Joe Everett is a genealogy librarian at FamilySearch, responsible for patron services in international branches of the Family History Library. Joe was previously the head of International Reference at the Family History Library and a technical services librarian, cataloging Slavic and Germanic records. He also spent several years as content manager at Joe earned a B.A. in Russian Language and Family History/Genealogy (Germanic emphasis) from Brigham Young University and a Master of Library Science from Emporia State University (Kansas). He has been active in library and genealogical associations and has lectured and published articles Central & East European research.

16 August 2011

Information-Hoarders vs Information-Sharers

As a follow-up to my post on lifelong learning, I wanted to say a word about lifelong teaching.  As we strive to always be learning, we should also strive to always be sharing knowledge with others.  There are two types of people: information-hoarders and information-sharers.  The hoarders have the mistaken notion that their expertise is enhanced by building up their own personal store of information and meting it out to others only on an as-needed basis, taking care not to share too freely, lest others start to rival their level of knowledge.  In my observation, many information hoarders are unaware of their tendency to withhold information, although there are some who know what they are doing, and it is their personal philosophy to continue carefully guarding their information.  Knowledge, after all, is power.

But the wonderful thing about knowledge is that is not diminished when it is given away.  When I teach something to someone else, I still know it.  In fact, I usually come to know it better through the act of teaching.  And while those who hoard information may think they are strengthening their position over others, it is in fact those who are willing to teach others what they know who tend to have greater influence.  In many cases, people go to the information hoarder only because they have to, but not because they want to.  They may hold the person with the knowledge in awe, but they will more likely fear them or begrudge them, rather than admire them.  And the moment they can turn to an alternative source of information, one that is more freely given, they will.  If someone is willing to teach what they know, others will come to them willingly.

It is a simple principle, but one that is very often not understood or followed, especially in the workplace.  It is also, unfortunately, a tendency for some who aspire to be professionals, including professional genealogists, to be stingy with information.  The idea seems to be that those who hold the information have the competitive edge in getting clients, landing the better jobs, and making a name for themselves in the professional community.  Thankfully, this seems to affect the minority of genealogists, as in my experience, genealogists tend to be very happy to share what they know with others. And, ironically perhaps, it is those who are the most eager to share and teach who are in fact the most successful, and the most highly regarded.

Lifelong Learning

It has been said that the more you know, the more you realize you don't know.  I have found that is as true of genealogy as any other subject.  I have recently stepped up my efforts to expand my genealogical knowledge by reading more and attending more conferences.  I have attended three conferences so far this year, and renewed subscriptions to three major genealogical publications, with a goal to read each one before the next issue comes out.  (Harder than it sounds.)  I have also started reading more genealogy blog posts and listening to more to podcasts.  One might thing that after a while, this would all get quite repetitive and I would run out of new things to learn.  I mean, how much can one say about any topic, let alone genealogy?  Yet, I am continually amazed that, with each new blog post or article I read, conference lecture I attend, or podcast I listen to, I learn something new--often multiple things.  After 20 years at this, I feel like I am still just scratching the surface of the available knowledge.  It is both exciting and overwhelming, but I guess that is also part of why it is so addicting.  The more I learn, the more I want to learn.

I have been referred to by some as a genealogy expert, but one thing every "expert" should know is that the moment you declare yourself an expert, that is the moment that you risk stagnating.  Every moment of every day, there are new ideas, new methods, and new technologies being discovered that you don't yet know anything about, not to mention the fact that the body of knowledge is already so vast that one person can not possibly know it all.  Rather than aspire to become experts, we should aspire to an awareness of the need to never stop learning, and to develop the information literacy skill to continue learning all our lives.

29 July 2011

Discovering a New Cousin

I was attending one of several lectures by D. Joshua Taylor this week at the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy when up flashed the name of one of my ancestors on the screen.  I spoke to Josh afterward and, lo and behold, we share the same 3rd great-grandfather.  Josh's name has been familiar to me, but I didn't realize that it wasn't just because he is well-known in genealogy circles. In fact, Josh has been a member of the family association that I started, and also a member of my online family tree, for quite some time now.  I just didn't connect before now that it was the same person.  What's more, he has sent me some of the best stuff that has been shared on the family site.  I have several documents about the family that he mailed to me, including early 19th century land grants signed by President Andrew Jackson as well pension files and other records.  He was finding these and sending them to share on our family site more than 11 years ago--when he was only 14 or 15 years old!  Josh got hooked on genealogy when he was only about 10 and soon after was to be seen frequenting genealogy conferences.  He was presenting lectures while still in his teens, and is now at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, with two masters degrees under his belt, still in his twenties.  As a professional genealogist nearing 40, I was impressed with how much I learned this week from Josh, who has been at this nearly as long as I have, though he is a dozen years my junior.  And here I thought, having started this at age 19, that I was one of the representatives of the young generation of genealogists! It doesn't depress me, though, or make me feel old.  I am just happy to see that this wonderful pursuit of family history is capturing the energy and the passion of each succeeding generation.

