Your Stories: A Mission to Preserve Her Family History

Posted January 10, 2014 by Amanda | 5 Comments

Jennifer Lynn Young loves genealogy. Born in San Jose, California, Jennifer has held a variety of professions, from the graphic arts to owning a bookstore and her passion for genealogy has helped unite her many interests. She’s even working towards her certification as a genealogist, which she will complete this spring.

At the family homestead, 1945

Her passion for genealogy didn’t begin with such enthusiasm at first. A proud fifth-generation Californian, Jennifer was always fascinated by the stories of her pioneer ancestors (her family still owns the acreage homesteaded by her third great grandfather), but found the details boring in her young age.

Siblings Elmer, MJ and Leona, 1987

“I watched my grandmother and her elder sister Leona Forbes Stenner as they dredged up wee scraps of clues and wrote snail mail letters to follow up – perhaps making an inquiry from the minister of a church or a town clerk in a far-away state or country, asking about records of people that we might, possibly, be related to – and then they waited. Sometimes they got an answer in a few weeks, other times it took much longer. They might never receive a reply. So they pursued many leads at once and kept excruciatingly detailed written records on Family Group Record Sheets covered with minute scribbles…it drove me crazy! I couldn’t understand why it was important. I just wanted the stories, not all that endless paper and vital statistics.”

Great aunt Leona Forbes Stenner

It wasn’t until she began helping her grandmother sort through all the genealogical records and photos she had inherited that Jennifer gained a greater appreciation for the meticulous work done by her genealogically minded relatives.

“Great-aunt Leona had been accumulating genealogical information since 1933, but there were inconsistencies and outright errors in the records, so I began trying to sort some of it out. I went to a few genealogy workshops with my grandmother, read some books on genealogy, and we took a trip to Los Angeles to do some research in the big LDS facility there.”

After the death of her grandmother in 2004 and the birth of her son, Jennifer began to feel a pull or mission to document her family history.

“It felt like something I owed the future and the past – I needed to help my son know who he is and where he came from, and I also felt as though doing this work is a way of honoring those who are gone, and thanking them. I’m endlessly fascinated by the details that used to drive me crazy, and even more by the patterns and stories they reveal. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle but with personal significance and meaning.”

In February 2011, Jennifer discovered Geni by accident. While doing a search for an old friend whom she had lost touch, she stumbled upon her friend’s Geni profile.

“Up till then I’d been frustrated with the genealogy software and sites that I’d tried. Geni was very intuitive to use, it was easy to share information with others, and the community was over-the-top friendly and helpful. “

It was Geni’s collaborative environment that really sealed the deal.

“I get very excited about working collaboratively, which sounds completely dorky but it’s true. It’s like an endless party for genealogy geeks. There’s always someone to have a laugh with while we try to Pin the Pedigree on the Ancestor or whack at a genealogical brick wall. We have the most amazing array of experts here – from those who know everything about a deep, narrow niche, to generalists who are really good at the big picture – and they all just pitch in to help and teach. I feel very lucky to be able to be here!”

A great help to Jennifer’s research are her Smart Matches™ and Record Matches on Geni. She’s found that Smart Matches™ provide great clues that point to further research. They have helped her “break though more than one problem area, and has turned up boatloads of collateral ancestors [she] knew nothing about.“

“I am a huge fan of Record Matches! The record matching with Find-A-Grave alone has saved me a great deal of time and frustration. And every once in awhile something even more cool turns up, like a death certificate or a newspaper article. I think that these tools will become increasingly important as even more databases are integrated.” Her experience on Geni has also led to uncovering long lost connections. “My grandfather had a twenty-year feud with one of his brothers, so that I grew up barely aware of the existence of that great-uncle. I was spending summers with my grandparents while my second cousin (the grandson of my great-uncle) was spending summers with his grandparents in the neighboring town, but we never met even though we were often in the same places at the same times. We discovered each other two years ago on Geni and my son and I visited my cousin and his family this past summer. It was a deeply moving experience to get to know these people with whom we share so much.”

And with her link to the world tree, Jennifer’s original sense of purpose was expanded even further.

“Since finding Geni, this sense of mission has expanded beyond my own heritage. It’s no longer about only me and mine. I get so much satisfaction working to fill out any profile. It feels like a letter to the past saying, ‘I see you – your life is not forgotten. Thank you for all you did.’”

Jennifer Lynn Young

Jennifer has some great advice for those just getting started on their genealogy research.

“Start with what you know, yourself and your parents. Document everything meticulously. Even though it seems like a waste of time because all that stuff seems so obvious, it’s helping you build a good foundation, both in your tree and in your habits as a researcher. Record everything you find, even if it doesn’t seem to fit or seems useless. As you go along, you’ll be amazed at how useful all those seemingly unrelated details become!

Probably the most important thing is to ask questions. Ask everyone, ask in discussions, write to profile managers, use Geni-mail to ask people who say things you don’t understand. You’ll encounter very few, if any, people on Geni who aren’t eager to help you. The only thing to be particularly concerned about is merging. Unless you are absolutely beyond-a-shadow of a doubt that the two profiles are the same, don’t merge them. Other than that, dive in and have fun!”

Special thanks to Jennifer for sharing her experiences with us!

Do you have a similar story to share? Let us know in the comments below or email us at community@geni.com.

All images courtesy of Jennifer Lynn Young

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Social Media Coordinator at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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  • Maria Edmonds-Zediker

    Leona Stenner (Forbes) is my 13th cousin twice removed. thanks for introducing me to yet another new cousin!

    • nigellablue

      I hadn’t realized we were related, Maria, however distantly. Aunt Leona would have been very proud to call you cousin!

    • jenniferlynnyoung

      I hadn’t realized we were related, Maria, however distantly. Aunt Leona would have been very proud to call you cousin!

  • Danny Drollinger

    Jennifer is my friend and distant cousin. She has been of immense help to me, and I really like this portrayal of such a beautiful person.

    • jenniferlynnyoung

      Aww, thanks, Danny, that’s very sweet! And it’s been so much fun to work with you on some of your projects, I wouldn’t call it ‘work’!