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Let’s Hear it for the Volunteers

Let’s Hear it for the Volunteers

Last month, during April, National Volunteer Week was celebrated. National Volunteer Week first started in 1974 and “recognizes the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenge.”[1]

Thinking about a week that honors volunteers reminded me of all the ways volunteers help the genealogy community. I remember when I first started seriously tracing my family history, volunteers were the ones who helped me find records, taught me more about research, and on one out-of-state research trip, took me to the courthouse and the local archive to find records. Volunteers who have helped me include those I have never met in person and those I've served on boards and committees with.

Volunteers have always provided important services to family historians from transcribing cemeteries to teaching. Just think of all the volunteers that help the genealogy community today:

  1. Genealogy Society Board, Committee, Project, and SIG (special interest group) leaders
  2. FamilySearch Indexers 
  3. Family History Center Consultants
  4. Indexers for various society, academic, and personal projects
  5. Website hosts that provide genealogical content at no charge
  6. Presenters at Family History Center Seminars
  7. Volunteers who help provide research and content for wikis
  8. Volunteers who take photos for genealogy websites
  9. Conference Volunteers
  10. Look-up and Research Volunteers

I hesitate to even name some types of genealogy volunteer because I know I’ve forgotten at least a few more. And obviously, there are other people in the genealogy community that are making a difference like those who donate to projects, societies, and organizations so that volunteer groups can thrive and records can be made available. But I think you get my point. In the world of genealogy, it’s amazing how many people and projects rely on volunteer help. I know I have been a recipient of that generosity and my own genealogy career has included many volunteer positions at the local Family History Center, genealogy societies, and conferences.

New to genealogy? Haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer? That’s ok, there’s always some society or group that could use your expertise. Whether you help your local society, library, FamilySearch or even your fellow genealogist by providing expertise on a genealogy-related Facebook group or by uploading your books to LibraryThing and offering lookups. There’s plenty of opportunities to serve.

What have you volunteered for? How has that volunteer work helped your own personal genealogy? One benefit of volunteering is that it allows us to gain experience that enriches our own genealogical knowledge. Especially when our volunteer work encourages us to delve into unfamiliar sources. 

How have you been helped by a genealogy volunteer? What individual volunteer or volunteer organization do you want to give a shout-out to who has helped you? Maybe it’s someone who you don’t know personally but whose work has made all the difference. Now’s the time to acknowledge those that help us. Those unsung heroes of genealogy.

I’d love to hear about your volunteer experiences in the comments below. If you’re a genealogy volunteer, thank you so much for your service. We appreciate you!


[1] “National Volunteer Week,” Points of Light (https://www.pointsoflight.org/nvw/: accessed 22 April 2021).


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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To all volunteers who take photos of gravesites,
Last year I has left my job just before the COVID pandemic hit and I was going to take a couple of months off before looking for another job but then COVID hit and my unemployment lasted over a year and went through 2 lockdowns (I am in Victoria). I was glad I had genealogy as a hobby to keep me occupied. There were numerous people all over Australia who were fulfilling my photo requests which led me to investigate and do further sleuthing on various twigs of my family tree. This valuable assistance from the numerous volunteers was inavailable to me for my mental health and well-being through a very trying year. I sent each one of those volunteers a special thank you at the end of the year of how much their time and effort to fulfilling my photo requests helped me tremendously. Many of them were very touched by my thankful words and how much they felt appreciated and were able to help regardless how many photo requests they fulfilled. So once again I would like to thank all those volunteers who take time out of their day to fulfill gravesite and memorial photo requests not just for myself but to all who make such requests.

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