I had a great experience last night. I attended the formative meeting of what will probably become a new genealogy organization. It was an interesting process to watch, and I learned quite a bit.
The meeting was held at the Southborough (Massachusetts) Public Library, where Library Director Jane Cain invited area residents to discuss the possible formation of a genealogy club. I think she was hoping for ten or fifteen attendees. About 65 people walked in, and the meeting room was standing-room only.
One of the first things Jane did was to ask each person to introduce themselves and tell how long they had been researching their family trees and also what ethnic origins they were researching. A very few people reported they had been researching for more than twenty years; most said a few months or years, and one fellow said he had now been involved in genealogy "for about twenty minutes."
As I listened to the introductions, I realized that we "old fogies" who have been involved in genealogy for some time often forget what it's like to be a newcomer. As I listened to each introduction and many stories of families' origins, I was reminded of my own experiences when I started.
Many of the people at last night's meeting were aware of a mix of family traditions, facts, guesswork, and assumptions. Some of the things I heard were quite plausible although a few were not.
I heard quite a few family traditions, such as "My family is descended from one of three brothers who came to America, one went west, one went...". Well, you know the rest of that story. Others said their family names had been changed at Ellis Island. Some said, "Our family name has always been spelled with an e," and I heard a few other stories that are "red flags" to anyone who has been involved in genealogy for some time. Admittedly, I didn't hear any claims of Cherokee princesses; but, then again, there weren't many Cherokees in Massachusetts. We did have quite a few claims of Mayflower ancestry, which may or may not turn out to be accurate. After all, we were sitting about 60 miles from Plymouth Rock, and Mayflower descendants are indeed plentiful in the area.
These are genealogy newcomers, and they need guidance. They were all enthusiastic and apparently are all eager to learn. Where will such guidance come from? From the more experienced genealogists!
I well remember an older, more experienced person who took me under his wing at a local library one day when I first started researching my family tree. He walked with me through the stacks, explaining not only what records were available there but also why each record set is important to genealogists. He patiently explained each U.S. census. He told why the 1850 and later census records held so much more information than the earlier records. He told me about the loss of the 1890 U.S. census. He told me about local and county records in the area that were not at the library but were available at nearby locations. This was all news to me at the time.
I learned more from this gentleman in an hour than in any other single hour I have ever spent on genealogy. He's now deceased, but I will never forget his kindness and enthusiasm. I can never repay him directly; but, I can follow his example and attempt to help other newcomers now that I have many years' experience.
While you may be a genealogy expert and you might think that a beginners' club will not offer much to you, I'd suggest you look at what you can offer to such a group. These are people who are curious and want to learn more about their families' origins. YOU can help.
Yes, I volunteered last night to make a presentation or two at future meetings of this newly-founded club. I would suggest you look for such opportunities in your area. I bet you will enjoy the satisfaction of helping others.
If you cannot find a local club, start one! Southborough Public Library Director Jane Cain did so, and it looks like she has a great success on her hands. You could do the same.