Fonkert Lectures

J. H. (“Jay”) Fonkert is a Minnesota-based genealogy educator and writer. He is excited to share his enthusiasm for genealogy with local and state genealogy societies, service clubs, senior centers and other places where people come together to learn.

He has enjoyed lecturing at NGS and FGS national conferences and for regional conferences and local societies in more than 10 states.

  • International Society of British Genealogy and Family History, NGS, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2012
  • Minnesota Genealogical Society North Star Conference, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012
  • Ohio Genealogical Society annual conference, 2013
  • Southern California Expo (SCGS), 2012
  • Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, 2013 and 2014
  • Southern Minnesota Genealogy Expo, 2009 and 2012.
  • Dakota County (MN) Genealogical Society
  • Olmsted County (MN) Genealogical Society
  • Anoka County (MN) Genealogical Society
  • St. Croix Valley (WI) Genealogical Society
  • North Iowa Genealogical Society
  • Yakima Valley (WA) Genealogical Society
  • Green Valley (AZ) Genealogical Society
  • Greater Omaha Genealogical Society
  • Santa Barbara Genealogical Society
  • Bay Area Genealogical Society (WI)
  • Dutch Cousins Gathering, Harrodsburg, Kentucky
  • NOVA University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) Genealogy Expo
  • Dutch Genealogy Workshop, Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto
  • Minnesota State Demographers Office,
  • Friends of the Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

Jay has also entertained a variety of community organizations such as retired employee groups, senior centers, ethnic heritage groups,and church organizations.

Jay has also designed and taught in genealogy education courses:

  • Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, Advanced Practicum instructor, 2013 and 2014
  • St. Paul (MN) Community Education
  • Columbia Heights (MN) Community Education
  • Minnesota Genealogical Society, Intermediate Genealogy Course
  • Minnesota Genealogical Society, Advanced Research Seminar



1. You don’t have to be a Celebrity to Find Interesting Ancestors: Your Family History Awaits. Learn what is possible. See examples of the records you can find. Get a five-step plan for getting started.

2. Getting Started in Family History – a two-session class introducing beginners to genealogy research. Two-part class. Session 1: Steps for getting started. Basics of accessible American records; Session 2: Finding clues to European origin.

3. Great Books for Genealogists. Are you just starting out? Or, you’ve been at it for a while and would like to build your genealogy library? Learn about the best books covering family history basics, major record-types, and genealogical problem-solving. (available Fall 2013).

4. Webfoot Genealogy: A “Genealogist’s Dozen” Websites for Beginning and Experienced Genealogists. The Internet serves up new sites daily, but these thirteen sites are indispensable for both beginning and experienced researchers. Learn about the sites with the best search indexes, the most valuable learning materials and the most links to the wide world of genealogy on the Internet. (available Fall 2013).

5. How do We Know What We Know? Basics of Evidence Analysis. Methodology can be a scary word. This lectures presents the basics in plain language. Learn about how information about our ancestors comes forward to us and how to evaluate its trustworthiness. You will learn about informants with primary and secondary knowledge of events and the difference between direct and indirect evidence. (available Fall 2013).


6. Where is the World is the Common Ancestor? Adding DNA to Your Genealogy Took Kit. People use DNA in three ways: exploring deep genetic origins, fishing for distant cousins, and testing research hypotheses. Learn why DNA is not a substitute for traditional genealogical research. — NEW 2014

7. Vital Records: What to Do When You Can’t Find Them? Birth, marriage and death records are our best sources for basic genealogical facts, but they are hard to find before 1900. Learn how to use other kinds of records to indirectly document marriages and parent-child relationships. (available January 2014).

8. Breaking News: Using Newspapers to Bring Families to Life. Newspapers offer more than obits and wedding stories. Learn how to find historic newspapers online and on microfilm and use the news to reveal the texture of your ancestors’ lives.

9. Documenting the Immigration Trail: A Five-stage Approach. Immigration was a chain of events: preparations to leave home, embarkation at a port, arrival in an American port, getting established in a new community, and gaining U.S. citizenship. Learn how to use records to document the entire process.

