Yesterday was a beautiful crisp fall day (okay, that would be by Florida standards) and our county genealogy society’s semi-annual community help day. Ten of us volunteered to assist and we were busy for 6 hours with no break. That’s awesome! Clearly there is a growing interest in genealogy and I met several people who shared delightful stories of their family and had burning questions needing answers.
If you contemplated becoming a volunteer at a genealogical event but feared you couldn’t because you weren’t a professional genealogist you’re sadly mistaken. That old saying “Two heads are better than one” is a classic example of why you would be helpful. Here’s some tips for first time volunteers:
Be prepared as time is limited. I always arrive early so my work area is ready. My society furnishes plenty of extension cords but yours may not. I bring my research baggie (see Research Tips), laptop with power cord, Kindle, and pad of paper. Make sure an empty chair is set up next to yours for the visitor. As soon as I’ve brought my computer up, I set up tabs with various sites (Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Fold3, NewYorkFamilyHistory, AmericanAncestors, FindMyPast, Findagrave, BillionGraves, Google) and login so I can go from one to the other quickly. As soon as one visitor is done I just need to clear the search engine and I’m ready for the next.
Connections are everywhere! The first two people who came for assistance didn’t know each other but their families evidently did back in Martinsville, West Virginia as they lived there at the same time in the late 1800’s. Strange that they were researching the same place and both came in within minutes of each other. If you overhear similarities play matchmaker! It’s an especially good technique for newbies to meet someone researching the same region even if it isn’t the same family. Think the “N” in FAN Club.
Patience is key. Many of the folks seeking help have no understanding that genealogy is a painstaking process. All they know is what they see on TV – instant family and travel across the pond. After introductions, I immediately say, “I hope I’m able to get you started on answering your family question. In real life, genealogy isn’t done in a one hour time slot. If we aren’t able to find the information online, I’ll give you additional resources where you can follow up.” Sometimes I have to remind them again when the online clues are scant.
Don’t take their disappointment as a personal failure. Yesterday, I spoke with two community people that had been referred to me because the prior genealogist couldn’t find the information they sought. After giving them my Patience is Key disclaimer, I asked what sources the prior researcher had checked and both said, “I don’t know. Just look again because they didn’t see it online.” This may sound silly but it really isn’t as it’s coming from people whose internet experience is limited. We’ve all used the refresh button and discovered an updated page. Of course, that isn’t going to happen on Chronicling America but they wouldn’t know that. I explain that I trust the prior researcher didn’t miss the obituary or emigration information minutes ago as not all info we seek is online. I then ask the prior researcher where he/she looked. I then check other places and make a list for the person to follow up on in the future. Because she didn’t get the obituary she wanted, one person stated she was done with genealogy forever. Okay, that’s her choice as this isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t make you feel your skills are inadequate.
Skill levels will vary. Be prepared to meet people that may have had more experience than you and folks that have never done any research. After introductions and my disclaimer, I ask what information they are seeking. The advanced will have a specific question, research logs and copies of documents. Several club members told me they paled when they saw other long term club members coming in for assistance as the volunteers felt they couldn’t possibly be of help to someone who had more experience then they did. Hogwash! Genealogy is not a spectator sport. All you need to do is listen to what the person wants to discover and where they’ve looked. Sure, sometimes the answer isn’t going to be found but there’s often an overlooked place just waiting to be discovered. For the individual seeking emigration information I recommended checking newspapers for Philadelphia for the late 1700’s bringing in indentured servants from Great Britain. Will it have her several times great grandfather’s name included? Probably not but it will give her more places to check as the immigration list for that particular ship may not have been digitized yet and she very well could find her ancestor listed on the original filed in an archive somewhere. She was quite happy with being pointed in a new direction.
These five simple tips can help you help others. I find it rewarding to share the genealogy bug and learn something from every person I meet. Give it a try!
Last week, I blogged about a summer volunteer opportunity through the New England Historic and Genealogical Society. A new challenge was just posted so I added my guess and the reason why. If deciphering transcriptions aren’t your style, here’s a new project that needs your help…
History Unfolded is creating a searchable newspaper database to measure the pulse of regional newspapers during the 1930’s and ’40’s regarding news about 30 Holocaust events. If you love to read old papers, then this is for you! You may use Newspapers.com or a local paper in which you have access. For more details – check out their website.
