When Kathleen Cates Rose graduated with a history degree from the U in 1970, there
were basically no career prospects available in the field for women besides teaching.
Little did she know that decades down the road her degree would lead her to a successful
career as a trailblazing genealogist.
“Back then, if you’d have told me I’d be a genealogist, I’d have rolled my eyes,” Rose says with a laugh. But for more than 20 years after her three sons were raised, Rose put her education in U.S. history to use as a professional family historian and helped hundreds of people discover their ancestors. She even helped to pioneer the use of DNA testing in genealogy that is so popular today.
At 40 years old, Rose’s genealogy career began when one of her sons, away at college, lovingly told her she needed to “get a life” instead of always calling to hear about theirs. “I realized then and there that I did need to get a life!” she recalls. And she did, helping other people bring their ancestors’ stories to life.
She said she had dabbled in family history for years and was pretty comfortable on a computer, which was unique for an older woman in the early 90s, and felt like she could align her passion and education to find some fulfillment. She and a friend began working together, volunteering to help neighbors and loved ones as family history consultants. It didn’t take long for word to get out, and they were soon taking on clients and teaching community classes on doing family history research online.
“Our connection to people is greatly enhanced when we can understand something about why people do what they do. Our ancestors are regular people, and they make decisions on the circumstances by which they are surrounded,” she says. “So when I was helping someone research, they often got a mini history lesson and suggestions of places to go to find out more and most, if not all, found that if they could imagine themselves in the time and place of their ancestor because they knew the history of the area, their research
was much more profitable and fulfilling.”
◀ Left: Kathleen during her graduation, June 1970
Seals finds great joy in working with students as they find their confidence and their calling. She has found that students who start the McNair program are worried they are unprepared and unqualified for graduate work, but after working together for several months they become surer of themselves and about the process of applying to graduate school.
“In general, I am very fortunate to have a career that I love and for which I am so well-suited. It’s not perfect—sometimes I’m exhausted or tired or frustrated, but I’m always excited to go to work the next day.”
Finding her career path wasn’t’ simple and during graduate school Seals took the time to really look at her qualifications in terms of skills. As an English major, she had gained valuable writing, critical thinking, reading, and communication skills and was able to digest and retain a lot of information in a short period of time.
“I love that English is not a discipline that relies on ‘correct’ answers. It’s more about reasoning and thinking through how and why something might be true. It’s about noticing patterns and exploring them. It’s about making connections across texts, authors and time periods. That level of thinking is invaluable when it comes to problem solving and creative thinking.”
Seals is grateful for the advice and support offered to her by professors during her time at the U and says she might not have found English as the right major for herself if she hadn’t listened to them. Their encouragement shaped her academic research and led her to a career she hadn’t predicted.