Category Archives: Volunteerism

Giving Back – Part 5 – Give Money

Maybe you just don’t have time to do any of the options I’ve described in this series of blog posts. If so, then maybe you can work a little charitable giving into your budget. There are three distinct ways that come to mind if giving money is your preferred method of giving back to the genealogical community:

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of genealogical societies across the United States, not to mention around the world. Perhaps you are a member of one or maybe you know of one in your area. Maybe you need to look one up. I know many genealogists are members of more than one society. I am a member of some in my local area as well as in areas in places where I research. Many of these societies are 501c3 organizations meaning they are non-profits and your contribution is tax-deductible. At the very least, you could consider becoming a member of one or two (or more) of these societies. Your membership fees help societies offer free programs and genealogical education to the public. To find a genealogical society, use the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ database or do a Google Search for your area.

There are a number of genealogical scholarships available. They are not all always well publicized but there is a good list of some on Cyndi’s List. You could also decide to set one up yourself for a specific reason, in memory of someone, to send someone to a specific conference or institute each year, and so on. Or you could donate to a society or other body that already has a scholarship fund. This promotes mentorship and genealogical education at a higher level.


My current favorite, one that will have a lasting effect on the genealogical community at large, is to donate to the Preserve the Pensions campaign. This project is seeking funding to digitize and make freely available through, the pensions of soldiers who served in the War of 1812. As of this post, the project is 50% funded. has generously agreed to match funds, so your dollar goes twice as far!

So, if you can spare some money, there are plenty of genealogical needs that could benefit from your generous donation. Consider one of the above if cash is your preferred method of “giving back.”

Giving Back – Part 4 – Host and Edit a Website

htmlLet me just start by saying this one may not be for everyone. This option may take a little more technical skill than some are capable of or interested in. It requires you to be able to edit and maintain a website. This blog post is not going to go into the technical aspects of how to do this. If you already know how, great. If you are interested in doing it but don’t know how, there are plenty of online tutorials you can locate and maybe even some local classes to get you going. I will be highlighting a couple of projects that could use you. (Also, this is another one of those volunteering projects that can be done in your jammies!)

Actually … you can still help out if you don’t have the technical skills necessary; keep reading.

Many researchers know about the GenWeb project. There are two GenWeb options:

The US GenWeb covers all 50 states, at the state level and then with sites specific to most counties. The World GenWeb is similar in that it is broken down by region, country and then county, providence or other civil district type. Another website that is similar in structure is called Genealogy Trails and is dedicated to “keeping genealogy free.” It too is broken down by state and county. Both of these are run completely by volunteers and they are all constantly in need of people willing to maintain them.

These sites are only as good as those who contribute to and maintain them. You can elicit contributions from users as well as develop your own content. This doesn’t have to be a project where you provide all of the information posted on the site. The idea of these sites is that the information that is gathered is free for all to use. With that in mind, you have to be aware of copyright and don’t post things that aren’t in the public domain or of your own making (or that of another volunteer.)

Perhaps you don’t have the technical skills to be the website editor, YOU CAN STILL HELP! If you can type, you can contribute by transcribing records such as those found in a local courthouse, church, cemetery, library, etc. Things that are helpful are obituaries, death records, birth records, marriage announcements, baptisms, and so on. You can contact the manager of a county site and discuss project specifics such as what format to submit your transcriptions in and so forth.

Many of us started by searching some of these free sites, hosted by volunteers who have contributed countless hours for our benefit. If you have the skill, consider giving back by hosting, editing, maintaining or contributing to a genealogy website.

Giving Back – Part 3 – Monitor Message Boards

The message board catalog at

Genealogy is a very collaborative activity. Think about every book you’ve accessed, every online site you’ve used, every lecture you’ve attended on genealogy. All of these were prepared by, indexed by or written by someone: a genealogist who wants to help you. (Ok, we could argue that big corporate sites like and others are interested in their shareholders and the bottom line, but even those sites started somewhere with one person’s idea and a common goal of sharing genealogical research with others.) Generous genealogists spend hours in front of microfilm readers, in local archives, in cemeteries and elsewhere to put together many of the indexes we use everyday to move along our research.

Another way you can assist other researchers from the comfort of your own home, or through visiting local repositories on occasion, is by monitoring an online message board such as the combined boards at and These boards are organized by topic, surname or location. By watching the boards that interest you and sharing your expertise and/or offering to do look-ups (if you are willing to do that) you can answer researchers very specific questions or help them think of other avenues to research.

When I lived in Boulder County, Colorado, I monitored the list and volunteered to do look-ups, usually obituaries, to assist other researchers. (Since I moved, I am in the process of learning how I can do this in my local area.) I also watch surname boards for names I have in my own research to try to connect with other researchers working on the same line and to potentially answer questions I had perhaps already solved.

