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