Thomas MacEntee: The Abundant Educator
Arising in the pre-dawn hours, Thomas MacEntee begins his day by checking in with MyHeritage in Israel. He enjoys the peace and solitude of the morning, says his daily devotional, and watches the sun rise over Lake Michigan. Then he dives into the all-consuming work of preparing or presenting genealogy webinars. He has 250 scheduled webinars this year and presents as many as 3 live webinars on some days.
He enjoys interacting with other genealogists through social media and webinars. He ponders: What do they want to know? How are they approaching their own genealogy? What are the gaps in genealogy education? These answers guide him as he adds to his webinar topics list, which now exceeds 60.
From the Country to a University
Thomas MacEntee was born and raised by a single mother in Liberty, a small town in upstate New York. Liberty, considered “the country,” is located 90 miles from New York City, with a population under 5,000. As a child, Thomas gained his love of history by listening to the stories his great-grandparents told of how they grew up. He loved visiting their 1840s Dutch farm home in Grahamsville, New York, just 10 miles from his own home. There, he had lots of family to connect with—over 40 first cousins!
Thomas graduated high school with honors and continued his education at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., with double bachelor’s degrees in art history and Spanish language and literature. In April 2010, Thomas received an online genealogy research certificate from Boston University, which he claims is some of the best adult education he has received, and he is extremely proud of this accomplishment.
After college, Thomas landed his first career job working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an administrative assistant in educational programming. He spent the next 25–30 years educating and training others. In 2008, during the Great Recession, many information technology jobs disappeared. As he searched for something that would be sustainable, he began researching how to run a genealogy business. That turned into client research, which then led to writing and education, which now fills his days.
His family is now spread all over, but he is still in touch with many cousins. They have children who are starting to get interested in family history themselves. He is hopeful he will have someone to pass the genealogy work along to—when he is ready to hand it off.
Thomas MacEntee’s Introduction to Genealogy
In February 1977, at age 14, the miniseries Roots came on television, and Thomas remembers watching it with his great-grandparents. After every episode, he would ask them questions about his own history. He knew then that researching his family history was something he wanted to do.
Genealogy grasped Thomas personally when his great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes Austin, died in 1988. She had a positive impact on his life. She taught him a love of history, was great to talk to, and had amazing stories. She was the last of her generation, and there was no longer an outlet for interviews and more information. He had to do his own research to learn more.
Thomas started to visit libraries to learn more. While in Washington, D.C., during college, he visited the National Archives and the Library of Congress and read through microfilms. He started to see that some of the family stories he had heard as a child weren’t always truthful. He wondered, “Do I approach my aunt and uncle about it?” His mother, the middle child of a dozen, was the peacekeeper of the family and shared Thomas’s fascination with history, and she provided him good counsel and would guide him on what he should or shouldn’t share about his discoveries.
Thomas’s goal with his research was to give voice to his family’s ancestors who may not have had a voice. And through the records he finds, he has been able to tell their full stories.
Turning Genealogy into a Profession
Thomas created his first blog in 2006, called “Destination Austin Family.” He was in a race to preserve family history from his mother’s perspective, as she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia leading to Alzheimer’s disease in 2000 at age 59.
Genealogy became a profession for Thomas in the summer of 2010 after participating in ProGen4 and the Boston University genealogy research program. Social media was taking off when he joined GeneaBloggers—a worldwide community of 3,000 genealogy bloggers—in 2008. He then reserved the domain and created the GeneaBloggers website in 2009. He used this website to teach others how to use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms for the purpose of genealogy.
He soon created High-Definition Genealogy. He started with a vision of doing client research but soon found that it wasn’t satisfying for him. He pivoted and changed to teaching. Still today, he is always looking for new ways to educate people about genealogy and help them on their paths to success. Thomas also encourages his students to pivot in their research and learning. Just like his recommendations to them, he is changing and morphing his business all the time.
By November 2010, Thomas MacEntee had given his first talk as a genealogy speaker at an event in Libertyville, Illinois, on the topic of social media. He quickly learned that you don’t need genealogy certification to be a genealogy professional. The genealogy field is broad, and it doesn’t involve just research. Education is key and needed. In addition to educating, he is now the author of 15 books.
Thomas continued to grow and inspire the GeneaBloggers community until 2016, when he passed it off to others so he could focus more time on educational webinars. In addition to High-Definition Genealogy, where groups can book him for speaking engagements, he created the website Genealogy Bargains, where everyone can find the lowest prices on all items genealogy related. He also runs Abundant Genealogy, where he gives away free genealogy “cheat sheets” and more. And in 2015, he launched the Genealogy Do-Over, which now is a Facebook group with over 20,000 participants, where he teaches genealogy research methods by starting from scratch.
RootsTech Early Adopter and Contributor
Thomas was at the first RootsTech in 2011 and loves the energy the conference gives to the genealogy community. He believes that RootsTech has changed the educational landscape and was very impressed with the over 1 million worldwide audience RootsTech achieved in 2021. The shortened class model allows for more learning in less time and has helped Thomas pivot his own plans for his business ventures.
Check out Thomas’s 2021 RootsTech contributions:
- Google Tools for Genealogy
- Exploring Family History Tech with Thomas
- Don’t Chop Off That Branch! A Genealogy Arborist’s Handbook
Advice to You from Thomas
As a genealogy educator, Thomas has lots of great advice for others—no matter where they are in their family history journey.
For someone who is new to genealogy: “Start with yourself. Don’t bring in the family stories yet. Write down, in a fixed format, the stories that you personally have heard. Then slowly work your way back. Interview older relatives if they are still living.”
For someone who is stuck or frustrated with genealogy: “Put it down and walk away. Then come back to it. Sometimes a brick wall is something we have constructed due to lack of education about the area or about record collections.”
For someone who has been doing genealogy for a long time: “Participate in webinars to learn about new technologies and new ways of doing genealogy. Be open to change, especially with new technology.”
For everyone: “Genealogy is not only charts and source citations. It is also about preserving stories, memories, and photos. Families want things that are memorable and sharable.”
Thomas’s Favorite Resources
In addition to sharing advice, Thomas MacEntee also shares his favorite resources to help you in your genealogy research.
Conference Keeper—Keep track of upcoming genealogy educational events.
FamilySearch Research Wiki—Use and contribute to the Wiki.
Atlas of Historical County Boundaries Project—Learn how and when counties in the U.S. were formed.
Trello—This project management tool can be used for family history research.
What Does the Future Hold for Thomas?
Thomas MacEntee loves what he does and loves to collaborate with others. He is planning to semi-retire from his historical 60-minute webinars in May 2022, but until then he is working on creating actionable education where the participants do the work beforehand and the webinar is a reveal or conclusion. He is also working on creating an online course for genealogy topics.
Thomas’s inspiration throughout all of his genealogy business endeavors came from his mother, who passed away in 2015. She taught Thomas that “today is a gift and that tomorrow is just a promise.” She taught him how to be abundantly generous, that knowledge needs to be shared, to let go of what you’ve been given, and to hold your palm open and upright to receive what will come next from God. Every day is a new day. Thomas MacEntee is truly an abundant educator.