Thursday, January 2, 2014

Day 235 - Attending a Genealogical Society Meeting

I have never been to a Genealogical Society meeting. While a Genealogical Society meeting is not something I ever really sought to experience, I have always had a small but persistent desire to trace my ancestry back to its origins in Europe. Basic claims and stories about my family’s heritage I heard growing up gave some insight into this background, but all of them either ended with my great grandparents or lacked specifics. As a result, I have largely been in the dark about the names and faces that came before me, and my ample curiosity made me periodically consider delving into genealogical research throughout my adult life.

Despite my aspirations to learn more about my family’s history, I consistently faced the same hurdles each time the thought of tracing my lineage would cross my mind. Namely, I had no idea how or where to start. I knew I needed names and potentially some dates, but I didn’t know what resources to turn to and, frankly, I didn’t trust the generic pay-for-access services I would periodically see in advertisements. As a result, I put off the idea of tracing my family history each time the idea would occur to me, figuring one day I would take some time to finally learn what I needed to do to get into genealogical research.

The meeting location
Ultimately, that perspective led me to jot “trace my lineage” to my list of potential “I have never...” experiences I could tackle over the course of my year of new experiences. Of course, I knew that would require some background on the process of genealogy, which caused me to begin looking for ways to learn more about the practice. Although I came across many books on the subject, my preference for in-person teaching and the limited amount of time I had on a daily basis left me looking for alternatives. Although this effort yielded little success earlier in my “I have never...” year, it did make me aware of the local Madison Genealogical Society, which I figured would be a good resource when I finally decided to act on my intentions to trace my lineage.

The program notes
Unfortunately, my tendency to put off this effort resurfaced as the year progressed, causing me to put the idea of tracing my family’s history on the back burner. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 was approaching that I accidentally stumbled upon a notice for a Genealogical Society meeting that caused me to revisit the idea. As luck would have it, the posting I encountered referenced an upcoming meeting during which a certified Genealogist, George Findlen, was scheduled to give a presentation titled, “What is Genealogy, Anyway?” I immediately took note of the timing and subject matter of the meeting, which seemed beyond coincidence given the random nature of my coming across an event tailored to my exact needs after months of not encountering anything about Genealogy. As a result, I set made room for the event in my calendar and prepared for my first ever Genealogical Society meeting early in 2014, hoping I would walk away with the knowledge I needed to make good on a long delayed goal of finding my family’s history.

After a few weeks, the scheduled night of my first Genealogical Society arrived. After wrapping up my workday, I promptly made my way to the west side of Madison where the Genealogical Society meeting was scheduled to be held at a small church. Upon arriving, I cautiously entered the building uncertain of where to go, but a few helpful members of the Genealogical Society were quick to steer me in the right direction. After taking my seat among a crowd of a few dozen people in a room that seemed a cross between a meeting room and a place of worship, I reviewed some of the available Genealogical Society handouts as I waited for the meeting to start. A few minutes later and older gentleman took to the riser at the front of the room and welcomed everyone to the meeting. He was frank in his remarks as he worked through a series of reminders and announcements before turning his attention to the forthcoming presentation. Following a few kind remarks about the presenter and his presentation, the man introduced George Findlen and the night’s featured presentation began.

Starting the presentation

George covering the basics

Over the next hour and a half I listened on as George walked through the basic concepts of genealogy, the resources necessary to conduct genealogical research, and the techniques for ensuring the accuracy and authenticity genealogical findings. The quality and depth of his presentation made it apparent George was a well-versed and highly successful genealogist that had spent years with the practice. He provided an abundance of tips and techniques with a variety of real-world examples that proved the underlying concepts in his speech. With a generous amount of humor and plenty of insightful information, he took a topic that might otherwise bore an audience and he made it interesting and engaging. As an added benefit, he provided plenty of sources for beginners, which helped me find a starting point for my own research after years of uncertainty surrounding the idea of tracing my lineage.

Getting a game plan
By the end of George’s presentation I had gained more knowledge on the concept of Genealogy than I had been able to obtain over all of years in my adult life combined. I finally had the tools to act on my goal of tracing my lineage, and George’s stories and passion for the practice provided more than enough inspiration to put them to use. For the first time I had a roadmap to guide me through the process of learning my family’s history, which made me excited at the prospect of finally learning my story beyond the reaches of the relatives I have known during my life. That realization was powerful, and it left me smiling as I made my way back home this evening. In a year where I am experiencing new things to learn more about who I am, the idea of finally being able to expand that question into the depths of history means a lot to me. Now, I just need to put my newfound knowledge into action.

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