Researching the History of Institutionalized People

Add to Calendar04/15/2021 06:30 PM04/15/2021 08:00 PMAmerica/New_YorkResearching the History of Institutionalized PeopleJoin scholars and archivists as they discuss the strengths and limitations of these historical records to as a tool for discovering the personal stories of institutionalized people with disabilities.Online via ZoomHeinz History CenterfalseMM/DD/YYYY

Join scholars and archivists as they discuss the strengths and limitations of historical records from state-run institutions to reflect the personal stories of institutionalized people with disabilities in Pennsylvania.

For generations, researchers have faced barriers to accessing the historical files of institutionalized people. Learn about the multiyear effort to preserve historical records from state-run institutions and the new policies that have opened them for research. These materials offer a rare, individual-focused approach to exploring the early history of institutionalization in Pennsylvania.

Though fragmentary, these historical records provide glimpses into individual people whose lives were profoundly shaped by the system of institutionalization in Pennsylvania. While the primary focus will be on records from institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this program will also address access to early records from state hospitals for people with mental illness.

Attendees will learn about the information contained in these files and how to gain access to their contents. Speakers will highlight records available online and in-person at the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Heinz History Center.

For genealogists, these records offer the potential for poignant insights into the lives and personal experiences of institutionalized ancestors and their families.


Registration for this event is free. Please register in advance.

Register now

For more information, please contact Sierra Green at

Accessibility: Open Captioning Live captioning will be provided at this virtual program.

Accessibility: Sign Language ASL interpretation will be provided at this virtual program.


Dennis B. Downey, PhD is Professor Emeritus of History at Millersville University and co-author of Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights (Penn State Press, 2020).   The author or editor of ten books and scores of scholarly articles and essays, Downey chairs the Disability Policy Circle for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

Sierra Green is an archivist at the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives. She is engaged in archival processing and reference services in addition to her work in public and educational programming. She has been a Steering Committee member of the Western Pennsylvania Disability History & Action Consortium (WPDHAC) since 2016. Sierra has collaborated with the WPDHAC in a multi-year effort to preserve and share the historic experiences of people with disabilities in Western Pennsylvania.

Nathan R. Stenberg is a first-generation disabled artist, personal trainer, and scholar from a low-income, single-parent family in rural Minnesota. He is interested in how the stories we tell about disabled people influence everything from depictions of disability in popular entertainment to policy decisions for the disability community in the United States. Nathan received his BA in music from Roberts Wesleyan College in 2014, and his MDiv from Princeton Seminary in 2017. He is currently a PhD Candidate in Theatre & Performance Historiography at the University of Minnesota.

Tyler Stump is an acquisitions archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives. He primarily works with records that document the history of mental health, institutionalization, prisons, and public health in Pennsylvania. Since he joined the archives in 2016, he has helped collect archival records from more than a dozen state hospitals and centers in Pennsylvania, and has written several articles on Pennsylvania’s state mental institutions.

Foundations of Eastern European Genealogy

Add to Calendar05/23/2021 10:00 AM05/23/2021 05:30 PMAmerica/New_YorkFoundations of Eastern European GenealogyJoin genealogy experts for the History Center’s first virtual Eastern European Genealogy workshop.Heinz History CenterHeinz History Center, the Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh, and the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical SocietyfalseMM/DD/YYYY

Join genealogy experts for the History Center’s first virtual Eastern European Genealogy workshop.

Benefitting beginners and seasoned genealogists alike, this in-depth virtual workshop will explore the core genealogical knowledge essential to tracing Eastern European ancestors. Attendees will gain insights into researching ancestors who lived in modern-day Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and more.

Featuring live Question and Answer sessions and interactive virtual networking opportunities, this workshop will foster connections between attendees and expert speakers on tracing your Eastern European ancestors.

Live virtual presentations include:

  • Who Do You Think You Are? The Real World
  • Where is That? Determining Place Names in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Crossing the Pond: Successful Strategies for Researching Eastern European Ancestors
  • Understanding and Interpreting Birth, Marriage and Death Records in Eastern Europe
  • Jewish Genealogy Research in the former Russian Empire

Special access to recordings of the lectures will be made available to attendees following the live workshop.

This workshop is offered in partnership with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


General registration  is $25.

Registration is $20 for members of the History Center, Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh, and Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.

Please register online.

Register now

To request special accommodations or for more information, contact Sierra Green at 412-454-6361 or

Accessibility: Open Captioning Live captioning will be provided at this virtual program.

About the Speakers

Lisa A. Alzo

Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A., is a freelance writer, instructor, and internationally recognized lecturer, specializing in Eastern European genealogical research, writing your family history, and using the Internet to trace female and immigrant ancestors. She grew up in Duquesne, Pennsylvania and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1987 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997. Lisa is the author of eleven books, including The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide, and the award-winning Three Slovak Women, and hundreds of magazine articles.  Lisa is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine and works as an online educator and writing coach through her website Research, Write, Connect. She also developed the Eastern European Research Certificate Program for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Lisa is a frequently invited speaker for national conferences, genealogical and historical societies, and webinars. An avid genealogist for more than 30 years, Lisa chronicles her family history adventures on her blog, The Accidental Genealogist.  Visit for more information.

Lara Diamond

Lara Diamond began researching her own family around 1989. She has traced all branches of her family multiple generations back in Eastern Europe using Russian Empire-era and Austria-Hungarian Empire records. Most of her personal research is in modern-day Ukraine, with a smattering of Belarus and Poland. She has done client research leading to their ancestors in many parts of the former USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and more. She is president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland and is JewishGen’s Subcarpathia Research Director. She has lectured around the country and internationally on Jewish and Eastern European genealogy research as well as genetic genealogy. She also runs multiple district- and town-focused projects to collect documentation to assist all those researching ancestors from common towns. Lara blogs about her Eastern European and Jewish research at

Karen A. Melis

Karen A. Melis, a Pittsburgh native and University of Pittsburgh graduate, is passionate about placing our Eastern European ancestors in the very contexts in which they lived. Having studied Slovak at Pitt and earning a 2011-2012 Fulbright Scholarship, she spent 10 months studying in Slovakia, speaking the language and embracing the culture firsthand.  She has over 25-plus years of hands-on research in over 200 villages of the former Spiš and Orava Counties, Kingdom of Hungary, digitizing records in the Spiš, Zamagurie, Orava, and Podhale regions. With regular research trips overseas, she actively seeks out records and other documents in the Slovak Republic and Polish State Archives as well as land and civil registry offices to better understand the very conditions under which so many of our ancestors lived and decided to migrate. Based on her intimate knowledge, experience, and research capabilities, she formed SlovakGenealogy, LLC to help others find their roots. (See for more information.) Karen also moderates a regular monthly Eastern European Special Interest Group (SIG) with the North Hills Genealogists and has lectured on Eastern European genealogy at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP).  As a volunteer group administrator of four geographic DNA projects with FamilyTreeDNA, she assists project members in understanding their genetic matches by combining traditional genealogy and DNA testing.