Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Some Random Acts of Kindness

If there were an award for "Worst Genealogy Lookup Volunteer," I'm sure I'd be the winner, hands down! With all my computer/Internet problems this spring, coupled with a busy life, I haven't been able to keep up with my lookup requests until recently. Yet I can't blame everything on my busy life; I have a tendency to overcommit, and I'm learning (the hard way) to say no. When a distant cousin on my husband's side asked me if I could build her another website to promote her newest book, I had to turn her down, since I haven't even been able to stay on top of a site I'm currently working on!

All that said, last February, I posted a series on "Random Acts of Kindess" Week, and encouraged my fellow genea-bloggers to post about their contributions. I wanted to report to my readers what I've done, not as a "break-my-arm-in-patting-myself-on-the-back" way, but to give an idea of what giving back to the genealogical community entails. I have been the recipient of so many kindesses, that of course, I want to pay it forward. Perhaps in reading this, others will be inspired to do the same.

First of all, I made a couple of small financial contributions to a couple of favorite genealogy-related websites, because I believe in what they are doing to help out the genealogy community. When I've had to make non-genealogy online purchases recently, I've tried to do them through my fellow genea-bloggers' affiliate stores. I've also tried to remember to click on their various advertisements, although many times, I read blog posts through my Google Reader instead of at the actual blog site.

Secondly, I took some training from Carol Nettles, the volunteer coordinator at the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society. EWGS is creating an index of the Patchen file that will eventually be put on our website. The Patchen file was begun 50 years ago by Lee Patchen, who worked for 20 years, clipping out obituaries from Spokane newspapers and pasting them onto index cards, which were filed in dozens of those old fashioned card catalog drawers. A number of us are adding data from these obits to an Excel file which will eventually allow anyone with Internet access to lookup their ancestor and request a copy of the obituary. So far, I'm about 2/3 of the way through a drawer. I'm a pretty fast typist (keyboardist?) and yet it's taken me about 4 hours to index about one foot of cards (some prep work is involved; there are references to published works mixed in with the obits)! While I have no ancestors buried in this area, I feel this is a great payback to the genealogical community, especially since I've used the wonderful results of such work at the Western Michigan Genealogical Society's databases!

Next, I've taken some random photos of graves at Greenwood Memorial Terrace here in Spokane, and using the Washington State Death Index online at FamilySearch Labs, I've slowly been adding memorial pages to Find A Grave for these individuals. Graves that have caught my eye include Civil War veterans' and the many graves in the old part of the cemetery, which for some reason, is not kept up like the main part. It is very rural-looking, no grass, lots of trees and bushes, and has an old-fashioned feel to it.

Lastly, I've had 11 lookup requests since March 27th, most of which I've fulfilled. Two requested death and cemetery records for Muskegon Co., Michigan (I have access to these on microfilm at my local Family History Center). One of those requests occurred before FamilySearch Labs added images of Michigan Death records from 1867 - 1897 to their site. One of the requests was for a death after the early 1910s, which were not microfilmed, so I gave the requestor the link to the online Muskegon County Death Index and recommended if she found the death listed there, to purchase the record through the county clerk's office, rather than the state department of vital statistics (it's cheaper through the county).

Another individual e-mailed me to ask if I had access to all Michigan marriage records (such as a state index) or just Muskegon County Marriages. I wrote back to tell her it was only the county records. However, just today I wrote again to inform her that Michigan Marriages, 1867 - 1925, are now at the FamilySearch Labs site.

There was a request for four lookups for family members in Greenwood Cemetery in Walker Twp., Kent Co., Michigan. I could not find three that died in 1896 in the index; the death in 1870 occurred before the records were kept (and I believe when the cemetery opened) in 1880. I recommended a local researcher in Kent County who is inexpensive, professional, and thorough, and whom I've used on occasion with excellent results.

Three requests, one through RAOGK and another through Books We Own, asked for burial information at Park Hill Cemetery in Vancouver, Clark Co., Washington. I used to own the burial books for this cemetery, as a large number of my husband's ancestors and relatives are buried there. However, I donated the books to my genie society's upcoming book auction, because the listings are now online. However, I keep my volunteer information available at these websites for this cemetery, because there are many people who are unaware that the burial records are online. I was happy to pass this information on to the three requestors.

I've had three requests for lookups in the microfilmed 1899 City Directory of Washington, DC, which happens to be one of many items on a microfilm that contains Muskegon County, Michigan records. I've fulfilled two of these requests. There is also an unfulfilled request for lookups in the microfilmed Grand Rapids City Directory in the 1860s and 1870s. All of these films are those I've put on permanent loan at my local Family History Center.

Speaking of lookups, Genlighten will soon open has recently opened its website as a place where individuals can connect with low-cost volunteer researchers. Dean Richardson, who Randy mentioned at the Jamboree, has also started a blog for the site. Given my terrible record for looking up records in such an untimely manner, I've not signed up as a researcher, although I am considering it (must finish other commitments, first). I see that DearMYRTLE endorses the site, and I think this will become a wonderful resource for our genealogical community. UPDATE: Dean posted some clarifications and corrections in the comments section of this post. Please take a moment to read these!

I've wanted to do more FamilySearch Indexing, but other commitments, time contraints and my laptop not working well have created challenges in this department.

How am I doing? Not too badly, I hope--except for taking so very long to fulfill lookup requests. I'd like to read posts from other genea-bloggers on their contributions, too, so if you have some, please add your post links to my comments section. Also, be sure to read Renee's Genealogy Blog as she writes about her adventures in FamilySearch Indexing.


Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post Miriam!

Here is what I've been up to (when I am not cursing footnoteMaven's name for passing so many diversions my way):


Anonymous said...


Thanks for all your contributions to the genealogy community. You certainly have been busy helping others with lookups!

I really appreciate your kind mention of Genlighten and our blog.

Just a few minor clarifications: first, we still haven't quite launched yet... we're aiming for the FGS meeting in Philadelphia in September. If your readers visit the site now, they can take a look around, get a preview of what we're planning to offer, and register for an early invitation to our private beta release.

Second, though we're definitely aiming to provide "quick, affordable lookups" at Genlighten.com, our lookup providers will set their own fees, and I suspect not all will qualify as "low cost", particularly given the rising cost of gas, parking, and other research-related expenses.

Again, I'm very grateful to you for mentioning us. We do indeed aspire to become, as you put it, "a wonderful resource for our genealogy community."

familytwigs said...

First of all I'd like to say I know how much look up volunteers do and thank you for your work. As a CC of a genweb site (just a small county, and only ONE now.) my look up volunteers are wonderful. I also know how you can easily get overwhelmed by it all.
RAOGK has helped me several times in my own research. I appreciate you guys a lot!
I cut back recently and now make time to read blogs. . . . I have discovered wonderful people with great stories to tell! Now its fun again! (I'm still busy....:o)