Sunday, 11 August 2013

Discovering Genealogy

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.


  1. Best wishes for this new endeavour Wayne.I'll be following it.

    John D Reid

  2. Same here. Best wishes and I am now following your blog. Thanks for your interest and your work.

  3. How do I subscribe? I clicked on "Follow" and it let me put it in my bookmarks, but I didn't have to put my email address in.

    1. Alison - the subscribe currently listed is for RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) ... if you use an RSS feeder program - it is integrated into Outlook or you could choose from many readers available - then this blog would just be added to your list. Basically what the rss reader lets you do is view a controlled list of feeds that you create by subscribing to websites that have RSS enabled. Then you don't have to go looking for new posts, they are deposited into your reader automatically anytime new items are posted. They don't require you to give your email address out and they let you control the information you want to read - and when you want to read them. It's like building your own newspaper that you can edit at will and it doesn't get you on a list for extra things you didn't want (Not that Mr. Shepheard would send you stuff you didn't want ;) ). Plus, you are in control of removing yourself from the list - you can remove any site from your list of feeds at will.

  4. Hi Alison,

    I have not installed an email contact option yet but will be looking at this very soon. In the meantime, you can subscribe by clicking on the instruction at the bottom of the page, Subscribe to: Post (Atom). Clicking on that takes you to a new page where you can confirm your subscription. From then on all new posts will be shown in a new folder under Feeds on your mail server.

    Thanks for your interest.

  5. Wayne, I am delighted to find your new blog. I always really appreciated your comments and insights on the Pharos forum boards. So I'm looking forward to learning more from you here regularly.

    1. I see I should have signed, as my google account just has my initials. Barbara Schenck

  6. Thank you Barbara. I look forward to sharing more ideas on this forum that I hope will be useful to other researchers.

  7. OK, Wayne.

    Done that, see what happens!

  8. Welcome to the blogisphere from Sydney Australia, Wayne. I've already added you to my RSS feeds and will be following with interest.

    Cheers, Jill

  9. Welcome to the blogosphere, Wayne! Be sure and let Geneabloggers know about your new blog so they can introduce it to everyone.
    Have fun!

  10. Welcome to genealogy blogging! I hope you find your new endeavor to be rewarding and fun. By the way, I've subscribed to your blog via Feedly.

  11. Welcome aboard and congrats on being a full-time genealogist. I envy you!