Monday, January 4, 2010

Volunteerism in the Genealogical World

Up until I went back to school in August, my favorite way to volunteer in the genealogy world was through Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness.  I began by going to cemeteries to take photographs of tombstones (or grave sites if there wasn't a headstone) for people.  This became a "date" day, once or twice a month, for my fiancé and I, where we would drive around Onondaga county and see who could find the most tombstones, walking up and down the rows in the cemeteries (see why he's a keeper?!?).  Eventually it progressed to my doing searches at the library, mostly for city directories and obituaries, and at the courthouse, where I never had much luck unfortunately.

I also volunteer for FamilySearch Indexing, mainly for the 1892 New York census.  I did not do nearly as many names as I had hoped, but I like knowing I was part of the group that got this project finished.  Just today I received an email from the president of the Western New York genealogy society, to which I belong, asking if I would be willing to to help transcribe or proof read the 1865 New York census, which they are putting online.  I jumped at the chance to be part of this project, as state census' are a tremendously helpful, but often overlooked, resource.  I am also excited to become an active member of the society, despite living too far away to make meetings.

I have received three main things from volunteering in the genealogy world.  First, I learnt about new resources and practiced finding them.  Prior to volunteering with RAOGK, I had no idea how useful city directories were.  This has helped in my research tremendously.  Second, I have gotten a lot of practice in deciphering handwriting.  Although I am still much better at seeing a name I am looking for in a document compared to transcribing unfamiliar handwriting, I will learn this skill and I will learn it much faster than if I just practiced with my ancestors handwriting.  Third, I have discovered a possible career.  I realized how much I love genealogy, not just researching my family, but other families as well.  This has lead me to get my masters degree in library science with the goal of working in a genealogy and local history library.  Eventually, I would like to become a certified genealogist and help people with their search that way, but it will be a few years before I get to that level.

I highly recommend volunteering in whatever capacity you are able.  It helps improve your research skills, introduces you to new people and record groups and builds up good genealogy karma, which will hopefully lead to more genealogy happy dances!

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