A teen family historian defies conventions about age and genealogy.
Anthony Ray loves doing genealogy research and being a member of the Antelope Valley Genealogical Society, <www.avgenealogy.org>. Perfectly natural. But this Californian is not whom you'd think of as a typical genealogical society board member.
Ray, who heads up three committees for the society, is a 16-year-old who's been actively involved in ancestral research for three years.
Why is someone just old enough to drive so active in a discipline generally viewed as the domain of older, more-seasoned folks? He jumped into genealogy for some of the same reasons you did: This teenager has a profound love of family and history.
"When I was young, I remember seeing all the old, black-and-white family photos, and hearing the family stories," Ray says. "It made me very curious. Who were those people in the pictures, and where did they come from?" His grandparents told him some, but he wanted to know more.
Ray spent hours interviewing family members and continued his research by seeking birth and marriage certificates, and funeral notices. Before long, he was looking to other genealogists for help gathering more information.
Enter the Antelope Valley society, headquartered in northern Los Angeles County at the western edge of the Mojave Desert. The group has about 125 members, all substantially senior to Anthony.
"Most of our members are in their 40s and 50s and older," says Shirley Harrington, who at 72 is the society's president. "But we've all taken Anthony under our wings. He fits right in. He's very mature and grown up in so many ways. Age is never a factor."
That might be putting it mildly. Within a year of joining at age 13, Ray became chairman of the publicity committee. He also chairs the cemetery committee. And now he's leading an effort to form a Hispanic genealogy team that'll organize low-cost classes on Catholic church records, civil records, and other topics of particular interest to this growing segment of researchers.
At a September society meeting, Ray presented "How I Researched My Five Hispanic Families," describing his search for members of the Sortillon and Ortega clans on his dad's side, and Berreyesa, Peña and Trujillo families on his mom's. He started a Web site <freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~berreyesaresearch/> for the descendants of his fifth-great-grand-parents Nicolas Berreyesa and Gertrudis Peralta, where he posts sources and a list of researchers.
"He handles the responsibility so well," Harrington says. "I think part of it has to do with him being the oldest in a large family. He's very focused and committed."
Ray is the oldest of Art and Elessar Ray's six children. His Dad is assistant manager of a grocery store; his mom works in home decorating at a building-supply store not far from their home in Palmdale, a Los Angeles suburb.
Both parents work full-time, so his grandmothers home-school Ray and his brother and four sisters. "We're a very close-knit family," Ray says. "We do almost everything together, but we have different interests. I'm the only one who's really into genealogy."
He's also into a number of other things, including listening to and playing classical music, collecting coins, reading and photography. He figures one day he'll be a minister, a historian or a musician. Undoubtedly, "genealogist" will still be on the list.
The same kid who might yawn through a seventh-grade lesson on the Spanish-American War would eagerly devour the story of his ancestor's stint with the Rough Riders. These resources will help youngsters start discovering their family history:
Cyndi's List Kids and Teens <cyndislist.com/kids.htm>
Family History Kids <www.familyhistorykids.com>
Family Tree Magazine: Genealogy for Kids <www.familytreemagazine.com/kids>
USGenWeb Kidz <rootsweb.com/-usgwkidz>
From the January 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine