Family History Can Be a Whale of a Tale—Just Ask Genealogist David Allen Lambert

September 20, 2021  - by 
Genealogist David Allen Lambert visits cemetery

When renowned genealogist David Allen Lambert was a child, his grandmother gave him a gift that kept on giving—tales about his ancestors. These stories set a course for his life that combined his passion, hobby, and livelihood all in one.

Stories about his great-grandfather, who had been a whaler, hooked him in particular. In elementary school, David had read a child’s version of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. He comments, “I was intrigued with the idea that someone in my family had been like someone in a book.”

Family Stories Are What Make Family History Fun

David felt like a genealogist-in-the-making as soon as he was introduced to his family tree. “I started young to try to find where my family came from,” he says.

While finding the names and vital data about an ancestor is rewarding, it’s the details surrounding that individual that keep genealogists digging. Those details add something to the one-dimensional name. “Everyone has a story, and genealogy is like a 1,000-piece puzzle that you keep adding to bit by bit. [Those stories] are what keep our ancestors in our lives,” David continues.

Illustration of King Cerdic of Wessex

One of David’s own family lines has been linked back to King Cerdic of Wessex, who reigned from 519 to 534 AD. He is considered by historians to be one of the most effective of England’s early rulers.

And note that it was genealogical researchers, for instance, who found that Prince Harry of England and his wife, Meghan Markle, are distant cousins. Their common ancestors are Sir Philip Wentworth, who died in 1464, and his wife, Mary Clifford. “We’re all cousins sooner or later,” notes David.

David’s Love of Genealogy Expanded to Helping Others

David Allen Lambert portrays a Union Civil War soldier at age 7

David was 11 years old when he began seriously looking into his own family genealogy. His passion for finding the bits and pieces of his family history led to a steady progression and then a dedication to help others do the same. David joined the Stoughton Historical Society, a local history and genealogy organization, and he was named assistant curator and vice president just 4 years later at age 15.

David’s current position is chief genealogist for American Ancestors by New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS). Founded in 1845, New England Historical Genealogical Society is the oldest genealogical organization in the country. It is also regarded as a premier source of genealogical services.

David joined the prestigious nonprofit organization in 1993. He describes one of his early jobs of filling requests to borrow books from their genealogy collections as Amazon.com for genealogists. He adds, “The former circulating library gave me a strong understanding of our collections.”

One of his proud moments in a lifetime of notable contributions came when a small genealogical library in Brockton, Massachusetts, was named in his honor.

In addition to these accomplishments, David is an internationally recognized speaker and writer on the topics of genealogy and history.

Sharing Data and Technology Make Family Research Easier  

David says he has enjoyed congenial relationships with like-minded people in the FamilySearch community. Collaboration in finding data and sharing it with the ever-growing number of people seeking family history keeps him returning to Utah frequently. The strong connections between the NEHGS and the FamilySearch community include shared databases that bring billions of items of information within reach of even novice researchers.

The advent of DNA testing to establish a person’s genealogical past has also been a boon to those researching their own histories. DNA is one of many notable advancements and events that have contributed to David’s enthusiasm for family history. “It’s a never-ending story with you in the middle,” he adds.

Advice on How to Get Started Yourself 

When asked what advice David can offer those wanting to start learning about their family history, he suggests the following:

  • Start now.
  • Identify items with family relevance, particularly photos.
  • Identify someone to protect and cherish genealogical items so they are not “thrown out with the trash” upon your passing.
  • Interview yourself. You are an important part of your genealogy. 

If you do as David suggests, you will soon marvel at your own great family heritage.

Portrait of Genealogist David Allen Lambert

David Allen Lambert Biography 

David Allen Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s chief genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st centuries; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2018) and other titles.

David has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, the Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine.

David is an elected fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati.

He is the state historian of the Massachusetts Sons of the American Revolution; state registrar for the Massachusetts Sons of the American Revolution; state registrar for the Massachusetts chapter of the General Society of the War of 1812. David is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachusett-Ponkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.

He is co-host for Extreme Genes: America’s Family History Radio Show. He is also co-host of the podcast Virtual Historians, which deals with history, technology, and virtual reality.

Twila Van Leer

Twila Van Leer is a volunteer features writer for FamilySearch. She is a retired Deseret News editor and staff writer.

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Comments

  1. Es un artículo muy interesante. A través de nuestras búsquedas me agrada mucho, poder encontrar datos personales de nuestros antepasados, como su profesión,por ejemplo, a que se dedicaban, me gustaría poder encontrar sus firmas tambien. No puedo encontrar el acta de matrimonio de mis abuelos maternos, que no resulta tan difícil,aunque busqué en registros de las parroquias,etc.

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: It’s a very interesting article. Through our searches I am very pleased to be able to find personal data of our ancestors, such as their profession, for example, what they did, I would like to be able to find their signatures as well. I cannot find the marriage certificate of my maternal grandparents, which is not that difficult, although I looked in parish records, etc.

    1. Hi Enrique! Thank you for your research question. Please check out the FREE Virtual Genealogy Consultation Sessions where you can schedule time with a specialist to help you on any family history question you may have. You can also connect with other FamilySearch users who may be able to help you, by joining the FamilySearch Community. Good luck and thank you for reading the blog!

      Google Translate – English to Spanish: ¡Hola Enrique! Gracias por su pregunta de investigación. Consulte las sesiones de consulta de genealogía virtual < / a> donde puede programar tiempo con un especialista para que lo ayude con cualquier pregunta de antecedentes familiares que pueda tener. También puede conectarse con otros usuarios de FamilySearch que puedan ayudarlo uniéndose a la Comunidad de FamilySearch . ¡Buena suerte y gracias por leer el blog!

  2. My grandfather was born in 1861 out of wedlock is last name was burke how do I find out who my great gradaddy and great grandmother really are

  3. Hola, gracias a family search he podido encontrar muchos de mis antepasados, me falta mucho estoy estancada, en unos que creo no nacieron en Colombia, gracias

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: Hello, thanks to family search I have been able to find many of my ancestors, I have a long way to go I am stuck, in some that I believe were not born in Colombia, thank you

    1. Hi Maria! Thank you for your research question. Please check out the FREE Virtual Genealogy Consultation Sessions where you can schedule time with a specialist to help you on any family history question you may have. You can also connect with other FamilySearch users who may be able to help you, by joining the FamilySearch Community. Good luck and thank you for reading the blog!

      Google Translate – English to Spanish: ¡Hola Maria! Gracias por su pregunta de investigación. Consulte las sesiones de consulta de genealogía virtual < / a> donde puede programar tiempo con un especialista para que lo ayude con cualquier pregunta de antecedentes familiares que pueda tener. También puede conectarse con otros usuarios de FamilySearch que puedan ayudarlo uniéndose a la Comunidad de FamilySearch . ¡Buena suerte y gracias por leer el blog!

  4. Great article about historian David. In inspires me to do research similar sorry to me as a you g boy my Grandmother took me to the Gravesite as a young boy. So true research is a on going task it’s like a job in something I enjoy on my free tine. College been helping me embark on this new journey. Some day my

    vision and dream is to help others with family research and to make my own history family binder book with family history and story’s and pictures.

  5. I have been doing my family history for over 20 years but at 87 years of age I am not finished. Family Search has been such a great help. We only had ove visit to the Library in Salt Lake City but there is a small branch about 2 miles from me and I am hoping they will re-open soon!

  6. I start with my family history and I got hit with tons of charges I’m scared to even look now in fear of losing my identity.