Sunday, September 18, 2011

On Education

I taught a class on organizing your family history yesterday to a genealogy society and I'll admit that a few days before I was thinking, "Why do I do this?" I have taught at various venues for a number of years here in my community and have always enjoyed it. But every once in a while, when I look at my absolutely crazy schedule, I wonder if I should continue. Is it really worth it? But then I teach again and I remember, "Oh yeah! This is why I do this!" I have to thank everyone at the Jefferson County Genealogical Society for being so warm and welcoming. It was a beautiful drive to Chimacum (near Port Townsend), and the view of the Olympic Mountains as I drove over the Hood Canal Bridge was inspiring. But really the highlight of the whole day was getting to teach those wonderful people. They were so gracious and kind, and I just had so much fun!

I have always loved attending genealogy seminars and programs. Heck, I just enjoy learning period, full stop. I remember taking a Career Interest class at Bellevue Community College back in the day and one of the things they measured was how much you enjoyed learning and what type of situation you learned best in. Were you a college lecture-type person? Maybe you learned better in a hands-on trade school environment? As soon as I got my results back, I knew they had me pegged: I was listed as potential PhD material. Now, this had nothing to do with being intelligent or not. It was simply that I love to learn in the college environment and apparently they figured I was good to go for long enough to get to that level. Truth is, I'm back in college for my second bachelor's degree (it's tough to go get a Master's in Computer Science when your original degree was a Bachelor of Science in Zoology). Is it harder at my age? Yeah, I'll admit that I find some things more difficult. Am I enjoying it? You bet I am!

What I find interesting these days is how I'm viewed in the classroom. I am, on average, old enough to be most of these kids' mother. No kidding... I attended the orientation in August for the program I'm starting later this month at the University of Washington Tacoma campus and actually had one of the kids say to me, after I explained the pros and cons of the workshop classes, "Ok Mom, we'll sign up for the workshops." When I later asked the department advisor how I got into the program (since as a post baccalaureate student I didn't have a very good chance), she said that the head of the program took a second look at my application and said, "Oh definitely. We want this kind of diversity." That led me to think, "Me? Diverse?" When I told my husband about this, he laughed and asked how it felt to be diverse because I was old. Let's just say I didn't find him all that amusing, especially given that he's 14 years older than me! But I really do enjoy the atmosphere I'm in with those kids (and I can rightfully refer to them as kids, since I have children their age) and the energy they bring to what they do. It makes me remember what it was like to be that age, going to college for the first time, and trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. (By the way, when I solve that little mystery, you all will be the first to know...)

The interesting thing that I've found is that the more I learn, the more I love to teach. I have taught genealogy seminars in public libraries, retirement communities, LDS Family History Centers, and at our state genealogy conference. But then I have also taught teenagers in early morning seminary for church (yeah, 6:00 a.m. every weekday morning back then!), little ones in Primary classes, music during Sharing Time, preteens in Sunday School, women in Relief Society, and occasionally Sunday School. I'm currently teaching some of the young women in our ward. I even recently had the rather unnerving opportunity to fill in during our Sunday School class with no previous preparation. And let me tell you, we have amazing sisters that teach our Sunday School class; they are a tough act to follow! I'll be honest though and say that I found it a very interesting experience. It's not often you have to fly by the seat of your pants, but I got the chance that day, and thank goodness for wonderful class members who contributed and didn't let me fall on my face! So I think that's why I enjoyed teaching yesterday so much. I often find that I get as much out of it as the people that attend. The people who attended yesterday's class asked interesting questions; they obviously wanted to learn, and that made all the difference for me as the instructor. It just feels good to share what you know and be appreciated for it.

In reality, education at any age is a choice. We can choose to rest on our laurels and just go with what we already know, or we can get out there and try to learn one more new thing. Or may two... or three... I find that in the genealogical realm, there are a whole host of ways to do this, including taking online classes through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies in Toronto (I'm about 2/3 done with my certificate program!), or through the National Genealogical Society. Don't have that kind of time? Try the lessons on that involve finding your ancestors during their Five-Minute Genealogy courses. How did I learn about those? I read Cyndi Howell's blog and you can too!

