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Genealogy Firsts - merit badge, conference, autographs, and cemetery picture-taking

I hope I never forget this weekend.

Genealogy has immersed my life for nearly twenty years now. This weekend I got to experience some "firsts" all over again as my 11-year-old son, Evan, accompanied me to the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree in Burbank. One of the finest conferences in the country, I knew it would be perfect to introduce him to this side of genealogy.

This wasn't his first rodeo though. He's spent time with me at the Family History Library (see "But I Thought Genealogy Was Boring") and has done a little FamilySearch Indexing. But he did earn his very first merit badge - Genealogy, took pictures at a cemetery for the first time, attended his first conference, and even signed his very first autograph!

Kids' Camp and Genealogy Merit Badge

The night before Jamboree began about 30 children attended Kids' Camp. They each received their own registration bag with goodies and flyers and attended a few inspirational genealogy lectures. There were stations for them to visit to help them pass off the genealogy merit badge requirements. Evan had already completed his pre-requisites and so he was ready to meet with his merit badge counselor, Sue. She quizzed him about the terms 'ancestor' 'descendant' and 'genealogy' which he passed with flying colors and reviewed his other work. She was concerned that he had recorded his dates with all numbers (5/2/1920 instead of 2 May 1920) - I should have caught that beforehand....Sue was pleased, signed off his blue merit badge card, and Evan had not only earn his genealogy merit badge, but it was his first merit badge as a Boy Scout. Congratulations son!

Here's the list of requirements for the genealogy merit badge.

Off to the cemetery

The next morning at 6am I woke him up - "let's go find a cemetery." This wasn't his usual routine of waking up but before long we were off. I wanted to gain a little more experience working with the BillionGraves app. On my smartphone, the app showed me a list of nearby cemeteries and the number of pictures that had already been taken there. The nearest cemetery was just two blocks east of our hotel. Upon our arrival we were met with an "only open on Sunday between 12-4:30" sign. Bummer. The next closest was Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Driving through it I felt like I was in cemetery heaven - there must have been at least a million markers here. I've never seen such a large cemetery. We chose a location, carefully avoding the sprinklers, and with the "Take Pictures" button on my phone got started. He found someone with the surname of Hernandez and Evan wondered if he was related to our Hernandez friends back in Arizona. After about 20 minutes Evan enthusiastically suggested that we do this every day! He said we should put a flag on the first marker we photographed and on the last one too so we would remember which ones we completed. We took 78 pictures before we had to leave to get our Legacy booth set up.

As we drove to the convention center, the 78 pictures uploaded to the BillionGraves servers and by the time we arrived, several of the pictures had already been indexed by other volunteers. That's the beauty of BillionGraves - if you're not out taking pictures of tombstones you can still help by indexing them at home. Looks like there are currently over 120,000 images ready to index. I might upload these pictures to FindAGrave but that process takes so much longer. I really wish the two services would hook up with each other somehow.

Read more in my articles, "Find a Grave - the Internet's Most Valuable Resource?" and "BillionGraves.com - big competition for Find a Grave."

Jamboree, classes, and his first tip, and his first autograph

I always look forward to Jamboree - between 1,700-1,800 genealogists attend annually and this year seemed no different. Evan attended each of my classes and seemed flattered that I had him stand in front of the audience as I introduced him. After one of the classes he said, "Dad, your classes are pretty interesting but I don't understand all of it yet." He also commented, "Dad, I thought a few of your jokes were funny but I didn't get why people laughed at some of them."

At the booth I was proud to introduce him to so many of you - including Megan Smolenyak, Randy Seaver, Tom Kemp, Ron Arons, Thomas MacEntee, Lisa Alzo, Kory Meyerink, Maureen Taylor, and many others (am I name-dropping now?). A few even asked him what he liked most about Legacy. In the beginning his response was "uh, um, here's my dad..." but by the third day he had confidence and was conversing with attendees as if he were meant to be there.

EvanautoOne attendee used our checklist to choose 22 webinar CDs she wanted. Evan helped her locate each one, which was quite a challenge because they weren't in any order on our table that I could figure out. It was a big project, and in the end, he showed me the five-dollar-tip she gave him. Wow, that was so nice of her. If you are reading this article - thank you! I then told him that I've never received a tip before.

Then it happened. After I had signed my book for one of the attendees, she also asked Evan for his autograph. I didn't think there would be enough room on his face for the size of smile he had. I think he was stunned, elated, and had every other happy emotion possible at that moment. After signing his name, she asked him to write "my first autograph" and add the date. Maybe she saw a future business opportunity there? 

Other fun stuff

We also visited the Santa Monica Pier, rode the ferris wheel, ate pizza and drank soda, and watched the NBA playoffs together. It doesn't matter to me what my three sons and one daughter do when they grow up, even if they don't want to be a genealogist like me. I hope they are lucky enough to love what they do like I love what I do.


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Hey, at your table in the exhibit hall Evan sold me Megan Smolenyak's book and filled out the paperwork too! Wasn't that also a first? Can he get a merit badge in retail? He's quite a guy and you're rightly proud of him.

Great Dennis! Thanks for letting him help you.

Better watch out for you job. Sounds that Evan is hot on your heels.

Loved meeting Evan at Jamboree. You have one fantastic son. He was so polite. You are welcome to bring him to the syminar in Parker in December.

If you ever want to send your pictures to me, I'll upload them to FindAGrave for you with a note of where the photos came from! That way you won't spend much time at all! I love FAG. It has been a tremendous source of information on our very large family tree!

Congratulations! Quite a young man you have there!

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