To paraphrase President John Kennedy: "Ask not what genealogy can do for you. Ask what you can do for genealogy." I doubt Kennedy would mind me borrowing his famous quote. He actively promoted volunteerism.
Although transcribing family records, abstracting wills and creating indexes to compiled records may not compare with a stint in the Peace Corps, such activities go a long way toward helping us preserve and share our history.
Think about it. Almost every time you pluck a will index off a library shelf, rummage through some historical society's documents or gleefully snatch a crucial piece of data from cyberspace, you are capitalizing on someone's volunteer efforts. Now it's payback time.
Virtually anyone with a brain can make a contribution. No excuses. Housebound? Offer to assist a genealogy society with a project that can be done at home. Poor eyesight? Volunteer to give research advice over the phone or at a public library, or to help organize genealogy seminars.
Are you an energetic soul who enjoys fresh air? Take a hike through a remote cemetery and jot down the epitaphs. Transcribe your work, get it bound for about $10 at a commercial copy center and donate the booklet to your local library.
Prefer to work with others? Call Lesleigh Butts. She chairs the Pinellas County Genealogy Society's tombstone committee, which has canvassed many of the 50 cemeteries in its area. "We've produced 13 books so far, with four in the works," Butts said. "They've been bound and copies donated to the Largo Library." (Check them out at www.rootsweb.com/flpgs.)
You don't have to be a society member to help with this project, said Butts, who lives in Seminole. "We try to get people close to the area to work on each cemetery," she said. Prospective volunteers can reach her at (727) 398-5378 or tolaiteaol.com.
Perhaps you've already surveyed cemeteries in other locales. Your database will be welcome at Rootsweb's online tombstone project. Go to www.rootsweb.com, look under Hosted Volunteer Projects and click on USGenWeb Archives, where you'll find directions for contributing your work.
Computer-savvy rooters should consider hosting a Web site. Log on to www.rootsweb.com and look under Web Sites. Click on Requests for Web Space.
If you don't know a bit from a byte but can manage e-mail, log on to www.usgenweb.org/statelinks.html and click on the state and county where you've done the most research. Abstract the wills and obituaries of your ancestors who lived in that area and e-mail the data to the volunteer who hosts the site. With so many archive categories to choose from, you're bound to have some pertinent records.
"There are huge amounts of data online, but it's a drop in the bucket," said Joe Patterson. A cyberspace volunteer in Carlisle, Pa., Patterson oversees most of Pennsylvania's online archive sites. He recently took over three county sites in New Jersey.
Back on the local front, Mercedes Bleattler, a librarian in the genealogy-local history section of the Largo Library, would love to see someone create an index of obituaries from the St. Petersburg Times from 1901-1973.
"The society has already indexed obituaries from 1973-1992, and later dates can be found on the Newsbank database, but those early years would be wonderful," she said.
A print index of wills on file at the Pinellas County Courthouse is another project worth pursuing. "The records at the Pinellas County Courthouse are available on a database that we do have at the reference desk," Bleattler said. "However, it is a very old and difficult system to use. It would be nice to have a print index for wills." If you have time to spare, contact Bleattler at (727) 587-6748 for details.
Interested in joining a genealogy society? Here's the contact information.
Pinellas Genealogy Society
Meets 11 a.m., third Saturday of the month, Largo Library
Suncoast Genealogy Society
Meets 7:30 p.m., fourth Monday of the month, Palm Harbor Library
Florida Genealogical Society
Meets 1 p.m., fourth Tuesday of the month, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library (main branch on Ashley St.)
Jewish Genealogical Society
Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at rootscolumnaol.com. You can read her column online at www.sptimes.com. Type Donna Murray Allen in the search box.