Tammy Tipler-Priolo BASc, PLCGS is a Professional Genealogist who runs The Ancestor Investigator, a family history consulting and research business in Ontario, Canada. In this interview she shares insights of her journey in genealogical research and tips to consider in discovering your family history.
How did you first become interested in doing genealogy work, what inspired you to pursue this as a career?
My grandfathers talked incessantly about their family histories. My maternal grandfather was born in 1882 and was the last of his generation to survive. He was the storyteller of the family and would often tell us family stories and show us pictures of his grandmother, parents and siblings. He was French-Canadian and Irish. He was a healer and talked about his mother and maternal grandmother being healers; this fascinated me. My mother became a nurse, I have a degree in Human Nutrition, a Certificate in Horticultural Therapy and believe in and have witnessed the therapeutic and spiritual component to genealogy. Grandpa would often say to us “Hey, listen to me as one day you will wish you had.” I was always listening even if he did not realize it.
My paternal grandfather, who was born in South Africa in 1906 to English parents, was quite taken up with history in general. I remember him talking about the family history dating back to 1634 in Nottingham, Nottingham England. These paternal ancestors were Lacemakers in the 1600 & 1700s, Bakers/Pub owners of the “Rose Violet, Thistle” in the 1800s and Burgesses of the city. They were Catholic until my great great grandfather gave up studying in the priesthood to marry my great great grandmother, a protestant in Dover, England. My grandfather arrived in Canada at the age of 1 ½ years with his mother who followed her husband; they ended up settling in Northern Ontario Canada.
Intrigued as I was about my male sides of the family, I became more curious about my grandmothers’ family lines when my paternal grandmother passed away in 1992. I knew very little about her side. After several years of digging I learnt she was French-Canadian and Irish with possible Cree connections. She also had United Empire Loyalists in the family; funny she thought they were Keepers of the Gate at Windsor Castle. Interesting how stories can twist and turn as they are passed down; genealogy research helped guide this tale to the truth. My maternal grandmother died when I was 2 years old and I often wondered about her line as well. There were stories of her line having Indigenous connections. She was Scottish, Irish, English, German, French-Canadian and I would later confirm the truth of this story with records tying me to my Algonquin Ancestor.
Thus, with the help of a cousin and my parents we embarked on trips to cemeteries, churchyards, family interviews, land record offices, court houses and such. I was on my genealogical journey that led me to joining various genealogical and historical societies. Hours of volunteer work for those societies along with 9 years of volunteering with the local Family History Centre guided me to study with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies where I graduated with Distinction in 2003. With much prompting I began running my own genealogical business, The Ancestor Investigator, where I did consulting, research, writing, lecturing and workshops. I have written over 1000 genealogical articles published nationally and internationally as well as online, in addition to publishing two motivational genealogical books, 100 biographies and creating various genealogical workshop games. I have been lecturing since 1997 in person and online nationally and internationally on various genealogical topics including record types and methodology to name a few. As you can see I have been bitten by the genealogy bug and continue to be contagious with enthusiasm in hunting down ancestors for myself as well as others.
What is one mistake that you often see non-professionals make in their family history research and how could this be avoided?
Being over zealous can cause one to miss steps in the genealogical process. I refer the reader to the Genealogical Proof Standard.
Where would you recommend people who are new to genealogy start out and what do you consider to be the first step in family history research?
I would say to start with yourself and work backwards. Work from the known to the unknown. Search for records and pictures in your own home. Interview relatives, especially the elderly relatives; one could interview during the holidays if you don’t have time and then tuck away the notes from that interview for safe keeping later when you have time to start. I would be a rich woman if I collected a penny for each time I have heard people say, “If only I had talked to…before they passed”. With the information one gathers start mapping it out on a pedigree chart and family group sheets; these charts will be indispensable for your research to come. Just do an Internet search for free charts. Of course, one could also input their information into a family tree program or one provided from one of several companies; do your homework and investigate which one will work best for you. Most often this type of service is offered for free and you can then print off your pedigree charts and family group sheets from there.
What benefits are there in hiring a genealogist over attempting to research on your own?
I strongly believe that each person gets more benefit out of researching on their own. There is a special connection one gets with their ancestors when they conduct the research themselves. I know this first hand after spending a year going through microfilm looking for my great grandfather’s baptismal certificate back in the 1990s; it was a eureka moment when I did find it and I still feel that close bond to Grandpa Charlie. That being said, working with a professional genealogist, whether to just help one get started or to help with brick walls, can be of great benefit. A good professional genealogist will help you get organized and on the right track with your research. They should be able to analyze a client’s information and come up with an appropriate research plan tailored to the client’s needs. There can be a time and cost saving component to working with a professional genealogist as the professional should have the education and experience to focus in on all aspects of a client request.
At what point would you recommend a person to consider a professional?
This is an individual consideration. Some clients do not have the time to do the research and just wish to obtain the answers to their question; a professional is there to help with that request. Some clients wish to conduct the research themselves but just need a little help to push them in the right direction; a professional is there to help with that request as well. There is a balance that needs to be struck between the time a client has to devote to this endeavour and the amount of resources they have, as well as just needing some guidance. A good professional will always keep in mind that they are there to help the client understand the process, steer them in the right direction and the limitations of their request. Again, I refer you to the Genealogical Proof Standard mentioned earlier in this article.
Is there any one experience that really stands out for you personally as a professional genealogist?
There are several experiences that stand out in my mind personally as a professional genealogist. Some are those serendipitous moments when you are conducting research and you think there is no hope in finding what you are looking for, be that personal or professional, when low and behold you find what you are looking for just like that. My mom showing up and sitting next to me, after hours of me looking, she picks up a book and opens it to the very page of information I was looking for in the first place.
I would also be neglectful if I did not mention patience with one’s research. It can sometimes take a very long time for an answer but patience can payoff in the long run. I had a client for over 15 years and I finally found the answer they were seeking. It all came down to a waiting game for records to be released to the public. Of course, there were other things in the works that helped, but patience did help in this case and many other cases as well.
If you had unlimited time is there any genealogy or history project you would personally like to take on?
Actually, I have been slowly working on a genealogical project for years involving the Italians of Northern Ontario, Canada. For years they would say they were all related somehow as they came from the same area in Southern Italy. I have been gathering documents on each family trying to piece together their connections. It has been slow going however I have figured out several connections and with the help of DNA testing more and more connections are being pieced together. I believe it is only a matter of time before all the pieces to this Italian puzzle will be put back together. It all comes down to the Seven Grandfather Teachings (Bravery, Respect, Honesty, Humility, Love, Truth and Wisdom). If one applies these principals to their research they will be heard and answers will come forth be it results expected or unexpected.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview remain the intellectual property of Tammy Tipler-Priolo subject to copyright.