It’s been a little while since I published a How They Do It interview and I’m delighted to present this one, from David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston and co-host of the Extreme Genes podcast. David is a prominent speaker at genealogy conferences and I was thrilled that he agreed to participate when I approached him at the NGS conference last year!
How long have you been doing genealogy?
I started being interested in genealogy as a child at the age of seven during the Bicentennial in 1976. Seeing Roots on Television also ignited this passion which I have enjoyed for over 40 years now.
What’s your favorite thing about being a genealogist?
My favorite thing in genealogy is having had the opportunity for the past 27 years to work at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston and assist others with their research. The ability to pass along a tip, or have a full day consult and break down a genealogical brick wall with a fellow genealogist is quite rewarding.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing your genealogy?
I have been currently undertaking during COVID-19 to organize my genealogical records digitally. Creating digital folders for each ancestor and scanning documents. As it is for most people, the challenge is finding the time to commit to your own research. So I would say my biggest challenge is “free time”.
What is your favorite technology tool for genealogy?
I enjoy all the tools for genetic genealogy. However I must say that I have enjoyed Gedmatch and DNA Painter the most in the last couple years for research into DNA mysteries.
If you were starting out new as a genealogist what would you do differently?
I would concentrate on getting all the stories from your older relatives before they are gone. By the time I was 30 my parents had both died, and also my grandparents. Stories are so important because they bring our ancestors back to life. A life story can be compared to like the dash on a gravestone, the names and dates are important – but the dash gives us the stories of their lifetime.
Do you keep a research log? If so, what format?
I use notebooks for each research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I look back through these notebooks and use forms to list my to do list so I do not duplicate my research efforts twice.
How do you keep track of clues or ideas for further research?
I often use a genealogical program or an online tree to add notes that I can go back and reference. I also print off these notes and add them to a binder.
How do you go about sharing your personal research with cousins or other interested parties?
I believe in public trees online. This is how people will find you, and you then have the ability to connect with lost family members. I also create “homestead” groups on Facebook to share the photos and stories I have with cousins who are not on commercial genealogical websites.
What’s the most important thing you do to prepare for a research trip?
I keep a genealogical notebook that I have for research trips handy and updated. I bring a laptop computer, a portable hard drive, and a few portable thumb drives. I make sure my camera has plenty of space, or my cloud-based storage will allow for up to 1,000 images.
What’s your biggest piece of advice to genealogists in terms of organizing their research?
Find a system that works for you. But also create a system that your family members will understand after you’re gone. There are many publications on organizing your research to guide you. I find having folders on each family surname I have has worked best for me over the past forty-plus years.
Do you have a dedicated space in your home for doing genealogy research? What’s it like?
I split my time between my downstairs office computer, and an old bedroom now converted into my genealogical archives in my home.
Do you have anything to add?
Your genealogy is the story of your ancestors, but it is also important to concentrate on your recent family members. Have you ever written down how your parents met? What were all the place you lived, worked or went to school? Have you identified all the photos you have ever taken? When you find it frustrating that you cannot identify photos, or not locate stories on your ancestors – remember someday you will be an ancestor too. Take on the responsibility of recording your story, and that of your parents and grandparents. We are the story tellers for the generations not yet born. Let’s teach them about our generation, and leave them a rich genealogical heritage to be proud of starting from you and going back in time.
Thank you, David! The message about taking responsibility of capturing stories and identifying photos for our descendants is so important! You can learn more about David and read his blog posts on the American Ancestors blog, Vita Brevis. I also enjoy following him on Twitter at @DLGenealogist.