Hello there, welcome to the 6th Voices of Genealogy Interview! This series will be a collection of interviews from people who were young (early teens to early 20s) genealogists from different decades! These interviews will highlight the stories of professional genealogists, show how the field of family history has changed over the years, and promote younger people in family history by showing that even experienced and professional genealogists started at a young age. Today’s interview comes from genealogist, Burkely!
A little Info about Burkely…
Burkely Hermann has been actively researching his family history for about 5 years and has been interested since he was 14. He started researching because he was curious to learn more about his family’s past while working at the Maryland State Archives. Read more about Burkely’s work as a genealogy and blog writer at his website! Since he is unique in that he is relatively new to the world of genealogy, he has different interview questions then the other interviewees. Now, Burkely will tell his story as a genealogist in the Hidden Branch’s ongoing blog series, Voices of Genealogy.
The Interview Questions…
- Give us a brief introduction about yourself; Tell us a bit more about your work as a genealogist.
“I’m a researcher and archivist with various degrees from higher education institutions, studying libraries and archives in graduate school and political science and history in college. I try to be as inclusive in my research and roots work as possible, taking into account different circumstances and conflicting records to determine full stories, to the best of my knowledge, of my ancestors.”
- How did you get into genealogy and what inspired you to start researching?
“I got into genealogy because I wanted to learn more about my family roots. Originally I wrote some e-books which I distributed to my family, but later this morphed into a series of blogs which I still run today: Packed with Packards, Milling ‘round Ireland, Decoding my Transylvanian Roots, and Digging for Italian Roots, although I mainly only update the first two of these blogs.”
- How old were you when you started? Did you do it by yourself or did someone help you?
“Back in 2007, at age 14, I did my first family history project, and did some other projects in middle school with family history too. However, it wasn’t until 2016, at age 23, after I had graduated college, and began working at the Maryland State Archives, that I began seriously researching my roots, because I used genealogy databases like Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and GenealogyBank to find out information about Revolutionary War soldiers in the First Maryland Regiment. I did the research by myself and I continue to do the research by myself, learning more along the way. Apart from visiting Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati in the fall of 2016 (as shown below), the following year, I convinced my mom and dad to go on a road trip to from Hingham, Massachusetts in the Eastern part of the state, to Plainfield in the Western part of the state to visit a bunch of cemeteries the following year, going to cemeteries, museums, and the like!
While my dad has especially been a help in the research, as I went up with him to visit some of my cousins in Western Pennsylvania, and stayed in contact with his relatives, my mom is a great storyteller, sometimes talking about people she has met in the past, where she has lived, and other memories. So that is a help, as are the many photo album books, mostly of her parents.”
- Have you come across any difficulties while researching your family (e.g., Conflicting sources, brick walls, etc.)?
“The lack of surviving grandparents when I started researching in 2016, made it tough to find information, especially when it came to my dad’s side, as many of the people I could have asked about stories were no longer alive. Additionally, the lack of first-person records, like diaries and letters, apart from a few people, made it hard to determine the lives of my ancestors, although there is a plethora of photographs.”
- What genealogy resources and/or websites do you utilize the most?
“Apart from Ancestry.com, Find A Grave, and FamilySearch, I’d say that Chronicling America and the various collections held by the Library of Congress are great resources, like the Sanborn Fire Maps. The same goes for assorted newspaper databases of state newspapers, Google Books, the discovery portal of the British National Archives (if you are researching British ancestors), and city directories, to name a few. I’d also recommend using Google Map or Google Earth to determine distances between locations where your ancestors lived. I’d also reach out to local historical societies, archives, and record centers. I was able to get some of the best records about my ancestors by requesting photocopies of documents from the National Archives, Massachusetts State Archives, and Warren County Records Center, all of which were helpful in finding out more about my past.”
- What interesting things have you discovered about your ancestors?
“A lot actually and I’m learning more all the time! While stories of immigration are pretty standard, here’s a couple I can think of off the bat: a drunk ancestor killed by a train (link), another ancestor beat someone with a shovel in self-defense, one was a female FBI agent who spied on an activist conference, one fought Confederate blockade runners in the Civil War, and another sheltered Black people running away from their slave masters as part of the Underground Railroad. I did think the contrast between some of my ancestors who opposed slavery and those who owned human beings (even in Massachusetts) is striking, but it is worth examining as part of my ancestry.”
- Who/What are you currently focusing on in your research?
“As of late, I’m making a concentrated effort to highlight female ancestors, slave owners, slave traders, LGBTQ ancestors, and others, putting it within the appropriate historical context, rather than focusing primarily on male ancestors.”
- What is your favorite primary document (ex. Birth, marriage, death records, censuses, etc.)?
“That’s a hard one because I have all sorts of primary documents on my dad’s side especially like photographs, outlines for my grandparent’s house, and photographs from my grandfather’s time in Korea just before the beginning of the Korean War, whether of his wife, ordinary Koreans, or Army buddies. But the one I love most of all is this image:
It shows his past name, the new name my great-grandfather is taking on all in one document, complete with personal information, and a photograph! With this document and confirmation of his name, it helped me prove that he lived in Barre, Vermont, as shown in all sorts of city directories, for a couple of years with his sister and her wife. He later moved to Western Pennsylvania, joining relatives there, although I still am not sure how yet (possibly by train or car)! That’s still something to explore. Anyway, Louis Franci worked on the S.S. Grand View Point Hotel in Bedford, Pennsylvania, a hotel which was shaped like a ship that sat on a mountainside. So, that was cool to find out.”
- What advice would you give to people wanting to start genealogy?
“I would start with information about your immediate family, then expanding the number of ancestors on each side of your family, talking to your living relatives about their lives and family stories. That can give you hints for where to learn about your family history. While I haven’t done it, a DNA test can be helpful in telling you where to research next. It is helpful to talk to other people researching their family histories, whether on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Find A Grave, Twitter, and Instagram or on other social media platforms.”
- Do you think there are enough places/sites for teens and young people to get into genealogy?
“Other than this site, I know of the Next Gen Network, and a few blogs here and there run by young genealogists. However, I don’t think there are enough sites and places geared toward young people and teens interested in genealogy. There should be conferences like RootsTech but for young genealogists.”
As we can see from Burkely’s interview, he has done a lot of work for the genealogical community in his relatively short time of actively researching his family tree. Currently being a researcher and archivist, along with running a few blog sites. As a member of the Hidden Branch team, it is definitely nice to see the work of a young genealogist shine. Burkely’s work shows that genealogy is not someone that’s only meant for older folks, but is a field that people of all age groups can succeed in. Thank you so much Burkely for deciding to participle in the Voices of Genealogy blog series!
If you wish to follow Burkely and his work…