Tracing and Planting Roots: The Life of a Genealogist

Nov 15

It may be odd to picture a six year-old carefully filling out his pedigree chart, but perhaps that’s what drove Richard W. Price, Sr. to pursue genealogy as a full-time profession. That, and the fact that his father was passionate about genealogy and practiced it as a hobby throughout his life.

At 12, Richard began collecting his own genealogies. Taught by his grandfather to search the records of the Mesa, Arizona genealogical library, Richard soon began making fascinating connections and associations within his own family. For instance, on one trip to the library, he discovered that both of his parents were descendants of the Reverend John Lathrop, an early New England cleric.

Continuing his fascination in family history as a hobby throughout his childhood and high school years in Arizona, it was a trip to Boston with his parents at age 16 that helped cement his passion for genealogy. For two weeks, Richard studied at the New England Historic and Genealogical Society. When he entered college at Brigham Young University (BYU), it was only natural that one of his selected courses was genealogy.

Advised by a professor not to make family history his primary collegiate study (because there was no money in the business), Richard pursued an undergraduate degree in psychology. Despite his training in psychology, Richard continued his genealogical pursuits as a hobby, visiting England and Wales in his early twenties for two weeks in order to explore record offices and genealogical societies and studying cemeteries. In 1976 he visited the Institute of Family Research (IFR) in Salt Lake City in order to find out more about one of his family lines. During his visit, Phil McMullin, president of IFR, offered Richard a job. Since he needed a summer job anyway, he began his first paid job in genealogy.

Richard worked for IFR for six years, with Dean McLeod his trainer and mentor. While there, he earned accreditation in English research and even served as president of the Utah Genealogical Association, Professional Chapter. In 1979 he and several friends began meeting several hours a week to establish a professional genealogical organization, later named the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). Richard served both as vice president and president of APG, which has grown to more than 2,400 members.

Richard started Price & Associates, Inc. his own genealogy company, in 1982. With a wife and young family at home, he earned an M.A. in Family and Community History at BYU in 1984, with a master’s thesis titled Child-Naming Patterns in the English Villages, 1558-1740: Whickham, Durham; Bottesford, Leicester; and Hartland, Devon.

His genealogy business has taken Richard on research trips all over the world, including England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Canada and many areas in the United States. This research has helped him fill in some of the gaps to records available in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Richard has become skilled and versed in searching the records and manuscripts in local churches and archives throughout Europe.

Remembering some of these trips, Richard said: “How can one express the feelings, the chills that descend on you when you’re visiting an ancestral home? When I first visited Ludlow, Shropshire, where my Price ancestors originated, a still, sacred reverence fell upon me. I walked the same roads, churches, markets and shops that my forefathers sojourned. This was holy ground to me.”

Of course, those trips were also not without a bit of characteristic mirth. On one occasion, while jogging through the cobblestone streets of Lincoln, England, Richard fell and broke his leg. He had six weeks left on his research trip and was told he could not bend his leg for two months. While driving a stick shift on the “wrong” side of the road through the English countryside, Richard somehow found a way to go about his work.

Another time, Richard stayed at a large bed and breakfast with traditional shared bathrooms. Always an early riser, Richard went into the bathroom at 5 a.m. with a towel wrapped around his waist to get ready for the day. After his shower he returned to his room to find it locked, with the wrong key in his hand. Having no other choice, he walked down five flights of stairs and sat in the lounge wearing nothing but a towel until the owner awoke – but not before a non-English speaking foreigner came upon the odd site in the lounge. With no way to explain himself, Richard simply let the foreigner get a great laugh out of the obvious predicament.

Today, Richard continues in his quest to help clients trace their lineage and understand their ancestors and their lives. Married to Nancy Knudsen Price since 1976, the couple has raised five children together in Utah. To Richard, ancestral or immediate, family really is everything.