Note: This post was written during the holiday season of 2011, but not published due to the hectic schedule of the author during that time.
This is the time of year for gift-giving and thankfulness, and it brings to mind two of the main reasons why I spend so much time sharing transcribed documents and helping others with their research.
When I was just beginning to research my family, I had no clue where to turn for help. There were no classes or lectures available nearby, and the local library and historical society shunned genealogists (but, curiously enough, not historians, our kissing cousins). I was, however, very fortunate to know several other historians and genealogists, people who helped me, one way or another, whether they knew it or not.
Among those early mentors was my high school history teacher, the late Mike Cannon, whom we called Coach Cannon. As part of our history class, we had to survey a local cemetery and turn it in. At the time, I had no idea why Coach Cannon asked us to do that, but later I realized that he was helping the historical society gather information on the local cemeteries. Over the years, Coach and I would run into one another and share genealogical information. When the Internet came along, we corresponded by e-mail. He was one of the reasons I kept trying, and I do greatly miss his counsel.
Another long-time mentor is Mrs. Odell Hamby, who, coincidentally enough, was my fifth-grade teacher. Mrs. Hamby has long encouraged my interest in genealogy, and has been a key source of knowledge about this area’s history. She, Anne (Grist) Dickerson, Mary Elizabeth (Vickers) Law, Dr. and Mrs. Short, George Prater, and Coach Cannon formed the core of the local historical society. All were instrumental, in one way or another, in fostering my lifelong obsession.
Elaine (Randall) English, whose cemetery surveys I’ve so often mentioned, has been not only a considerable help with my research, but is a friend as well. She has pointed me down the right road on many occasions, so often I have lost count, and shared innumerable documents and stories. I have never told her this, but it is Elaine’s early online transcriptions that inspired me to do the same. In many ways, she is directly responsible for the hundreds of pages of transcribed records that form the core of my records and resources web site.
It would be impossible to mention everyone who has helped me, in one way or another. For instance, my mother, grandmothers, and aunts all deserve kudos because each has graciously shared stories, pictures, and whatnot, but if I tried to mention all of them, I assure you this post would be much longer.
My point in mentioning these mentors, informal or otherwise, is to acknowledge both their help and the reasons why I share so much information, seemingly for free, and am willing to, in my own way, help other researchers; and that is not only to pay back the help given to me, but to pay it forward as well.
What do I gain from all of this work? That’s also a long list, but the short version is that I’ve made many friends, met a ton of cousins, and helped more people with their research than I can count. In doing so, I have also laid the groundwork for several personal projects, both because of the experience I’ve gained helping others and because of the many records I’ve transcribed and made available. I have to admit that I like oddball records, and that trait has helped me find and understand a variety of records other genealogists seem to overlook. One day, I’ll turn that knowledge into an article or lecture, but for now I enjoy hearing that those quirky sources have helped someone make a connection.
So yes, I’m paying others back for the help given me, and paying that same help forward, but I’m also gaining tangible benefits from the effort. Although I do make money from a good bit of my work, the biggest benefit I gain from helping others is not pecuniary, but satisfactory: the satisfaction of helping others, of knowing that I have grown as a genealogist and as a person, a satisfaction that is in many ways more fulfilling than any monetary reward.
Will spin-offs of my “free” work eventually be used to earn my living? Absolutely! But that lessens neither their value nor the benefits received by the giver or the givee. As long as I am able, I will continue to pay back all the help given to me over the years by paying that same help forward. It’s a simple way of saying thank you, but a lasting one.