Book Review: Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist, by Buzzy Jackson

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Shaking the Family Tree is different than your average genealogy book. It's a memoir of a genealogical newbie on a quest to learn more about her family. But unlike most newbies, Buzzy has a doctorate in history and has a research background. And unlike most genealogists she's had the opportunity to spend time talking to some of the "celebrities" in the genealogical world. While this is more memoir than how-to, reading her journey into the world of genealogical research will yield you tips that you can use in your own research. Like a conference tweet, the author lists tips learned through her genealogical search, including some from a genealogy cruise hosted by Wholly Genes, the makers of the software program The Master Genealogist. One of my favorites quotes is one she shares from Elizabeth Shown Mills, that no man is an island and that you will hit a brick wall if you don't look at the community around your ancestor. (I don't think Buzzy mentions it, but Elizabeth Shown Mills calls this concept your ancestor's FAN club: Friends , Associates and Neighbors).

I really like this book and probably for some of the same reasons that most people seem to like it, it's about people just like me. There aren't too many opportunities to read books that are solely about other people who are researching their family history and the thoughts, emotions and brick walls they slam into during the process. Buzzy takes us through the process, both the highs and the lows, as she tracks down family stories, interviews older family members, and travels to repositories. She shows how the advice we give to beginning genealogists such as interviewing older relatives, is sometimes easier said than done. Those of us who don't fit the tired stereotype of a genealogist: you know, the one that says all genealogists are old, really old, will sympathize as she travels and tries to research with a toddler in tow.

Probably one of my favorite parts of the book entails her pre-cruise meeting with Birdie Holsclaw, who remains one of my favorite genealogy "celebrities." We lost Birdie way too soon but her greatness lies in her ability to teach and the great research she did that lives on in her website and numerous blogs. Shaking the Family Tree is not simply a look at the family history research process as it is a look at those of us who do the research. No, it's not a hard core research methodology book, but it is a quick entertaining read that you will enjoy. It's also one that can make anyone interested in learning more about their own family history.

For those who are interested, you can read more about Buzzy and Shaking the Family Tree at her website.

Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist, by Buzzy Jackson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

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