International genealogist Kathleen Brandt encouraged Stephens students to learn more about themselves by learning more about their ancestors during two special Martin Luther King Day presentations on Monday.
“Who you are is not necessarily what you think,” she said during a morning workshop. Genealogists “bring the dead to life. We give them stories. They’re more than a date, more than a family tree. Explore them to find the pioneer in you.”
Brandt, who graduated from Stephens in 1981, spent nearly 20 years in international business before discovering she had a rare medical condition that doctors said would be fatal within months. She ultimately defied the odds, but that’s when she began researching her own family lineage in hopes of learning more about the disease.
She developed a passion for studying the past and by sharing what she’d learned about genealogy on a blog quickly became known as an expert. She’s since been called on by networks and cable channels to conduct work for shows such as the History Channel’s “How the States Got Their Shapes” and TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Brandt has done work for celebrities including Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw and Ashley Judd.
Brandt encourages most people to do their own genealogy using local and online resources, although she warns that only about 20 percent of data can be found online. For her clients, she is adamant that she includes everything she finds in her report, even if it’s not what the client wanted to know.
“I refuse to change history,” she said. “I refuse to sterilize it.”
Brandt’s visit was part of a daylong MLK celebration on campus. Students also volunteered during the day, conducted service projects and enjoyed a cultural presentation by Giving Voice, a theatre troupe from Missouri State University.
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