Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another of the Good Uns

When I first began to get serious about genealogy and family history research, I subscribed to the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list online. You don't have to be a pro to do so, but you can certainly get an education by listening in. I did. And every now and then, when I was stumped by something (which I was far more often than I ever asked about), I posed a question.

Almost always someone with much more knowledge and expertise than I suggested appropriate ways to research what I was trying to tackle or offered the titles of books I might want to consult or articles in which the authors addressed how they had dealt with a similar problem.

The man who answered most frequently was a Canadian genealogist and librarian, Ken Aitken. When I began to look seriously at taking some courses to improve my knowledge and skills at research and analysis, it was Ken who pointed me toward useful places. And ultimately, when I chose to take some courses from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies which is affiliated with the University of Toronto, Ken ended up being the "mentor" for three of my courses.

From Ken I learned how to learn. As a reasonably quick study with most things, I tended to approach genealogy and family history from the same rather scattered approach. Think of it as the 'shot gun approach' to family history. You scatter a lot of shot, and occasionally you hit something. It helps, of course, if you're aiming in the right direction, which usually I was. But it wasn't very efficient and I was sure there had to be a better way.

There is. And Ken is the one who pointed me in the right direction. His course in article analysis taught me how to learn from other researchers. His suggestions about books on self-directed learning and social history both focused and ultimately broadened my research.

He was a man with a gift for teaching. And those of us whom he taught will benefit for the rest of our lives from his instruction.

For over a year Ken battled the effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Yesterday morning he passed away. The world is a poorer place without his humor and his insight and his knowledge. It has been lessened by the loss of a man who stepped up and offered help and suggestions and kindness to those who were seeking to learn. But it has been immeasurably enriched by his presence. And the gifts he gave to all of us who learned from him will, I hope, be passed on to those whose lives we touch.

Ken, we will miss you. We have been blessed by your presence. Congratulations on finally getting past all your research brick walls!

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