10. Metes, Bounds, Sections and Rods: Finding your Ancestors on the Land. People and Property are inextricably linked. Because of their importance, property records are some of the best preserved historical records. The first step to finding and understanding land records is to understand how land parcels were described in public land states (township and range) and state land states (metes and bounds).

11. Finding your pre-1850 American Ancestors. American genealogy becomes more challenging before 1850, when the U.S. Census first listed every individual in a household. Researchers must turn to other records, including tax lists, estate records and court records to reconstruct pre-1850 families.

12. Finding and Using Homestead and other Federal Land records to track your Ancestors’ Westward Migration. Learn how to find federal land records, including tract books and land entry files.

13. Finding Your Family History at the National Archives: What’s There and How to Get it. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. and its regional archive facilities hold military, land, other records. Learn what’s there and how to get access to it.


14. GEO-Genealogy: Enhancing your Family History with Maps and Geography. You really do have to know the territory. Learn how to understand the place your ancestor lived, as well as find and use many kinds of maps to get a better picture of your ancestor’s place.

15. Map-reading for Genealogists: Interpreting the Places Where Your Ancestors Lived. Never be lost on a map again! Learn the tricks of finding exact locations on maps and creating a 3-D mental image of where your ancestors lived. You will leave this class knowing your way around latitude and longitude, topographic maps and the public land survey system.

16. Midwest Historical Geography for Genealogists. Cincinnati was Porkopolis. Chicago out-dueled St. Louis. Minneapolis milled grain from the Dakota bonanza farms. The Upper Midwest farmlands, forests and mines fed the cities’ hunger for food and lumber and steel. Railroads made it possible, bringing raw materials to the city and sending consumer goods back to the hinterland. Learn about how the development of the Midwest created opportunity and hardship for your ancestors. Presented at 2011 FGS Conference.

17. A Midwest Migration Case Study: Dutch and Ostfriesen Immigrants to Illinois and Iowa. Immigrants rarely wandered alone. Get to know two ethnic groups that came together in Illinois through religion, but gradually grew apart as they moved west across Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas. This lecture illustrates the advantages of “cluster genealogy.”

18. Getting to Here from There: Following your Ancestor’s Migration Trail. Every migration story is different, but learning about common migration routes helps us understand the migration possibilities for our individual ancestors. Learn about major 19th Century American migration routes, as well as how to look for clues for the routes taken by your particular ancestor.

19. Finding Your Ancestors’s European Origins: A 3-Step Strategy. Learn where to find clues to where your immigrants came from, locate obscure hometowns on maps, and make a certain match of American and European families. This lecture uses examples from 19th and 20th-century English, Dutch, Scandinavian and Italian families and single individuals.

20. Location, Location, Location: Using Print- and Online-Gazetteers to Find the Obscure Places Your Ancestors Lived. A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Small, obscure places can be hard to find, and changing names and spellings can complicate your search. Learn to use the government’s Geographic Names Information System to find American locations and the GeoNet Name-Server to find locations around the world.

21. Fish and Chips Genealogy: Finding your Common English Ancestors. English food may be ordinary, but the possibilities for family history research are extraordinary. Learn about basic English genealogy resources – civil registration, censuses and parish church records.

22. Bangers and Mash Genealogy: a Meat and Potatoes Approach to Solving English Genealogical Problems. Enjoy several short case studies that illustrate the basic methods of tracking families through English records.

23. Wooden Shoe Genealogy: Methods for tracing North American immigrant families back to The Netherlands. Learn how to keep your feet dry as you wade through the polders trying to find your Dutch or Frisian ancestors. Use a three-step strategy to match families across North American and Dutch records and then work your way back in The Netherlands.

24. Tulips, Polders and Windmills: A Genealogist’s Tour of the Low Countries. Learn the basics of Belgian, Dutch, Frisian and Luxembourger genealogy, while enjoying a colorful tour of the Low Country landscape. Learn genealogy research basics, as well as how the land shaped your ancestors’ lives and how they shaped the land.(This lecture features Dutch genealogy and a beginner’s introduction to Dutch records).


