Uncovering Your Family’s Story: an interview with a genealogist

Why am I drawn to organize photos for my clients? Because we all have a story to tell.  For most people our photos are all over the place and we can’t make sense of them—so that’s where the organizing part comes in.  But the ultimate goal is to be able to access your pictures and enjoy them.

Our photos show us the highlights and make our stories come to life, but the foundation is always the story itself.  I recently met Lauren Gribble of Find Your Branch Genealogy and I realized that her work in discovering the family tree is an important part of telling our stories.  Please enjoy the following interview about venturing down the overwhelming path of exploring our family history.

Lauren, to touch first on your own story, how did you first become interested in genealogy?

I got started with genealogy because my dad was adopted.  I didn’t know anything about his heritage and I wanted to know something about it.  He had done a search about 20 or 25 years before I did but didn’t get very far because that was before the days of DNA testing and family history being a popular hobby. I had the names of my grandmother and her husband, and once I found who they were, I built this huge tree and got up to around 900 people with roughly 3200 records.  That was over a period of about 6 years. It turned out that my grandmother’s husband was not my grandfather and it took me about 3 years, through DNA and a paper trail of research, to find out who he was and connect with his family.

So really, I got started with genealogy because of curiosity about my own heritage and where my dad and I came from.  Roughly about a year into my search, I started thinking about how I could help other people find their families.  I went on Facebook asking who needs help.  By 2018 I made it a fulltime business.

What are most people interested in discovering?

It’s really a mix, but there are two main categories.  Many people are interested in solving a genealogical problem.  For example, one client heard her family was related to a king in Germany.  I didn’t believe it was true because I didn’t find anything to substantiate it. I have a lot of requests to solve different mysteries.

I also get a lot of requests from people who know nothing about their family and request a full family tree.  In 2020 I had a lot of clients who wanted to find their whole family on a direct line from their grandparents roughly through 4th cousins.

Do you have a particular project you enjoy more than others?

I like the puzzle element and the challenge of going as far back as I can.  I’ve been able to go back as far as the 1400’s for a client whose family was from England.  In my own family, I was able to go back to about 1595 in Germany. 

Many times, clients think I will find all these great stories and discoveries, but sometimes I don’t find anything really big. But to me, it’s still interesting because it’s the history of their family.

What if someone knows very little or nothing about their family tree?  How can they get started in uncovering their family history? How would you guide them?

First, I ask what you know about your family history, no matter how much or how little. Then I recommend you take a DNA test.  It’s science–it’s not going to lie to you. Once you spit into the tube, that’s your DNA.  It’s not anybody else’s.  It’s exact.  Especially if someone knows nothing, that’s the first way you’re going to find out who your family is, where you come from, and what your heritage is.  Then after you submit the DNA test, the next step is to go into ancestry.com and search for the records to support who your family is.

If someone gets a DNA test and begins looking for records and starts outlining their family tree, at what point should they consult with a professional to make sure they’re on the right track?

It’s good to bring in a professional when you feel like your own skills have been exhausted—when you’ve run out of ideas or ways to confirm or research further.  One client came to me to create a timeline of a family member because she wasn’t finding anything.  I did a really short search and found a bunch of records in about 5 minutes. 

For me, the first question I ask is: how is this person searching and are they doing this effectively? When you’re looking at ways to research:  who are you talking to? what sites are you looking at? where are you getting your information? You don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s good to consult with a genealogist.  I have experience in many different areas, but not every genealogist is right for every person.  They’re not going to be skilled in every area.  If someone comes to me to research “this family” in “this time period” in “this country,” and if I don’t feel like I have enough experience in that area, I will refer them to another specialist in that area, because to take on something outside of my scope is a waste of time and money.  I want to serve my clients well.

Do photographs ever play a role in your work, especially since you’re working with documents that predate the age of photos?

Photos really haven’t played as much of a role in genealogy as I thought because people are focused on the documents. But photographs give a face to a name.  They tell a lot and give a more personal touch to genealogy and your family history.  I always encourage people that if they have photos of their family, to upload them to ancestry.com or myheritage.com or wherever they can because it gives that added layer.

Why do you believe it’s important for people to uncover their own family history? What does that do for someone?

I believe it’s important for someone to research their family history and really discover where they came from because it gives you a sense of who you are.  Regardless of your situation, whether you’re adopted, have been in foster care, or just curious about your heritage, it gives you a sense of yourself by learning where your ancestors are from.  It’s a transformative experience for a lot of people. There’s a lot of work involved and when you go through the process and uncover your family, it’s an emotional experience for a lot of people. You’re not only researching for yourself, but for your family, your children, your grandchildren, and beyond. 

Interested in discovering your own family tree? You can contact Lauren at lauren@findyourbranchgenealogy.com or check out her website.

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