November 2010 Genealogy Insider: Closing the Generation Gap

November 2010 Genealogy Insider: Closing the Generation Gap

Meet five genealogists who at age 26 and younger, defy brick walls—and stereotypes.

Admit it: When you think of a genealogist, the picture that pops into your head is a grandmotherly or grandfatherly type. Though most folks you see at conferences and libraries may fit that image, a youthful contingent of family historians is emerging with its own take on pedigree research. Where did these young genealogists come from? Are they part of a larger trend? We asked those in the know—five fresh-faced genealogy enthusiasts age 26 and younger.

Isaac Settle
13 • Owensboro, Ky.


FTM: How did you get interested in genealogy?
IS: My grandparents got me started when I was around 11. I am working on my mom’s side, the Nalls, and finding pictures of ancestors. I spend about two hours a week, if not more. I try to go to the genealogy room at my local library once a week.

FTM: What’s been your coolest genealogy experience?
IS: Finding a high-ranking Confederate States of America officer in the War Between the States who was a lieutenant colonel commanding Kentucky men in the battles of Vicksburg and Fort Donelson.

FTM: Who is your favorite ancestor?
IS: My fifth-great-granddad James N. Nall, because he was a very influential man in Island, Ky., and the area around it. He also helped start the Island Baptist Church around the 1840s. It’s still thriving today.

FTM: Do you talk to your friends about genealogy?
IS: Yes, I actually do. When there’s an opening in a conversation, I might throw in a story about my great-great-grandad. They always say, “Wow, how do you know all this?”

FTM: Who’s a genealogist you admire?
IS: My cousin Patricia Settle. I admire her for her ability to help people with their family trees. And she’s just a really nice person.

Meagan Sharp

17 • LaGrange, Ga.
Third runner-up in the Miss Georgia’s Outstanding Teen pageant, promoting family history as her platform. Plans to study pre-med in college.

What got you interested in genealogy? How old were you at the time?

MS: I’ve heard stories about my family members from the time I was a little girl. My maternal grandmother was the one who introduced me to genealogy research when I was around 10. She had always been interested in her family history. 

FTM: Why did you choose genealogy as your pageant platform?
MS: Because of what it has done for me. I became more connected to everything. My maternal ancestors ranged from Scottish, Irish and English to the Delaware Indians. School subjects became more interesting: When I found out that I had a grandfather many greats back who was a friend of Gen. George Washington, I wanted to know more about the Revolutionary War.

How do you promote genealogy?
MS: I visited elementary classrooms and the Boys and Girls Club. I explained that when you research your family history, it’s like climbing a tree. You start at the bottom, yourself, and work your way up. I also worked with the Georgia State Archives to film a short video on genealogy for the archives’ website.
FTM: What do your friends think of your hobby?
MS: We all are busy with some after-school activity—some dance, some play ball. I do all the normal stuff a teenager does, plus genealogy on the side.

Are more young people becoming interested in genealogy these days?

MS: I think many kids my age are interested in where they came from, probably now more than ever. The Internet makes the world a smaller place. Genealogy research does much the same thing; it connects us to people all over the world.

Elyse Doerflinger
21 • Lomita, Calif.
Studies elementary education at California State University Dominguez Hills, member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, blogs at Elyse’s Genealogy Blog.

FTM: What got you interested in family history research?
ED: Spending two weeks in Tennessee with my paternal grandpa. I asked him about his childhood, but he didn’t want to answer. I ended up having to get my questions answered by others. I learned his mother died when he was young and his father remarried quickly. His childhood was just too painful to talk about.

FTM: What’s your genealogy goal?
ED: I would like to be a genealogy speaker and writer. My goal is to teach others how to research their own family and in the process learn about themselves.

FTM: What’s been your coolest genealogy experience?
ED: I always have a lot of fun at conferences because I love being able to see my genealogy friends. There is always so much energy and excitement at these events. I always learn so much.

FTM: What’s the best ancestral “story” you’ve uncovered?
ED: My great-grandmother had a child by a man who left to fight in the Civil War. After the war, he moved to West Virginia, started another family, and never returned. She had four more children but gave them [the first] husband’s surname. Based on interviews and the names of her neighbors, I have theories as to who the biological father(s) are. Only DNA testing will tell.

FTM: Why do you think most genealogists are older?
ED: I think it’s about redefining your life purpose. When you retire, you have to redefine who you are and what you want to do. People often turn to their family trees for that. It can also happen when someone becomes a parent or when their kids move out. All of a sudden, their life purpose has changed and genealogy can fill that purpose.

