Most genealogists have received help during their genea-journeys.
Perhaps that help came from a family member, another researcher of the same name or place, an archivist or a librarian with a family history interest. No matter the source, it is always good to receive assistance.
Family History Month is celebrated during October and, although it has just ended officially, here are some thoughts on how genealogists can provide help to others all year long.
As researchers, I believe we also have an obligation to pass that help along. Can we assist a genealogy society member with a sticky problem to which we may have a solution? Have we helped a young member of our family with a school project? Have we made an effort to appreciate those who have assisted us?
I was quite busy during October. My genealogy activities included writing posts for our MyHeritage Blog, genealogy society meetings, answering emailed questions about my areas of expertise (Spain and Belarus), and assisting others hoping for answers to questions about international archives and locating researchers to find records.
However, my most rewarding time last month was volunteering at a local rehabilitation center/nursing home.
I spend many hours visiting a relative there, and the activity director heard me discussing family history with another resident’s family. She asked if I’d like to do something with the residents. Now, I meet with an increasingly active small group of residents every week.
We decided on a format where we’d focus on one subject at each meeting. Our first was remembering our first day at school. The second was about our favorite foods, and the most recent was our childhood best friends. At the first meeting, I handed out simple family trees to the group and asked them to complete and return them. Several residents have returned them, and they will be framed to hang in their rooms.
Some residents are in for short-term therapy following an operation, some have cognitive deficits or Alzheimer’s, while others are simply elderly, in their late 80s and 90s. A mixed group, to be sure, and I wasn’t sure who would talk, who would just listen. We did know, however, that some wouldn’t remember what they had for lunch that day, but would likely have clear memories of their early life.
One woman, who had not communicated with anyone, has been able to discuss her childhood and family. This was the most surprising as she sat next to me at last week's session, when her usual place was on the other side of the room, near the door.
During the first class only three people really participated with their own family memories. More spoke up during the second class and, at this week’s class, even more were very vocal.
Group members mentioned to the activity director how much they liked the class and looked forward to each meeting. When I walk through the dining room, my students say hello or wave.
The activity director mentioned that she was really surprised to see some residents, who rarely communicated, actively recalling memories of their childhood and families.
Giving back – with our individual knowledge – is a great feeling! Residents’ family members have stopped to say how much their relatives enjoy the sessions. Even better, one resident’s daughter stopped by to talk about the book she wrote about her own family history and had privately printed for her family.
Look around your own community. Is there an opportunity at a community center, senior center, nursing home, for you to volunteer for an hour a week to use your knowledge and make a difference in the lives of others? Go talk to the activity director and ask!
Do you already help out in such a program? Have you done so in the past? What topics did you cover? Let us know in the comments below.
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