I am excited to introduce to you Dana Stewart Leeds and her blog, The Enthusiastic Genealogist. On her blog Dana highlights the people and stories from her family tree in addition to the learning experiences she has as she works to become a better genealogist. When you read her experiences at GRIP, the variety of resources she uses and her ancestors’ stories, I think you will agree, she truly is “The Enthusiastic Genealogist.”
Dana, tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what is your current hometown?
“Ark City, Kansas was my childhood home. Our blue house was two stories tall and built in the late 1800s. I have fond memories of the house, but even fonder memories of our yard and the pretend games we would play.
“I now live in a suburb of Houston, Texas, with my husband of 22 years and our 14 year-old daughter who is a sophomore in high school. We don’t have any family nearby, but travel to visit them in the Dallas area and in Oklahoma as often as we can. None of my immediate family still lives in Ark City, but I still have cousins, an aunt and an uncle, and other family living there and love to visit my childhood hometown.”
How did you get started in genealogy?
“In 1998, our family was preparing for a family reunion. We didn’t have reunions on a regular basis, and I hadn’t attended any of them since I had married 5 years earlier. Once again, I would not be able to attend.
“But, the invitation mentioned the family history research my dad’s Aunt Beulah had been doing. I was interested in learning more and contacted her via email. She eagerly and generously began sharing both her files and her knowledge with her young student.
“One of the best lessons she taught me happened within those first few months. I did a lot of my research in my local genealogy library, the incredible Clayton Genealogy Library in Houston. But, I also did a lot of work online, often through queries.
“One day when I was working with the tree Aunt Beulah had sent me, I discovered another researcher who had taken one of our branches back several more generations. I happily added all of the names, dates, and places and then told my aunt about my wonderful find. She quickly and firmly explained that this was not the way to do genealogy. You couldn’t just find someone else’s tree and add all the information. You had to have sufficient evidence before adding to your tree. I’m grateful to have learned that wonderful lesson as a new researcher.”
When and why did you start your genealogy blog?
“I had our first and only child a couple of years after starting genealogy in 1998. I homeschooled her for most of her life, but as she’s gotten older and more independent, I’ve had more free time. So, though I’ve technically been a genealogist for about 17 years, it’s only been the past few years that I’ve once again had time to work on it weekly, if not daily.
“As I dove deeper into genealogy, I started making some incredible discoveries. Near the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I made my first “leap across the pond” when I found one immigrant family’s original village in Germany. I quickly found another branch’s hometown, also in Germany, and then a third branch’s place of origin in England.
“Besides these wonderful discoveries, I have also had wonderful success with newspaper work. I haven’t just uncovered the typical obituaries, I have also uncovered two murders in my family and more details about a third. And, there were stories about hurricanes, train and car wrecks, strange medical conditions, and more. I just had to share these stories!
“So, in March of 2013, I started my blog. It’s a place for me to share the incredible stories of these ordinary people: my family.”
How did you choose the name of your blog?
“Shortly before starting my blog, I was visiting the genealogy floor of the Dallas library for the first time. I met two wonderful librarians and we shared stories about our research and our ancestors. I certainly wasn’t using a library voice as I exclaimed over several new finds that day and shared them with the librarians. One of the discoveries was the hometown of my Eastwood family in England. The volunteer sitting at the front sign-in desk came over to me and told me how much she enjoyed my enthusiasm. When I decided to start a blog, I thought the name fit. I am definitely an enthusiastic genealogist!”
What is your favorite post(s) on your blog?
“It’s hard to choose a single favorite, so I’ve chosen three that I love:
“The first was about my 4x great grandfather and his pet bear – yes, bear! – which went missing one morning. What happened when they found it? The answer is in my post called My 4x Great Grandfather Had a Pet Bear!!!
“The second was about my great, great grandmother and the unusual object she threw up in 1917. Was it really a lizard? You can find out more at My Great, Great Grandmother Threw up WHAT?!?
“And, a third post is also one of my most popular posts. It’s about the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. My husband’s 3x great grandfather’s brother was a Confederate soldier who was present that day. What happened to these soldiers? Read Was Your Ancestor Paroled at Appomattox Courthouse with Lee’s Surrender?
How has genealogy made a difference in your life?
“In school, my favorite subjects were science and math. My least favorite subject, by far, was social studies. I found learning about all the wars, dates, and places incredibly boring.
“When my daughter was young, she loved books. But, one of her favorite types of books was picture book biographies. Through her eyes and these stories, I became interested in history. Learning history through one person at a time was infinitely more interesting than learning history from a ‘big picture’ perspective.
“As a genealogist, I love to learn about the history that has affected my ancestors. Did an ancestor fight in a particular battle? I’ll study about the battle. Did an ancestor attend a world’s fair? I’ll study the world’s fair. Did an ancestor take place in an Oklahoma land run? Then, I’ll study about the land run.
“Genealogy has also opened my eyes to the wonderful world of geography. How did mountain ranges and rivers affect the migration of my ancestors? Where was Prussia and what happened to it? How did droughts and floods affect my ancestors?
“Genealogy has also affected my life in that I’m purposefully trying to learn how to be a better writer. As I learn about my family, I want to be able to share the stories in such a way that others are both informed and entertained and want to learn more. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I blog!”
What is your favorite genealogy research tool or source?
“My favorite research tool is Newspapers.com. I now have clipped over 700 stories about my family from that site. There are the usual obituaries, marriage announcements, etc., but there are also stories of three murders in my family. There is also the story of my great, great grandmother throwing up what they believed to be a lizard. I find the most interesting family stories in newspapers and I’ve had the most success with Newspapers.com.”
What is on your genealogy bucket list?
“My daughter is in high school and still at home, but when she graduates, my genealogy bucket list will include a lot of traveling! In the past couple of years, I’ve discovered three of the villages my German ancestors came from and the small town in England where another branch lived. Of course, I’d love to visit all of these places! But, I’d also love to visit Ohio, the state where one of the German families settled. I would also like to spend weeks in Pennsylvania, where my father’s dad’s family lived for generations, and time in both Salt Lake City and at the National Archive. I could go on and on!
“Besides traveling to the places where my family came from, I also want to attend some of the national genealogy conventions. And, I’d also love to take one of the new genealogy cruises!
“The other items on my bucket list would be to write a book about my families so that the information I’ve uncovered will never be lost. I recently started this by adding a chapter about one of my families as a contributing author to a family book. I’m also hoping to complete two short family books as Christmas gifts this year, one for each side of my family.”
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Please take a moment to visit Dana’s blog The Enthusiastic Genealogist and see why that name so aptly fits her. You will want to check out some of her tips and read through some of the wonderful stories she has to share. Be sure and leave a comment to let her know you stopped by. Thank you Dana for sharing your thoughts and your blog with us!
© 2016, copyright Michelle Ganus Taggart, All rights reserved
Michelle Ganus Taggart lives in Kaysville, Utah, where she enjoys the beautiful outdoors, time with family and researching her ancestors. She shares her passion for her southern research in her blog, A Southern Sleuth. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . . “ series? If so, contact Michelle via email email@example.com