Genealogy is all about sharing

Without the generosity of fellow researchers, many of us would make little progress. It might be because you are stuck or it may be the need for advice. Whatever the reason, it won’t be long before you discover that you can’t research in a vacuum and find yourself on a genealogy forum. Although not in the league of Genes Reunited, at the time of writing Family Tree Forum has 9000 registered members, with an average of 300 of them logging in each day and as many or more guests browsing the public areas of the site.

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Contributed to the Costume Gallery by Jill on the A272

Even if only browsing through the myriad links in Family Tree Forum’s Reference Library, all of which have been suggested by the members or reading through the posts in this and other genealogical forums to pick up hints or to be reminded of a technique, you often see examples of ‘random acts of genealogical kindness’: 

 “Members of the Great War Forum helped me trace the records of my great great uncle, who was killed in WW1, with one even taking a picture of his grave for me!”

“In the last 2 weeks, I have received photos of 3 generations, from great grandparents to 3 x great grandparents, in response to an enquiry I made on Ancestry Public Trees. I am made up!”

“A lovely lady on Rootschat went to the cemetery and took a photo of my dad’s grave for me, which was much appreciated as his grave will probably disappear with the expansion of Heathrow.”

 “I had lots of birth, death and marriage certificates sent to me and lots of photos from a very kind lady who had researched her family tree only to find that after a couple of years it wasn’t hers after all, but because she found this family so interesting she continued to research them. In the meantime I had put a request for information about them on a website and she got in touch with me and sent me everything she had! It was absolutely brilliant; she had actually been researching them for ten years in total! She had also along the way found her own family history too. I will always be grateful to her and all her hard work and time, not to mention expense, for all the certificates which she wouldn’t take any money for. “

Many of us have been the recipients of certificates and photographs from distant cousins met online, or through finding the missing link on somebody’s website. There is all the generosity shown by those who do lookups for those who can’t afford subscriptions or those who ferret among their CD collection (provided, of course, that they aren’t breaking any terms and conditions!), or… or go out and take photographs for the FTF Places of Worship Project or even make special trips to their local Record Office to help somebody out.

Contributions to the Places of Worship Project

“A particular FTF member did quite a bit of research for me without even being asked – I just happened to mention on one of the forums that I had an ancestor who was born in Exeter, but hadn’t managed to trace him further back than 1841 (by which time he’d moved to Swansea). Said member told me she lived near Exeter RO, went there to have a look and got me two generations back on that line. So thank you Rosy!”

Then there are the complete strangers who go the extra mile to return things to the original family. On the forums one often sees debates about the ubiquitous “name collectors” and the merits of making your online presence private. On the other hand if you don’t put your information out there you won’t get the “goods” – in my case almost literally. If Joan Smith’s son hadn’t put his information on Genes Reunited, and Len of the Chilterns had not asked this question on Family Tree Forum, then his mother would not have been reunited with the bible she was given as a child.

 “Does anyone have a Joan Smith (name changed) in their tree? I have her bible, presented to her by her father on her first birthday about 70 years ago and would be pleased to restore it to her or the family.”

After a suggestion from another member, garstonite, who had taken the trouble to follow up Len’s message, Len looked on Genes Reunited.

“I duly looked and found that a member on that site did have a Joan née Smith in his tree – his mother. I could not message him so resorted to and found Joan still living with her husband,(different name obviously) not too far away. They are ex-directory so I could not ‘phone so visited them. Two flabbergasted, delighted and emotional people so grateful for the return of her bible. They offered to pay me but, I pointed out, had it been a library book I would owe them a small fortune in fines for the last 20-30 years.

She said she was aware that she had lost it, many years ago but had no idea how or when but thought she may have put it down in a public place and forgotten it.

When I called, naturally I had it with me and handed it over when they said they really wanted it back. Had they not been bothered, I would have hung on to it.

I forgot to mention how it came into my possession. When my daughter was small, she loved books. Even as a toddler, before she could read, she would wander about the house with one of our books under her arm or would sit and pretend she was reading. As a schoolgirl, she took to visiting secondhand bookshops and spending her pocket money on old books – the older the better. Sometime, maybe 25 – 30 years ago, she bought the bible, probably for pence. Most likely it was from a shop in Oxford. When she flew the nest her bookcase and most of her books went with her and she said to dispose of the ones left behind but the bible got onto my bookshelves.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that it occurred to me to try and trace the original owner and what motivated me was the inscription “To my darling daughter on her first birthday – Daddy”, Also, in a very childish hand was “Joan Smith”. “

Since creating my own website and sharing my family tree and research online, I have twice been contacted by people who have found the site on a search engine and having established that they have found the correct family, have offered to return items to our family. The first was a postcard album dating from the late 1930s which had ended up in their mother’s possession (I think from a jumble sale) which had originally been sent to my uncle and aunt from their parents who were travelling in Germany at the time.

Then I was surprised to be contacted by a treasure hunter who had come across a watch key engraved with the name and address of my great x3 uncle, Charles Usher’s jewellery shop in Leicestershire. He had been using his metal detector in a field in Rutland when he uncovered it. I am looking forward to receiving both and especially being able to return the key to Charles’s direct descendants who I met online through RootsWeb and Genes Reunited.

[UPDATE: Sadly, I never heard from either of them again!]

As can be seen from the quotes above, most genealogists will be members of more than one forum or website. Just like the researchers, these can’t operate in a vacuum and they all form part of the wider genealogical community. The following quotes sum up the generosity of the genealogist.

“I noticed someone offering to do lookups for a town I was interested in on Rootschat – they volunteered to search the graveyard for me, and found my 4x great grandfather’s grave. There are some lovely people out there. Wherever possible I try to return the favour when I see a query about my part of the world on the basis that what goes around, comes around.”

“I have received several unsolicited acts of kindness from members of FTF. Generally, genealogists seem to be very nice people. “


© Caroline 2010

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

A small selection of forums and mailing lists:

Family Tree Forum has several ways in which members help each other, other than the help found within the message boards:

Research Offers

International War Memorials

FTF Costume Gallery

Places of Worship Project

Then there is the FTF Reference Library – built from the sharing of genealogical knowledge and expertise and of course the FTF Online Magazine itself.

Ancestry surname boards

British Genealogy Forum

GenForum Surname Boards

Curious Fox

Genealogists’ Forum

Genes Reunited



rootsweb message boards