Ask and Receive: How to Start Helping the Genealogical Researcher in Your Family

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By Amanda Forson,

Most of the genealogical researchers that I am currently in contact with are novices who want to help with research, or any aspect of family history for their families, but have no idea where to start. After identifying who the person is in the family who keeps the records, the next thing to do is to ask what that person wants done. Often, the main family researcher will have been doing the research either completely alone or with very little help for multiple years. Finding new information and processing is their passion, and something that they guard with sanctity, often waiting to share the information and willing to send a lot of information to new researchers.

When trying to help with research, be sure to offer services first before trying to help with actual research. Possible services include but are not limited to, data entry of what has already been researched, paying for a needed document, or even simply showing support and interest. It is not unusual for a researcher to have completed years of research without anyone else in the family being interested. Lending an ear for a few hours is a great service for those who have had no one interested to whom they could tell the family stories.

Always treat researchers with respect. They have been doing a service to you and other family members, often without any acknowledgement or consideration, and have become the family expert through often grueling and exhilarating experiences. Let them share their stories along with the stories of the family, and DO NOT expect to become their researching partner overnight.

A confident researcher will often have multiple lines that need more researching. They can’t do everything by themselves, and a division of labor will help. If assigned a person to research, delve into the world that is genealogy and welcome to the thrills that come from connecting with family members on a closer, more intimate level. IF something is found, MAKE SURE that the original researcher is notified, so that both of you can find joy in this. If interest wanes, give the original researcher everything found thus far, and be considerate in showing appreciation for what they entrusted to you.

Even if the primary researcher only allows you to do data entry, this is a right and privilege for them to extend, and something that must be graciously accepted if accepted at all. Trust and genealogy do not readily assert themselves in the same sentence. Most genealogists do not trust other’s research unless they have double-checked sources and verified the information for themselves. Although normally a very honest and well-meaning group, even being allowed to do data entry is an honor and needs to be treated as such. Try not to expect pay for services. The primary family researcher often is of an age where a fixed income does not allow for any outside expenditure. Besides, this is your family, too! As bits and pieces of family information are unfolded, be happy for what is received and look forward to the next step. There is always more to do, and good researchers will be happy for help once there is “proven interest.”

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