When Clarence Almon Torrey (1869-1962) first set out to compile what became known as New England Marriages Prior to 1700, he didn’t expect fame or monetary rewards beyond his imagination. He just quietly and methodically researched many, many records to uncover nearly 37,000 couples married in the 17th century. You could say he was obsessed, like many of us are, with genealogy. And that's a good thing for millions of people who descend from his original list. Imagine what New England research would be without Torrey—or any of the other great genealogists we rely on day in, day out.
In fact, we rely on the contributions of many people to build our family trees. Some are paid, but many are volunteers. To me, it has been inspiring to see so many people volunteering their time and efforts to index the recently released 1940 census. It says a lot about the genealogy community as a whole. As English writer John Heywood (1497–1580) said, “Many handis make light warke.”
So what can you contribute to the genealogy world?
In a recent post, I mentioned how the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists (MSOG) had partnered with FamilySearch to create an index to the Boston Passenger Lists 1820-1891. The group then took on the challenge—like many other groups and individuals—to index the 1940 census. In fact, I decided to try it myself. I signed up with FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing. I found myself transcribing Texas death records, not because I had any relatives in Texas (I don’t), but because the job was marked with high priority. I was so excited to see the Texas index go online at FamilySearch, free for anyone to view, knowing I was a part of making it happen. FamilySearch has a huge vault of records from all over the globe, and volunteers are scouring the far reaches of the world to add more, so there’s a huge need for volunteers to index these records.
Projects Big and Small
I have been a county coordinator for the USGenWeb since 1998. With the goal of providing “free genealogy for everyone,” the USGenWeb volunteers host web sites for every county in the country. Not only is the group looking for more people to “adopt” a county, but each state is looking for people to transcribe materials for the web sites, special projects, and archives. A similar premise is behind GENUKI, a site that covers England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
Every time I look at Find a Grave, it seems like volunteers have added yet another million more grave listings to the site. Founded by Jim Tipton in 1995, the web site grows daily due to the thousands of contributors who submit new listings and upload photographs of our dearly departed. You can add your ancestors’ final resting places to the site, transcribe cemetery records, or fulfill other people’s requests to photograph their relatives’ graves. Another site, BillionGraves, has volunteers with GPS-enabled smartphones snapping photos at graveyards and uploading them to the site.
Besides these big national and international online projects, there are genealogy societies big and small that need your help.
For instance, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) offers opportunities for volunteers to “work in the library, manuscripts, research, conservation, website, or membership areas at NEHGS headquarters or on special projects from home.”
Founded in 1980, the Massachusetts Genealogical Council “is the umbrella organization representing Massachusetts genealogists, historical societies and individuals who are concerned about records preservation and free and unfettered access to civil records.” The council holds an annual seminar every summer, which requires many volunteers to make it a successful event.
As already mentioned, the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists (MSOG) is involved in indexing the Boston Passenger Lists and the 1940 census.
There are many genealogy and historical groups and libraries looking for volunteers. Find one that matches your interests and abilities—and volunteer.