I have had some interesting conversations lately that have gotten me thinking about the paths we all take to genealogy – particularly those who are deeply involved in the genealogy community either as volunteers or as professionals. I love to hear about people’s “lives before genealogy.” Of course, we each have a different path that brought us to genealogy. And I think this is wonderful – and important. Because we come to genealogy from different directions and backgrounds, we bring different skills and experiences with us. That means that we each have something unique to contribute.
The first conversation that got me thinking about this was an interview I did with Pamela Boyer Sayre. I’ll post the interview next week – so be sure to check back then. She talked about her life before genealogy working as a police detective and a computer programmer. I’ll write more next week, but you can imagine the skills that she brought with her to genealogy. The second was an interview my friend, Marian Pierre-Louis of the Roots and Ramble blog, did with me. As we talked about genealogy research and my book, The Journey Takers, I thought about how I got where I am – and then where I want to go in the future.
I have wanted to be a writer, specifically an author of books, since I was five years old – long before I had any idea what a genealogist was! There has never been a day since then that I didn’t want to be a writer. My interest in genealogy didn’t get sparked until years later. That’s a story by itself – maybe I’ll write another post about that.
In college, I was a history major. I studied at Brigham Young University, probably the only college in the country where it was actually possible to major in family history. But I didn’t. I actually considered it, but my advisor said that since I planned to go to graduate school, I would be better off with a straight history major. I focused on German history and on social history. In fact, I had a minor in sociology. One of my favorite college courses was a class called “Social History” taught by Dr. Kathryn Daynes.
In some ways, I only had a short life before genealogy. My first job out of college was working full time as a professional genealogist, tracing other people’s German roots. Still, my interest in writing and social history has continued to impact my genealogy path. I don’t take clients now. Instead, I write for genealogy magazines. I do not see myself as a genealogist who likes to write. I see myself as a genealogist and as a writer. In other words, writing is not simply part of my genealogy identity. It is an identity of its own. I have never written exclusively for genealogy publications. I have also published articles in straight history magazines on topics like colonial etiquette and Henry Hudson and in other publications on topics not really related to genealogy at all such as indigestion in pregnancy and on a program that helped narrow the racial achievement gap in Wisconsin schools. I have also hoped that The Journey Takers can reach beyond the genealogy community to appeal to people who relate to its story as mothers of small children even if they don’t relate as genealogists.
As for what the future holds, I hope to continue combining writing, social history, and genealogy. To me, they are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them. I hope the future holds another book or two too! (A small confession: my “dream job” for the future would also combine being a professional traveler – but I haven’t figured out a way to get paid to go on vacation yet. I’m still pondering this…)
I’d love to hear about your “life before genealogy” or your "life outside genealogy" and how that has shaped your course as a genealogist – what skills you have brought with you or what skills you continue to focus on now because of your “other” interests.