Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You don't have to be a Celebrity

PBS (Faces of America) and NBC (Who Do You Think You Are) have done their part to make celebrities like Yo-Yo Ma, Emmit Smith, Meryl Streep and Lisa Kudrow look like ordinary people, emotionally moved as they learn about their ancestors.

Most of us aren't famous, but we have something in common with those celebrities: we also have ancestors. It's how we got here.

If you're new to genealogy and have just stumbled onto this blog, you might say something like "genealogists, geologists... what's the difference? They've both got rocks in their heads." Fair enough, but I actually think both rocks and ancestors are pretty interesting. As we chisel away at our family history, we learn a lot about our cultural heritage, the places our ancestors lived, and the times in which they lived.

When the original Who Do You Think You Are? program ran on British TV, millions flocked to genealogy. Many of us are hoping the same thing happens here. But, we are wary. The TV shows can make genealogy look both glamorous and easy, but we need to keep in mind that the networks and their sponsors had deep pockets to hire professional researchers to dig in courthouses, libraries and archives.

Genealogy is not quite that easy, but beginners need not despair. Much help is close at-hand. A little searching will turn up books, websites, podcasts and various other sources of help. I can't begin to list them all, but for beginners, I especially recommend guides at the, as well as Christine Rose's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy. The Minnesota Genealogical Society uses Rose's book for its beginning genealogy course.

Above all, I want to pitch the benefits of joining a local or state genealogy organizaton such as MGS. Genealogical societies offer libraries, classes, newsletters and journals. But, the best reason to join a genealogy organization is the opportunity it affords for meeting other people who share your interest in genealogy and family history. They are the best teachers because they have passion. And, they are typically pretty interesting people, to boot.

So, when you're talking about Who Do You Think You Are? over the office water-cooler, suggest that your friends join a local or state genealogical society. They'll get good help, and you'll be helping support a network of people who make the genealogical world go round.

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