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March 12, 2015

Introducing Lisa Alzo, Guest Genealogist

Introducing Lisa Alzo, Guest Genealogist
Lisa Alzo lives in Ithaca New York and is a writer extraordinaire. I first met Lisa a few years ago at RootsTech when we both participated in a panel discussion on writing Family History books. 

Lisa impressed me with her passion and her knowledge and later I attended a webinar she gave on writing. It was excellent and if you ever get the chance to hear Lisa speak or attend one of her presentations, I urge you to attend.

I interviewed Lisa for this blog post and hope you enjoy reading more about her!

1.     How and when did you become involved in the field of genealogy?

I began researching my roots in 1991. 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 Straka Figlar, who immigrated to the United States from the tiny village of Milpos, Slovakia in 1922. After barely making it through Ellis Island, Verona began her life in America as a domestic, and through an arranged courtship, married Janos Figlyar, a hardworking, but stern Rusyn coal miner/steelworker. Once married, Verona struggled to raise seven children during the Depression, and withstood her husband’s fondness for alcohol and frequent violent outbursts. 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 in the days 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 courthouses, spent countless hours viewing microfilm in the Carnegie and Hillman Libraries in Pittsburgh, PA, wrote to the National Archives, conducted approximately 30 oral history interviews, walked in my grandmother’s footsteps during a visit to Ellis Island, and traveled to towns such as Barton, OH, and Wilkes-Barre, PA. I read numerous books and articles on Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture, immigration, the Great Depression and other topics.

After six years of thorough research, and several more years of writing and revising I earned my degree, and also finished my first book, Three Slovak Women, originally published by Gateway Press (2001). The book is now in its second edition, published through CreateSpace, and sold via

2.     What is your main genealogical focus?

I am a freelance writer, blogger, instructor, and lecturer.

3.     Please tell us more about your main focus.

I specialize in Slovak/Eastern European genealogical research, writing your family history, and using the Internet to trace female and immigrant ancestors.

4.      What are your website(s) and blogs?

  Author Website:

  Blog: The Accidental Genealogist

  Baba's Kitchen Recipes:

  Immersion Genealogy


5.     Do you have a Social Media presence? 


Twitter @lisaalzo

Google+ Lisa Alzo


6.     Do you believe a Social Media presence is important?

I think when used correctly, social media is a great way to connect with cousins and colleagues, and essential for any professional who wants to build a genealogy-related business.

7.     Are you a member of any genealogical societies or organizations? YES.

Association for Professional Genealogists

International Society of Family History Writers and Editors

Genealogical Speakers Guild

Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International

National Genealogical Society

Carpatho-Rusyn Society

Mifflin Township Historical Society (Board of Directors)

8.     What does genealogy mean to you? Why do you believe it is important?

Genealogy is important because it provides a window into ourselves. My work as a genealogist (and writer) goes beyond the usual collecting of names, dates, and places. Using oral and social history, I take great care to explore who the people were rather than just “names without faces.” I strive to give a voice to the silences of those who have gone before.

9.     What do you believe is the most exciting development in genealogy today?

Genetic Genealogy (DNA) – it is breaking down brick walls and helping genealogists make discoveries they otherwise might not happen upon.  Also, I love all of the apps and tools to make it easier to record and share family stories.

10. Do you have a prediction or hope for the field of genealogy in the future?

I see collaboration being more of the standard. We are seeing it now with social media and online family trees. I think technology will continue to drive when, where, and how we connect with family members and fellow genealogists. With watches, bracelets and other devices our family trees and information will hopefully become even more accessible.

11.  Please feel free to add anything you would like to say that hasn’t been addressed by the questions above.

I am the author of nine books, hundreds of magazine articles, and several genealogy Quick Guides. I enjoy writing about topics that serve to educate and inspire others.

            Thank you for asking me to do this guest interview.


Jana Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Susan said...

Wonderful article! I am sure the "Three Slovak Women" would have been deeply pleased with Lisa and her achievements and caring personality.

Edith Wagner said...

Lisa is a joy to work with! She's written for Reunions magazine and is very involved in her family's annual reunion.