Ask a Genealogist: What Makes a Great Family Tree Researcher?
We spoke with one of our researchers, Kim Gilboy, to learn more about what makes a great family tree researcher. We learned that skills like analysis, teamwork, and persistence are all very important, but a love for family tree research is at the heart of every professional genealogist.
A: Genealogy research is something I absolutely love. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area and had family and friends in Utah. I’d come to Utah, spend a couple of days skiing, and then spend the rest of the week at the Family History Library. I’ve been at this for about 40 years.
I have an MBA and a doctoral degree in educational policy. And I was in university administration and then became interested in public school administration. A lot of the training I had was in research and writing, and I was able to hone those skills. I had an opportunity to do some volunteer work for a family search organization and realized I really wanted to do research.
Brigham Young University in Idaho has a family history program, and once I was finished with that, I worked on accreditation and started an internship.
Just over four years ago with Legacy Tree Genealogists, I worked part-time as a consultant and did some of my own consulting on the side with other clients. Then I started working full-time. I am so impressed by the variety of professionals at Legacy Tree, and it centers around a passion for genealogical research.
Q: What got you interested in genealogy research?
A: On my mother’s side, three of the four great grandparents lived to be lived into their 90s, and one lived to be 104. I was closest to her and was curious about her background. She was an immigrant from England. This was 40 years ago but I remember asking her questions about her family in England and what it was like.
It was something I was interested in, loved, and was curious about. You talk to most people that are into genealogy – there’s a pull and it’s kind of hard to describe.
I’ve always been interested in and curious about family history. It came from my mother and her desire to understand the past.
Q: What strengths help you regarding genealogy research?
A: I talk to a lot of people that are interested in genealogy research, but there are only a few that actually get really “sucked into it” as I do. I am incredibly persistent. And I think that probably helps with the curiosity. These people and their history are so important, and I feel like I need to tell their story. I think this passion for genealogy research is something that most professionals share.
Q: As far as your education and experience, what helps you with genealogy research?
A: I have an MBA and am a numbers person by nature. It’s helpful to be analytical. But I think also being able to write, which a lot of people think of as kind of the opposite side of the brain is, as the mathematical. That’s something I feel like I’ve had to develop. In my doctoral program, I focused on qualitative research, case studies, and interviews. Even though I’ve worked in several other fields previously, I think a lot of those skills apply directly to the work that I do now.
Q: What do you particularly like about being a professional genealogist?
A: The number of projects that we’re able to work on is helpful, but also working with colleagues and mentors on our team and the expertise that they’re able to bring in is amazing. For example, I was on a conference call with my team leader and we were looking at somebody who we couldn’t find in the census in England. She went to the National Archives and said, “Oh, did you know, you can find out exactly which census areas, how many people were missing in that area? And in this particular neighborhood, 98 people were missing on the particular census records that we’re seeing.” That’s just one example of doing this work in a professional environment. You learn from others as well as the breadth of projects that you’re working on.
Q: How important is the ability to work with others?
A: This is a challenge for a lot of genealogists. We tend to be introverts. People think I’m extroverted, but I would just love to sit in my office all day and not be interrupted by anybody, and also be focused and driven. I have access to help when I need it. And then the rest of the time, I can be rocking it in my own world. So for me, it’s an ideal situation.
Q: How do you educate yourself with events or conferences?
A: One of the things I love about Legacy Tree is they provide about a week per year for professional development. And we have quite a bit of flexibility as to how we use that.
Before I started working with Legacy Tree full-time, I would go to one-, two-, or three-week-long institutes per year. I did a lot of work in the DNA area because it was something I wanted to develop my expertise in. Everything about this job is learning. Constant learning is so important in the field.
Q: What are your thoughts regarding researching someone’s family history versus if the client were to research on their own?
A: I would say if someone is inclined to do genealogy, do it. Learning some of the things that you learn yourself is powerful in terms of your ability to relate to your ancestors and to want to keep building your family tree. And I don’t look at this as just a “fun hobby.” Yes, there is research, but the benefit is to children who know their ancestors their family history, and some of the struggles that their family has gone through.
I do a lot of research in England and people that worked in the mills and what was that like. I mean, there are a few people that were nobility, but the vast majority of them were working-class people. And what was that like? Or they served in the military, served in World War 1. What experiences did they have or what was this battle like? We try to infuse details as much as the client wants.
There may be times when you run into brick walls and you’re just stuck. And I would say that probably the majority are some people that hire us because they’re interested but don’t have the time to do it themselves.
We make sure we are good stewards of people’s money. Am I making the right decisions? Am I choosing the right plan in alignment with the client’s objective? And we take that seriously. So hopefully, when you are at the point where you think it would be useful to have professional help, you’ll be blown away by the quality of our research.
At Legacy Tree Genealogists, our researchers, editors, and project managers have varied backgrounds, educations, skills, and experiences, but one thing they all share is a passion for family history research. If you need help with your family tree research, contact us and let us put our love of research to work for you.