So go out there and learn something new today. It doesn't have to be genealogy related of course, but then again, why shouldn't it be?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Serendipity of Genealogy

I was struck once again a few weeks ago by how fascinating it is that when we start on the journey of family history, we so often end up finding out about connections we have with friends that we knew nothing about. When down in Utah visiting some very dear family friends, I mentioned that I remembered her saying a few years back that she was descended from a Skidmore ancestor. I had been curious about it for quite some time, since I too am descended from a Skidmore ancestor, but had never pursued it. Hers was a Loyalist who went to Canada, mine ended up in Virginia. One time a few years ago, when their son and his family were up visiting us, their grandson asked my son, "Are we cousins?" It was a sweet question, as our families are so close, but we all just sort of laughed and forgot about it. During this recent visit we finally sat down, she with her PAF database, and me with my RootsMagic one, to see if we could find a connection. Sure enough, to our delight, we discovered that she and I are 9th cousins, once removed. Our common ancestor is John Skidmore, b. 1643 in Massachusetts. That makes me 10th cousins with her children and my children are 11th cousins with her grandchildren. Now, my husband often laughs and says that this is akin to not being related at all, but I don't care. I can honestly claim them as mine!

I had another similar experience when a family moved into our LDS ward a number of years ago and the wife and I became very good friends almost instantly. Of course, our mutual obsession with genealogy didn't hurt! We had known one another for probably over a year when one night we took my family history Sunday School class to the local LDS Family History Center. I asked if she was okay to help the people who had come because I wanted to go and look at some Wythe Co., Virginia marriage records on microfilm. She looked startled and said, "You have Wythe Co. ancestors? I have Wythe Co. ancestors too!" Well, come to find out, there was some distant intermarriage of cousins, but it turned out that her ancestors and mine lived in the same small village and went to the same church. Crazy! But it gets better...

Probably five years after we'd met I was working on my husband's southern Polish lines. I knew that her husband had Polish lines on his mother's side, including the name Banas. One night, as I was squinting over some very old parish registers from Borowa and the surrounding villages near Mielec, I came upon the name Banas several times. When I called her and asked her to send me her husband's pedigree chart, it was to find out that his ancestors and my husband's ancestors lived in neighboring villages about 5 km away from each other. I find that extraordinary...

Henry Z. Jones has written several books on this topic and how often coincidence and "chance" seem to play a role in our finding our ancestors. I'm not sure I'd call it chance... I honestly believe that these individuals want to be found. I also believe that we are often brought together with people who are related to us or can help us further our research in often miraculous ways. I have seen it in my own life and I am oh so thankful for it!

Monday, September 12, 2011

My shiny new blog...

So, this will be the inaugural post to my newly minted blog... I suppose I'd better say something profound.......

Oh well, never mind; I'll just be me. :)

I have wanted to write a blog for some time now, especially when it comes to some of my thoughts on family history. It's just that life has been too busy for me to give it a go. After attending the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy in July though, I felt like I'd better get down to it. As mentioned above, it isn't that I necessarily have anything especially profound to share, but I'd like to be able to wax lyrical about both old and new topics in genealogy and occasionally the vicissitudes of life. One of the family history topics I'm fascinated with at the moment is cloud computing.

What does cloud computing have to do with genealogy? Well, as Josh Taylor shared with us at the conference, it could potentially have a LOT to do with it. The idea that you can not only store your scanned images/documents in a remote location (automatic offsite backup!), but that you can then access them from any device you happen to be using or, barring that, from any Internet connection is pretty appealing. I have taught classes for years on organizing your family history files and the combination of being able to digitize files and store them for anytime/anywhere retrieval just sounds like something out of a fairy tale!

As a result, I'm investigating... I downloaded DropBox today in order to check it out and so far I like what I see. I have it installed on my own Windows laptop and my husband's Mac desktop, and I also installed the DropBox app on my iPhone. Pretty slick! It also allows you the ability to share folders with others so that they can see your vacation photos, cute pics of your kids, or that extremely rare deed you just found in your great-grandmother's cedar chest after all these years. It has great potential and I'll be spending this week scanning and uploading some documents just to see how things go as far as storage and such. They give you 2GB for free, but you can get 50GB for $9.99/mo. if you need more space. This same idea extends to the iCloud recently announced by Apple. I'll be interested to see how that pans out...

Speaking of teaching classes, I'm going to be giving a seminar in Chimacum, WA to the Jefferson County Genealogical Society this coming Saturday, September 17 at 10:00 a.m. on Organizing Your Family History to Stay Sane. If you have an interest, drop in!