22 January 2020

Watershed Moments at SLIG Academy 2020

I have a confession.

Tom Jones terrifies me.

Or at least he used to terrify me. And no, I'm not talking about Tom Jones, the Welsh singer who doesn't find love unusual, but rather about Tom Jones, the genealogy legend who literally wrote the book on Mastering Genealogical Documentation. I've spent the last three years hearing tales of the man's encyclopedic knowledge and of the all-night study sessions required to finish homework for his advanced methods course. I admit I assiduously avoided those courses in spite of knowing I would be a better genealogist for taking them; “intimidation” doesn't even begin to cover it. Still, there's only so long you can plausibly avoid learning from the Jedi Master just because you're secretly afraid you aren't remotely in his league.

Now that I've finally had Dr. Jones for a few lectures, my perspective has changed dramatically.  Tom came into our Client Report Writing course this morning to present his twenty principles for Technical Writing, and again in the afternoon to fill in for the ailing Angela Packer McGhie. Tom was nothing less than stellar (not that I really expected anything else), but his depth of knowledge and the clarity of his presentations were still a revelation. As I sat in the morning session listening and watching slide after slide, I was immediately taken back to my grad school courses in English. Suddenly everything seemed so very familiar and the intimidation factor melted away. "You've got this" started playing on a loop in my brain and I began to believe. It certainly didn't hurt that Tom was both charming and impossibly patient with all our questions.

Being afraid I wasn't “in everyone else's league" has been a bit of a theme for me at this particular Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (or SLIG for short), in part because I've been feeling like my professional journey had derailed in recent months and that I'd fallen behind my genealogy buddies.  I know, I know--it's foolish to compare my journey to anyone else's. Nor is my "delay" particularly surprising considering I spent most of the last two years discovering and then traveling to meet a plethora of new birth relatives. Let's face it, life is what happens when you'e busy making other plans. I don't regret a moment of the last two years because I can no longer imagine my life without these new family members, even if getting to know them meant I haven't always had as much time for traditional genealogical research as I might have liked.

Spending Tuesday morning learning from Tom was transformative, as was the opportunity to review BCG portfolios over lunch in my classroom. Several pages of copious notes later, I finally realized I've got that too. Much like a Tom Jones class to the uninitiated, the idea of building a certification portfolio can certainly be daunting but, once broken down into clearer and more manageable units (not unlike Tom's 20 principles of Technical Writing), the BCG portfolio magically becomes less frightening. Even if I'm not yet quite ready to go on the clock, I now know that when I do, I've got this. At the end of the day, we've all got this.

Nothing like a week and a half at SLIG to give you back your genealogy mojo, right?

Ultimately, that's what's so fabulous about about attending programs like SLIG--they provide you with opportunities to do so much more than deep-dive into a particular genealogical topic. Relationships are built both inside and outside the classroom, supplying attendees with invaluable connections for future collaboration and giving support and encouragement regardless where any of us are in our personal genealogical journeys. Institutes like SLIG allow us the rare privilege of learning from the best in our field--from mentors who help us to embrace our future by lighting our way through the darkness of our self-doubt.

What could be better than that?

P.S. Inspiration for this post may have struck yesterday, but it's still taken me two days to write up because Tom Jones now lives inside my head. I have heard his voice continually while writing and rewriting each paragraph ad infinitum; I have absolute faith that, should he choose, Dr. Jones could still strip this post by at least 20%. I know I have.

Mission accomplished, Dr. Jones...mission accomplished.


  1. I felt the exact same way about Elizabeth Shown Mills when she taught the advanced class at Samford for IGHR. Great post and good luck on your continued genealogical journey!

    1. Thank you so much!! It's always fun discovering our idols are actual mortals, isn't it? ;)

  2. Nice posting, Mary. I wouldn't change a word.

  3. Exquisitely well written article that matches my sentiments precisely!