02 November 2010

Genealogy Resource: The Buddy System

Did your mother ever tell you to never swim alone – to always have a buddy along? I advocate the same thing in genealogy. Your buddy may be a friend, family member, or fellow genealogist who becomes a friend. So much of our genealogy is done alone at a library, courthouse, or facing our computer screen.

Buddy assisted tasks may include proofreading and editing, organizing, research advice, research assistance, installing and understanding software, or running the copier. There are ways to pay them back and yield something more for yourself. Read on for several buddy opportunities.

When I present a lecture on organizing I begin by telling the audience that they have to invite the person next to them or behind them to their house or apartment. I tell them that surely they would not be embarrassed to have this person see the area or room where the genealogy materials are stored (piled?)! I usually hear some groans. Then I tell them that this is really a good idea. Ask a buddy to look at your genealogy area. This other set of eyes may have some good tips on how to get your area into shape and make better use of the work and storage space you have. Even a non-genealogist’s eyes are good for this organization session. Return the favor at your buddy’s home.

Solving tough research problems
My genealogy buddy Ann and I used to exchange genealogical problems. I met Ann through my state genealogical society. We were volunteering on the same project. Whenever either of us was stuck on a tough
family history problem we would exchange notes and files and would review each other’s work. Along with the review we would make a list of possible research avenues. Many times the buddy’s eyes got the research going in a good direction. Ann passed away years ago and I miss her help. I have new friends who provide some of this same advice, though they are many states away. It’s amazing what you can accomplish via e-mail and the cell phone.

The written word
Have you ever tried to proof or edit something you wrote yourself? How about your annual holiday letter or the family history you are writing before the next family reunion? Don’t forget the invitation you are composing to the family reunion. Have your buddy help with these tasks. It is amazing what another set of eyes can find in someone else’s writing.

On-site research
Ask your buddy to go to the library to help you do research. A buddy can retrieve and return microfilms to the cabinets. A buddy can do photocopying if it is self-service. A buddy can make sure you take some food and mind breaks. This buddy does not have to be a fellow genealogist. Just having someone along can make the first visit to a new research facility a bit less daunting.  Each of my children (in their pre-teen and some in later years) have accompanied me to do on-site research. Sometimes I paid for their help and at times there have been other rewards. As adults with their own households to support they no longer do it for free!

Electronic help
Your buddy might be someone who has extensive knowledge about some of that electronic equipment you have purchased. Does your new computer or software stymie you? Is scanning something you can’t get quite right? Ask a buddy for help. Having the buddy sitting next to you and your computer is mighty comforting. In return you might be able to provide some research assistance or proofreading help when they need it.

Motivation (also known as guilt!)
What about using your buddy to “motivate” you. You and your buddy agree that you will each work on your family history for all of Saturday afternoon or for three hours every other week. When you know that you will have to “report” to the buddy, you are more likely to do the work. After all, you don’t want that buddy to think of you as a lazy person. If you are a writer, bargain with a buddy to report your writing progress as some of my friends and I do. I have a network of buddies who chide me to get work finished. The payback on this? I get to nag them to do the same! Revenge is sweet.

Be a buddy at your genealogical society’s meetings
How about starting a program that sets up long-term members with newer members. Perhaps it can be car pooling to a meeting or to the library for research. It might be designating certain members as the buddies for making people feel welcome and keeping the conversation going at tables at the luncheon during the annual seminar. Your benefit might be adding a new genealogy friend/buddy who will be there for you.

Where to find a buddy
In today’s world we can find genealogical buddies online – but I much prefer the ones I meet in person at least one time. That person can pour over your research notes and copies with you. That person can visit the library with you. The family history advantage is that they are there to comment on a genealogical research problem, to tell me about something that has changed at the courthouse, or to tell me about a new guidebook that I should purchase.

There are many places to find buddies online in the form of someone who has contributed family history material or asked a question: Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, USGenWeb.com, familysearch.org [add hot links] and many others. I like to get acquainted with people at genealogy meetings, conferences, and institutes. I count some of those people as long-time genealogy buddies even though we live miles away from each other.

Paying your buddy back

In addition to the payback advice throughout this column, you can offer to check some books for them the next time you visit the library. You could offer to water plants when she is on a research trip and you were not able to go. You can purchase a gift certificate from a genealogy book/software vendor for her.

Selfishly, I feel I benefit more from my buddies than they do from me. I hope you find some good genealogy buddies, too.


Sheri Fenley said...

Great post Paula. My cabana boy is usually my buddy, but not for genealogical tasks.

Is there a yenta or a clearinghouse anywhere that does genealogical buddy-matching for those of us who may not have a genie buddy?? What a great service that would be.

Paula Stuart-Warren said...

As usual, you made me laugh! I think you should train Cabana boy to help with genealogy too.