Thursday, May 24, 2012

Josh Taylor on Research, SLIG, and Raquetball!

Josh Taylor will be coordinating "Bridging the 1780-1830 Gap: From New England to the Midwest (and points in between)" at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January of 2013. I had a chance to catch up with him and learn a little about what makes him tick:

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

My first taste of family history came when I was just eight years old, with my mother using a very early computer database. It wasn't until I was 10 that I was "hooked," when my grandmother showed me the 1850 Census for John W. Allison and his family in Gallia County, Ohio. Living above him was Thomas Allison, whom my grandmother was trying to prove was the father. I was instantly hooked on the mystery and the need to solve a puzzle. 

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?

A pet ancestor? Most certainly! Reason Shoup has sent me trolling through more records, courthouses, libraries, cemeteries, and other locations than I can count. Reason was born in 1816, most likely in Adams County, Ohio and died before 1850 somewhere between Ohio and Lee County, Iowa. He was my first true "brickwall," as his appearance in records (including the census) is almost non-existence. While I have since discovered his parents (or am at least 99% sure), Reason taught me how to research, how to make conclusions, and balance "negative evidence" against the few "document scarps" he and his family left behind.

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

By far, I think we all under-utilize land records (in all shapes and forms). So many questions and outstanding research problems have been solved by simply reading and analyzing land records. My best advice for using land records? Use them as a collective resource, take time to "read the deed," and trace each piece of property through the records.

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

From my graduate school days, I became quite fond of After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection by James West Davidson and a little little known gem, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History by Carolyn Kay Steedman.

As far as resources strictly for genealogists, I still use the Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources books published so many years ago by the American Society of Genealogists. Written before the Internet, they provide some key grounding in records and localities that you really cannot find anywhere else. 

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

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a genealogical educator is being able to watch students actually apply the sources and methods you share. With every application comes another lesson for how to use a particular record set, so you are yourself always in a state of learning. Watching someone discover a record set for the first time, and then find another link for their research makes it all worth it. As far as for someone who wants to become a genealogical educator, I think that we commonly underestimate our knowledge and our ability to share with others. Develop a teachable mindset as you are teaching, and you and your students will benefit. 

Why would you recommend a student attend SLIG in general?

 SLIG is a unique opportunity to expand your skills while in a classroom setting. The close proximity to the Family History Library enables you to immediate put your new skills to the test, which gives you the chance to learn and ask additional questions as needed throughout the week. In addition, selecting a course devoted to a particular topic is an excellent way to focus your research early in a new year. 

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

Bridging the Gap will cover one of the most difficult time periods to research in the United States. The establishment of the United States of America, the War of 1812, and the rapid expansion of the United States can cause quite a few problems for researchers. One unique factor of this course is its setting within the background of migration from New England and New York into the Midwest. Each day focuses on using particular record types to solve genealogical problems between 1780 and 1830, and each of the major states will enjoy its own case study treatment, where an instructor will share a research project that is tied to a particular locality and time period. In addition, the course offers a group-project or individual research time at the Family History Library, to allow students with an opportunity to dive into the sources we discussing in class. 

Do you have a website where students can learn more about you?

You can visit to find out a bit more about me, if you wish. 

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

Something that many might not know about me is my intense love of racquetball. I have found that Racquetball courts are an excellent place to think through complex genealogical problems or being composing outlines for lectures and articles. I certainly do not profess to be any "good" at racquetball, but I at least enjoy playing whenever I can.

Any parting thoughts or advice?

Just one, register early - SLIG fills up so fast!

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