to various conferences and genealogy society workshops.

What does a typical week look like for you?

I put in about 60 hours and work almost every day, not just Monday – Friday.  I also do about 20 hours a week of volunteer work for various genealogical societies.  So there are emails to answer, articles to write, presentations to prepare, consulting work for clients, etc.  It is hectic and can take quite a bit out of me but I would not have it any other way.


  1. Great interview! I'm sure this will make it on my Fab Finds post this Friday!

  2. Kim, thank you for interviewing Thomas and posting it on your blog! It's both educational and interesting to know more about our genealogical "rock stars" - I hope you'll interview others and provide those interviews here in the future. Thank you, Thomas, for all that you do for the genealogical commmunity.