Why would you recommend a student attend SLIG in general?
SLIG is an intense immersion program where you are instructed by experienced professionals during the day and have the opportunity to practice what you learned in the evening. The close proximity of the Family History Library is definitely a plus!
Will you tell us a little bit about what makes your SLIG course unique among genealogical education offerings?
Researching Your English Ancestors: Beyond the Parish Register course is a fantastic opportunity to learn about valuable lesser-used records of England from British research experts who actually use these records and lecture about them worldwide.
Eventually, all British researchers who want to extend their ancestral lines beyond the 19th and 20th centuries will need to understand and employ a variety of England’s lesser-used records. What better time and place to learn about these records than in a SLIG immersion course.
When did you first start researching your family history? Was there a moment when you knew you were “hooked?”
I began researching my family history when I was 16 or 17 years old and dabbled with it over the next 20 years while pursuing college degrees and working full-time. Serious pursuit of my family history began in 1989. I soon became “hooked” as I learned about my ancestors’ lives and came to appreciate their history—my history. The more I learned about my ancestors, the more I understood myself. I started to feel connected to the universe in a way I hadn’t experienced previously. Family history wasn’t just an interest or a hobby anymore; it became a mission to fulfill. I felt compelled to discover not only my ancestry, but also my husband’s. Serious pursuit of family history as a business happened about 2004.
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?
How could I pick just one? I intensely respect and admire my Simpson and Wake lines from Northumberland and Durham counties in England. Some were entrepreneurs with keen business acumen. Others were coal miners and railway workers whose challenging lives I have come to admire due to my study of the social, economic, cultural, and political history of the coal-mining areas of Durham County.
Of course, I have my favorite villains too—an illegal alien ancestor who associated with the mafia in New York City, a Civil War deserter who ended up in Sing Sing (a federal prison in New York) after being convicted for highway robbery, and so on.
I have learned from my ancestors that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and moments of brilliance and despair. Sometimes we make serious mistakes, but I believe our choices are usually based on what we believe is best for us at the time. This attitude helps me to accept what I learn about my ancestors, to better understand them, to appreciate them, and in turn, to better understand and accept myself.
What record set to you believe is the most under-utilized? What advice would you give students in using this record set?
Probate records! So many English research problems are resolved with probate! I’ve identified the parents of children who were never christened (or whose christenings weren’t recorded), linked generations by using properties described in wills, discovered previously unknown family members, and extended ancestral lines by several generations using probate.
My advice for students interested in using England’s pre-1858 probate records effectively is to learn how to deal with the hierarchical ecclesiastical court structure, take a paleography course, and look for little clues in the probate records that can bring large results.
What books and periodicals would you recommend for intermediate to advanced researchers? Are there any lesser-known texts you advise?
I would definitely recommend Mark Herber’s Ancestral Trails (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2004) for a general overview of England’s records. Depending upon the topic, there are many more specific books I would recommend (you’ll have to attend this English course to construct a list!) For example, if you want to learn more about British Army records, I would suggest two excellent well-written books—Simon Fowler’s Army Records for Family Historians (London: PRO Publications, 1992) and Michael J. Watts and Christopher T. Watts’ My Ancestor was in the British Army (London: Society of Genealogists, 1995).
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 most rewarding aspect of being a genealogical educator is “seeing the light go on” in students’ faces. It’s the “ah-hah!” moments when bits of scattered information come together in a meaningful way.
My advice for those who want to become genealogical educators is to begin right now. Develop lessons on topics that you are comfortable with and find a location where you can present them. Perhaps a local Family History Center will allow you to conduct classes if you make arrangements in advance. Experience is critical—so is student feedback.
Will you share something with us that students may not know about you? Perhaps a non-genealogical hobby?
I am a hiking fanatic! Saturdays and vacations are built around hiking adventures. This addiction is not only good exercise and a stress reducer, but it satisfies a need for solace and beauty.
Any parting thoughts or advice?
Come with an open, inquisitive mind and apply what you learn as soon as you can. Nothing substitutes for experience!