Thank you to the family history research site Crestleaf for contributing this guest post.
When most people think of genealogy, they tend to think of an older demographic or those who have ample time on their hands to conduct family history research.
But genealogist and co-host of Genealogy Roadshow, D. Joshua Taylor, knows that these genealogical stereotypes are just that — stereotypes! In fact, this young genealogist started his genealogical studies at the tender young age of 10 and hasn’t looked back since. And he also knows plenty of other genealogists who don’t fit the normal genealogy stereotype.
Crestleaf recently interviewed Joshua to learn more about his personal genealogical journey (including the discovery of a famous distant cousin), his predictions in genealogical research advancements and even picked his expert brain for some family history research advice.
Q&A with D. Joshua Taylor
Crestleaf: Thanks for speaking with us today. First things first, you definitely don’t fit the mold of the stereotypical genealogist. What inspired you to start your genealogical studies at such a young age?
JT: My grandmother was the source of my early genealogical inspiration. She was herself a genealogist, having started in the 1970s with her application to the Daughters of the American Revolution. She showed me a census when I was around 10 years old and presented a mystery at the same time. I was hooked from that point forward.
Crestleaf: What is one surprising discovery you’ve uncovered while researching your family history?
JT: One surprising discovery I keep making over and over is how small the world can be when you start to look at your family history. My research has taken me far beyond the United States – to places I never expected to be. Who knew that I would be crawling through probate records from India, finding direct ancestors in criminal transportation records from England to Australia, or realizing my Italian ancestors were really French Protestants who hid in the mountains of Northern Italy for many centuries?
Crestleaf: To you, what are the top three most important questions people should ask when conducting oral history interviews with their family members?
JT: First, who was the oldest relative you knew; make that leap from one generation to another while you can. Second, ask them about their childhood – these are the clues and tidbits that we cannot readily find in existing records. Finally, ask them about a memory of yourself – too often we fail to document our own stories.
“I have met so many genealogists who do not fit the normal demographic of what one would perceive to be a genealogist. Family history can strike at any age, and at any time.”
Crestleaf: What is one big misconception about the genealogy community that you’ve found to be untrue?
JT: Age. I have met so many genealogists who do not fit the normal demographic of what one would perceive to be a genealogist. Family history can strike at any age, and at any time. While the younger generations might not involve themselves in the pursuit of their past on a daily basis, they are taking advantage of modern-day tools to engage with the past.
Crestleaf: What is the best advice you can give someone who is hitting a genealogy brick wall?
JT: Take a break and look at the problem through a different lens. Sometimes we get so focused on breaking through a specific brick wall that we make certain assumptions or miss important clues in the process. It is fine to put the files away for a bit and come back with a fresh pair of eyes.
Crestleaf: In your opinion, what is the most underutilized genealogy tool?
JT: Genealogical societies. They offer in-person connections, great research help, and unbeatable local knowledge.
Crestleaf: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your personal genealogical research?
JT: Tracing a circus performer, who traveled under multiple names and all sorts of variations. Never seemed to make the census and spent his lifetime traveling the globe between 1850 and 1870.
Crestleaf: Can you tell us about one of the most interesting family stories from your time on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’
JT: The first episode I was involved in was the series premiere with Sarah Jessica Parker. I had discovered that we were actually cousins on another line and couldn’t wait to tell her. While that never made the show, it was fun meeting another cousin and introducing them to our shared ancestry. The sheer excitement of family history touches so many, and it was apparent that she was enjoying her experience.
Crestleaf: What is your favorite part about hosting ‘Genealogy Roadshow?’
JT: I love the diversity of the stories we tackle on the show. It shows that family history isn’t for a specific group, but really is for everyone. Some laugh, some cry, but all walk away with a new memory and a different view of themselves after learning about their past.
“We need companies and organizations that are looking forward to what genealogists will need in 20 or 30 years…”
Crestleaf: What are your predictions for genealogical research advancements over the next five to ten years?
JT: For one, we are going to master the ability to read handwriting through technology. This is really going to open up the amount of records for the general public. Think of the vast answers and stories in land and probate records that are handwritten? The collections of letters that mention a neighbor or friend? Unlocking that will be a huge key.
From a technology standpoint, I am eager to see what happens when family history meets the wearables market. What will it be like to carry your entire family tree around on your watch? What does the industry look like when tools push results, cousins, and all sorts of connections to you rather than requiring a search? While the principle methodologies behind a solid genealogical search are unwavering, the tools will continue to shape what can be found.
Crestleaf: What is one thing you’d change about the current state of the genealogy industry?
JT: More diversity and more startups aiming to grow the market. We need companies and organizations that are looking forward to what genealogists will need in 20 or 30 years and who will open doorways to change demographics across the globe.
Crestleaf: What’s the next year look like for you, Josh? Any big genealogy plans for 2015?
JT: Well, there are a few big plans that I can’t yet disclose, but it will be a busy year. I have a goal to write more, and I want to finally start a book on my circus ancestor (it is time to start writing!).
Watch Joshua Taylor put his genealogical skills to use on Genealogy Roadshow which airs every Tuesday at 8pm on PBS!
Use some of Joshua’s expert tips to start building your Crestleaf Family Tree!