Years ago, genealogical pursuits were mostly fueled by the energy of dedicated volunteers. These were research advocates who made sure to locate disappearing record sets which could benefit from being brought to light so others could access them more easily, as well. Local genealogical societies took the forefront in such endeavors, unearthing, transcribing, indexing, preserving, cleaning and re-housing—whatever it took to save our collective personal history narratives so others could find the family names they were seeking.
Fast-forward to today. The genealogical world has changed. Granted, we still hold to many of the same research standards, but our finding aids have undergone a massive facelift. In many cases—I note the recent news of two local counties to the east of my home as sad examples—our county genealogical societies are dying, or at least withering, leaving researchers across the country and, indeed, around the world, to hope that someone at FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com or MyHeritage or FindMyPast will take an interest in lil ol' Harper County, Kansas, or Arthur County, Nebraska, or, for that matter, the black hole of digitized newspapers, Stockton, California. If local volunteers are no longer banding together to preserve these local records, who will?
Rather than bemoan the loss of the will-to-volunteer, I've decided to become a one-woman movement to give back. If only a little, I've realized that each of us, even if we don't have a local genealogical society to rally us together, can go that extra mile—or ten feet, or two inches, anything—to help give back for all the help others have given us over our years of research.
There are still, of course, organized opportunities to volunteer our help. The indexing process at FamilySearch is one organized way to help out, especially with the upcoming release of the 1950 census this April. But there are many tasks we can join in on a daily basis, as we go about our research efforts.
Consider the crowdsourcing efforts of providing feedback, any time you spot a mistaken transcription—especially a machine transcription—from a resource like Newspapers.com. It only takes a minute or two, for instance, to edit the impossible "Emmett R. Hiuis" to restore it to the actual "Emmett R. Hillis" published in a newspaper before adding it to my mother-in-law's family tree. Once done, though, it not only cleans up my family tree readout, but stays in place to help others, as well.
Another way to help is by uploading privately-held documents or photos to your ancestor's profile page at whatever cloud-based genealogy service you use. Over the past month, I have benefited from several fellow subscribers at Ancestry.com who had a copy of a family Bible record, or had scanned an old local history book or other hard-to-access resource. While I'm glad to be on the receiving end on behalf of those brick-wall ancestors, I can't help but recall some of the photos and records I have that could easily be passed along to others in a public gathering place like Ancestry.com or the other genealogical organizations.
Then, too, there are the brave ones who have ventured out to the world of technology and explored ways to post their family tree on their own website through "next generation" programs. Or those who, in a less-scary process, have joined the ranks of hundreds of genea-bloggers to post stories about their own ancestors. It is always exciting to discover someone else is researching the same ancestor.
For that matter, I'm thankful for those readers who have reached out to "give back" with their comments, both on other genealogy blogs and here at A Family Tapestry, as well. Just this week, I've received helpful notes with tips on places to look while researching my fourth great-grandfather Job Tison. The information is out there, but no one person can keep track of it all.
Once again, we crowdsource the answers to more completely research our ancestors from across the country and around the world. I'm grateful for those who have been willing to give back by sharing. That certainly inspires me to continue to reach out and give back, as well.