Meet Congress 2015 Speaker, Seonaid Lewis from NZ

Seonaid LewisOur Congress 2015 speaker for today is Seonaid Lewis from Auckland, New Zealand. I know Seonaid quite well from blogs and other social media but I haven’t heard her present. I’m looking forward to meeting her at Congress. I’m confident that if you have ancestors from across the Ditch, she’ll be your “go to” speaker.

I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?  Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?

I am married with twin 14yo daughters and currently live in Auckland, New Zealand. I worked for 26 yrs in graphic design and print, including six years on the Board of a one-stop design and print consultancy in London, that specialised in “ethic and social consultancy.

I’ve always been interested in history and have loved hearing my mother recounting family stories throughout the years, but I didn’t become actively involved in researching my own family history till towards the end of the time I was living in London (wish I’d started earlier).

I consider myself a family historian rather than a genealogist, as I am interested in finding out the history behind the genealogy (I believe there is a difference in the two terms, with genealogy meaning the study of pedigree).

When we returned to New Zealand, I decided on a career change – my husband suggested working as a genealogist, but I needed a career with security and regular income, so he suggested I became a librarian, as “that is one of the things Librarians do – help people with their research.”

I looked into it, and resigned my old job and started study towards a library degree at home, eventually got a job in a library as a shelver, and worked my way up the library system, until I landed my dream job as a family history librarian in April 2010.

Officially, I am “senior reference librarian, family history (specialist)” for Auckland Libraries, and I am based in the Central Auckland Research Centre where our international family history collection is.

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

Discovering a love for family history has meant a career change for me. I love my job, and I’ve discovered I love teaching people how to research for themselves. Speaking in public was initially scary for me (still is at times), but I’ve learned confidence and seem to do ok most of the time,

I’ve learned a lot and am learning all the time – this is terrific for me, as I don’t get the opportunity to get bored.

Naively I thought I would have more time for my own research, but this is not so – maybe when I have finished my library degree.

 What do you love most about genealogy/family history/history? 

I love that it is about connecting family – whether its the ancestors or newly discovered living family members (or even reconnecting with living family).

I also get a real buzz when I’ve helped someone solve a mystery. For me, “the thrill of the hunt” is all part of it.

 Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

I attended the last Congress in Adelaide – my first time, and am really looking forward to this one!

What are your key topics for Congress?

I’m delivering a paper on our library’s family history services at the Librarians Day the day before Congress officially starts, and then have two presentations about what Auckland Libraries’ is doing for WWI commemorations; and also doing a case study that showcases Auckland Libraries online resources and the unique manuscripts and records.

How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

It should definitely help people with New Zealand connections – but also might help those think outside the square with their research, and consider what is available through libraries both online and in collections.

What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this, for you personally and for others attending?

For me this is personal and professional development. I learn such alot by attending these conferences – both in terms of my specialism and also in terms of developing my presentation and networking skills.

I think it is important that a New Zealand library the size of ours sends a representative to this Australasian Congress – wish more New Zealanders working in the field were able to attend to give a more rounded Australasian perspective.

 Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

You know, I find that it doesn’t matter how long you have been researching for, there is always plenty to learn.

However, one tip is to never overlook the obvious – if you have come up against a brick wall, always go back to basics and re-examine all your records; get someone else to review them with you as a second set of eyes can often help.

Also – its not all online!

 Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

I am on Twitter @genebrarian which is my personal account, or tweeting @Kintalk for work.

My work Facebook page is

My work blog is and my personal blog is (although I only blog there when I have done some significant personal research)

I can also be contacted via the Contact Us form on the Auckland Libraries website:

I can see Seonaid is a woman after my own heart based on her advice that “it’s not all online”. Looking forward to meeting you in Canberra, Seonaid and thanks for sharing with us all today.

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