The Next Generation, by Maureen Taylor

child back library.bmpI was a weird kid. When I started researching my family at nine years old, none of my friends were interested in their family history. Given the choice of spending an afternoon with an elderly grandparent or out riding bikes, most of my pals chose to wheel around the neighborhood. Not me. My family once made a detour on vacation so that I could spend an afternoon at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord. Over the years I’ve met others bitten by the genealogy bug as a kid or teen, but most folks take up this hobby as adults.

I thought about my early days as a youthful genealogist this summer when a counselor at an educational organization in my county that finds internships for teens paired me up with Erin. Since I’m a freelance writer, the counselor thought Erin (who wants to be a journalist) and I should have a chat. During her interview I discovered that her favorite subject is history and that she’d written a short paper on her family origins. Lucky me!

Getting Started
In order to find out what she really knew about research and writing, I asked to see her school paper. Erin told me that in preparation to write it she’d talked with relatives and did some general research on Irish immigration. That was a good start, but as we created a family tree on Ancestry.com she quickly realized she needed more information. We made a list of questions to ask her parents, grandparents, and an uncle who kept track of family heritage. As she found answers we entered the data into the tree. Each time she talked with a relative, there were new facts. As every new genealogist knows, you have to be organized or you lose track of what you’ve looked at and where you’re going. Citing her sources and keeping good notes became a daily ritual.

Online Bonanza
If you haven’t created a family tree on Ancestry.com yet I recommend it. The “shaky leaf” beside each name you’ve entered means your information is automatically being run through the Ancestry databases. Click on the leaf to see what records might match your ancestors. Erin found lots of resources on Ancestry.com, but I also taught her how to use other databases such as FamilySearch.org, and Heritage Quest (available through a public library subscription such as the Boston Public Library). While Erin found census documents, immigration details, and some cemetery data online, it was soon time to take a fieldtrip. After all, not everything is online (yet).

Research Sense
Our first stop was the Massachusetts State Archives to look for birth, marriage, and death records for her ancestors born in the nineteenth century. The New England Historic Genealogical Society has Massachusetts Vital Records from 1841 to 1910 as well as other New England sources, but after searching online I wanted her to visit an archive and see other genealogists at work. It was her first trip to a research facility and she didn’t know how to use a microfilm reader or request records. She quickly grasped the concept of threading film and cranking through the reel (grin). Every time she found something she’d stop and smile.

Next stop, the National Archives in Waltham, Massachusetts. There she found copies of naturalizations for two of her relatives. Our final destination was the New England Historic Genealogical Society. As more material becomes available online or on film it becomes harder to look at real manuscripts. I thought it was very important for her to see the real thing. In the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections Department, Erin got to see a sampling–from silhouettes to a seventeenth-century deed. She couldn’t believe that one whole floor was devoted to handwritten documents. Of all the places we visited I think this was her favorite stop. (By the way, Erin was the youngest researcher wherever we went.)

Erin’s internship is over, but she’s ready to keep looking for family on her own (or e-mail me with questions). It was a lot of fun to encourage her interest in genealogy and see the next generation of family historians in the making. Who knows, maybe she’ll get a few of her friends intrigued by her discoveries.

Youth Fair in Fort Wayne, Indiana
At this year’s FGS conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Ancestry.com is sponsoring a Youth track on Saturday. I’ll be there (along with several colleagues) presenting workshops for kids on family history. Hope to see you there with one of your children or grandchildren.

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Maureen Taylor is the The Photo Detective. She writes about family history and photography on her blog at PhotoDetective.com.

5 thoughts on “The Next Generation, by Maureen Taylor

  1. I too started my obsession with genealogy at the ripe old age of nine. Now 42, I tell people I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. My 4th great grand father was the founder of our town and it was near the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding that I got hooked. In my family it seemed that EVERYONE knew the history of at least one side of my family. I remember finding a scrapbook my mother had done for a school project when she was nine on her family history. That got me asking questions. LOTS of questions and LOTS of family memembers. I spent alot of time with my grandmother and her siblings used to come and visit often. I was a good listener and wanted to know everything I could about them growing up. Twenty years later I was still asking the last of the line about things I had since found out. Even now as much as I learned from them at the time I kick myself and say, “if only I knew then what I know now!”. The Internet has opened up genealogy to heights that I could never have imagined back when I was a elementary school child asking to see the microfilms at Southeastern Louisiana University’s Special Collections dept. Of course it helped that most of the people in town were either related to me or attached to one family or the other, as is the case in most small southern towns I would suspect. My advise to young people today would talk to your grandparents and then talk to their friends and then talk to anyone who looks “ancient” to you about your family. You might be surprised at what they know. Research skills are important, but I have found through the years that although they might not have the facts 100% right, those chats can often lead you to the clue you’re looking for.

    Laura Lee Bauerle Jaworski

  2. Question: I have some personal info on some of my relatives that I would NOT wish to have online. This is why, although I’ve been a member of ancestry.com for almost as long as it has existed, I have never uploaded my family tree.

    Is there a way to do it without the personal info? To do it that way, do I have to do it person by person rather than just doing an upload?

  3. Thanks for the good article. I was interested in family history as a child of nine, but didn’t think it was possible to get the information I so desired, and gave up. Years later, when going through a low period physically and emotionally, I read a magazine article that pointed me in the right direction and it helped me get through a tough time. That was my beginnning and thirty-five years later I’m more deeply involved than ever. I’m keeping an eye on my great-nieces and great-nephews (my grandson is only four now) to see if any have an interest in history. Periodically I pass on information for their school assignments (they know who to ask). I gave each of my nieces and nephews a family history (up-to-date at the time) when they graduated from High School. I think its important that we try to pass on our love for the past to the next generation.

  4. I enjoyed the article that Maureen Taylor has written. I lack the motivation to get started putting my genealogy out on the sights to do the research. For some unknown fears that I have not discovered as of yet. But reading your article have touched me and I need to get onto it.

    Thankyou for writting it. Linda L. Perry

  5. I, like Maureen Taylor, was a “weird kid”. Only, by her standards, I was something of a “late bloomer”, in that I didn’t develop MY obsession with genealogy until I was 18, and a senior in high school(!) In my case, when given a choice between either playing baseball, or going to the Genealogy Room on the third floor of the New York Public Library, I doubt that you’ll have any problem guessing which of those options I pursued!! At the time (which was WAY back in 1968), my family–to put it politely–thought of me as being slightly eccentric for doing this. Of course, now they will be the first to claim I was actually ahead of my time with the hobby of genealogy.

    While I’m on the topic, I have to give myself a pat on the back for something: at that tender age of 18, I contacted my grandmother’s brother (thus, my granduncle) by letter. I was in quest of vital data, such as my English great-grandmother’s maiden name, her siblings names, and HER parents names, etc. Sadly, he died very suddenly roughly one year later, but not before he had passed on some important family information that I couldn’t have procured from any other source. While some of it turned out to be totally bogus and misleading, the rest of it proved MOST fruitful in my future genealogical research. I’m now 10 generations back in England on that side of my family, largely thanks to that granduncle’s assistance. And had I not been a high school student with an unusual interest for that era, all of that valuable data would have been lost forever to posterity!

    Robert M. Kern
    Yonkers, New York

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