Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness

Miriam over at AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors has a great post today about her achievements and ways of giving back to the genealogy community. She's asked other genea-bloggers to also take time to list some of the ways in which they help out other genealogists and how this "pay it forward" attitude can pay off for all parties involved.

Here are my current areas of involvement:

Obit Daily Times: I've used this obituary search feature so many times over at RootsWeb and wondered why my hometown newspaper, the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York, had no entries. Well, I checked their How To Become A Contributor page and found out how the back-end of this 100% volunteer project works.

If you want to participate, you sign up to "adopt" a newspaper from which you will enter basic information based on the obituaries in that paper. It isn't as easy as it seems since the goal is to enforce uniform data input standards among hundreds of volunteers. But they graciously assign you a "buddy" who reviews your data and helps correct errors. It took me about two weeks until I was able to fly solo - after that, I consulted their wonderful handbook to look up issues that vexed me.

I enter a weeks worth of obituaries using their data entry software (installed on my computer) and then copy and paste it into a plain text email and send it off. But that's not all - there is another feature of this great project that is little-known.

What if you wanted more detail than just name, dates, etc? Well you can email Obit Daily Times and they will contact the volunteer who adopted that newspaper. Volunteers are required to keep the full text of obituaries going back 90 days. I receive maybe one request a week, in which I look up the full text that I keep stored in Google Docs (who wants all that data taking up space on their own computer)? I send off the text, the requestor is happy and I feel like I've made a difference.

Obit Daily Times is always looking for caretakers - consider volunteering for your hometown paper. This is especially important if you know the small towns, the nicknames and terms that can often appear in obituaries. I know for me, when an obituary says Milford they mean Pennsylvania, across the river from Port Jervis, New York. Someone not from the area wouldn't catch little things like that.

Unclaimed Persons: this is a project involving Roots Television and Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak which has been very rewarding both in my role as a sleuth and as an Administrator.

The concept: medical examiner/coroner offices from around the country are often challenged to locate next of kin for people in their morgue. In most of these cases, there is a very limited amount of identity information (name, date of birth, date of death, last residence, etc.). Unclaimed Persons is a Facebook group that calls upon the sleuthing skills of its members to try and find the next of kin.

There are basic ground rules such as not making attempts to contact next of kin directly, not posting identity information of living people, etc. The Adminsitrator of a case is helps enforce these guidelines along with other duties. As an Administrator, I receive an assignment from Megan, I post the case details, and then I act as moderator and answer questions, help discuss theories, offer encouragement, etc. It is tempting to not try and solve the case I am assigned sometimes! Recently, I was able to pass along next of kin information to the Hillsborough County FL Medical Examiner's office for James Christian born in Birmingham, Alabama.

If you love puzzles, and want to try and solve one that can bring peace and comfort to some mother's child or some sister's brother who is deceased, then this is the project for you. To see more, check out a great video about Unclaimed Persons at Roots Television about Albert Crazy Buffalo.

Answering Lookup Requests: I get various requests as a result of both this blog and my genealogy database which I update at least four times a year using a GEDCOM to HTML software program. I can't tell you how many cousins and far-flung relations I've found this way. I receive inquiries from budding genealogists to the seasoned ones trying to resolve a brick wall. While I can't always provide the information they want or need, it is nice to know that I've given back the same way I've received information.

Genea-bloggers: This is one area that Miriam didn't address and I know was discussed in depth a few months ago. Perhaps we need to revisit some of these ways to help out other genea-bloggers such as:

- create a post announcing the posting of a blog carnival such as the Carnival of Genealogy, Smile for the Camera, Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture, and many others;

- post constructive and encouraging comments on the posts of other genea-bloggers, especially for those posts that you yourself know are difficult to write and share with the world; and

- point out great posts by fellow genea-bloggers, much like I am doing right now with Miriam's post.

The genea-blogger community is very well conencted, even more so now with all of our Facebook pages (LOL!). To me it is a group of people that are warm, intelligent, not cliquish, and who give out great karma not just so they can receive it back, but because it is the right thing to do.

1 comment:

Miriam said...

Thomas, thanks for writing about how you contribute to the genealogical community. I know that you are always "gung ho" in the middle of things at whatever you put your mind and hands to, and here you prove no differently.

I appreciate your explanation of Obit Daily Times; it made me realize what a great resource this is. I've neglected using it, and will have to remedy this.

I've been on Unclaimed Persons at Facebook from the get-go, but haven't taken the time until earlier today to check how just how volunteers track down family. I was very impressed by the group that you administrate...how well you all work as a team. I hope to get a chance to help out with UP sometime this summer.

I'm so glad you've joined the genea-blogging world; you've made our community all the more exceptional and a whole lot of fun!