Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Interview with Judi Hansen, Problem Solving Coordinator

Will you tell us a little bit about what makes your SLIG course unique among genealogical education offerings?

Problem Solving is unique in that a student learns new skills and techniques by working on their own research problem during the week.

Their ultimate success depends upon the problem chosen, their preparatory work putting together their project submission, and availability of records easily available in the Family History Library or Internet resources.

The Problem Solving course is a directed practicum: the student, with the assistance of interested consultants and peers (fellow students in the group) enhances and applies specific methodology, analysis, and evaluation skills in research. The format of the problem-solving courses is designed for each student to receive specific help on his/her own project, and also to learn from study of the other student submissions and from the research and methodology discussion and suggestions given for the other projects. Brief discussion of specific records, analysis or evaluation techniques, or writing suggestions will be included as consultants see need.

Each problem solving student chooses his own curriculum – by focusing on one ancestor, ancestral couple, or particular genealogical question.

Choose a problem that is of personal interest and is not under constraints imposed by others. Research being done for hire or for possible submission for CG or AG should not be used, because of time/research constraints imposed by client or submission requirements of being only own work.

The Problem Solving course takes place in 3 parts: designing, working, and sharing.

Designing:  after registering and before Oct 30, each student submits a Problem Solving Project, with the following elements: a short 1 page summary of the Problem,  pertinent research logs, family groups, pedigree, maps, time line, and five page report about the research problem being submitted.
Working:  During SLIG, daily meetings held with assigned group reporting on progress of extensive research, analysis and evaluation of own project

Sharing: After SLIG: each student completes a new written summary of their research project, discussing sources used, new findings or lack of findings, conclusions and what to consider next in future research. 

IF at the end of SLIG week, the group consensus is that research possibilities have been exhausted for the problem, leaving no further avenues to pursue, the student is encouraged to put the project “on the shelf” – writing a final evaluation report which states final conclusions with supporting evidence, and details research steps, sources and analysis. The summary should be shared with those interested including fellow PS Group members and consultants.

When did you first start researching your family history? Was there a moment when you knew you were “hooked?”

I have always been interested in family stories, and even when very small would slip back into the room where grownups were talking to listen to their family stories. When I was eight I interviewed my great grandmother, asking her about her life, particularly when she was a little girl, and have been hooked ever since.

Do you have a pet ancestor? Can you tell us a little bit about what makes this person so special to you as a researcher?

I think my “pet” ancestor is the one I am currently working on so I have had many “pet” ancestors. I will share one example, my great great grandmother, Karen Marie Sorensen Lewis. I had known brief stories about her and where she was buried, but did not learn to appreciate her life until I looked for documentation. To me she was an example of surviving adversity. Karen was the eldest in a poor family in Denmark, and, like many, left home to work for others after her confirmation, returning to her parent’s home a few years later to have a child.  Her parents were scraping together means to emigrate to Utah, sending the family piecemeal. In 1864, with a young baby and her brother, Karen went to Copenhagen, took a ship to Hull, train to Liverpool, ship to New York (her baby was buried 3 days before landing), train to near Wyoming, Nebraska, where they joined a wagon train to Utah. Karen later married Daniel Lewis and had 9 children, 3 died of childhood diseases. 

After her husband died in 1905 as a result of a runaway team, Karen followed some of her children to eastern Idaho. Her youngest daughter’s husband was killed in a fight over water rights leaving her a widow with small children, and her second daughter died of illness, leaving a large family. Karen was on hand to be of assistance to both families. I probably felt most connected to her when I learned via family tradition that she was extremely ill the whole crossing of the Atlantic, suggesting that she, like me, had a severe problem with motion sickness, making most travel difficult.

What record set to you believe is the most under-utilized? What advice would you give students in using this record set?

As a southern states researcher, I have had great success in finding answers in court minutes and tax records. I feel both are under-utilized, especially court minutes. Unless someone has transcribed them, and provided an index, they are very time consuming to use. Often answers are found reading page by page. If abstracts for minutes are located, it is critical to determine if the abstracter included all entries or only selected specific types of entries. If a researcher has an approximate date when an event may have occurred one can read just for that time period, but may miss ancestral entries for other events not yet known to the researcher.  In using court records, the first issue is determining if minutes were kept, if they still exist, and where one can obtain access. Next, is determining what types of information were included and specific issues to search for. Then, having the time to read to locate ancestral information, understanding the laws of the time period is critical to being able to analyze the information found.

What books and periodicals would you recommend for intermediate to advanced researchers? Are there any lesser-known texts you advise?

A researcher should have some texts specific to the area or record type they are searching as well as general genealogical texts. For example, if you are interested in North Carolina (my current focus in personal research), use North Carolina Research, Genealogy & Local History, by Helen F Leary, It is invaluable for understanding North Carolina Records, and a good source for understanding records in general.

There are many good reference books. I recommend using for specific suggestions for texts as well as research strategies, records, and brief history for the areas of interest. To be effective in Problem solving a student should have both a general knowledge of records and sources as well as those specific to the time and locality of the specific project. Consultants and group members often are aware of lesser known or local resources that are helpful. The more widely you read the more likely you will find information helpful to your research.

Currently, I have The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and Crossroads, and read others as I have time, opportunity, or need. All serve to provide examples of treatment of families, and analysis of records and sources.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a genealogical educator? What advice would you give for those who would follow in your footsteps?

Helping others become more adept in their genealogical pursuits, and seeing their enthusiasm and excitement as research strategies bring success.

Those who wish to become genealogical educators need to bring a passion for genealogy, a genuine caring for people, and a willingness to share to knowledge to lift up others and help them succeed.  They should develop presentation skills that enhance their message, and be able to convey a depth of knowledge in simple terms for others to easily follow. Genealogy is a fast growing hobby and profession and good educators are needed at all levels.

Why would you recommend a student attend SLIG in general?

They are able to focus on genealogy and genealogical endeavors for a week away from family, work, and other distractions. They gain skills and understanding they can use personally and professionally and will make new friends who share a passion for genealogy and could provide a network when assistance may be needed outside their local area. Above all, SLIG can be a week of fun, while enhancing skills.

Will you share something with us that students may not know about you? Perhaps a non-genealogical hobby?

I have spent over 30 years in scouting, sometimes as den leader or 11 yr old leader, but mostly in support roles, particularly with responsibility for advancement. Besides being “leader specific” trained in all families of scouting, I am Woodbadge trained, EDGE trained, and am attending Philmont training this summer. I currently serve on the Eagle Committee as mentor, project approval and Eagle Boards, as well as chair for Adult Recognition in my district. In the council I serve on the Commissioner College Committee and the Council Registrar for Commission College. In our very large far-flung council we are holding 5 colleges a year to meet commissioner needs. I have received a Silver Beaver, and am finishing my Thesis for my College of Commissioner Science Doctoral Degree. It is a joy to meet outstanding young men during the Eagle process, and dedicated adult scouters working to provide a scouting program and support system to give young men opportunities and experiences for character development, citizenship training, and personal fitness, and role models as they learn to become men.

Any parting thoughts or advice?

Genealogy and family history is both fun and addictive. The more you learn about research techniques and analysis strategies the more successful you will be. The more you learn about ancestors and their lives and how they faced their problems the more you learn about yourself. Embrace all on your family and learn from each. Enjoy their successes and sorrow for their disappointments and failures.

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