I met Michael J. Hall, in July 2011, a fellow student, at the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), held annually at the National Archives, Washington DC (Mike later became the assistant director and instructed at NIGR 2012-2014). I had no idea who he was, or of his role in the genealogy world. We spoke because name tags revealed a shared surname (my maiden name is Hall and my brick wall, Brian Hall, b. 1727, of Taunton [now Raynham], Bristol County, Massachusetts). I was interested to discover if our family tree connected. It did not (as later confirmed by Y-DNA).
I, a “wanna be” runner, mentioned a desire to run on the National Mall. Mike, a Marine, indicated that it was far too dangerous to run alone and offered to join me (okay, so he didn’t offer, he informed me that I wouldn’t be running alone – once a Marine always a Marine!). We met each day at 5AM (before the heat of the day, when it was still a “cool” 100 degrees) and ran/walked between trees then finished with some intensive stair-climbing. By sharing these mornings, I came to learn of this amazing man.
Michael J. Hall
As a young man, Michael, a Marine, was first stationed in Okinawa, Japan where he found the LDS Church, and then later at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California, he developed a desired to research his personal family history.
After discharge from active duty, he moved to Provo, Utah where he attained a BS in Anthropology from Brigham Young University (BYU). He “tested out” of several genealogy courses, certifying proficiency as a self-taught genealogist. Initially Michael became a Research Archaeologist and was recognized as among the top in his fauna research. He had the ability to identify and apprise everything about a bone, albeit a job not long lasting. His love for genealogy emerged; he switched careers and has worked in the Family History field for over thirty-two years.
Mike is currently the Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch (familysearch.org), the largest genealogical organization in the world, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is tasked with working with libraries, archives, historic and genealogical societies around the world to educate how FamilySearch might help these organizations and to build goodwill.
During his tenure, Mike experienced many ups and downs. He was present on 15 April 1999 when a mentally ill man stormed the Family History Library, killing two and wounding four before being shot by Salt Lake City police. Mike, who was working as a reference consultant, remembers the “pop, pop” sound and knew immediately what was happening. He and library supervisor, Stephen Young, mobilized to evacuate people from the building. Both were awarded the “Sons of the American Revolution” Medal for Heroism.
Mike’s role at FamilySearch keeps him away from his beloved family at least 12 weeks a year; he participates in 6-7 conferences annually. Mike, a member of the Bristol Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists is ALWAYS excited to come home to New England. Although born in Germany to parents in the US military, over half of his ancestry has New England roots.
At NERGC, he will be speaking on one of his favorite topics, a lecture based on his maternal Portuguese ancestors who emigrated from the Azores to Fall River, Massachusetts (where Mike still has a lot of cousins). Mike began his Portuguese research by looking through church records on microfilm at the Family History Library using a Portuguese pocket dictionary. Soon he could recognize key phrases. He jokingly adds “Don’t ask me to pronounce the words, but I am now pretty good at reading the language”.
Several years ago, Mike presented on the subject at a conference in Bologna, Italy in the presence of professional Portuguese researchers. They inquired as to how he was able to translate the documents. Mike asked “Why, did I do it wrong?”. They responded, saying they were just curious, the translations were perfect. Last year they honored Mike by inviting him to become a member of the Associação Portuguesa de Genealogia in Lisbon, Portugal (membership is by invitation only).
Mike has written various genealogical guides for the Family History Library, chairs the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association and serves in the Genealogy and Local History Committee on the International Federation of Libraries and Associations (IFLA). These groups allow Mike to participate in solving worldwide genealogy concerns. For example, a group in Africa may be wary of losing their oral history as the younger generation might not want to learn. Mike offers creative solutions, not necessarily through FamilySearch but by working with whichever organization has the best resources to offer for a particular situation, be it Find My Past, Ancestry.com or another organization.
Mike’s latest endeavor is that of “The War of 1812 Pension Digitization Project” (http://www.preservethepensions.org/), an initiative of FGS. These deteriorating files, housed at the National Archives (NARA), are chock full of, as Mike puts it, “unreal stuff” – such as original bible pages and insane asylum records. Fundraising is in progress and 100% of your tax deductible donation goes to digitizing these records (.45 cents per page) which once online will be available to anyone forever for FREE. Currently 50% of the funds have been raised. Ancestry.com has generously stepped up and agreed to cover costs to digitize half of the records. So every dollar donated will actually go twice as far.
The talented Mike initially crafted and sold little soldiers, and then dragoons for the project (now sold out) and was looking for another method to raise money and awareness of this cause. He has decided to run, bike and walk 1,812 miles this year and is seeking sponsors. He is registered to race in three 5Ks, three 10Ks, two half marathons, two sprint triathlons and one Olympic triathlon. You can support him by pledging through The Legal Genealogist (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/13/halfway-home/). In addition, Mike has found a source for little sailors, and will have them painted and ready for the National Genealogical Society annual conference in St. Charles, Missouri this coming May.
A goal of 1,812 miles might have been difficult a year ago, but in the past 6 months Mike has lost 80 pounds! His doctor gave him an excellent bill of health and he credits the “Fast Metabolism Diet” by Haylie Pomroy (and more importantly his wife’s inspiration and cooking) for this new “35 year old body” and renewed energy.
Mike and his wife Joanne, the love of his life, a classmate at BYU, reside in Orem, Utah. Together they had four children and are now the proud grandparents of fifteen.
Catch Mike at NERGC April 15-18, 2015:
Sailing Beyond Names, Dates, and Places in Family History Research: Using Newspapers to Provide the Rest of the Story Michael Hall Int./Adv T-112 – This presentation will focus on newspapers and how they can be used to provide clues to resources that can assist in proving the identity of your ancestor.
Sailing From the Azores to Fall River: The Documentation of One Family’s Journey Michael Hall Beg./Int. F-236 – This presentation will focus on how one emigrant Portuguese family from the Azores navigated through the various legal, cultural, and family obstacles to sail into a brighter future.
Early Bird registration ($120) ends 28 February 2015.
Registration after 28 February 2015 is $150.
Single day registration increases from $90 to $100 after 28 February 2015.