Thursday, March 2, 2017

An Interview with Rick and Pam Sayre (Speaking in Houston on March 18th with HGF)

As the publicity chairman for Houston Genealogical Forum (HGF) I get the privilege of interviewing our speakers. In about two weeks, Pamela Boyer Sayre and Rick Sayre are giving an "all day" presentation in Houston. Their two topics are "Capital Treasure" and "Ohio and Pennsylvania Research." If you are in the Houston area, we invite you to come and join us! More information can be found on our website


What got you interested in genealogy?

Pam: Mrs. Kirkpatrick, my eighth-grade language arts teacher, gave us an assignment to research where our surname came from. I learned that Boyer was an occupational name similar to Bowman or Bow-yer—an archer, if you will. But I also checked out the two how-to books on genealogy at our town’s library and began a quest for my family history right then—in 1968. My fascination and addiction has only grown over these many years.

Rick: My mother discovered in researching her family that she had five half-siblings she had never met. I took her to Pittsburgh to meet them – I was hooked after that!

What skills from your life “before genealogy” have proven useful to you as a genealogist?

Pam: All those subjects we saw no need for in junior high and high school have practical application to genealogy. Of course history is important, but also sociology and geography—why our family groups moved where they did, why they chose the religion they did (or why they show up in criminal records instead). And geometry has helped me understand deed platting, and biology and chemistry certainly help in learning about DNA and heredity. My past life as a police investigator taught me investigative skills and how to write a concise evidence-based report, both very important for genealogical research. And a career in software training gave me skills as a genealogy instructor and speaker. All genealogists bring many past skills to the table, and they are all valuable.

Rick: As a career military officer I learned a lot about planning and organization. One of the things I learned was the need to pay meticulous attention to details—a great skill for a genealogist.

As you create joint presentations like “Capital Treasures,” how do you divide the work load? For example, is one of you better at technology and one better at writing? Or do you work together on each aspect of the talk?

Pam: We generally divide the work topically. We brainstorm the overall presentation and then set to work individually, eventually bringing our work back together into one Power-Point presentation and one syllabus. I think our joint presentations are stronger because we hit two target audiences. Rick is a “brainiac” with a lot of in-depth knowledge on any given topic. I am a more casual speaker who can decompose a topic and make it understandable to perhaps a beginner.

Rick: Pam pretty well summed it up.

As you travel for genealogy research, lectures, conferences, etc, what is your favorite and least favorite part about traveling?

Pam: I love traveling to small towns and big cities alike and feeling the flavor of a region through local dialects and accents, foods, and history. It’s fun to meet people with all different kinds of ancestors. My least favorite part of traveling is leaving behind our hairy “son,” Andy, a twelve-year-old yellow labrador retriever who adopted us a couple years ago.

Rick: Meeting new people, seeing new places, and the opportunity to meet new relatives. I, too, wish we could take Andy.

If an experienced researcher wanted to become a genealogical lecturer, what steps would you recommend to help them get started?

Pam: Volunteer. Prepare one very good lecture on a topic you know well, and then volunteer to give it free of charge at a local genealogical society, DAR meeting, or any venue (Rotary Club, Kiwanis, any organization that has speakers). Work on a few more lectures. As you begin to lecture and do a good job, you’ll develop a good reputation that will help you rise to the regional and eventually the national level.

Rick: Go to a national conference and listen to a variety of lectures. Take notes on what impressed you. Learn your topics in detail.

As a certified genealogist with many responsibilities, how much time do you get to spend on researching your own family?

Pam: Not enough. I try to use examples from my family in lectures or classes that I do without boring people to death. This means that I get to do a little personal research, but never enough.

Rick: Most of the time when I research my family, it is to build an example for a presentation.

How do you continue your own genealogy education?

Pam: I attend lectures at national conferences when I have any free time. I try to listen to new speakers or sit in on a topic in which I may have no personal research needs, but still learn something of value. When I’m not coordinating a course at Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy or Genealogical Research Institute of Genealogy, I register as a student. As the beginning course coordinator at Institute of Genealogical Research, formerly at Samford University in Birmingham, now at University of Georgia, for the past eleven years, I have been unable to take a course there. We also avail ourselves of online webinars on a variety of topics, and continue to read genealogical journals such as NGSQ, the NYG&B Record, and NEHGS Register.

Rick: Pick a new topic and prepare a lecture. No better way to learn something new.

Who is one of your favorite ancestors, or what has been one of your favorite genealogical discoveries?

Pam: Jesse Westmoreland, my third-great-grandfather, a farm boy from southside Virginia who served in the 2nd Virginia Regiment of the American Revolution. I have followed his footsteps to Valley Forge and Monmouth, New Jersey during the war, back home to Virginia. I have tracked him just over the state line into North Carolina and on west to the very hilly Fentress County, Tennessee, where he died in his late 80s in the same area as the most decorated soldier of WWI, Sgt. Alvin York. Jesse never appeared in a single U.S. census during his entire lifetime, and he owned very little land or personal property.

One of my favorite genealogical discoveries was visiting the Lutheran Church in Oberbexbach, Germany, where another Revolutionary War-era ancestor, Jacob Daniel Shearer, had been baptized in 1726, and his grave in Guilford County, North Carolina, by the church he helped found—sort of the entire cycle of life for this old German.

Rick: My favorite person is Mary Fassbinder. She immigrated in 1856, married twice, gave birth to four children, and raised them in the tough urban environment of Allegheny City (today Pittsburgh North side). She was a rooming house manager, liquor dealer, cigar salesperson, and much more.

My favorite discovery is William Crozier and his wife Elizabeth McMullen Crozier. They came to Allegheny City in 1866. Finding and walking their land in County Armagh, Ireland, was a very moving experience.

Dana: Thank you to Pam and Rick for taking the time to answer my questions and allowing me to share their thoughtful responses! I hope some of you can join HGF in welcoming the Sayres to Houston on Saturday, March 18th.


  1. I've heard Pam and Rick Sayre speak - they give excellent talks. I'd love to attend the Houston Genealogical Forum sometime.

    1. I haven't heard them in person, but I've heard they're wonderful. And, we'd love to have you!


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