Four Ways to Give Back to the Genealogical Community


Giving back is critical for a community such as ours, one that is uniquely self-supporting and depends whole-heartedly on the kindness of strangers. The financial burden that societies bear to digitize records, create indexes, and educate our ranks is impossible to meet without each of us volunteering time and donating money. Here are just four simple ways we can meet that obligation.

  1. Write up your research

There is perhaps no more important way to give back to the genealogical community than to record the research you’ve been conducting for years and distribute it in a presentable format. You are the only one who can make this unique contribution.

Don’t wait to complete all of your research on all of your ancestry to produce a 900-page tome. Start with what you already have and write several small, more manageable booklets (or chapbooks), focusing each on a surname line or a particular family group. Use resources like Patricia Law Hatcher’s Producing a Quality Family History, Penelope L. Stratton & Henry B. Hoff’s Guide to Genealogical Writing, and the NGS Special Publication, Numbering Your Genealogy to make your work as strong and useful as it can be. And don’t forget to index your work.

Companies like make self-publishing easy and affordable. Once you’ve published your work, send copies to family members who share those ancestors. Send additional copies to libraries with strong genealogical collections like the Family History Library in Salt Lake City; the Library of Congress; the Daughters of the American Revolution Library; the Allen County Public Library; the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History, and Genealogy at New York Public Library; and the National Genealogical Society Library in the Special Collections at the St. Louis Library. Don’t forget smaller libraries that are local to you and to the events you describe in your work.

  1. Join an indexing project

When was the last time you used an index? It was probably the last time you worked on a genealogy project. Indexes are as important to genealogical research as the records they reference. We’re utterly dependent on them; and on the people who produce them. Join an indexing project and make a contribution to the field as important to future generations as writing a check.

Think globally in considering organizations like FamilySearch, which currently hosts 273 indexing projects for record sets from more than 20 countries.

Think outside of the genealogical box in considering organizations like the Smithsonian Institute and its Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center. Many of the Smithsonian’s projects cover subjects like botany, entomology, and zoology, but they also cover the Freedmen’s Bureau, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center.

Think locally in considering organizations like the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society and its New York Digitization and Indexing Project, which also provides opportunities in document scanning, digital quality control, and digital project assistance.

Think topically in considering organizations like Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery. A project of the Department of History at Villanova University in collaboration with Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, Last Seen focuses on “Information Wanted” ads from scores of African American newspapers wherein former slaves sought long-lost family members.

  1. Add to Find A Grave

Perhaps you live near a small, local cemetery that has not yet been captured among the more than 475,000 cemeteries currently found on Find A Grave. Or maybe you live near a large cemetery that is included on Find A Grave, but is not yet complete. Thousands of volunteers have contributed their efforts to make Find A Grave a go-to resource for researchers. You can add to the millions of memorials they have produced by photographing, transcribing, and submitting gravestone information to the site.

  1. Donate to your favorite organizations

We’ve all benefited from the ongoing efforts of genealogical societies, both national and local. Membership fees generally cover no more than a portion of most societies’ activities, which depend on additional donations and grants to continue their good work. So give serious consideration to writing checks to your favorite societies. No amount is too small.

In addition, and more importantly, include your favorite societies in your will or by some other form of planned giving to ensure the organizations’ longevity. If you choose this form of giving back, be sure to let the society know so they can help you determine the best form of giving and so they can formulate their long-term goals accordingly.

Consider NGS’ Planned Giving Program or make a simple, one-time contribution to NGS.


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