Getting to Know Thom Reed, a Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch

Standing a head taller in a crowd than the subsequent individual, you’ll be able to’t miss him! Maybe you already know Thom Reed, considered one of FamilySearch’s Deputy Chief Genealogical Officers. He’s recognized for being a key ambassador and liaison for FamilySearch to organizations and associations that promote and supply assets for African American family tree, tradition, and historical past.

Thom’s Formative Years

Like many individuals, Thom’s sense of id is exclusive and has been refined over time. When he was youthful, he wasn’t completely snug with the designation of “African American” as a result of technically, he’s Japanese American, howbeit each of his dad and mom are African American. You see, Thom was born in Japan and lived there for the primary few years of his younger life whereas his father was stationed at Tachikawa Air Power Base. He’d later return to Japan on his personal for just a few years (extra on that a bit later). His father thought-about the household’s time in Japan a excessive level in his profession and spoke of Japan with fondness all through Thom’s childhood. After his father’s tour in Japan completed, the household moved to California after which later to Illinois—the place Thom will say he’s from.

The affect of dwelling in starkly differing cultures in his youth has refined Thom’s artwork of diplomacy and talent to see and relate to a number of views.

An early picture of thom reed and his family.

Whilst a baby, Thom possessed a pure capability to attach with individuals from all types of backgrounds and faiths. Like his father, he makes buddies simply, values relationships and associations with individuals, and he accepts individuals unconditionally. By way of considered one of these valued friendships, he realized about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though he grew up attending Baptist and non-denominational church buildings, in 1991 Thom joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At 21, Thom utilized to function a missionary for the Church and was pleasantly shocked to be assigned to labor in Japan—the place his household beloved so dearly—and the place he was born. He says his father was elated when he introduced he was “going again residence to Japan when studying of his missionary project.

Whereas in Japan, Thom refined his reward to share messages of religion, hope, and oneness and construct relationships with those that believed in another way and got here from completely different walks of life. Thom found that he may ship a extra significant message when he knew and understood the individuals he served. This expertise ready him for the work he does now as he works to grasp individuals, to assist present inspiring household historical past experiences to them, and to attach communities.

Thom Reed as a missionary in Japan.

Constructing a Profession

Thom Reed’s profession path has not been a direct one. He admits on reflection {that a} Greater Energy has been guiding his journey and offering him with experiences for his present function.

Thom graduated from Illinois State College with a advertising and marketing diploma, and later from Brigham Younger College with an MBA. He labored in client product advertising and marketing at a number of respected corporations, however like many others, misplaced his job within the financial crash of 2008.

Scrambling to seek out work, Thom ultimately discovered a place that required him to relocate to Utah. On the cusp of creating the transfer from Illinois to Utah together with his younger household and little spare money, he recounts the story how the household minivan died and was past restore the night time earlier than he was imagined to tow it behind their U-Haul. Miraculously, upon arrival in Utah, he was gifted one other minivan for a greenback, and he was in a position to make a easy transition. His life has all the time been filled with such tender mercies like this, and he credit heavenly affect in all accounts.

Rising above Set-Backs

In Utah, Thom joined a small, promising start-up firm. He muses that it didn’t pan out and was a part of a really low level in his life when it was tough to land agency employment. With the assistance of an accelerated job search program for executives, he was in a position to develop new methods and enterprise contacts, and extra doorways of alternative opened for him.

Throughout this time, he was requested what he considered working for FamilySearch, a worldwide nonprofit family tree group. There was a accomplice advertising and marketing place open, and Thom’s expertise made him an ideal candidate. As you’ll be able to already guess, he was supplied the job—setting him off on the trail he’s on now.

Thom Reed in front of the Family History Center in Salt Lake City.

Discovering His Roots—A Defining Expertise

Working at FamilySearch, Thom’s curiosity his ancestral roots was kindled, and he started researching his household historical past. His journey to self-discovery would lay the groundwork for his ardour to assist others have related experiences. Like many descendants of enslaved ancestors, he discovered household traces dead-ended in Mississippi and Alabama with the 1870 census. Thom felt discouraged and took a break from researching his roots.

