Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Gift of My Time Freely Given

It's hard for me to remember a time when I wasn't volunteering for one thing or another. I don't think I volunteered for anything during my high school or college years or even during the early years of my career. I think it started for me when my kids were born so that's going back about 25 years or so. I volunteered to help out at dance recitals, soccer games, field trips, teaching art appreciation to second graders, etc. That sort of stuff went on for years as my kids went from grade school to middle school and then to high school. By the time I got interested in genealogy (13-14 years ago) I had plenty of volunteer experience under my belt.

I didn't start volunteering for anything that could be classified as genealogy-related until about 10 years ago. My first "project" was to create a web site for the Polish Catholic church in Detroit that my great grandparents attended. Not only did I research the parish history to do so but I went through the parish record books to put together a genealogy section as well. Nobody asked me to do it. I just wanted a web site and I made one. I got to know the pastor and few key people in the parish and it all went well. Then one day the pastor put a notice in the church bulletin asking for people to work on creating a database of the baptismal, marriage, and death records for the parish. I volunteered for that too. I started with the death records and worked on them on and off for several years. I had hoped to get others to help me out but I just couldn't coordinate the project to get it off the ground.

Then the pastor was assigned to another neighboring parish. It too was a Polish Catholic church that some of my ancestors had attended. That parish didn't have a web site either, so I made one for them too. So then I was maintaining two parish web sites and working on the database.

Somewhere along the way I discovered that I had family ties to yet another Polish Catholic parish in Detroit. It didn't have a web site either. Yep. I did it again. So then there were three. All with genealogy sections and historical ties to my family.

At about the same time that I was creating all these church web sites, I volunteered to take over and expand the web site for the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan. It wasn't long after that that I was asked to join the board of directors. So then I volunteered to serve there too. While I was a member of the board I wrote for the society journal in addition to what I was doing on the web site and I voluntarily did a survey of the membership (primarily to take a pulse on where they were technology-wise). I made many friends during the time I was active as a board member but it was a very time consuming activity for me when combined with the writing and web mastering I was doing.

I also created a genealogy web site with information of specific interest for those with Polish ancestors from Detroit. I'm sorry to say that site has really suffered since I started blogging. I find it hard to keep it current these days.

As a result of the web sites I've created, I can count on getting several email requests for help each month. I do my best to connect people with the resources they need to research their family history. Sometimes that's a quick thing, sometimes it takes more time. Sometimes I don't have the answers people seek. But I give it my best shot in any event.

I find it hard to say "no" when people ask me for help so I end up over-committing myself. I can't begin to guess at how many hours I've put in volunteering for genealogy-related projects. I can say this though, I've met the very nicest people in the course of my volunteering. I don't regret any of it. I only wish I had more time and more money to give to further the cause of genealogy research.

I've cut back on my volunteering some in recent years. I still maintain the church web sites and my own Detroit/Polish genealogy web site but I'm no longer active with the PGSM web site or the board of directors. Blogging dominates my time these days and in a way that's a volunteer effort in itself. While much of what I write is for my own needs, there's also a great deal of information I pass along on my blogs that is strictly for the benefit of others. So I definitely feel like I'm still giving voluntarily to others in the genealogical community that way too. And once again I've met the nicest people along the way...

Written for the 87th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, Topic: Volunteerism