This option does not take up very much time, depending on the geographic locality or how many message boards you decide to help out. In Boulder, I may have had months with no questions or requests and then some months might have had 3 or 4. Plus you can choose not to answer them if the month is busy for you. This volunteering option is probably one of the least restrictive.

So, think about this as an option for helping fellow researchers. In our age of the Internet and fast communication, it is so much easier to collaborate and share information than it ever has been. Continuing in the collaborative and cooperative tradition of our genealogical forebears keeps the field of genealogy one of mentorship, and upon that friendships are built and cousins are found.

Giving Back – Part 2 – Indexing in Your Jammies

These are my "genealogy pants."
These are my “genealogy pants.”

I work from home. My commute is the 60-90 seconds it takes me to fill my coffee cup and head to my office. I am not too proud to admit that I sometimes trade my jammies for sweatpants. Sometimes, on particularly chilly, rainy days when I have no plans on leaving the house, I have been known, on occasion, to stay in my jammies. It’s one of the perks of working from home.

Another way to “give back” to the genealogical community, AND STAY IN YOUR JAMMIES, is through online indexing projects. Sometimes these might be sponsored by a local or state genealogical society. However, the largest online project is through FamilySearch Indexing. Since 2006, FamilySearch Indexing has been hosting indexing projects of thousands (millions?) of digitized records. (Their wiki page says they began this in 2006 but I recall that I was in attendance in 2005 at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Salt Lake City when they unrolled this to the public at a conference and I was among the first round of public volunteers to sign up.)

I am not going to describe the technical requirements to get started. Those can be found here. Let me just say that the process is very simple and can be done on either a Mac or PC. Once you sign up to be an indexer, you download a program that will allow you to choose from a variety of projects and then will download your batch of records to be indexed. Each and every project comes with its own set of instructions and help files, so don’t worry. If you are thinking, I don’t think I know how to do that, I encourage you to at least read about it and try it to see if you like it.

A few things that I have learned from doing this since 2005:

  • It takes a while to get more proficient at using the software, understanding the instructions, understanding how to download a batch, and so on. So the first few batches you do might take longer than you would like them to. Give it some time before you decide if you’d like to participate or not.
  • Since I have been doing the indexing with FamilySearch, I have become a lot better at reading old handwriting. If you find that you read a lot of old documents, there is nothing like transcribing and indexing to really make you see and understand that old script.
  • Working on a project like this can be a great way to challenge yourself. The program has a feature that allows you to set goals and keep track of how many names/records you’ve indexed. Setting a weekly, monthly or yearly goal is a lot of fun, if you are that kind of person. I enjoy seeing my numbers.
  • When you are using the FamilySearch Records (the portion of the site where you can actually see the digitized records) and you see that camera icon (meaning there are actual pictures of the documents) and then you see “Browse Images” or a number of records available, that tells you if the project has been handled by the indexing program. Often, I find the records I’d like to use have not been indexed yet. By giving up 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes of my day, I can advance a project that will eventually get posted to the Records section and this makes me feel like I’ve helped out other researchers. Goodness knows they’ve helped me!

    Dang, those records haven't been indexed yet!
    Dang, those records haven’t been indexed yet!

FamilySearch is not the only project out there. Some other projects to examine are:

If you are like me and sometimes like to stay in your jammies, AND you like helping out other researchers. Give an online volunteer project a try!

Giving Back to the Genealogical Community

My cat Piper, just because.

If you’re a follower of me or my blog you know that I recently moved from Colorado to Texas. It has had its ups and downs.

Upside: no snow in winter. They keep telling me it gets “cold” and “icy” here but seriously. Until you’ve actually spent winter in someplace north (like Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, North Dakota, New England…) I am going to snort at your definition of “cold.” No offense intended, I really understand that it is all a matter of perspective. However, I start to melt when it stays above 85 degrees for too long, so they’re going to snort at me when March or April rolls around and I’m complaining about the heat.

Downside: we have had two, yes 2, car accidents in about 3 months time, neither were our fault, both totaled the car. (It’s a longer story but I am trying to make a point here.)

Upside: new repositories, new cemeteries, new genealogical societies, new opportunities.

Downside: between unpacking, being out-of-town, having no car, and having a cold, I haven’t had time to go to any local society meetings yet.

Being at home more than I’m used to got me thinking about how we in the genealogical community can give back even if we aren’t attending a society or if we are unfamiliar with an area or even if we are stuck in our house due to weather, no wheels, or having a cold. The next few posts are going to examine, illustrate, discuss or review various ways to do this.

Plus, I’d love to hear your ideas and/or ways you do this already. I’m always looking for new learning or serving opportunities. Please leave a comment below.