21 June 2011

Why genealogy libraries are needed

Years ago, when I used to work for FamilySearch at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, there was a lot of discussion about the relevance of the library as a physical space as we moved into the 21st century age of digital media.  With all of the records digitized, would we still need to have a library building?  If everyone could access the records online in their pajamas, what need would there be for a library reference desk?

My initial response to this was to say that we could never digitize everything, due to the sheer cost of it, and to copyright and other restrictions, so we would always need a place for people to access the remaining paper and microfilm materials. I also pointed out the digital divide that would persist, leaving some have-nots without access to online media.  (There are still people in the U.S.A. without phones, after all, let along computers.)  There are also those who would not be able to afford some of the online records exclusively available by subscription, but which the library could subscribe to as an institution and provide for free.

But there is something even more fundamental about library services that I believe will persist even if everything does become available online and everyone is able to afford access to it: it is the synergy of ideas that comes from the human interaction between people searching for information and those who are there to help.

Perhaps the greatest asset of FamilySearch is not its vast holdings of millions of microfilm reels and hundreds of thousands of books, but the collective knowledge that the people in that organization have developed about records: how to find them, how to evaluate them, and how to use them.  This knowledge has developed primarily through those interactions within the library, which serves as a sort of laboratory of learning for the employees as much as the patrons.

This point was brought home to me again recently, as I listened to one of the Genealogy Gems podcasts.  Lisa Cooke, the show host, was speaking with Jason Harrison, one of the U.S. reference consultants at the FHL, about techniques for searching the U.S. census records. Lisa said, "I imagine with all of the patrons you speak to on a daily basis and all the problems you see, you really home in on where the problems lie.  Do you find there are consistent challenges that people run up against when they are dealing with these records?"

Jason's response illustrates the point: "It's the patron experience that really helped me hone in on these techniques that help to find people in the census, just based on their challenges.  It's kind of a fun field to be in and a job to have, where you are having that interaction, and you're trying to help people get past the wall that is there.  So determining a new way to approach the situation makes it fun and passing that on is a great thing to be able to do--to pass that knowledge on to others so that they can take advantage of it." (1)

No matter how much information is available to everyone online, there will always be people in need of help to sort through it all, find what is relevant, evaluate it, and apply it.  And there will always be a need for experts to provide this sort of help.  Libraries benefit both the learner (the patron) and the teacher (the librarian) by providing countless opportunities to confront information problems, and to learn from them, and then to share that knowledge.

I view the Family History Library as sort of the golden goose of FamilySearch.  Remove the library and you lose the source of the organization's true wealth: the wealth of genealogical knowledge that exists there. It is the knowledge that helped them to build such a valuable collection in the first place, and to find innovative ways to facilitate access to it, as well as to use it.

The good news is that the Family History Library is still here, a decade later, and it appears it is here to stay.  Whether or not you ever have the opportunity to travel to Salt Lake City, if you are searching your family history, you will benefit directly or indirectly from the collective genealogical knowledge that has been developed as a result of the existence of the world's greatest genealogical library.

(1) Lisa Louise Cooke and Jason Harrison, "Episode 108 Census Tips and Tricks," interview by Lisa Louise Cooke, host, The Genealogy Gems Podcast, 8 April 2011, Adobe Flash, Genealogy Gems ( accessed 21 Jun 2011), minutes 40-41.

21 May 2011

Forgiving Her Son's Killer: 'Not An Easy Thing' : NPR

Forgiving Her Son's Killer: 'Not An Easy Thing' : NPR
This story on NPR moved me to tears. What a wonderful illustration of the power of the stories we tell ourselves and one another. This woman chose to tell herself a different story than the one the world would expect her to tell, and in doing so, found healing and surprising joy out of the ashes of a tragic tale.  Click to listen, but make sure you have the Kleenex box handy first.

