Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pam Sayre Chats About Research and SLIG

Next up in our SLIG blog series is Pam Sayre, CG, CGL. She's taken time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

Why would you recommend a student attend SLIG in general?

SLIG represents the opportunity to leave behind every-day cares and responsibilities to time-travel to visit your ancestors. You'll spend a week with like-minded people who will understand your passion and obsession, and you'll learn from some of the best genealogical educators in North America.

Beyond that, your soul will be fed by the majesty of the snow-capped mountains constantly in view and the inspiration of the world's largest genealogical library a short block away where you'll most likely want to spend any spare time during the week.

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

My husband Rick Sayre and I conceived the curriculum for the Researching in Washington, DC course at SLIG as a way of leading researchers to federal records and repositories such as the National Archives, Library of Congress, or DAR Library, which they might never visit in person. So much is available on the institutions' websites, but only a portion of what they hold if you're fortunate enough to visit in person. However, many records, especially those held by NARA, can be viewed on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. So between the online databases at Washington-area repositories and the film at the FHL, one really can do a lot of research at home!

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

Mrs. Novice Kirkpatrick, my eighth grade language arts teacher in Artesia, New Mexico, taught us about dialects and regionalisms in the United States, and she told us a bit about the origin of surnames. We were asked to determine how our surname might have originated, and I was off to the public library, which had only a couple shelves of genealogy and heraldry-related books. I learned that my surname, Boyer, was similar to Bowman or Archer--they were people who used bows and arrows. That, and an extreme fascination in my parents' and relatives' Ozarks accents and regionalisms, sparked my imagination.

Every time we traveled "home" to Missouri from New Mexico to visit relatives, I listened to the grownups' conversations about the "old days," and I asked about their grandparents and what life was like when they themselves were children. When I spent summers on my maternal grandparents' farm, I accompanied my grandpa to his part-time job at the local school, and I spent that time in the cemetery across the street. There I found my mother's mother and brother, her maternal and paternal grandparents, and a whole slew of other people with their surnames. Who were these people? I *had* to know. One tombstone in particular piqued my interest--it read simply, "Joel Westmoreland, Co. D, 12 KY Inf." I asked my Grandpa about it, and he said it was his father who had died when he was a young boy. He didn't know anything about his military service. At the time I had no way of knowing that the rounded top of the stone and the period in which he lived provided the answer - Union veteran of the Civil War. A couple years later, my Grandpa would give me his mother's worn well-read little personal Bible in which lay preserved an original discharge from the Union Army for Joel Westmoreland. Granny had also placed into her Bible a hand-written list of all her children's names and dates of birth, and that of herself and her husband, Joel, and their marriage date. I was off and running!

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 am fascinated by all my colorful ancestors, who often provide more footprints in court records than in church records. One of my favorite, though, is Henry Tibbs, a tobacco farmer in Metcalfe County, Kentucky. This Henry Tibbs (sometimes Tebbs--but spelling doesn't count in genealogy) appears at about age 21, and he married Arminta Smith. Another same-named individual of about the same age has thrown some researchers off, but there were definitely two Henry Tibbses in the same area.

I have tried to find Henry's father by scouring a many-county area of Kentucky and looking at all the Tibbs men--this Henry doesn't fit with them. A second cousin once removed proposed a theory that Henry was actually the son of Nathaniel Parrish, and we did find that Nathaniel had a son named Henry Parrish, the same age as my Henry, and Nathaniel married Nancy Tibbs. Aha! One might jump to the conclusion that Nancy already had a son named Henry Tibbs when she married Nathaniel, but it doesn't pan out that way.

So how did Henry Parrish become Henry Tibbs, and why did he choose to take his step-mother's maiden name? Family lore has come down in several lines of this family, from Kentucky to California, that Henry Tibbs was Indian (Native American), and everyone points to the typical "high cheekbones" and "familiarity with herbs and healing." It *is* possible that Nathaniel Parrish's first as-yet-unidentified wife was Indian, but no proof has been found in censuses and other records that provide racial or ethnic identity.Two marriage bonds for a potential marriage of Arminta Smith to 1) Henry Parrish, and a year later to 2) Henry Tibbs support the theory that Henry really was a Parrish and for some yet unknown reason changed his name to Tibbs when he became 21. I can't wait to talk to Great-great-grandpa Henry in the future and find out his whole story!

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

Most definitely court records, whether civil suits among family members or criminal case proceedings or federal actions. Court records are not among the easy records to be "cherry-picked" by new or inexperienced researchers, but they do yield some of the richest and most exciting details about ancestors who appear very few other places.

Start at the county level and look for indexes for divorce, civil proceedings, or criminal court cases. Bear in mind that not every person involved in a case will appear in an index, so you'll have to pay particular attention to collaterals and neighbors to find your ancestors. Search automated tools such as Lexis/Nexis for references to state supreme court cases that mention an ancestor. And at the federal level, visit the National Archives regional facility that holds the federal court records for the area where your ancestor.

Request and peruse docket books or any minutes of court records that exist for evidence of your ancestors' presence or dealings with the law. Even illiterate farmers knew how to use the legal system to sue siblings or other kin over a tiny piece of land or personal property!

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

I'm convinced that most genealogists don't use records from the National Archives because they think it's too difficult or expensive. I recommend Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (Eales and Kvasnicka), familiarly called "The Genie Guide" by many researchers, as a great way to get an overview of the richness of records available at NARA. Then the three-volume set Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States (Matchette), online and every-word searchable at the NARA website (, drills down to detail the record groups held by NARA. These two important reference works are often ignored or underutilized by intermediate and advanced researchers.

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

The lightbulb! I love that delighted look on a student's face that says, "Oh, wow, I could find that for MY ancestor?" I enjoy follow-up e-mails for former students, sometimes years later, when they excitedly tell me the details of a new find they made thanks to something they learned in our class.

Teaching any subject is a labor of love, but teaching someone to explore history and find an ancestor and then learn just who that person really was in this life--not just a few dates--that's a powerful mission that should be cherished and nurtured and passed on. If you want to teach genealogy, continue to learn yourself. There's always more to learn and teach about family history.

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

Who has time for anything besides genealogy? Some of my friends quilt or garden or scrapbook, but I just do genealogy. I think this fascination is partly rooted in my early career in law enforcement as an investigator. I'm still investigating, but the cases are usually very, very cold.

Any parting thoughts or advice?
Just do it. If you're interested in family history, get started now while many family members can still share their memories and knowledge with you. Ask all kinds of nosy questions, visit all your extended family, and record what you find with a note about where you found it and what your opinion of the information is (I had to sneak in source citation and evidence analysis, even for beginners).

1 comment:

  1. For those of us who cannot attend. Will this be offered later in an online study course.