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After developing a greater sense of identity through family history work, alumna Shenley Puterbaugh says she wants to excite others about it too

Shenley Puterbaugh lays on the grass smiling with her son on her back and her daughter on the left of her, all wearing blue
Shenley Puterbaugh and her children

Shenley Puterbaugh, a 2010 BYU–Hawaii alumna and an avid family history researcher, shares her passion for family history work through her book, website and speeches at various conferences and webinars. Her husband and a friend said she lives what she preaches.

Learning about her roots

Puterbaugh said her passion for family history started when she was a teenager. She said her mother would share old memories and assisted her in creating a family tree. In doing so, Puterbaugh said her mom influenced her passion for genealogy work.

After Puterbaugh graduated from high school, she said she decided to spend time with her grandparents. Having never spent any time with them by herself, she decided to spend one week each with her paternal and maternal grandparents.

“We visited places where my grandparents and their ancestors lived, old cemeteries where my ancestors were buried and churches where they attended. We went through old boxes of photos, documents and memorabilia. I had the opportunity to interview them and get their stories recorded.”

Puterbaugh said she came back with over 1,000 names to add to her family tree, and said the two-week trip helped her understand her roots on a deeper level. “It was a very memorable trip. Learning the stories of my grandparents helped me understand my parents better and why I am the way I am. It helped me have a greater sense of identity.”

Puterbaugh’s husband, Brett Puterbaugh, said, “I knew from the beginning she was special because she was regularly sacrificing her time to learn about her ancestors and researching more about them. When we were dating, one-third of our dates were spent at the family history center near the Laie temple.”

Shenley Puterbaugh wearing a white wedding dress, veil and flowers in her hands with her husband behind her wearing a black suit and tie with palm trees behind them.
Shenley and Brett Puterbaugh

Making family history fun

Coming back from her trip, Puterbaugh said she was excited to share what she discovered with her family. Today, she said she has the same goal: To help people get excited about family history and to develop a passion and desire to do it continually.

To help achieve her goal, Puterbaugh said she wrote a book to inspire people to do family history work. The book is not published yet, but her husband suggested she start a website.

Puterbaugh officially launched her website, on Jan. 1, 2020. On her website, she provides ideas, tools and resources to inspire children of all ages to love family history. Inspire Family History is also on Facebook and Instagram.

Puterbaugh’s friend, Heidi Campbell, said she was first introduced to Puterbaugh by her sister while they were both at BYUH. “Shenley had just launched her website and when my sister saw it announced on social media, she knew I would be interested in the website and its mission.

“Ever since we talked on the phone for the first time, I wanted to be a part of Shenley’s journey to teach and excite the world about family history in fun and simple ways,” Campbell explained.

Benefits of family history

Shenley Puterbaugh sits next to her husband and two children with her husband holding a baby in his lap and all of them looking at her. They are all wearing dark grey or blue with a white a grey wall behind them.
The Puterbaughs

Puterbaugh said she has been invited to speak at webinars for various organizations, including MyHeritage, an online genealogy platform, and the RootsTech Connect 2021 conference.

Campbell shared, “I’ve been increasingly involved in family history over the last decade and have seen a variety of approaches and attitudes toward the hobby and profession. As a community, we talk about getting bit by the ‘genealogy bug’ and becoming addicted.

“We lament that our family members don’t understand how intriguing it is to us and could be to them if they just gave it a shot,” Campbell explained. “There is definitely a subset of people who actively seek to teach and inspire others about the wonders of family history, but the vast majority just expect to be misunderstood and only wish others knew how awesome it was.”

Shenley is different, Campbell said. “She has gone past the wistful notion that everyone should do it because it’s interesting or a more furtive desire to enlist family members to work on a brick wall together.

“Shenley understands the psychological benefits of exploring our own family history, how it grounds and connects us to something bigger. She knows when children learn about where they come from, even just as far back as stories about their own parents, it helps to make them more reliant.”

Campbell said Puterbaugh is working to make these benefits more accessible to people from all backgrounds and experience levels through the resources she is creating.

A busy mother, wife and researcher

Puterbaugh is a mother of three children who she teaches at home. Her husband said, “She is amazing. She is always thinking of others and has a pure heart. She truly loves the Lord and loves the things the Lord loves, like family history.”

Puterbaugh said she met her husband at BYUH. “I was a writer for Ke Alaka’i, and I met Brett while I was interviewing his roommate for an article I was writing.” She was also on the BYUH tennis team. She said she made great friends from the team and loved her coach, Dave Porter.

Campbell shared, “I have learned so much from her on how to incorporate family history into everyday life. She really practices what she preaches. Shenley has so many wonderful things she juggles. She homeschools her children, and she is in the Primary Presidency. She is an entrepreneur and supports her husband who is in school.

“Of course she would love to spend hours on end getting lost in research rabbit holes, or even doing things for her business, but she knows her time is finite and so she is practicing discipline in order to fit all of these good things in. I am always amazed at how much she joyfully accomplishes in the pockets of time she dedicates to her various responsibilities. Her example encourages me to be focused and consistent in my approach to family history and to life in general,” Campbell said.