Mary Johnson, 59, spoke with Oshea Israel, 34, at StoryCorps in Minneapolis.
Mary Johnson, 59, spoke with Oshea Israel, 34, at StoryCorps in Minneapolis.

Alien planet? No, Icelandic night sky.

As if I didn't have enough reasons to want to visit the ancestral homeland of my Icelanders.  (I am 1/8th Icelandic.)  The land of fire and ice is full of wonders--and not only natural ones.  They are also one of the world's best at preserving their genealogical records.  That, coupled with a language that has remained largely unchanged for a millennium, and you have a genealogist's dream.  

16 May 2011

Irish Connection

I'm very excited to find that I have an Irish connection!  In all my 20 years of doing research on my family history, I had not come across it until now, and am surprised to find that it is not very far back: a 4th Great-Grandmother on my father's, father's side.  I had simply never focused on that line before.  Her name was Eliza Reed and she was born in Carlingford, County Louth, a coastal town in the northeast in 1804.  In 1825, she married an English sailor, James Marchbanks, who was born in Plymouth, Devon.  As he was a mariner (for a time, even a chief boatman in the coast guard), they traveled a lot.  Their children were born in Hampshire, Essex, the Isle of Jersey, and Sussex, before they finally settled in London.  Adding Irish completes my British Isles heritage, which also includes multiple lines of Scottish, Welsh, and of course, English. I'm proud to say that I am 1/64th Irish!

03 May 2011

World Memory Project

The World Member Project is a joint effort of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and to create the world's largest online resource online for information about individual victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution. I'm honored to have played a small part in helping to making this happen, and grateful to efforts of my team and many other colleagues at who contributed to the project. I hope that many people will participate in the project, and that as a result, many more will be able to find information about their loved ones.

26 February 2011


I had a wonderful evening at Þorrablót, an Icelandic feast hosted by the Icelandic Association of Utah, with my wife and parents.  (My dad's maternal grandfather was full Icelandic.)  We had a special treat as we heard from BYU Professor Fred Woods, author of Fire on Ice: The Saints of Iceland, and  Dr. Kári Bjarnason, Head of the Public Library of Vestmannaeyjar, my ancestral home in Iceland. They are working on creating a museum exhibit in Vestmannaeyjar on Mormon emigration from Iceland, as over 200 Icelanders emigrated from there to Utah.  I spoke to each of them afterward about contributing material for that exhibit.  I also tried the sampler plate of traditional Icelandic foods--not for the faint of heart.  I confess I passed on the ram's testicles and sheep intestines.

11 February 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? - Rosie O'Donnell

Rosie O’Donnell returns to TV by relaunching her talk show, retracing her roots - National Celebrity Q&A |
This is a wonderful, in-depth interview with Rosie O'Donnell about her experience with Who Do You Think You Are? Rosie was deeply affected by her journey to her ancestral past, and the knowledge and perspective she gained about her heritage is transforming her life in positive ways.

What's Your Story?

BYUtv - What's Your Story?: We All Have A Story: The Process This is a great new program showing on BYUtv about storytelling, with master storyteller, Donald Davis.  The show takes you to one of Donald's workshops where everyday people discover their own stories, and how to tell them.


I'm having a great time working the booth at RootsTech.  There are over 3000 attendees, they say, making this one of the largest genealogy conferences ever, if not the largest.  Meeting people and helping them find their ancestors is the greatest feeling.  The first man I assisted said, "If I get nothing else out of this conference other than what you have just helped me with, this whole thing will have been worth it."  I live for that!

Our booth is right across the aisle from FamilySearch, so I have had a chance to see many old friends and colleagues, which has been awesome.  So many great people!

02 January 2011

GeneaBloggers - Over 1,500 genealogy blogs!

Geneabloggers is a listing of over 1,500 genealogy blogs. It amazes me that there are so many genealogists out there with so much to say. I am only a sometime blogger on family history, so I am not on the list. I'm afraid if I was, I might be expected to blog daily, and I don't have enough time or intelligent things to say to do that. Kudos to the many bloggers who do it, and who provide helpful and useful information to thousands of people every day. I have found many useful tips and interesting insights as I have browsed the family history blogs. Some are more helpful than others, of course, but I do think that genealogy bloggers, on the whole, are a cut above the blogosphere norm, because they are in it primarily to help others, rather than to merely tout themselves in what 0ften tends to be a medium for vanity publication.