JEAN: Sheila, you and I have known each other a number of years now, so my questions are going to include some based on discussions we have had over that time, as well as your website. To start with, the first thing folks want to know is “how long have you been doing this” (meaning genealogy for others)?
SHEILA: I have been a genealogist for almost thirty years, a professional over twenty of those years.
JEAN: and the natural follow-up to that is “what got you started”?
SHEILA: When my first husband became seriously ill, I was asked by doctors what his family history was as related to health issues. I did not know. I married again and my second husband was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease and one of the questions was, you guessed it, do I know his family medical history? I did not BUT I decided to learn about genealogy, including the medical historical backgrounds of those ancestors. My education, classes, conferences, and others, have always been to find everything possible about those people, migration patterns, health issues, and social history, and other facets of the specialized genealogical research methodology.
JEAN: That is a great point – knowing not only your own family’s medical history, but that of your loved ones and their families.
You have been involved in some other types of work, if I remember correctly. You worked as an archivist for some period of time. Where was that and what sort of work did you do there?
SHEILA: Given my background in business and interest in history for some years, I was hired to work at one of the California Historic Missions as an archive manager. In that roll, I took a certificate course, went to the California State Archive for workshops, did the same some years ago at one of the NARA Regional Centers, and still take as many webinars, etc. that kept my skills current. In 2002, I was offered the position of Mission Administrator and did that for ten years, which meant my professional genealogy business had to cease at that time. Wanting to resume that career, in 2012 I resigned as the administrator but was asked to manage the archive on a part-time basis, which I have done for the past five years, while building up my professional genealogy business. I have given notice at the mission that I will be leaving sometime this summer and devote full time to my genealogy business.
JEAN: Well, congratulations on your upcoming retirement! It’s interesting that your degree is in Political Science. How do you see that helping you in your genealogy work?
SHEILA: It really did not, nor has for the most part my six years studying French. The mission records are in Spanish and English, the people I worked with spoke Spanish and English. For that reason, I took two years of private tutoring in Spanish.
JEAN: Your website says that you are a member of Phi Kappa Phi, a national scholastic society. Can you tell our readers a little more about that, what your role is in the organization, how it has helped you in your research work, or anything that might be applicable?
SHEILA: It is exactly that. I have an AA Degree, then went to a four-year for my BA. I was told high academic achievements at both qualified me for a scholastic honor society. The counselor suggested I accept Phi Kappa Phi because some others required a complete four-year BA education. I am proud to say there are several of us in the genealogy world, for one is my friend Pam Sayre.
JEAN: Your services are in the areas of Forensic Research and Irish Research. Both can be rather involved . . . how do you approach a research project for someone, from the onset?
SHEILA: My early genealogical education sparked a desire to learn more about legal records. One reason my BA is in Political Science is because I planned to go to law school. As a re-entry student, as I was called because I went back to school when my children were grown, I was not prepared for my second husband to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in his forties and I had to make a choice between him and law school. The choice was obvious but I continued to study the codes, statutes, and anything else where legal issues were involved. Regarding Irish research, it is a love of mine and I like to assist people to understand that to get “over the pond” requires every possible piece of evidence here first.
JEAN: I think one of the most interesting aspects of your website is the page on Case Studies. You list quite a few; which was your favorite and why? (and, just a note to our readers here: check Sheila’s website to read about them all and get an idea of what genealogists are asked to do)
SHEILA: I have two favorites: one is George Stevens Jr., son of the famous director and famous in his own right, for whom I had the privilege to research both his English roots (father) and Irish roots (Mother) both here and in the UK and Ireland. The other favorite is the trademark case I worked on for attorneys in northern California. The case was taken to the Federal Appellate Court and I am proud to know my research assisted the judges to reverse the lower court decision regarding trademarks. You can read about both in the testimonials on my website.
JEAN: OK, I’ve looked at your speaking experience and list of lecture topics and noticed that it mentions you doing grant writing for a Forensic Canine study and a Ground Penetrating Radar Study of a Cemetery. This is fascinating. Can you tell us any more or is it one of those things that is covered by a Non-Disclosure Agreement?
SHEILA: Actually, both grants were awarded to the mission and they both received wide-spread publicity in the newspapers and local television in Santa Barbara County when they were done this past June. Basically, the object of the studies was meant to provide evidence where burials in the mission cemetery were located. I knew the current outside wall was not original so it was no surprise when the forensic canines and GPR located remains outside the wall as well as a resistance survey that located evidence of a possible wall that was near an archaeological dig done some years ago to locate the Spanish soldier’s quarters.
JEAN: Is there anything else you would like to add?
SHEILA: Just that I thank you very much for the opportunity to give your audience some in-depth knowledge of me and my professional genealogy work.
JEAN: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
Interview conducted virtually by Jean Wilcox Hibben, July 2017