Blazing New Paths: Genealogists Share Their Achievements in Pioneer Stories

July 10, 2015  - by 

We all have pioneer stories, ways in which we’ve blazed new paths to give ourselves and our families a chance at a brighter future. Documenting this legacy in family records can allow it to be shared with generations to come.

Some people hear the phrase pioneer stories and immediately imagine covered wagons crossing the plains. Others may think of a famous explorer, scientist, or another person crossing frontiers.

Celebrating the feats of people who have famously expanded our world is important, but it needn’t diminish the significance of our own achievements – whether or not they are widely known by others.

To celebrate the pioneer in all of us, we’ve asked family historians to look within and identify achievements they’d like to be part of their legacy. Let their pioneer stories serve as inspiration to think about your accomplishments. Then share a pioneer story you’d like as part of your family record!

Family Historians Share Pioneer Stories


Rachel LaCour Niesen

My path is paved by images – by photos of my ancestors.

I believe all of our family photos are in danger. They are hiding in attics, basements, and boxes around the globe. They are at risk of being damaged or lost forever.

Yet they are a living, breathing archive. They illustrate our stories and help us remember to remember. Long after we’re gone, and our children become the stewards of our family stories, these photos should remain. They should live on. They should speak across generations, saying, “I was here. I mattered to someone. I left a legacy of love. I helped start your story.”

That’s why I believe sharing family photos helps keep your ancestry alive. When my grandfather died two years ago, I wanted to celebrate the legacy he left behind. So I started scanning old photos of him — from his childhood to military service, to marrying my grandmother and raising my mother. Then, I posted a photo and a story about him on Instagram and invited family and friends to do the same for their loved ones. In turn, they encouraged people in their networks to share. Now I receive family photos and stories from all around the world.

Save Family Photos started as a personal project on Instagram and quickly grew into a virtual campfire. It’s a safe place where people can gather and share their stories, one photo at a time.

Rachel is the founder of Save Family Photos. You can follow her on Instagram.

Thomas MacEntee


Pioneers have always been on the lookout for opportunities, for themselves and their families. As an entrepreneur in the genealogy industry, I’m always looking for ways to improve the family history experience through new products and services.

When I find a new “gold nugget” I try to share it with as many others as possible. What’s more important to me is sharing these opportunities rather than hoarding them for my own personal benefit. A community always benefits when more hands and minds are involved in building a better mousetrap.

Thomas is the founder of GeneaBloggers. You can follow him on Twitter.

Lisa Alzo


Although I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer, I’d be honored to know that others considered me a trailblazer.

Twenty-five years ago, I began my journey as a genealogist and writer. As a graduate student in creative nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh I wrote my thesis about my grandmother to tell the story of her immigration to America from Slovakia. The thesis evolved into my first book, Three Slovak Women. What followed was a new and unexpected career as a genealogy professional where I now have the opportunity to hopefully inspire others who have similar family backgrounds.

Lisa is founder of The Accidental Genealogist. You can follow her on Twitter.

Are you preserving family stories or helping others document the lives of ancestors? Share a pioneer story of your own that can one day be included in family records!

Diahan Southard

Diahan Southard

When I think of a pioneer, I think of one with a spirit of adventure, who knows that failures are inevitable and valuable parts of the path, and above all, has faith that the trail they are blazing will lead to a better life for themselves and their families.

For me, and millions of mothers like me, we are pioneers as we raise children in a media saturated world. We have coined the term “screen time,” we have spent hours on porches and backyards and living rooms discussing how to both remove the bad and promote the good that these devices have to offer our children. On this adventure we are failing, and we are succeeding, and we have faith that our efforts will lead to strong children and families and communities.

Diahan is the founder of Your DNA Guide. You can follow her on Twitter.

Allison Kimball


As I watched my daughter raising her hand to be sworn into our hometown youth council, I was transported back 25 years to the same moment when I stood in front of a judge and was sworn into that same youth council. As the first youth mayor, on the first youth council, I promised to serve in a way that would improve our community and strengthen families.

Our city is celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year and, as I look back at the activities we started that still continue today, I can’t but help but wonder at the simple role I played that has now become part of history. My mind reflects over the last year and I wonder what of all those small decisions will become something bigger and of great importance to my descendants, just as my ancestors have influenced me. I am a pioneer as my grandparents before me and as my children and grandchildren will become.

Allison is the founder of simple inspiration. You can follow her on Pinterest.

Carissa Rasmussen


I am pioneering my way through technology and learning as much as I can so that I can educate my children on how to protect themselves from dangers out there. I am partnering with my grandparents to digitize treasured family memories to help keep the stories of our loved ones alive.

Carissa is the founder of Carissa Miss. You can follow her on Instagram.

