Giving Back and Paying It Forward

In many of the articles I write for genealogical publications, as well as presentations I give at conferences or to various groups and societies, I often talk about how “No genealogist is an island.” (See my article “Get in the Game” in the April 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine and “Key Contacts for Your Research” in the December 2005 issue Family Chronicle Magazine.) I also note the importance of building a “genealogy team” or “family history network” of key folks who can assist you in the research process. But part of the equation is that you also become a part of another genealogist’s family history team or network–in other words there may be times when someone else looks to you for help.

If you’ve ever experienced the kindness of strangers while on your family history quest (the libarian, the family history library volunteer, the newly found “cousin” you just met via an online message board, etc.), you can appreciate what a great feeling it is when someone helps you to break through your brick walls or solve your toughest research problem.

Well, today I had the wonderful experience of being on the other side–I was able to help guide someone else on a path to finding an elusive ancestor.

This afternoon I received a call from my good friend (and fellow writer), Dan Burns, who is President of the Mifflin Township Historical Society in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A woman had stopped in their office to ask about resources for finding a Slovak ancestor. She had been unsuccessful with many of the usual avenues (searching the Census and other online records) and had some specific questions about sources for Slovak genealogy. I spoke with her for only about 10 minutes, but was able to give her enough leads on where to go next. She was extremely grateful and seemed very enthusiastic about the promise of what she could find in the sources I noted. She also mentioned she had an old document (baptismal certificate) but was unable to make much sense of it. Dan kindly scanned it for her and is going to e-mail it to me to have a look. I told her I would then get back to her, hopefully with some additional leads for her to explore. The woman also joined the society (a plus for Dan and his group), and mentioned she would come to see Dan and I at an upcoming book signing on our Blue Collar Book Tour.

As I reflect upon my day, no matter what else has gone wrong, I can at least say that I helped someone in the search for her ancestors, hopefully initiating some good karma and practicing what I preach about “giving back” and “paying it forward.”