Sunday, May 2, 2010

Interview with Genealogist Stephen Thomas

It is with great excitement that we introduce you to Stephen Thomas an accomplished genealogist from Great Britain and a Specialist with Genealogy Freelancers.

Mr. Thomas has had an illustrious career in the field of genealogy spanning over two decades. He was trained at the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury, England and was until recently the Managing Director and Head of Research at a leading Genealogical research company there. He has researched for and presented “Blood Ties” for BBC2 and the documentary “The Lost Royals” for Granada TV. He has also appeared in an expert capacity on several programs for British radio and television and writes articles for Family History publications including several important articles on tracing overseas relatives for Your Family Tree. Mr. Thomas also has a regular monthly column in Practical Family History and writes for Family History Monthly as well.

In addition to his busy public career Mr. Thomas finds the time and energy to research for clients. He specializes in finding families from Great Britain and their place of origin. He also locates living relatives in Great Britain and abroad.

We have been very pleased to call Mr. Thomas a member of Genealogy Freelancers since our inception back in 2008. He has taken on cases for our seekers, bringing his expertise and enthusiasm to each project. We believe those who work with him on any project are fortunate to benefit from his vast experience and that they can entrust their family history to the most capable hands.

Stephen Thomas, personal communication with permission to publish, May 1st 2010

GF: When and why did you become interested in genealogy?

ST: I read Literature at University and became interested in the Victorian period and my own Victorian ancestors.

GF: You estimate having investigated approximately 5000 family trees in your long career. Do you remember the first and how the experience helped you in all those that followed?

ST: No I cannot remember the first. I was given 5 or 6 new cases at a time to analyze and schedule for research. It was quite a hot house environment.

GF: Are there any that stand out more in your memory and why?

ST: I suppose the celebrity cases and especially those that resulted in a family being re-united.

GF: Tell us a bit about the BBC production of Blood Ties and your role as researcher and resident genealogist on the project.

ST: Blood ties worked on the premise that even the humblest man in the street could be related to the notorious or the famous. I provided the cases from my workload and explained the connection on screen to the descendant. I travelled with the person to the scenes of important events in their lives.

GF: How did you prepare? What were some of the challenges?

ST: Much of the work was already done but sometimes the client proved reluctant to appear. It took a fair amount of coaxing and reassurance.

GF: What did you take away with you from the experience?

ST: It was great fun working with TV production companies, but they don’t really understand that for every glamorous ancestor we have several hundred mainly ordinary ones!

GF: You were also involved in the Granada TV production of the documentary "Lost Royals". This is a really exciting and unusual look at the royal lineage. Tell us a bit about the project and your role as researcher.

ST: Lost Royals emphasized the fact that many of our Royals took full advantage of their status to father a great many illegitimate children whose descendants are living very ordinary lives amongst us. I traced the lines to the present day and found them living as dentists, ambulance drivers and one was an Australian politician.

GF: How did you prepare and were you given access to documents that are not typically made public?

ST: I used public records and that became part of the challenge for me.

GF: Did you find that research was more or less difficult than for the average citizen of non-royal lineage?

ST: It was pretty much like any other case once the line was established.

GF: What was your most rewarding case in the project and why?

ST: I liked the Liverpudlian ambulance driver descended from William the Conqueror. Such a modest and pleasant man who certainly had not inherited the belligerence of his Royal ancestor.

GF: Again, what did you take away with you from this experience?

ST: We are all the same, all human and really a Royal title means very little except pure accident of birth.

GF: Have you investigated your own family history? Were there any surprises and/or mysteries yet to be solved?

ST: I thought there was little there of interest until recently I found a great uncle who had the largest collection of books and conjuring and was an expert on tricks and illusions. He knew Houdini and performed an act at society functions. This really pleased me. I would rather have him in my family than any King or Queen!

GF: What are your future plans?

ST: I would like to bring family history up to date by finding modern sources such as government and business data and getting them out in the open. There is a real danger that data protection will overwhelm the right to know and prevent us from knowing about the lives of our own grandparents.

Thank you Mr. Thomas for sharing a bit of who you are.

Photo shows Stephen Thomas (in the blue shirt) as a guest on the Gloria Hunniford Show.

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Interview with Jérôme Blanc

It has been our pleasure recently to have had the opportunity to communicate with Jérôme Blanc, a professional genealogist who resides in Epinay sur seine, France. Monsieur Blanc is a Historian of economic and social history having received his postgraduate degree at the l’École des hautes études en sciences socials (EHESS). Having become impassioned by his studies in the economic, social and cultural life of his ancestors in the industrial Alsace between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries, Monsieur Blanc began a journey in constructing the genealogy of his maternal family. In 1994 he published his first work: The Engel, a family of industrialists and philanthropists.

After attending a seminar given by Louis Bergeron he became aware of his taste for the economic, social and political aspects of history and embarked on his second work Frédéric Engel-Dollfus the biography of an industrialist in Alsace (Editions Christian, 2003) in the context of a Masters Degree in History and then with a special interest having been developed for the declination of the Alsatian Rhine model he wrote his third study "Les Monnier" – the story of the social ascent of Franche-Comté, Paris to Lorrainee.

In addition to the above works Monsieur Blanc has written many artilcles for French Genealogy publications. Some of these include: "Le Modèle mulhousien" an economic model of social and cultural development of capitalism with a human face (Bulletin de la Société belfortaine d’émulation n° 94, 2003), Les sources du travail au XIXe siècle (sources of labor in the nineteenth century) Généalogie magazine, avril 2007, Avez-vous un ancêtre saint-simonien?(Do you have a Saint-Simeon ancestor?) Votre Généalogie, août-septembre 2007, Souvenirs d'une jeune fille d'industriel alsacien (memories of a young girl from the industial Alaciennes) Votre Généalogie, avril-mai 2008 and Trucs et astuces (Tips and Tricks) Votre Généalogie, février-mars 2007 à juin-juillet 2008)

Since these extensive research projects have been written, Monsieur Blanc has been working as a professional genealogist transmitting his knowledge and passion for genealogy and in history to the search for his clients ancestry and to his continuing writings on the subject of genealogy.

