Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Volunteering - The Backbone of Genealogy

Without the efforts of dedicated volunteers, you wouldn't have near as many resources to work with. Genealogy has always relied on people taking the time to survey cemeteries, transcribe documents, index courthouse records etc. and making these projects available to other researchers. Genealogists freely share information between each other even though they have spend countless hours putting their family history together. Genealogists are a generous bunch of people as a general rule. Now there is a whole new generation of researchers out there thanks to the hit TV show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and to's aggressive advertising campaign. We need to stress to the newbies just how important it is to give back to the community that has provided so many things for them. The best way to do that is to be a good example to them by volunteering yourself. Here are a few ideas for you:

Adopt a USGenWeb county website. Right now there are 10 counties available for adoption just in the state of Mississippi. You will be responsible for keeping the website updated with county specific resources. If I am unfamiliar with a specific county, USGenWeb is one of the first places I look. USGenWeb provides step by step instructions so that even if you have never managed a web site before you will have no trouble.

Another thing you can do for USGenWeb is upload things that you have already done like cemetery surveys, document transcriptions, indexes you have put together etc. to their Archives page.

Do you have any genealogy books at home? Then volunteering for the Books We Own project at Rootsweb is just for you! You will be doing free look-ups for people in the books that you already have and are familiar with.

Another thing you can do at Rootsweb is became a Mailing List Administrator. If you look at the left side of the page you will see a link to the list of adoptable mailing list. As a mailing list administrator, you just keep an eye on things to make sure the list runs smoothly.

And yet another thing you can do at Rootsweb is become a Message Board Administrator. Any board that needs an administrator will have a link that says, "Volunteer to Admin." Click on that link and follow the directions. Being an administrator for a message board is very similar to being the administrator of a mailing list. You are there just to make sure things run smoothly.

You can help update the FamilySearch Wiki. Let other people take advantage of the things you have learned while researching your own family. One of the most important things you need to do when researching is learn all there is to know about the location where your ancestor lived. You can update the wiki with this information to help others.

Do you love cemeteries? Then become a Find A Grave volunteer! I get excited when a photo request appears in my email inbox. I get great satisfaction knowing that I am helping someone who can't possibly travel to this part of Georgia to take their own photos.

How about becoming a FamilySearch Indexer? I warn you though, indexing is VERY addictive! You will have the opportunity to index original documents for the Family History Library and at the same time gain valuable experience reading old handwritings. The Family History Library provides you with plenty of training so you have no worries. All records are indexed by TWO indexers and then the record is sent to an arbitrator. You don't need to be nervous about it. Every project has very specific instructions and there is always help available. This is one of the most rewarding projects that I know of.

You can volunteer your time at your local Family History Center or at any local library that has a genealogy collection. Newbies are very grateful to have someone available to answer their questions.

You can take on bigger projects such as abstracting obituaries from your local newspaper's microfilm, going to the courthouse and putting together an index of marriage records, abstracting names from the local funeral home's records, etc. All of these types of projects can be uploaded to the USGenWeb Archives.

As you are taking advantage of all the free stuff available on the internet, just remember that someone did the leg work to make it available to you. Why not do the same for someone else. There are plenty of opportunities out there that will not take up much of your time but are nevertheless very important.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Excellent post. Love volunteers. Family History Centers operate off of them.
    You missed some on Facebook. We need volunteers to administrate the states and countries that FamilySearch has created.

  2. Great post, Hummer! YES, FamilySearch has FB pages to help researchers. This is a great service. The Family History Library (FHL) and FamilySearch are absolutely wonderful. They have made so many things available to researchers. Helping them is a great way to pay them back.

  3. P.S. I just signed up for Mississippi. I just couldn't help myself :) :) :)

  4. Great post with great ideas for volunteering Michele!

  5. Just to let you know your blog post was listed on today's Fab Finds post at