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Oral History 101

By: Josh Wheatley

( Picture take from Season 2 Episode: Tara)

For those of you with ancestors who lived in countries where little record keeping occurred or the records have been destroyed, continuing your family history may seem like an impossible task. Not so.

Often, oral tradition is strongest in the places where records have been lost or were never kept in the first place. People become much more important resources than documents; the trick is to find the living archive who has a good memory of what has been passed down.

Call relatives, ask them what they know and if they know anyone else who might know more. Keep contacting cousins, even if they are distant, until you track down the living source you need.

As a researcher for The Generations Project, I've been trying to find the Pakistani ancestors of someone who knew very little at the beginning of their search. Armed only with the phone numbers of an uncle and an aunt, I've developed a contact pool that now numbers in the dozens. Various contacts have told me several family stories that are fascinating in their own right, but, even better, these stories have helped me know where to look to find the few documents that do exist. I've discovered information about this family that I never would have come across had I not been guided by oral family stories.

What oral stories does your family have?
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"Why didn't I hear about this show before?"

Ever been to the National Genealogy Society annual conference in Salt Lake City? It's pretty interesting.

I was just there a few weeks ago to help spread the word about The Generations Project. We had a really cool booth set up which stood out pretty well among the rest. Maybe because it looked like we had ripped out a section of Ikea.

I went to the conference with three main goals in mind.
1. Increase awareness of the show
2. Find genealogists who specialize in niche areas and are interested in doing research for our show
3. Find cool stories for upcoming episodes

The four-day event really was fun and I loved talking to people from all over the world, even if some of them just stopped by to take a free truffle. (We were told several times we had the best chocolates at the whole conference. It really wasn't hard competing against the generic miniature candy bars. But thank you.)

"Why didn't I hear about this show before?"
Was the question I heard again and again from the hundreds of people we talked to.

Many were already fans of NBC's new show, Who Do You Think You Are but never knew there was a show that takes your average everyday person on a genealogical journey. They would say, "It's fun seeing celebrities, but we want to see people like you and me." Everyone was excited to hear they could even apply to be on the show. (Here's how - http://www.byutv.org/thegenerationsproject/yourstory/). I got to hear several cool stories and often found myself saying, "that's a great story, you need to fill out an application."

Overall it was a great experience and we informed a lot of people about the show. However, we still need to get the word out about this great new TV series. What do you think we can do to better spread the word?
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It's Good to Be the King

Sometimes when people research their family history they discover that they are descendants of royalty. It makes sense. I mean, if one bloodline were to be preserved over the ages, it would likely be a kingly one. Which raises the question, what would you do if you found out that you had royal ancestry?

First things first—get a crown. Nothing says “king” like a big jewel-encrusted crown made of solid gold. Of course, wearing a crown around town would make me look ridiculous—which is why I’d need a floor-length red cape with white-fur trim to go with it. A scepter would be cool, but I have no idea what I’d use it for other than pointing it at people that I’m addressing:

“You! Fetch me a goblet of root beer.” (As king, I would drink everything from a goblet.)

Finally, I’d commission a sculpture to capture my kingliness in immortal marble.

In all seriousness, what a discovery that would be! To learn that you have ancestors who bore a demanding mantle and who could have shaped the course of a people, a country, or even history. I imagine it would bolster one’s confidence to know that bearing responsibility is in one’s (royal) blood.

In an upcoming episode of The Generations Project, Hawaiian native Boyd tries to find truth in the family myth of his royal lineage. See what he discovers and what it means for him and his family.

What would it mean to you if you discovered you were the descendant of kings, chiefs, etc.? Leave your comments below.

And then bring me a root beer.