Monsieur Blanc has been a member of Genealogy Freelancers since September, 2008 and has performed research for clients of our service who have sought their French roots. We are honored to call Jérôme Blanc our friend and a Specialist in the truest sense.

The following are answers to a few questions we have asked Monsieur Blanc.

Jérôme Blanc, personal communication with permission to publish, March 14, 2010

GF: When did you become interested in genealogy and why?
JB: About 15 years ago. My mother told me about my industrial ancestors in Alsace who were at the head of the firm DMC (Dollfus-Mieg et Cie ) during four generations.
GF: You have written several publications; what made you interested in these particular subjects?
JB: For the genealogical publications, I was interested to discover the life of my ancestors and for the historical publications, because I have discovered in myself a passion for industrial and economical history, political history (the social, economical and political theory of Saint-Simonisme etc.)
GF: In your professional role as a genealogist, what is your main concentration and why?
JB: Due to my background studies in economical and social history, my specialty was work in archives, but I am now on any ground (tout terrain in French) !!!
GF: What geographic locations do you cover in your research?
JB: I search in all of France and in French speaking countries.
GF: What areas have the most significant personal relevance to you?
JB: The areas are Alsace, Lorraine, Cévennes, Aisne etc.,because they are earth of my ancestors, and the others areas are the locations significant to my clients.
GF: What has been the most rewarding case that you have ever worked on and why?
JB: In the past, it was to construct the genealogy of my Alsacian ancestors because their history is so exciting : they participated in the French take off of the industries in France and in the first and second industrial revolutions.
Right now, I am actually searching in the archives to prove that the father of my clients ancestry goes back to Louis XV!!
GF: What is the most challenging aspect of genealogy research in France – Frustrations?
JB: It’s to perform research with the mixing of genealogy and history. No frustration, I do genealogy by passion.
GF: Do you have an opinion as to what records provide the most relevant and abundant information?
JB: All records provide relevant information, it depends what you are looking for.
GF: What is your advice for someone beginning his or her search of their French roots?
JB: Read French and get to know a little bit about French history and begin to establish the skeleton of his or her genealogy.
GF: When you research is there anything that you take with you – Anything that helps you to better achieve your goal?
JB: I always prepare for my research, but I can bring books with me, summaries in tables that I have prepared on the information, which will make it possible to locate particular information in every archive document.
GF: Do you have any future plans regarding your work in genealogy?
JB: At present just to satisfy my clients and find what they ask me to find

We thank you Monsieur Blanc for your time and for allowing our readers the privilege of having a glimpse into your world.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Genealogy in Life and Death

There is a side to genealogy that may touch all of us, yet it is nothing that thrills us. It is nothing like making that crack through a brick wall. It is a side that touches us on a personal level and gives us pause to continue. It is that moment when genealogy is no longer a quest or result. It is that entry after the name that signifies a concrete truth and this truth that when we are first met with it, brings a denial that is unwilling to make that entry for fear that truth will win out. That entry is d.

My twin sister passed away this past November and it is a pain like none other I have ever known. I will not elaborate except to say that she was the absolute light in my life and that her early and sudden loss took my heart to a place I wish on no one.

As I am a genealogist and the appointed historian for our family it is something that I must do, but that d. after her name strikes a cord so deep that it brings a pain to my bones. It must be done as it is the final salute to a life well loved.

In our pursuit of lineage we enter data for our clients on a daily basis. We see the dates and we calculate forwards and backwards our next move. We anticipate large quantity of death in years of plague or war and envision the sadness of the parents. We see the events of birth and marriage in our minds eye and imagine being their guest at the festivities. We are transported to a day and location that very few professions allow and we believe that in visualizing these lives who are long past that we bring honor to those we investigate.

It is true that what we do is noble. It is true that what we do makes an absolute difference, but for every entry of that d. there was one left behind that deeply mourned their loss and in order to be noble and to make that difference it is imperative for me to include them in my visualization. How else will I hear their voices?

There may be separate trains of thought concerning method. There may be those that believe that there’s no place for sentiment in our work and that it muddies the waters. I am not of this mindset – right or wrong. For me it’s involuntary. I can’t think of the ancestors I seek in a purely statistical manner. Of course, I must and do follow proper methodology, yet I need also to see and feel the surroundings of those I seek in order to strategize where next I should go. Their occupations, location of marriage, religion, obituary, godparents and witnesses all speak to me. Every deed, census, divorce decree and village history speak volumes to me. The voices help clarify my quest and they bring joy to the process.

I will enter the d. after my sisters name and I’ll hope that a future generation will visualize that entry as one made with love; as one made with the expressed wish that whoever reads it will know that those she left behind had honored her in life and in death. And if there is something not known that they will hear her voice and follow her clues.

Adding that d. may sadden us, yet it will also bring a renewed pride in a profession that allows us to validate and give reverence far beyond a mere statistic. We can do this every day for every name we search and for every d. we enter. We can see them clearly and appreciate that we have been allowed passage to a place in time where they loved, laughed and held the hands of those they cared for. This gift we have been given deserves every respectful act in return. It deserves our pursuit of the truest sense of who they were.

To my sister whom I have loved then and always, it has pained me to enter your name, but I have done so that you will never be forgotten and that you will continue to have a place with purpose.