JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Buzzy Jackson, author of Shaking the Family Tree
Historian Buzzy Jackson’s SHAKING THE FAMILY TREE: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist (Simon & Schuster: July 2010) offers a lively tour through the strange and fascinating subculture of genealogy buffs â€“ a quest that begins with questions about her own family tree, then takes her from the archives of the Mormon church, to a dedicated “genealogy cruise” and even into a lab for a DNA test — all to figure out why the pursuit of our past fascinates so many Americans.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the idea and inspiration to write Shaking the Family Tree?
Buzzy Jackson: I spent seven years getting a PhD in History from UC Berkeley and, during that time, students I taught often asked me why there weren’t more histories of “real people,” i.e., histories of everyday folks who weren’t kings, queens, or generals.
The usual answer is that everyday people don’t leave as much of a paper trail as famous ones. But then I had a student who was an amazing researcher, and it turned out she got her skills from her hobby: genealogy. I realized that genealogy was the history of everyday folks, and I got more interested in the questions that only genealogy could answer.
JP: What is one thing that stands out to you now that you did not anticipate when you set out to write Shaking the Family Tree?
BJ: I didn’t realize how profoundly real the concept that “we’re all related” (I mean every human on earth, past and present and future) could be. Learning about new advances in DNA testing helped me understand this basic fact, and I remain very moved by it.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that lead to Shaking the Family Tree getting out to the public?
BJ: I put a lot of thought and preparation into the initial book proposal for Shaking the Family Tree. It answered in advance a lot of the questions any publisher would ask: Who would read this book? Why is this topic interesting?
I think I made a good case that there’s a whole world of genealogists out there who would be interested in Shaking the Family Tree – and a whole world of people who love those genealogists but don’t really understand why they’re so passionate about genealogy who would probably also get something positive out of this book!
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take for you to start and finish Shaking the Family Tree?
BJ: I usually spend 15% of my time on outlines and the rest on writing. Of course that doesn’t include research, which is the essential part of the process. I generally front-load the research at the beginning of the project, worrying the whole time that I won’t find enough great material.
Inevitably I have too much great material (a good problem to have!), so I winnow it out as I go along. The entire book took about two years, which is pretty fast for me.
JP: What’s next for Buzzy Jackson?
BJ: I’m now working on a new nonfiction book proposal that I will finish this fall. I can’t say too much about it except that it’s not related to genealogy but more in the popular science genre. I am a big science geek.