Thursday, June 9, 2011

Giving Back

I don’t suppose it would be possible to pursue genealogy research without the help of others. Many others.

This is one hobby where you just cannot be afraid to ask questions. The good news is: there are many other hobbyists out there who are happy to provide answers.

They have learned the art of giving back.

When I started researching my husband’s Stevens and Tully roots in Chicago, I was a total stranger to the city. The “many hands make light work” philosophy picked up and carried me where my lack of familiarity had left me. I was introduced to all sorts of resources by the many knowledgeable peers at Cook County forums hosted by Rootsweb and GenForum.

It was the same way when I journeyed to New York City in my research.

I learned where the pockets of helpful people were: the Brooklyn Rootsweb site had saints who were patient with newbies, while some other New York sites seemed stocked with elitists eager to snub anyone not yet delving into the 1600s in their research.

I discovered volunteers willing to look up obituaries for me in obscure corners of North Dakota or Manitoba. I found shutterbugs happy to snap a requested photo of a grave site. I got an education in Random Acts Of Genealogical Kindness.

Volunteers were all over the place. Some indexed and organized. Some photocopied. Some got technical and developed websites.

And I got to sit back in my easy chair and surf for information in the comfort of a place free of dust and broken microfilm-reading machines.

There is something about those Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, though. One good turn seemed to beg for another. And, considering the richness of my growing family tree database, I had certainly reaped well what others had sown.

It got me to thinking. If I don’t pass on the good that’s benefited me, who will get to reap these blessings in the future? I realized I’m a link in a chain.

And so I became part of the many hands that are lightening the work for others. It’s so easy: volunteer any knowledge you have on a forum. Give back by doing a lookup in your area. Share your family history data online. Support a Historical Society in one of the towns where your ancestors lived.

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness can be simple, one-time gestures. They don’t need to be burdensome time commitments. They can just be something you do on your next trip to the library. Just look up your own state or province and county in one of the forums and see if anyone has posted a request for help. Be the eyes and ears in your town for one day for a fellow researcher from miles away. The benefits we reap from our mutual endeavors are only as good as each of our efforts make them.

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