Whenever a discussion arises about old houses, Marian Pierre-Louis' name is bound to come up. Marian is a researcher, speaker and writer specializing in southern New England research, particularly in hands-on research. .. hands on in the sense both that she loves to dig through courthouse records, and also that she has a passion for researching items that you may actually put your hands on. Marian’s experience in taxes, deeds, local town records and particularly probate records gives her the ability to quickly resolve questions of provenance of antiques, as well as trace the history of homes. We had a chat with Marian, in the Internet/ e-mail sort of way, and got to know Marian a little better:
WikiChicks: How and when did your interest in genealogy - your own family history - start?
Marian: I grew up with genealogy. My mother was an active genealogist. Interviewing relatives, family groups sheets and fan charts were all a normal part of my childhood. That said, I didn't catch "the bug" myself until I had my own children. Then suddenly understanding the connection between the generations became important to me. I dove into genealogy with a fervor and it hasn't subsided yet.
WikiChicks: What is your earliest memory of a sense of family beyond your parents and siblings?
Marian: We always got together with my Mom's brother and his family at Christmas. Or so it seemed during those childhood years. In between there were visits from my grandfather and great aunts and uncles. I can't really remember a time when my extended family wasn't a part of our life. My mother had a 365 day calendar on our kitchen wall and she would list the birthdates of our ancestors there. She would drive me crazy each day saying "This is your great, great grandfather's birthday." I had a very strong sense of family right from the start.
WikiChicks: After growing up the way you did, with your mother so obviously passionate about family history, and with so many ‘genealogy sharing moments’, many kids would have run as far in the other direction with their career choice as possible. How did you make the move into being a professional genealogist - what motivated you?
Marian: I honestly can't remember. I know that when I first got into genealogy I would sign up for a free two-week subscription to Ancestry.com and then I would research frantically for hours on end to get the most of those two weeks. I think I drove my husband crazy during that time. You couldn't get me off the computer or Ancestry.com. Somehow I must have read about the Association of Professional Genealogists and I began to follow the APG email list. I believe it was open to anyone at that time, not just members. From reading the list I quickly got hooked on the idea of becoming a professional and I never looked back.
WikiChicks: Do you have a favorite type of research?
Marian: I don't have a favorite type of research but a favorite way of researching. I love to research on-site in original records. It's so easy to do in New England. Nothing gets me more excited than to go to a town hall and research vital records, deeds, and probate all in one location like I did just last week in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The past is so intimate in an environment like that, and some people working at the town hall still have some of the old surnames of the town forefathers. And when you need more information, there are always folks around who can direct you to an old timer or a librarian who has just what you need.
WikiChicks: How did you get interested in old houses/buildings?
Marian: I've always been interested in old houses. I grew up in a very historic town that had a higher concentration of historic houses than most places. My mother also used to take me to open houses to check out houses. I always thought that was fun. My dad is a licensed real estate broker and appraiser so that probably contributed as well. There's just something so magical about old houses. They have character and hold many secrets. I love that.
WikiChicks: What do you find to be the most interesting or fascinating part of the history of older homes?
Marian: For me the thing that separates genealogy and house history is the very tangible reality of a physical house. We can research our ancestors, but we can't talk to them or see them. If we are lucky we might be able to visit their gravesite or enjoy a photo. With a house, you can physically touch it and know that all the people who lived there before also enjoyed the same space. The stories of the past come to life through the walls of the house, and the building acts to interconnect all the previous owners and families. The other thing is that houses, unlike people, stay put. You can research a house without leaving the county. Our ancestors moved around so much that it's hard to research in one location. And with houses, back in the old days when people didn't move so much, you can find the previous owners buried in the local cemetery. Houses really allow you to have a direct connection with the past.
WikiChicks: You've done several really informative webinars on various subjects. What is your favorite genealogy subject to talk about? houses? local history? specific research topics?
