I’ve been enjoying genealogy expert Elizabeth Shown Mills‘ series in the The New York Times answering research questions and providing advice. Her second column got me thinking about what it takes to become an experienced researcher. In response to a reader asking about becoming a professional genealogist, she wrote, in part:
As genealogical professionals, we are expected to know all the records that exist for the time, place and social group in which we work. We are expected to know the laws and the legal language. We need to understand the society and the ways in which cultural heritage may have prompted forebears to ignore the civil laws.
Her words reminded me of one of my bigger genealogical successes in the past year: A friend showed me a tombstone he found in a Jewish cemetery in Mississippi which indicated the deceased had been born in 1808 in Philadelphia, and I had a hunch about what that meant. A big hunch. A crazy hunch.
It was a hunch I could only have made after having spent as many years doing Jewish genealogy as I have, and proving the hunch required marshaling all of my years of Internet research experience. Neither makes me anywhere near the level required of a professional. But for me it was a proud indicator of how far I’ve come!
Read the story below to hear how I blew my friend’s mind with my enormous discovery about his ancestry.