When most people think of genealogy, they tend to think of an older
demographic or those who have ample time on their hands to conduct
family history research.
But genealogist and co-host of Genealogy Roadshow,
D. Joshua Taylor, knows that these genealogical stereotypes are just
that — stereotypes! In fact, this young genealogist started his
genealogical studies at the tender young age of 10 and hasn’t looked
back since. And he also knows plenty of other genealogists who don’t fit
the normal genealogy stereotype.
Crestleaf recently interviewed Joshua to learn more about his
personal genealogical journey (including the discovery of a famous
distant cousin), his predictions in genealogical research advancements
and even picked his expert brain for some family history research
Q&A with D. Joshua Taylor
Crestleaf: Thanks for speaking with us today. First
things first, you definitely don’t fit the mold of the stereotypical
genealogist. What inspired you to start your genealogical studies at
such a young age?
Josh: My grandmother was the source of my early
genealogical inspiration. She was herself a genealogist, having started
in the 1970s with her application to the Daughters of the American
Revolution. She showed me a census when I was around 10 years old and
presented a mystery at the same time. I was hooked from that point
Crestleaf: What is one surprising discovery you’ve uncovered while researching your family history?
Josh: One surprising discovery I keep making over and
over is how small the world can be when you start to look at your family
history. My research has taken me far beyond the United States – to
places I never expected to be. Who knew that I would be crawling through
probate records from India, finding direct ancestors in criminal
transportation records from England to Australia, or realizing my
Italian ancestors were really French Protestants who hid in the
mountains of Northern Italy for many centuries?
Crestleaf: To you, what are the top three most important
questions people should ask when conducting oral history interviews with
their family members?
Josh: First, who was the oldest relative you knew;
make that leap from one generation to another while you can. Second, ask
them about their childhood – these are the clues and tidbits that we
cannot readily find in existing records. Finally, ask them about a
memory of yourself – too often we fail to document our own stories.
“I have met so many genealogists who do not fit the normal
demographic of what one would perceive to be a genealogist. Family
history can strike at any age, and at any time.”
Crestleaf: What is one big misconception about the genealogy community that you’ve found to be untrue?
Josh: Age. I have met so many genealogists who do not
fit the normal demographic of what one would perceive to be a
genealogist. Family history can strike at any age, and at any time.
While the younger generations might not involve themselves in the
pursuit of their past on a daily basis, they are taking advantage of
modern-day tools to engage with the past.
Crestleaf: What is the best advice you can give someone who is hitting a genealogy brick wall?
Josh: Take a break and look at the problem through a
different lens. Sometimes we get so focused on breaking through a
specific brick wall that we make certain assumptions or miss important
clues in the process. It is fine to put the files away for a bit and
come back with a fresh pair of eyes.
CL: In your opinion, what is the most underutilized genealogy tool?
|Photo credit: OregonLive.com|
Josh: Genealogical societies. They offer in-person connections, great research help, and unbeatable local knowledge.
Crestleaf: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your personal genealogical research?
Josh: Tracing a circus performer, who traveled under
multiple names and all sorts of variations. Never seemed to make the
census and spent his lifetime traveling the globe between 1850 and 1870.
Crestleaf: Can you tell us about one of the most interesting family stories from your time on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’
Josh: The first episode I was involved in was the
series premiere with Sarah Jessica Parker. I had discovered that we were
actually cousins on another line and couldn’t wait to tell her. While
that never made the show, it was fun meeting another cousin and
introducing them to our shared ancestry. The sheer excitement of family
history touches so many, and it was apparent that she was enjoying her
Crestleaf: What is your favorite part about hosting ‘Genealogy Roadshow?’
Josh: I love the diversity of the stories we tackle on
the show. It shows that family history isn’t for a specific group, but
really is for everyone. Some laugh, some cry, but all walk away with a
new memory and a different view of themselves after learning about their
“We need companies and organizations that are looking forward to what genealogists will need in 20 or 30 years…”
Crestleaf: What are your predictions for genealogical research advancements over the next five to ten years?
Josh: For one, we are going to master the ability to
read handwriting through technology. This is really going to open up the
amount of records for the general public. Think of the vast answers and
stories in land and probate records that are handwritten? The
collections of letters that mention a neighbor or friend? Unlocking that
will be a huge key.
From a technology standpoint, I am eager to see what happens when
family history meets the wearables market. What will it be like to carry
your entire family tree around on your watch? What does the industry
look like when tools push results, cousins, and all sorts of connections
to you rather than requiring a search? While the principle
methodologies behind a solid genealogical search are unwavering, the
tools will continue to shape what can be found.
Crestleaf: What is one thing you’d change about the current state of the genealogy industry?
Josh: More diversity and more startups aiming to grow
the market. We need companies and organizations that are looking forward
to what genealogists will need in 20 or 30 years and who will open
doorways to change demographics across the globe.
Crestleaf: What’s the next year look like for you, Josh? Any big genealogy plans for 2015?
Josh: Well, there are a few big plans that I can’t yet
disclose, but it will be a busy year. I have a goal to write more, and I
want to finally start a book on my circus ancestor (it is time to start
More about D. Joshua Taylor: D. Joshua Taylor, MA,
MLS holds an MLS (Archival Management) and an MA (History) from Simmons
College. Joshua is a nationally-recognized genealogical author, lecturer
and researcher who stays active in the genealogical community. He is
the current President for the Federation of Genealogical Societies
(FGS), and the former Director of Education and Programs at the New
England Historic Genealogical Society. Joshua is the recipient of
numerous awards and honors including the Federation of Genealogical
Societies Award of Merit, and the Rubincam Youth Award from the National
Genealogical Society. In addition to co-hosting ‘Genealogy Roadshow‘, he was also a featured genealogist on NBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘.