Many people wonder how to get the youngsters in the family interested in genealogy. Joseph Shumway’s grandmother figured it out. When Joseph was 12, she invited him over so he could help her learn her new genealogy software.
“I was always the kid who enjoyed listening to the family stories,” Joseph recently told me. But working with that software and helping his grandmother enter the names is what really got him thinking about it and sparked an interest in learning more about his ancestors.
Joseph is an Accredited Genealogist and is a researcher at ProGenealogists. You might think that with such an early start, he always intended to be a professional genealogist. “When I was younger, I never knew you could be a professional,” he said. As he became more experienced, people hired him. His clientele grew to the point where he needed to decide whether to pursue genealogy as a career or to follow the path he originally intended. “With the encouragement and support of my mentors, I chose genealogy.”
Joseph enjoys digging deep into challenging research problems. For that reason, African American research is his favorite. A lack of records certainly makes it challenging, but ultimately the most rewarding. “The smallest piece of new information can mean the most” in the research, he told me.
You never know what you’re going to turn up when you begin a research project, whether it’s for a client or for something like Who Do You Think You Are? (one of several television shows on which Joseph has been a contributor). One of his favorite discoveries involved a project that started with a man who lived in South Carolina with an aunt. The goal was to identify the man’s parents, who were believed to have been from England. Joseph found the connection to England – and to a group of three sisters who were passing themselves off as Tudor heiresses to scam wealthy men.
For those who are getting started climbing their family tree, Joseph advises not to jump too far ahead too quickly. “Talk to everyone who is still living. Get their stories and find out all you can from them.” While it’s tempting to gloss over this, Joseph assures that it is a crucial step.
In case you’re wondering, yes, he does get asked regularly if he’s related to Gordon Shumway of Alf fame. (“Though people are sometimes surprised that I actually remember the show!”) As for the actual relationship between Joseph and Gordon, all he would tell me was “We’re proud to have the family name out there.”