Sunday, May 21, 2017

Meet our 2017 Sponsor: Janice M. Sellers, Ancestral Discoveries

Note from Gena and Jean: Today we are proud to introduce 2017 sponsor Janice M. Sellers of Ancestral Discoveries. Make sure to check out her Southern California Genealogy Jamboree presentation Reconstructing a Family When You Start with Almost Nothing on Sunday, June 11th.

Family history fascinated me at an early age as I listened to my mother and grandmother talk about family members, birthdays, and anniversaries. The connections between people and family stories stayed with me. After finishing a junior-high-school assignment to research my family tree back four generations, I was hooked. I still have the original purple mimeographed tree (for those of us of a certain age, remember that smell?) and all of my original notes from interviewing relatives, even after many years and many, many moves.

My mother supported my interest in learning about not only her Jewish side of the family but also my father’s family and ancestors, who were primarily English Quakers and German Baptists. She encouraged me to contact family members whenever I traveled. Though my mother passed away more than 20 years ago, I think she would be proud of the information I have found on the family and the number of relatives with whom I have connected, including tracking down just which cousins used to live in South America and learning that I have cousins who were born in Cuba. One of the inspirations for the name of my company, Ancestral Discoveries, is that I’m still discovering new things about my family, more than 40 years after I started my research.

As I continued to trace my own family, I became interested in doing genealogy research as a professional after participating in a Jewish research week in Salt Lake City a few times. I learned that a common recommendation for a first step was to volunteer to do research for other people, such as friends and extended family, to find out if you actually enjoy exploring other people’s family history. So I did, and I ended up researching the families of all of my coworkers, who joked that I knew more about their families than they did. I also started doing black American research for extended family—my aunt’ sister—who asked if I could find information on the family of her second husband, whose ancestors were enslaved in Georgia for several generations.

It was becoming obvious that I enjoyed this work, so one day I decided to “hang out my shingle” and placed an advertisement in the newsletter of a local group to which I belong. That ad brought my first client, for whom I did extensive research for five years.

My work focuses on a range of ethnic and topical research specialties. I am deeply experienced in Jewish and black American research, partly because of my own family and also due to affiliation with the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, where I serve as Vice President and editor of the ZichronNote journal, and the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, where I
am a member of the board of directors and editor of The Baobab Tree journal. My research has also led to focuses in forensic genealogy and newspapers.

In addition to my research expertise, I have extensive
language skills. My interest in other languages also developed when I was young. I grew up hearing a lot of Yiddish words, though not actually conversation, from my mother’s family. My mother could also speak rudimentary German and Spanish, having learned the former from her grandmother and the latter from living in Miami, and she regularly sprinkled German and Spanish words into conversation. On entering junior high school, I began taking Spanish classes, adding German and French courses in high school. For college, I was a French major, later adding Spanish and Russian as minors and also taking Italian. I can still speak Spanish and French, though not as fluently as I used to, and can say a few words in Russian, Italian, and German. I can, however, read all five languages, which is immensely useful for genealogy research.

Along with research, I have given many talks over the years, starting with instructional presentations in the 1980s and genealogy presentations beginning in 2009. I speak at the local, regional, state, and national levels, including teaching classes at RootsTech, the International Black Genealogy Summit, and five U.S. conferences of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Topics include historical newspapers, Jewish and black research, and using specific types of records for genealogical research. I’ll be speaking at the 2017 Genealogy Jamboree conference, on the topic of how even a tiny amount of starting information can help you build a family tree and learn a lot about your family in the process.

I currently live in Oakland, California. For more information on me, my research, and my presentations, visit my website at or e-mail me at You can also find me on social media: 




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