Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Volunteer and Learn

This will be a short post, but an important one. A couple of my last posts focused on advice for beginners and one discussed free genealogy courses from BYU. There is another great way for beginners or even more advanced researchers to hone their skills and broaden their research know-how. Volunteer!

Yes, I know. You want to spend as much time as you can doing your own research. However, it really is worth the trade-off to spend some time volunteering in order to expand your family history research tool belt.

Here are just a few ideas for volunteering and what you can expect to gain for your own research:

  • Volunteer as an indexer at Family Search Indexing. This is my number one recommendation. From the comfort of your home and at your own computer, you can spend as little as 1/2 hour and index a whole page of names for this project. This project is completely indexed by volunteers all over the world. Thousands of documents are constantly scanned into the system, including national and regional census records, birth records, death records, marriage records, and even divorce records. The records are global, too. This means if you speak Spanish, there are several projects ongoing that include records from Mexico or Spain. Same goes for German records and even French. The benefits for you are that you will get lots of experience in learning to read handwritten records, which will be invaluable in your own research. In addition, you'll get familiar with various record types and the information they contain. This might give you some new ideas as to records you can search in your own work. Finally, as these projects are completed, they are available for free to the public at the Family Search website. You'll know from your own volunteer work what records are becoming available as they are completed.

  • Join a local or regional genealogical society. These societies can be very helpful in offering resources for their members. In addition, many of these societies have many volunteer opportunities available. You might even be able to get a discount on your society membership or their education classes by volunteering.

  • Volunteer to help with USGenWeb's Tombstone Transcription Project. You can help record and preserve the tombstone information in your local cemeteries and share it with other family history researchers. You'll benefit not only by learning what kinds of great information you can find on headstones at cemeteries, but it is likely you'll benefit from the information posted by another volunteer in another location. I really like this project as the information is free as volunteers post it.

  • Finally, check out your local courthouse. Chances are, your courthouse has records that genealogists often request. Some counties have certain methods of handling these requests, i.e. charging for them, having a clerk do it, making the researcher wait 3-6 months for a response, etc. You might offer to volunteer to help with the cataloging of the records or even the research requests as they come in. This will help you get familiar with what kinds of records can be found in county courthouses. Who knows? You might even be able to connect with another researcher on RootsWeb and exchange research time at your local courthouses and libraries.

Volunteering a portion of your time in indexing, recording, and preserving records, or assisting others in their research can be a great way for you to quickly learn much more about your own research and the records avenues available to you as you continue your hunt for your ancestors.

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