Over many years of research I have discovered a lot about my family’s roots. I’ll use the word discover a lot here. Anyone reading this will, I’m sure, be able to say the same about their ancestors. But, in my many roles as a genealogist – I think I can call myself that now – I have also discovered a lot about what makes research successful: where to go to look for information; who to ask; what different types of data one can use to track down people and events; lateral thinking; and how to report findings and sources.
I will expand on many of these points in blog posts over the next few months, perhaps years, using examples gleaned from research on my family, information found for others, general reading on the subject and listening to others relate their own experiences.
Research in genealogy is much like research in geology, which I was involved in for over forty years in the oil and gas business in Canada. In geological studies and, in particular, oil and gas exploration, you try to unravel a part of the Earth’s history, in the area you are working, by collecting information discovered by others or from your own investigations, organizing what data you have (it is never complete), interpreting what it all means and formulating a picture of what the area looked like many millions of years ago. From that you try to come up with ideas of where to drill to find that next big commercial discovery.
The main difference I found between geological and genealogical work was that I had a few years of post-secondary education, and two university degrees behind me before I started my career in oil and gas exploration. In my new investigations as a genealogist, I followed many of the same sorts of methodology but I had to start by educating myself first in what kind of data there existed that was relevant to family history, where to find the information, how to put it all together and how to interpret it. I was a novice in this line of research but I discovered that many of the same techniques and mindsets I had employed as a geologist also worked in genealogy.
I was intrigued about this whole family history idea very early on in my life but never really got involved in doing it until the Internet Age, when, from my desktop, using my computer, and without ever leaving home, I could search out information on a variety of websites, take courses from experts, read books, order certificates and lately, see live presentations from experts in webinars and podcasts (who knew there would even be such things only a few years ago). That is not to dismiss the value of going to libraries of family history centres, which serious researchers should still do, but it has become much easier to get a running start using online sources.
In the years since my early forays into genealogy, I have gained substantial knowledge through direct research, volunteer work, professional consulting, writing and editing, in each role discovering new sources of information and ways of doing things.
A lot of what I have learned about family history, in general, and members of my family, in particular, came from my experiences as an Online Parish Clerk – individuals who take on such a role are referred to as OPCs. I discovered this scheme back in 2002 and volunteered to become one in 2003, in areas of Devon, England where I was looking for my ancestors. The program was very new then and I had no idea what it meant or how it might end up consuming me. I also would never have believed how much I could learn as a volunteer OPC. I will write about this program a great deal in later posts and relate some specific discoveries I made while looking in parish records for information about my family and while helping others find information about their roots.
The more I learned about how to research genealogy-related questions, the more I thought it might be a way to earn a bit of money as a professional, at least enough to pay for what was becoming a very expensive hobby. I believed I had some significant personal experience from my own family research, from assisting others as a volunteer, from reading extensively and from having taken several courses in different aspects of genealogical research, know-how and proficiency that would allow me to complete research projects for others.
I took on some projects for friends, tracing their families back several generations and discovered I had the ability to perhaps do this as a business. This involves a whole new set of responsibilities, however, and even more careful attention to details. I have taken on several assignments now and my clients have been very happy with the results. One of the next steps will be to follow through and get my professional accreditation. In future posts I will discuss things I have discovered as a result of my professional endeavours as well as the whole aspect of professionalism.
I have written about my experiences and results of my research and published articles in several family history society journals. I believe this is part of being a genealogist – letting others know about what you have found and the way you found it so they might gain some ideas and insight that will help them in their own research. I admit there is a bit of ego involved, too, in seeing your ideas and name in print.
A few years ago I got involved with producing Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. I have been the Editor of this publication now since July 2011. In this role I have discovered information about a many areas of research related to genealogy, about which I knew little, and have made contact with a great many experts in these various fields – researchers, writers, speakers and teachers. All of this has, of course, added to my own knowledge.
I am now a full-time genealogist! Each of the experiences I have realized, as a hobbyist, researcher, volunteer, writer, editor and consultant, presents a theme for a later post. In them I will tell readers – I hope there will be more than a few – about what I have discovered.