The Transcription Challenge is a unique way to volunteer. As AmericanAncestors.org transcribes the Massachusetts: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1798-1900, they have discovered some very difficult words to transcribe. Knowing the old saying “Many hands make light work” and “Two heads are better than one” are true, weekly during the summer, a new transcription challenge will be posted with the undecipherable area circled in red. So far, 4 challenges are available. All you need to do is take a look and make a comment of what you think is written for the appropriate number of the problem’s name. This is a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon! Give it a try…
Last post I mentioned that access to valuable genealogical records may be limited due to proposed U.S. legislation. Today I want to let you know about other valuable records that are just waiting to be viewed. By becoming a NARA Citizen Archivist you can help digitize records that are just waiting to be discovered. Here’s a few of the tasks that are need:
Contribute to Articles
Every little bit helps so find your niche and begin!
I’ve just learned of an organization that does something unique in the genealogical field and I wanted to share it with you. Unclaimed Persons is an organization that unites families with deceased kin whose remains have not been claimed from the Coroner. Unfortunately, this is a situation that is occurring frequently as families relocate and lose touch with an elderly relative that remained behind. UnclaimedPersons.org was founded by Megan Smolenyak in 2008; more than 400 people have been aided but there is more work to do! You can help by volunteering your research skills from the comfort of your own home. Check out the FAQ on the website, visit the FaceBook page for open cases and put on your Super Sleuth hat to begin. Remember, “A good deed is never lost!”
I recently received an email from the National Archives regarding a need for volunteers to help transcribe and tag items in the archives catalog. What an awesome opportunity to help digitize historical records! With the holiday season approaching, this opportunity is a wonderful way to give back to the genealogy community by helping to make available some of the U.S.’ national treasures! Not sure where to start? I say, just follow your heart – check out the Transcription Missions and select whichever area interests you. The directions are simple – just click here and the easy to follow instructions will get you on your way to doing a very good deed.
Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 29 Sep 2016.
Looking for a way to give back to the genealogical community? An awesome preservation indexing project has begun that may be of interest to you.
The U.S. National Park Service’s Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park partnered last month with the Federation of Genealogical Societies for the purpose of developing a database of individuals who served in the U.S.-Mexican War. The project will be ongoing – after the estimated 130,000 soldiers are entered to a searchable database, military unit information and related documents will be scanned and added.
You can help – just email Patricia Rand at email@example.com.
Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 10 July 2016.
Remember the days when you had to physically go to a location to find a record? Or contact someone who lived close to where you needed to hunt and HOPE they would respond via snail mail? And plan for months to get some ancestor hunting in when on a vacation or business trip?
Seems like years ago but it wasn’t. How far we’ve come in this fast pace world with having information available at our fingertips whenever and wherever we are.
I’m not sure where the source of the statistic that I keep seeing that claims that about 10% of all records are posted online. Whatever the number, I think we can all agree that the benefits of surfing in the comfort of our home far outweighs the small costs we might have to pay to “belong” to an organization to access the records.
But being greedy, I want more! I long for the day that I can click on any link on Familysearch.org and instantly bring up a filmstrip. Wow – not having to order, wait (and wait and wait because my local peeps always forget to let me know that the filmstrip arrived), drive to thel library by rearranging my schedule to match when they have volunteers on staff, trying to unspool the film when I find what I want to take to the machine that prints a copy, playing with the copy to lighten/darken/enlarge/shrink, saving to my thumbdrive because their internet is sporadic and I can’t save to the cloud, cleaning up my workspace and then driving home again. Not fun!
I’ve found four ways that you can help get more records online and this can all be done from your home! It’s very simple, it’s fun and there’s no cost to you. Just follow the steps below:
- Get cozy in front of whatever device you prefer – desktop, laptop, tablet – your choice!
- Click one of the 4 options below and follow their directions
Decoding Civil War Telegrams
Purple Hearts Reunited
World Archives Project from Ancestry
3. Feel good that you have contributed!
Over the holiday last weekend I happily indexed Civil War telegrams. For transcriptions, the handwriting was fairly clear and the input method was a breeze. I used to index for Ancestry but haven’t recently. I’m not sure if they still offer a discount if you indexed x number of records but they used to. Check with them and see – it could save you money on your subscription renewal. I plan to help out Family Search and the purple hearts group in the near future. Working on my “On The Clock” portfolio took up a lot of my time over the past year so I didn’t have much free time to spend volunteering. I’m planning on scheduling time in the near future though, as I believe it’s important to help get more records online. Together, we can increase that 10% online and that’s helpful to everyone!