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Five Ways to Pay It Forward in Genealogy

18/02/2014 12:46 GMT | Updated 20/04/2014 10:59 BST

Five Ways To Pay It Forward In Genealogy

The genealogy community is, by and large, a very sociable, caring, and sharing one. While we all enjoy the vast amounts of materials that are out there for us to access electronically (so free and some not-so-free) it is important to remember that we, as genealogists, each need to pay-it-forward every so often.

Here are what I see as 5 important ways we can pay-it-forward for those who come after us and as a thank you for those who have paid it forward for us in the past, even if they might not, at the time, have realized they were doing it.

1) Organize! We all want someone to appreciate, enjoy, and love our genealogy, ancestry, and family history work as much as we each do. After all, one of the most common concerns I hear from folks who are working on their genealogy is this: "Who will carry our family history on when I am gone?" As you think about this, look around and see what condition your papers, photographs, documents, heirlooms, and other genealogy materials are in. Are they neat and organized or are they in disarray? Would someone who comes upon them once we are gone feel overwhelmed and inclined to toss them into the dustbin rather than treasure them and carry on? So for their sake, pay-it-forward and organize all your genealogy, ancestry, and family history materials.

2) Label! One of my treasured possessions is a photograph one of my cousins gave me. It is of a family gathering, has 101 people in the photo, and is dated 1916. However, not a single person in the 101 is labeled! Not a single one! It took me over a year to find an unrelated photo and begin to put some names on a few of the folks in my photo, but only a relative (no pun intended) few. So even though you know every person in a photo, take a moment or two and label those names and add the date. It's a great way to pay-it-forward in genealogy.

3) Digitize! I had a good genealogy lesson courtesy of our young grandsons recently. They were visiting and helping me at my desk. They both automatically put their fingers to my computer monitor expecting it to be a touch screen! It reminded me of how quickly technology changes and that what might be 'newer' to us older folks, is commonplace to the younger generation. If we want to connect we them we need to do it electronically, so a great way to pay-it-forward for the coming generations is to get those piles of paper and documents digitally copied and attached to your electronic family tree.

4) Translate and do it right! Another exceptional way to pay-it-forward is when you come across a document in your collection in a second language to translate it. Few things are more certain to be tossed into the trash than old items in a language that the new owner does not understand. And please, please, please by 'translate' I do not mean just jam it into Google or Bing translate! While these might give you a basic idea of the meaning, they are far too rudimentary at this point. This is especially true if you are working in a language that has undergone significant changes over the centuries such as the differences between old and new Czech or old and new Hebrew. So pay-it-forward with translations, just make sure they are accurate.

5) Compliment and say thank you! Throughout my career I have been flummoxed by the fact that so many folks seem to think paying a compliment or saying thank-you must cost them something approaching a king's ransom! However, nothing made me feel better and recharged me more than a simple compliment or a thank you for a job well done. Sincerely compliments feed the soul in a way little else does, so it is a terrific, easy, free, and magnificent way to pay-it-forward in our genealogy!

What are your favorite ways to pay-it-forward in genealogy?