That modified when he was despatched to Ghana on a piece project to satisfy with native tribal leaders and develop coaching supplies, in addition to a program for getting ready contractors to gather oral histories.

It was on this journey, in a dungeon in Ghana in West Africa—the historic closing holding place the place numerous slaves had been held captive preparatory for a treacherous journey throughout the Atlantic as a part of the slave commerce—that Thom ignited a burning want to seek out his African roots. A photographer who accompanied Thom Reed and the staff captured a young second as Thom touched the wall of the holding cell which might have housed as many as 2,000 African males, all destined for a similar destiny.

Thom Reed touches the wall of a slave holding cell in Ghana.

Thom got here residence from the journey and took a DNA check. It positioned his ancestors in Cameroon and Nigeria. He introduced his discovery in real-time as a Fb stay occasion. He was overwhelmed with the unanticipated emotion. It was uncooked and defining.

He’s now dedicated to serving to others to have such inspirational experiences, and it’s a part of what will get him off the bed each morning. He shared a transformative second of discovery and connection to ancestors that occurred on stage with LeVar Burton, a well-known African American actor, who was invited to talk on the RootsTech 2017 convention for African Heritage Day. Thom was requested to current LeVar Burton together with his household historical past data that had been researched by skilled genealogists. Phrases hardly describe that second and the influence it had on LaVar Burton, Thom, and everybody who witnessed that singular revelatory second of pleasure and discovery about household. LeVar was overcome with emotion and will solely utter as he gazed on the massive display screen behind him on stage depicting newfound ancestral roots, “These are my individuals!”

Contributions to Household Historical past

Whereas African American outreach continues to be considered one of Thom’s key focuses, it isn’t his solely function. When you’ve ever used FamilySearch Household Tree’s Accomplice Entry hyperlinks to assets on, findmypast, MyHeritage, and different websites whereas doing all of your analysis, you then’ve benefitted from Thom’s work. He and his colleagues helped negotiate and put in place contracts and collaborative cross-links between completely different knowledge methods that streamline your analysis and effectively port sources into Household Tree from accomplice websites.

Thom additionally spearheaded the Freedmen’s Bureau Venture. This year-long effort to index data from the Freedmen’s Bureau remodeled one million Civil Warfare–period historic data absolutely searchable on-line for descendants of former slaves, poor whites, and different marginalized teams. For individuals who are trying past the 1870 census to African American On-line Family tree Information, the Freedmen’s Bureau data are wealthy in genealogical data.  

Thom reed at RootsTech.

For a few years, Thom has performed pivotal roles in finishing up varied components of RootsTech, the world’s largest household historical past celebration that takes place annually as an occasion however now additionally affords fantastic content material all 12 months lengthy. For the primary time in 2021, the convention was completely digital, often known as RootsTech Join. The 2021 occasion included 39 classes that pertained to African heritage household historical past and tradition. When you missed the RootsTech occasion in real-time, you’ll be able to view these classes free of charge on-line.

At the moment, Thom’s days are most frequently spent growing partnerships, constructing relationships, and collaborating on tasks that profit household historical past and improve private and household discovery and connections.

Creating Experiences that Join

Thom needs everybody to have the identical artistic, inspiring household historical past expertise that he had with LeVar Burton. You’ll hear him repeat “discovering ancestors completes us,” a core fact he comes again to repeatedly. That’s the reason Thom Reed is passionate concerning the work he does.

Levar Burton at RootsTech 2017.

You, too, can turn into concerned in African American household historical past by opting into FamilySearch’s African Heritage E-newsletter that can hold you or somebody you already know abreast of the work FamilySearch is doing to assist African People uncover their heritage.

Go to additionally the African American Digital Bookshelf within the FamilySearch Wiki for an increasing anthology of digital books about particular African American ancestors.

For Black Historical past Month and Juneteenth you’ll discover contemporary content material on social media celebrating black historical past, family tree, and tradition in contemporary thrilling methods by following Thom Reed utilizing his username @iamthomreed on all social media platforms.

Additionally go to:

  • Juneteenth Fb stay with Thom Reed
  • LeVar Burton at RootsTech 2017
  • ROAR (Reclaiming Our African Roots)
  • Milestones Reached within the Freedmen’s Bureau Venture

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