Archiver > POYTHRESS > 2006-10 > 1160527269

From: "John M. Poythress" <>
Subject: Re: [POYTHRESS] WSJ.com - Searching for Life's Connection With thePast
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 20:41:09 -0400
In-Reply-To: <452C1641.8080907@earthlink.net>

-----Original Message-----
[mailto:] On Behalf Of Barbara
Sent: Tuesday, October 10, 2006 5:53 PM
To: Poythress List
Subject: [POYTHRESS] WSJ.com - Searching for Life's
Connection With the Past

With thanks to Maynard for finding this for us to read:

From Wall Street Journal
October 10, 2006; Page B6

Searching for Life's Connection With the Past
Aided by Online Records,
More Hobbyists Turn
Genealogy Into a Business

Ten years ago, Laura Prescott immersed herself in her
family's history
and its tales of Westward-bound pioneers, New England
Revolutionary soldiers and Mayflower passengers.

Following the trail of ancestors who lived in New Hampshire
Massachusetts in the 17th century, Ms. Prescott saw "how
much my family
was tied into the nation's history, just on a common level"
as farmers,
tradespeople and Minutemen, she says.

Now Ms. Prescott, 48, a college history major who worked in
banking and
marketing, is turning her love of a good puzzle, a gripping
story and an
era gone by into a full-time profession. Last year, she
joined the
growing ranks of self-employed professional genealogists who
make a
living tracing and chronicling the lives of ordinary

"You can be a professional genealogist if you can get as
interested in
someone else's family as you are in your own," she says. "My
big passion
in genealogy is not just the names and the dates and the
facts. It's
tying it into history and putting flesh on the bones of the
data you can

Before the Internet, genealogy "was primarily a hobby for
people," says Kathleen W. Hinckley, owner of Family
Detective, of
Westminster, Colo., and executive director of the
Association of
Professional Genealogists.

Indeed, "it wasn't economically feasible to make a living at
it before
the Internet," when travel and printing costs added up to
big expenses,
says Loretta Dennis Szucs, author of genealogy's modern
bible, "The Source."

Professional genealogists charge an average of about $50 an
depending on what part of the country they are in, and
whether they
offer special expertise such as language skills.

Genealogy is still largely a self-taught trade. Today, only
institution, Utah's Brigham Young University, offers a
degree in
genealogy, and it is closely tied to the Mormon faith, which
genealogy because of a belief that the family is the key
organizing unit
in both this life and the afterlife. Indeed, Salt Lake City
is the home
of the world's largest genealogical library, the Family
History Library.

For Ms. Prescott, who has her own Web site,
extensive research makes the difference. To bring her
subjects to life,
she studies their towns and times, seeking out county
histories to learn
why people settled there and what kind of community they
created. And
she studies newspaper articles, immigrant and naturalization
land deeds, pension files, wills and probate records, and
neighbors' diaries -- an exhaustive search that takes time
and tenacity.
Court records can provide particularly juicy tidbits on
family dramas
like land disputes, divorces and arrests for transgressions
prostitution to horse theft, she says.

Ms. Prescott brings these records together in a report
detailing where
she looked, copies or summaries of what she found and,
important, details of what she didn't find. Records can be
incomplete or
lost to flood, fire or time, and relatives may have left
nary a trace.

This plunge into the past by Ms. Prescott and her peers has
been enabled
and driven by the Internet and the rush to digitize data
such as census,
birth and death records and make them available online.

The advent of consumer friendly sites has created a boom in
hobbyists, which is in turn nurturing future professionals
and their

But it creates competition, as well, and today's
genealogists must offer
strong research skills and a deep knowledge of the potential
both online and in places like county courthouses, state and
archives and at the Family History Library and its satellite
which are maintained by the Mormon Church.

Genealogy's popularity has been fed by other events, too,
such as the
1976 bicentennial, which sparked a wave of interest in
family history.

"It's all history mysteries," and it's all about the
individual's own
life, says Megan Smolenyak, the genealogist and author who
corrected history by uncovering the identity of the real
Annie Moore, an
Irish girl documented as the first immigrant to enter Ellis
Island who
was later confused with another woman of the same name.
"That's why so
many people get addicted to it."

Ms. Smolenyak, 46, who was a management consultant for 15
years until
she changed careers, has made a living mainly as a
consultant on
television programs, and by helping the U.S. Army track down
the family
members of unaccounted soldiers from past wars. She says she
does 90% of
her work on the Internet, and has her own Web site,
honoringourancestors.com, but she is also quick to pick up
the phone and
call distant family members or anyone else who might speed
her research.
"The two most helpful populations for me are librarians and
funeral home
directors," she says.

But it still isn't easy. D. Joshua Taylor, 21, of Boston,
compiling genealogies at age 10 and used his skills to help
pay for his
college education. He has decided, in his case, that making
a living --
and having health insurance -- by serving clients alone
"would be
difficult, if not impossible." While he still takes private
cases, he is
now working for a genealogical society and is in school for
a dual
masters in history and archival management to aid a career
as a librarian.

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