Geni Podcast: Helping Others with Genealogy

Posted June 3, 2011 by Geni | 2 Comments

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Show Notes:

Why should I help others with their genealogy?

For me the question is more “why not help others with their genealogy?” Most of us had some sort of mentor or person who welcomed us into the world of genealogy whether it was a relative, a librarian, or a staff member at a Family History Center. I can’t say why it seems that those involved with genealogy and family history are so “welcoming” but it might be this: we all remember how it was to start out. Remember trying to thread a microfilm in a reader? Remember learning how to do a proper search on Ancestry or FamilySearch? Remember getting an invite to join and learning how to enter information?

If I can help someone and make it easier for them and not have them repeat some of my mistakes, then for me I’ve returned the favor that was once given me.

What can I do to help?

It shouldn’t be too difficult to get started in helping others.  Here are some ideas:

  • Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness ( is a site which takes requests for lookups, photos, record requests etc. and allows others to pitch in and provide help.
  • Create a blog. If you have an abundance of knowledge, especially about a specific area of genealogy, consider starting a blog to share the knowledge.  This doesn’t mean you need to “give it all away” either.  You could actually tie your blog posts into your books and presentations and become not just an expert on a niche subject but an authority.
  • Be active in message boards and forums. Many sites including Geni have forums or message boards where newcomers ask questions. Lend a hand but don’t be a show off – I often give some advice and then tell the person that they can contact me if they want more information.
  • Volunteer. There are many venues in which you can lend a hand, both locally (genealogical society, library, Family History Center) or virtually (blogs, chats, even Second Life!).

If I do help, how can I “Teach them to fish,” and not just “Give them a fish?”

I think it is important to help new genealogists become not just self-sufficient, but also to help keep them engaged and constantly “on the hunt.” For many of us, genealogy is not just a hobby or a profession, it is an obsession.  To the point where when we talk to family and friends, they roll their eyes and perhaps walk the other way, right?

Here are some ways that you can help get budding family historians on the path to learning:

  • Join a site such as Geni ( that has a built in community, educational and how-to resources and the ability to collaborate and share with others.  I find it helps me when I am learning something that I am not alone – that’s just how I operate but I believe it is the same for most genealogists and family historians.  I like to be able to ask questions. I like to bounce ideas off of other people who have a similar interest. If something doesn’t make sense to me, perhaps it is the educational material and how it is presented and not me – it helps to ask others if they see it the way you see it.
  • Webinars are the hot new way to learn in the genealogy community! Many of them are free and even Geni has gotten in on the act with recent webinars on AncestorSync and working collaboratively in genealogy. Check out GeneaWebinars ( for info on upcoming webinars and how you can sign up. Also keep in mind that many of these webinars are recorded and can either be viewed later on-demand for free or purchased in CD/DVD format.
  • Check out the Family Search Research Wiki ( for learning resources.  Almost every possible topic is included with great resource pages for specific ethnicities and geographical locations. And what if you feel a wiki page is missing important information? That’s where you come in – the FamilySearch Research Wiki, like most wikis, is a collaborative site that allows you to become a contributor and donate your knowledge on a subject.
  • Do you read genealogy blogs? There are thousands of genealogy and family history-related blogs with thousands of new posts each day.  Most of these articles aren’t just self-indulgent, “look what I did” types of posts.  Most take a topic such as military pensions and walk you through how to order records, how to use the data etc.  These bloggers are willing to give free advice and information on a daily basis to the genealogy community.  You can follow over 1,900 of these blogs at GeneaBloggers (

How do I teach others “responsible genealogy?”

I love the term “responsible genealogy” but I would hate to know what “irresponsible genealogy” is! For me, responsible genealogy focuses on elements of sound research practices: proper source citations, using the Genealogy Proof Standard, collaborating with other researchers, and understanding copyright laws.

  • Try to act like a mentor and welcome newcomers.  Don’t draw a line in the sand and try to impress them with your vast knowledge or use statements like, “a real genealogist would . . .” which only serve to alienate people.
  • Set newcomers on the right path but do so in an unbiased manner. Or if you do have a bias, be upfront and transparent about it.  Example: if you are an affiliate for Ancestry, let them know this especially if you steer them towards Ancestry links.
  • Help newcomers understand the importance of citing sources and not just the how but the why. Don’t take a “thou shalt” approach – remember that there is more than one citation standard available.  The goal should be to help someone locate their sources at a later date if they need to redo some of their research.
  • Get them involved with organizations such as the National Genealogical Society ( or the Federation of Genealogical Societies ( Explain why a newcomer should join a genealogy society – either local or online – and how getting involved in the genealogy community can help them.
  • Discuss copyright laws, fair use and the fact that not everything on the Internet is free for the taking.
  • Give example of how you’ve worked with other researchers, requested GEDCOM files or family trees, and why it is important to share such information but also give credit to the original researcher.
  • Finally, walk the walk and just don’t talk the talk. Periodically I have to do a “self-check” and make sure that I am actually practicing what I preach to those who are new to genealogy.  It doesn’t hurt to take a time out every so often and make sure what you do is in line with what you tell others to do.

More About Thomas MacEntee

  • The Great Illinois Genealogy Scavenger Hunt: my local genealogy society – Illinois State Genealogical Society ( has partnered with FamilySearch ( to gather Illinois genealogy sources for the FamilySearch Research Wiki ( Anyone can participate and win prizes including a free RootsTech 2012 registration, a free ISGS membership and neat stuff from FamilySearch. Visit the ISGS website and look for “Genealogy Scavenger Hunt” or click here for more information:
  • GeneaBloggers Radio: Every Friday evening from 9-10:30 pm Central time, Thomas MacEntee hosts an Internet radio show – GeneaBloggers Radio ( Via your computer, you can listen to interviews with interesting genealogists and companies involved in the genealogy industry