The Blog

Give Thanks, Give Back

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At this holiday season, no matter what celebrations your are enjoying, you’re probably thinking about giving to others.  Our genealogical community is no different, in fact, the future of genealogy runs on the feet of its volunteers and donations.  Whether you can give a little or a lot, there are so many opportunities to serve.  Here are just a few:

Donate your time online.  Many websites need volunteers to work from home.  Consider giving a few minutes a day or hours a week to any of these worthy causes:

  • FamilySearch Indexing.  Help index millions of records which will then become available and word-searchable for free through the FamilySearch website.  You can choose difficulty levels from beginner to advanced.  If you are bilingual, there are records to index in many foreign languages.  The tutorials are helpful, and the simple program is downloadable from the website.
  • USGenWeb.  Volunteers are needed to adopt counties from all states in the U.S.  You might help manage the website or just index records for that county to make them available to others for free online.
  • FindAGrave and BillionGraves.  Help others find their ancestors’ final resting places by photographing their headstones and adding information about the ancestor if you can.  BillionGraves even has a app for your cell phone to allow you to attach GPS coordinates to the monument, which can be helpful when it comes to some of these enormous cemeteries.

Donate your time in person.  There is something truly rewarding about that face-to-face personal contact between family history enthusiasts.  We feed off each other’s energy, and more importantly, learn so much by working together.

  • Local historical and genealogical societies.  It is a sad fact that many of our local historical and genealogical societies are slowly dying for want of volunteers.  One of my favorite genealogical societies in Maryland has recently disbanded because not enough people were willing to help manage its functions.  Offer to help, if even once a month, and make a difference.
  • Local LDS Family History Centers.  You don’t have to be a member of the church to volunteer in these wonderful facilities.  You don’t have to be very experienced in genealogy either.  You just have to be willing to learn and help keep these local centers staffed.  In the process you’ll be interacting with other experienced family historians and have access to free websites that will only increase your knowledge.  Walk into your local center and volunteer today.

Donate financially.  Without private or corporate sponsors, the resources we use for finding our ancestors’ records will slowly dwindle and fade away. Every dollar counts.  Most contributions to genealogical projects are tax-deductible so this is definitely the time of year to take advantage of those benefits.  While not all of the places needing your financial help are listed below, here are some that you may not know about or can give you an idea of places to go.

  • #GivingTuesday.  After the rush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is Giving Tuesday.  Choose from thousands of worthy causes, many of them genealogical or historical.  I love the idea of finding a cause you didn’t know you could support.
  • Local State Archives, County Archives, or State Genealogical Societies. Consider giving locally.  No matter how much we volunteer, some projects just cost money.  Your state or county may need help. In my home state, The Maryland Genealogical Society, for example, has many indexing and digitization projects that require volunteers.
  • War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions Project.  This one’s my favorite. Military pensions are one of the few record types where you could find the genealogical mother-load of information, especially for your ancestor’s vital birth, marriage, and death dates and relationships as well.  Supporting our patriots never gets old.  This one has a bonus for financial donations, every dollar you give is matched by Ancestry.com, allowing the project to digitize even more of the valuable records.  Whether you donate or not, the images of the soldiers’ pensions are available to everyone for free online at fold3.

Give a little or give a lot, you will undoubtedly get back what you give.  Who can really put a price on how generosity feels?   Did we miss your favorite place to donate time or money?  Tell us about it and share why you love it.  And from us to you, Happy Thanksgiving.

Local Historical and Genealogical Societies: Valuable Resources for Any Researcher

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Have you been stumped with a research project, especially because the area your ancestor lived in was a mystery to you?  Needed a genealogical buddy to bounce ideas off of?  Discover the local historical societies in your ancestor’s area, and find friends and inspiration at a genealogical society in your home county. Let’s look at a few things each could be valuable for.

HISTORICAL SOCIETIES

Unless you have lived in the same area for six generations, you may not know much about the place where your ancestor lived and raised his family.  Knowing about small cemeteries, churches in the area, and the general history can help in your research. Often these historical societies are run or staffed by volunteers, and we appreciate all the time they put into restoring the history of their area.  It is always a great idea to contact historical societies in your ancestor’s area, either by phone or through their websites.  For example here are some unique records I’ve found in historical societies:

  • Private indexes of obituary records
  • Private indexes of newspaper records
  • Books on local churches
  • Cemetery indexes
  • Historic maps
  • Journals and diaries of early local citizens
  • Photographs
  • School records
  • Business records
  • Early court records (from the 1700s) thrown away by the courthouse and retrieved by the historical society staff
  • Family surname indexes
  • Donated family histories and family files
  • Newsletters about the area’s history and records
  • …and so much more!

YOUR LOCAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY

Do you have family who just don’t understand your need to learn more about the family tree?  Need a friend who won’t roll their eyes at your story of finding the right headstone at the cemetery?  Join a local county genealogical society.  These are also staffed by volunteers, dedicated to the preservation of family histories.  You don’t have to have ancestors from your local area to  join a local genealogical society – its about coming together and collaborative learning.  Many genealogical societies meet regularly or volunteer in projects like these:

  • Sponsoring lectures in genealogical or historical subjects
  • Collecting and indexing records for publication
  • Discussing research problems
  • Cleaning or maintaining local cemeteries or historic sites
  • Sharing information about genealogical educational opportunities both online and in the area
  • Planning trips to significant historical sites or archives.

Take some time to visit the website for the historical society in your ancestor’s area or find out the meeting times of the genealogical society in your local area.  You’ll be glad you did.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn!