The following is my response to a private genealogy mailing list posting about how FHC (Family History Center) workers need training. Many of you have written to Ol' Myrt over the years expressing gratitude for the tireless efforts of your local FHC volunteers. Others report they considered themselves lucky that the janitor unlocked the door to the FHC. Listen in podcast format.
THE ONUS IS ON THE VOLUNTEER
It is my personal responsibility as FHC worker to take the initiative and learn about the FHC and how to do family history research. One simply cannot shift the bulk of that responsibility to others. While we may learn from others, it is our responsibility to seek out a variety of learning opportunities; then process that info by experimentation, trial and error, practice and implementation, until the new info becomes familiar.
The same sense of responsibility is a desirable trait for family historians. That would cure those who bop in to a FHC just before their afternoon tennis match only to say “I hear you have compiled a book on my SMITH family. I’d like to pick it up now.”
ARE GENEALOGISTS SERIOUS RESEARCHERS?
Historians have always felt genealogists are not sincere, capable researchers. Indeed there are many family historians whose work is “superficial” at best. Such short-sighted genealogists simply do not understand the scientific process of forming a theory and testing to evaluate its truthfulness. Scholars will oust a scientist who forces his data to meet his pre-conceived notions. Yet many a genealogist has blindly accepted a printed family history complete with names and dates, but not a single source citation.
In our case, the genealogical scientific process dictates careful evaluation of source documentation and diligent searches for additional sources with clues to our ancestral heritage. Because each ancestor’s locality and time period will likely have a different set of surviving record groups, the task includes a thorough review of previous research, compiled indices, but more importantly, original documents research.
Although access to such documents has been facilitated by microfilm and scanned image preservation, this does not mean the absence of those preserved images in a particular library or archive should stifle our quest for records.
I’ve actually heard a so-called genealogist say “I spent 2 afternoons at the local FHC, but they don’t have anything to help me with my Virginia ancestors.” The researcher simply did not take the time to understand two principles:
- FHCs have “lending library” privileges in that the FHL (Family History Library) loans microfilm to local centers as patrons submit film order requests. At a typical small FHC, with 20 patrons per week, likelihood of having 2 researchers interested in precisely the same locality and time period would be small.
- The FHL does not have it all.
In the case of Virginia, one must become familiar with records available at the Virginia State Library, and the Virginia Historical Society, to name but two essential resources.
Would that we all could take our FHC volunteer work as studiously as our counterparts at the reference desk in the local public library.
Life is a process – hopefully one never stops learning.