25. GenThink: Understanding the Language and Methods of Successful Genealogists. Think about sources are information-transport vehicles that carry information forward through time to you, the researcher. Make sure you understand the important differences between direct and indirect evidence. Get up-to-date with the latest in genealogical standards. — NEW Fall 2014

26. Genealogical Detours: Solving Problems with Indirect Evidence. Learn how to solve a problem when you can find no direct evidence answering your question. Become an “evidence weaver” and reveal your family’s history.

27. More than a Just a Job: Using Occupation to Track your Ancestor. Was your ancestor a farmer? A locomotive engineer? Learn where you can find occupational information, but more importantly, learn how to use information about occupation to follow your ancestor through time.

28. Genealogy Detective Skills: Following Clues from the Census. It is exciting to find a “snapshot” of our family in the census, but it is even more exciting when we use the census as a springboard to other sources. Learn how to use all the information in the census to find your ancestors in other records.

29. Solving Problems of Genealogical Identity: Two A. P. Overlands in Northern Minnesota. We can’t build genealogies backward or forward unless we are certain of identities. From a Minnesota example, learn how to correlate multiple sources to separate identities of two easily confounded men.

30. Who’s on First? Merging and Separating Identities in Family History Research. Sometimes we find a man/woman of the same name in several different places over time. Other times, we find two easily confounded people in the same place and time. Learn how to solve the core genealogical problem: certain identity. Short case studies illustrate how.

31. You Gotta Know the Territory: The Professor Harold Hill Guide to Localizing your Family History Research. The “Music Man” knew he’d get much farther if he knew the territory. Genealogists, take notice. Family history success requires both finding the place and getting to know the territory – the history, geography and, yes, the records.

32. Official, but Wrong: Putting Birth Date Information in a Passport Application to the Test. Don’t assume “official” government records are truthful. Learn how to seek corroborating evidence, evaluate conflicting evidence and examine motives of informants – in this case a single woman applying for a passport.

33. Finding Truth Beyond Family Lore: the Three Hidden Wives of John C. Fawkner. Learn how to test family lore against original records and separate kernels of truth from myth. The key is correlating evidence. A broad search across time and geography yields probate, guardianship, tax and court records that reveal the truth. [This case study
material in this lecture overlaps with no. 34, but this lecture focuses on evaluating family lore].

34. A Reasonably Exhaustive 3-D Search: Four Fawkner Wives. Extensive research across three dimensions — time, geography, and associations — increases your chance of success. Using an example covering five states and more than a half century, this presentation demonstrates how to link widely spread information together to solve a difficult problem. [The case study material in this lecture overlaps with no. 33, but this talk focuses on evidence correlation].

35. Let No Man Put Asunder: Direct and Indirect Evidence to Document Marriages. Marriage records come in many forms: consents, bonds, applications for licenses, licenses and minister’s returns. But, even when such obvious evidence can’t be found, you can prove marriages from land records, guardianship records or inheritance records, including wills, probates and chancery court records.


36. Workshop: Finding Maiden Names. This 2-3 hour workshop combines a short lecture with a hand-out exercise in which, starting from a short obituary, students brainstorm strategies for finding Mrs. Romkie’s full maiden name and work through evidence made available by the instructor to draw a convincing conclusion even without a marriage record. Suited to beginners and intermediate researchers.

37. Workshop: Finding a Family for Dena Sandvoss. A 19 year-old German girl married Christian Gerloff in 1846 on the banks of the Mississippi River with no parents in sight. You will work with the instructor to identify possible parents or siblings, a build a logical case that points to Dena’s origins in Braunschweig, Germany.

38 Workshop: Who is the World was Hjalmar? Beginning with a starting set of source documents, this hands-on workshop challenges students to identify key clues and develop a strategy for finding the information necessary to solve the case. Periodically throughout the workshop, the instructor will provide students with new information, and work with the students to correlate the evidence to identify Hjalmar’s parents and grandparents. This workshop can be structured from two hours to a half-day. The experience is enhanced if at least half the students have access to the Internet.


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