Genealogical Inspirations: The Professor Who Taught Me That Family History IS Real History

Dr. Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg
Dr. Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg (bottom row, far left) with her students — current recipients of the national award for the best student journal in history (25th year in a row!). Photo courtesy of California State University, Fullerton.

One of the big time major milestones that genealogists who research U.S. ancestors look forward to each decade is the public release of another U.S. Census. I, like every other such genealogist, have been eagerly awaiting the upcoming April 2nd release of the 1940 U.S. Census — less than one month away now!

To commemorate this significant event, I thought I’d share some of my own early personal genealogy milestones over these next 22 days.

My first genealogy milestone? Embarking on the genealogical journey, of course.

I was a history major in college and am still active in researching and promoting local history. But, in my undergraduate years, I didn’t consider things like family history and local history to be “real” history. To me, history had to be something that impacted state, regional, national or international events. Then I took my first class with Dr. Wendy Elliott-Scheinberg, PhD, a history professor at Cal State Fullerton — where I completed my B.A. in 2001, and where I now work as a librarian at the Pollak Library.

Dr. Elliott-Scheinberg (“Wendy” to her students, at her own request) encouraged me to focus on community history — you know, the stuff that happened in my own Orange County, California backyard — for some of my assignments, which spawned my still active passion for local history. It was through these conversations and coursework that I started learning more about the wealth of records waiting to be investigated at the city and county level and in public library local history rooms. And I can still remember a specific conversation in which Wendy mentioned to me that I was fortunate — as a history student — to have a particularly significant source of historical records just a few miles from my own home…the Pacific Region of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I immediately ventured down to NARA on one of their then Tuesdays night extended research hours. I felt like a kid in a candy store!

It was through one of these conversations that I found out Wendy is a genealogist, and during which she started teaching me that family history IS real history. She made me realize that genealogy utilizes the same records, the same investigative research skills, and the same critical thinking and analytical skills as the more traditional scholarly-sanctioned types of history.

It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I mentioned Wendy’s name to a few members of my local genealogical society, that I found out Wendy is an internationally known genealogical instructor and presenter, and a former president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. In typical Wendy fashion, she never touted her own professional status with her students. Today, I am happy to call Wendy my colleague and friend.

But, I am even more grateful to have studied under her, because it was through her tutelage that I first started venturing into the world of genealogy.

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0 thoughts on “Genealogical Inspirations: The Professor Who Taught Me That Family History IS Real History”

  1. What a wonderful story! I was lucky enough to find Wendy through my own genealogical research. I started out, just hoping to write down everything all living generations knew about our family, before the opportunity was lost, but it really took off after that without too much work, and learning about the lives of my ancestors and their unique stories really re-sparked my interest in history. I found myself looking up parts of history just to better understand what life was like for the characters in my tree.

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