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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Are You on the Sidelines?
by Rhonda R. McClure

September 07, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Genealogists are not islands unto themselves. There are many others out there who are researching their own family trees. And there are many genealogical societies and groups that can be of assistance. While they may not be able to offer answers on your specific ancestors, they will be able to introduce you to and expand your knowledge of the act of genealogy.

Through genealogical societies, you can learn about records peculiar to a particular area. You can be spared the pitfalls that often befall us when we begin to research in a new area.

Genealogical societies can help spare you the pitfalls we often experience in our research.

It Takes Help

However, as I write this I am thinking about a different aspect of genealogical societies and what you can do for them. Genealogical societies are powered by volunteerism. The officers that guide the society, those that you elect, are volunteers. Often they end up having to set aside the research of their own family history while they donate their time and talents to the furthering of the society that you are relying on.

I have just spent time at a meeting for one of the societies that I belong to. I am on the board of that society right now. When you get involved at that level you begin to realize what is necessary to perpetuate that society so that in years to come genealogists who are seeking help will still be able to turn to that society.

All Aspects of Help Wanted

Even if you do not have ancestors in the area where you now live, it is a good idea to become involved with the local society. Your involvement in your local society, where you may end up helping out-of-state genealogists looking for ancestors in your area, will be returned tenfold by the help you will receive from those societies where your ancestors lived.

Sometimes helping your local society introduces you to a new research principal that will in the end be more beneficial to you and your own research. As researchers we sometimes develop a tunnel attitude, where all we can see is our own research problems. Unfortunately those problems often do not appear to have a resolution. However, when working on something totally unrelated to your family, it is sometimes easier to understand a research principle.

Many Ways to Help

Local societies are striving to preserve the records for that area. They have volunteers that are abstracting and transcribing the records of the local cemeteries, courthouses and manuscript collections found in older houses, historical societies and other repositories. These efforts require manpower.

The records they are preserving through these efforts are also a method for the society to earn some money to keep going. Once they have transcribed or abstracted the records, the societies often publish the work and then sell it. They can then use the profits from these works to fund additional things, including the preservation of the society itself.

Even if you do not want to, or cannot, go so far as to be involved in the politics or general operation of the society, volunteer to work with some of the records preservation projects. Help the societies to transcribe the records that will then be published and help to generate revenue to keep the society going, so that they can continue to publish their newsletters and quarterlies and offer the services that they do to their members.

In Conclusion

The next time you are looking at how you can become involved and help genealogists, think about joining your local society.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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