FTM: How does a younger person “do genealogy” differently?

ED: I use technology a lot more often. When I have a research question or need help with something, I post it on Facebook or Twitter. Other genealogists are always willing to offer their help, advice and expertise. It is a great collaborative environment.

A.C. Ivory
22 • Taylorsville, Utah
Works full-time, attends school part-time, blogs at Find My Ancestor, volunteers as a records indexer.

FTM: What got you interested in genealogy?
ACI: I needed to fill out a five-generation pedigree chart to take with me on my LDS [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] mission, and I thought to myself, “I could ask Grandpa to fill one out because he has done it all,” but I figured I’d give it a try. As I was searching, I got bit by the genealogy bug.

FTM: What do you hope becomes of your genealogy passion?
ACI: I am pursuing it as a career. I’m planning on attending Boston University in 2011 to receive a Certificate in Genealogical Research, and after that I plan to attend Brigham Young University and work toward a bachelor’s degree in family history.

FTM: What’s been your coolest genealogical experience?
ACI: Finding out that my third-great-grandfather and my neighbor’s second-great-grandfather were friends in New Jersey. I have a journal entry from her ancestor that talks about mine. I posted the story and journal entry on my blog.

FTM: What’s the best ancestral “story” you’ve uncovered?
ACI: The story of my paternal grandfather’s life. A couple months ago I interviewed him on our way to the St. George [Utah] Family History Expo, and he talked for the whole four hours. I recorded the interview and later transcribed it.

FTM: What has another genealogist taught you about genealogy?
ACI: No matter how much you learn about a place, time period or event, there’s always something more to learn from another genealogist or historian.

FTM: What have you taught someone else about family history?
ACI: It’s not “just for old people.” Even though many of my friends think I am weird because I do genealogy, I teach them that you are never too young to learn where you came from and how you became the person you are today.

FTM: Is there a genealogist you particularly admire?
ACI: I would have to say it is Lisa Louise Cooke. It is so amazing what she does
with her podcasts, videos, classes and everything else to help all of us learn more. She is a great example of someone who turned a passion for a hobby into a job. (Editor’s note: Learn more about Cooke at <>.)

FTM: What can genealogists do to interest younger people?

ACI: Share stories and pictures of their family, especially to the young grandchildren. For me, the photos of my ancestors mean the most.

Joshua Taylor
26 • Boston
Director of education and programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

What got you interested in genealogy? How old were you?
JT: When I was 8, my mother took me to a Family History Center (branch of the Family History Library). When I was 10, I visited my grandparents, who were working at another Family History Center, and joined them there almost every day. My grandmother showed me a census record of our ancestor John W. Allison in Gallia County, Ohio, and was trying to prove that the man listed above him was his father.

FTM: What’s been your coolest on-the-job experience?
JT: I have to admit that meeting Sarah Jessica Parker and walking her through her New England ancestry [for “Who Do You Think You Are?”] was by far one of the coolest experiences.

FTM: What reactions to your youthfulness do you get at genealogy events?
JT: I started going to conferences and seminars when I was 12—sometimes without an adult—and was always asked if I needed help finding my parents or grandparents. I don’t get that anymore, but quite a few would raise an eyebrow at the 12-year-old in the front row.

FTM: What’s the best ancestral story you’ve uncovered?
JT: It’s one I’m still trying to piece together. My ancestor Reason Shoup disappeared in 1846, leaving a wife and five children in Iowa. His father, Henry Shoup, also disappeared about 1824, after his arrest for stealing farm equipment in Ohio. Because they lived in a burned county, the court records are incomplete and I have no idea what happened to him. His father-in-law, Charles Magin or McGin, was likely convicted in London for stealing a handkerchief, and sentenced to seven years in Maryland in the 1750s. They are such an interesting family and have kept me puzzled for more than 10 years.

FTM: Are more young people getting interested in genealogy?
JT: I think “Who Do You Think You Are?” is introducing a new generation to genealogy. Also, the availability of online records changes the first experiences for genealogists. The ability to see your grandparents on the census, find your great-grandfather’s WWI draft card, and find a newspaper clipping about your father getting a ticket for running a red light provides a personal experience for young people. 

FTM: What advice do you give young people who hope to work in the field?
JT: Network, network, network. Whether online or in person, meeting and networking with other professional genealogists is a terrific way to start your career. Those you meet at a conference one day will be your colleagues.

From the November 2010 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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