April 1, 2012 by The Editor
Although I was very self-motivated as a young child to explore my family history, in retrospect nothing much would have happened if I had not used the network of family relationships nearby to expand my knowledge. I wrote about this in Tip #2, Interview Your Relatives. But beyond this, I had little knowledge of how to go about broadening my search.
As it happened, I had a substitute teacher in 6th grade named Mary Smith. Mrs. Smith had a bit of a fearsome reputation. But as the mother of a classmate, Rebecca, I regarded her as a little more trustworthy than some substitute teachers and soon realized she was a good one to have. At some point I discovered she was a genealogist and after asking for her help in learning about family research, she began to unofficially mentor me in my new hobby.
In many small ways she helped me to understand how to research, how to keep records, what to look for, etc. It was enough for a young person to take on and her guidance, I think, helped cement my interest. Sadly Mrs. Smith died a few years later just as we were graduating from high school, but she always remains in my memory as a great teacher for having fostered my hobby which, needless to say, was not among the more popular hobbies a junior high student could have.
Networking is a way to exchange valuable information and to support each other in common pursuits as well as to make friends. While mentoring may not be exactly ‘networking’ per se, it is a way to broaden the exposure of the value and enjoyment of researching family history in the community. It could take the form of volunteering to give a presentation on genealogy to a local high school history class, building relationships with area educators and prospective genealogists alike.
There are many other ways to network:
- Start or join a local genealogy group – often based in a local library
- Join a state or national group, like the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan (FCHSM), which builds community through meetings, conferences, and publications
- Use message boards on genealogy websites to collaborate with other researchers
- Keep in touch with your cousins – you may not have a close relationship with 2nd or 3rd cousins, but often you will be able to swap stories that help in your research
- Join a re-enactment society such as the King’s 8th Regiment that studies and performs aspects of history you connect to, deepening your understanding of the experience of the past
- Give a presentation to community members at a local library or community center
- Get involved with a project to record local family history. Genweb has state and county level pages that are filled with local projects, such as gravestone transcriptions and lists of local postmasters. They are often calling for volunteers.
In the end, networking does not have to be about anything more than making friends and sharing interests. By attending a meeting you may or may not meet someone with a common ancestral line, but you could very well meet new friends who share your passion. Ideally, our hobbies should not just give us information, they should enrich our lives with real, living human experiences. The interactions I had with relatives and teachers as a boy remain vividly in my memory and certainly inform my approach to genealogy today.