How are you blazing new and safe paths for you and your family? Share your pioneer story, taking time to document it within family records.


A.J. Jacobs


I’m nowhere near the pioneer that my ancestors were. I mean, they uprooted their lives with little money and left the Ukraine. That still gives me chills. The best that I can offer is that I’m the first in my family to visit Salt Lake City. Which I loved. But it wasn’t exactly a hardship, especially since I got to explore RootsTech. Though I suppose the floor was, at times, almost as crowded as Ellis Island probably was back in the day.

A.J. is the founder of Global Family Reunion. You can follow him on Twitter.



Becky Higgins


I am so fortunate to have grown up in a happy home with devoted and hard-working parents. My dad worked outside of the home and my mom was able to stay at home. I always assumed I would do the same . . . until I realized a very important part of my story was to help others to document their memories through the work I do.

A career was born and eventually I started my own company and even an app (Project Life®) came along! While these things were not in my original “life plans” I am grateful every day that I get to balance my most important roles as a wife and mother with this other work that is blessing so many lives.

Becky is the founder of You can follow her on Instagram.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze


I have made several career changes as an adult. In my mid-40s, while working as an Educational Assistant, I successfully obtained my B.A. followed by my B.Ed.

Then three challenging years began – my husband died leaving me with two teenage boys. I was injured at work. Surgeries that followed my injury were unsuccessful.

My 50th birthday ushered in more new beginnings. It was 1996 and a new craze called “the Internet” had begun. Since I was unable to work I decided to learn how to create a website from scratch (no webpage editors or places that created a site for you). Olive Tree Genealogy was born.

I returned to teaching, but at 55 I embarked on yet another path. I left my teaching career to begin my genealogy career. This rather difficult decision enabled me to make huge changes in my own life and in the lives of my children and has brought me financial security and great peace and joy.

Lorine is the founder of The Olive Tree Genealogy. You can follow her on Twitter.

What exciting journeys are you and your family taking together? Document a pioneer story of your own and make it part of family records for future generations to enjoy.

Share Your Pioneer Story!

Take inspiration from these words and think about how you’ve blazed new paths to benefit you or your family. Then document your pioneer story, preserving it in family records. How will future generations be aware of your accomplishments if you don’t share them?


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  1. En mi caso, no tuve oportunidad de conocer a ninguno de mis abuelos, pues soy el cuarto hijo en mi familia. Por otra parte, una tia paterna, nos dejó, lo que habia averiguado en su viaje a Europa. Ahora veo que fue ella la pionera de mi árbol familiar.

    1. English Translation:

      In my case, I didn’t have the opportunity to know any of my grandparents, and I am the fourth child in my family. Moreover, a paternal aunt left us what she had figured out on her trip to Europe . Now i see that she was the pioneer of my family tree.

  2. Today we are ‘wearing in’ the wonderful new FamilySearch Family Tree engine, along with the tech professionals who design and manage it. We are definitely pioneers.

    We are slowly but surely eliminating the faulty data which developed through the 20th century. We are finding and removing the masses of duplicates and badly combined families. We are adding sources and reasons for each data entry or correction.

    Those faults will rarely crop up in the future, now that the digital system offers cautions, watch lists and helpful prompts. Let’s be thankful that we are having the privilege of doing the pioneering work.

  3. I am a single lady age 74 And I started my Journal keeping in 1972. It wasn’t much but it grow into a 5 journals a year project. I want my families Families to know that Journal work is a blessing to all and helps us shape our lives. Who knows who will be interested in knowing Ruth Carolyn Gardner. I try to keep a Christmas Journal every year. Some Journals are project orented and some are tablets of URLs I work with during a day. These are busy journals.

  4. My Mother was the family genealogist…. and I grew up with her going to visit family relatives, writing lots of letters to prospective family members and government agencies for information and of course her wonderful family stories. I grew to cherish the family stories.

    I love to look into the photographs of my ancestors and I wonder what was their life like, what were their challenges every day, what kind of person were they? Oh how I wish these photos and other family heirlooms could talk!

    A number of years ago I recorded Mother telling them to me again and about her life growing up. Then I recorded my Dad telling me about his life. Now, not only do I have the audio of these stories I also have their voices preserved forever. Mother was a collector of photographs even though she hated having her photograph taken…. I spent a number of hours going through some of her photos and labeling them with her. Now she has passed on and I miss her terribly… and I collected all her family history paperwork and brought it back to the USA from New Zealand in suitcases on various trips…. Now I’m wading my way through it and I’m finding more photos I didn’t know existed. So I’m scanning them and labeling them or trying to find out who is who… Please, anyone who reads this – write the names of the people in the photograph and the date and place – there are archival pens you can use which will not damage the photo. They are available at craft stores like Michaels and Joann Fabrics or online.