Marian: Case studies are my favorite topic to talk about. Getting into the nitty gritty of how a problem was solved using a real example. I think it's interesting for the audience to hear something so concrete and fun, for me as the presenter to talk about my research.
WikiChicks: You do share so much great information, and in so many different ways! How many blogs do you maintain? What topics do you focus on in them?
Marian: I don't think in terms of blogs anymore or in terms of blogging. I think more about websites and online content. The Internet has matured to a point where you can be a blogger, podcaster, or vlogger ,and still be contributing great value to the genealogical community. I don't think it matters which one(s) you choose to do. My two most active sites are Fieldstone Common, which is an internet radio show that focuses on the history and genealogy of the Northeast US and The Genealogy Professional podcast which helps genealogy professionals and those who wish to enter the field learn more about the business of genealogy. They are both podcasts but moving forward I will be blogging more on the sites as well. Both of the shows, despite being very focused topics, have listeners from all around the world.
I've also just started a new site called GeneaPodcasters.com to help people learn how to listen to genealogy podcasts, access a directory of genealogy podcasts and even find resources so they can start podcasting themselves. And I have a fun Facebook page called I Love Historic Houses where I share a lot of my old house photos.
My sites either take a specific look at the history and genealogy of the Northeast United States or they take a general, broad view of genealogy and reflect on the happenings of the community. I think my next podcast will be a show somehow related to historic houses.
WikiChicks: When, how and/or why did you make the move into podcasting?
Marian: I've always enjoyed public speaking. I think most genealogy speakers enjoy the educational part of speaking to a group of people. We are teachers at heart. When webinars came along it provided a way to reach a larger audience through a new technology. But webinars are very formal and structured and serve a very specific purpose. In 2011 Thomas MacEntee started the GeneaBloggers online radio show on the Blog Talk Radio network. I was fascinated by this. I asked Thomas to help me and he got me started with Fieldstone Common as a live show on Blog Talk Radio in August 2012. Doing a live show was very fun, but as time progressed, I learned more about the technology and production of shows and switched my show to a recorded format, produced from my own studio. The exciting thing about podcasting is that you can talk about whatever you like, and it can be heard by anyone in the world. There is no limit to your audience. I really enjoy listening to audio content and creating my own audio shows. The creative and educational aspects of sharing information in this format are very empowering.
WikiChicks: A few years back you were the subject of a blog article about how you managed at that time to juggle your research and your three sons - you've added so many facets to your work life... Do you still get 7 hours sleep at night?! Have you developed any new tips for time management?
Marian: Sleep is very important to me! Yes, I still get as much sleep as possible. Raising three boys while running a business always provides new opportunities for learning time-management skills. The challenge is that each year is different. The boys get older and have different activities or obligations. So every year I have to re-invent myself around their schedule. If things would just stay the same I might have some chance to master time management but they don't, so I am constantly learning how to handle the next situation. My boys were just babies when I started in genealogy. I used to wheel my youngest around in his stroller in the Registry of Deeds. And all three have been through more than their fair share of cemeteries and old houses. Now that my oldest is about to turn 15 we interact in different ways. My oldest helps me with technical support on my webinars and he does my audio editing and some graphic design. Each one of the kids is involved in my business in one way or another. They all have a strong appreciation of history and the meaning of family. The only thing I can suggest to other professionals is to get your kids involved with what you do. Let them see your passion for what you love. The rest will fall into place.
Marian Pierre-Louis is a full-time genealogy educator and broadcaster. She is a Program Co-Chairperson for the 2015 New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) and is actively involved with the New England chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. She is also a Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. In addition, she is the host of Fieldstone Common, an internet radio show dedicated to northeastern history and genealogy, The Genealogy Professionalpodcast, a show for anyone interested in a career in genealogy, GeneaPodcasters, and on Facebook at I Love Historic Houses. You can learn more about Marian and her work at www.FieldstoneHistoricResearch.com.