Volunteer as a noun is defined by Dictionary.com as:
a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking or a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.
Volunteerism is defined by the same source as above as:
the policy or practice of volunteering one’s time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, esp. in one’s community.
I pondered how being a volunteer and volunteerism correlated with my family history and genealogy. I can remember many activities that my mother took part in that would qualify as “volunteer”.
- Girl Scout Leader
- Church Council member and President
- Church committee member
- Parent Teacher Organization member
- Substitute Teacher (when it was all volunteer)
- Working at school carnivals and community festivals
- Helping to coordinate her alumna banquets
- Driving elderly friends or church members to church, church functions or back home
- Hosting women’s or club functions or bridge parties
- Driving her teenage daughter (me) and friends everywhere
As a member of several organizations (Parents Without Partners, American Legion, FOE Auxilliary, and a Square Dancing Club), I’m sure she put in a good many volunteer hours. Through the church, even when she was ill and couldn’t do very much, she still volunteered to cook chickens that would be used for the Tuesday night dinners the church held for the community.
My mom saw volunteerism modeled by both of her parents who were very active in community organizations. My grandparents either separately or together were members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (N.A.R.F.E.), American Legion, Eastern Star, and Daughters of America. My grandfather served on the Council for the Village he resided in and worked hard toward the merger of the towns of Fairfield and Osborn in Greene County, Ohio long before they did merge to become Fairborn. He also was a Boy Scout leader for many years and a member of the Masons.
My mom’s brother also saw the modeling of this type of volunteerism of his parents and became very active in the community as an adult. He helped organize the Battle Creek (Michigan) Hot Air Balloon championships; was a member of the Masons and the Lions club; member of the Battle Creek chamber of commerce who started the Leadership Academy; helped with Battle Creek’s sesquicentenial celebration leading to the formation of PRIDE INC., of Keep America Beautiful; and many other activities.
Researching the many volunteer activities and the organizations my family members have been involved, has led me to the conclusion that they were very giving people and have passed on this sense of helping others. I have spent a good number of years wondering if “no” is part of my vocabulary.
At the age of not yet 50, I have been a Girl Scout Leader for two of my daughters; spent many years on the Christian Education board at church and the Cemetery Board; have now sat on the PTA as a board member and officer for 4 years; helped with one of our community organizations via our church by helping to make lunches for low income families during the summer; as a coordinator, treasurer and public relations chair for a parent organization; and other activities.
So how do I pass this on? Will my volunteerism or that of my mother, my uncle, and my grandparents impact the lives of my children, grandchildren or the great-grandchildren yet to be? And how does one go about volunteering without it being all about them? Helping others – either within a structured organization or individually – is not to make a name for oneself. It shouldn’t be done with the thought that others will think more highly of you.
Volunteering in the name of genealogy should take on the same thought process. If you are in the position to help someone – whether it is spending an hour at the local libary looking up obituaries or a census index; going to a nearby cemetery to photograph/transcribe a few headstones; or pointing someone in the right direction – you should. Just because it is the right thing to do. Someday you may need that type of help. Very limited. Very specific.
I don’t know how much I’ve contributed to other’s research however I have received communications from very, very distant cousins or people researching the same surname as I am, and I’ve at least responded or sent them my own communication. If nothing else, I hope they feel that they aren’t out in the genealogy research “world” without a paddle – that someone else has read their query or message board post.
I’ve been helped immensely by volunteers. Not only has a kind lady taken pictures of the requested headstones for me but she photographed other family members’ headstones and spent several hours at her local library researching the names and sent me news clippings. And she didn’t want one penny for her time or her postage. That is a volunteer – being selfless and not thinking about what was in it for her.
Two of my relatives in my Johnson line along with myself have pooled our resources and research and share everything about our shared lines that we find – including questions about whether we are on the right track.
That is volunteerism through genealogy.
Another definition of Volunteer is someone who signs up, enters, and serves in the military. Even though our service men and women do receive pay from the government, by offering to sacrifice themselves in order to assure our freedom – that is still volunteerism.
I’ve had many ancestors and family members who have volunteered in such a way. My grandfather for WWI, and went on to serve until the Korean War. My dad and his brothers who served during WWII and even beyond. Cousins who served in the Viet Nam War. Children of first cousins who served in the first Gulf War. A great-grandfather who served in the Civil War. Others who serve now – although not in a battle zone. This type of selfless sacrifice has also been passed down through the generations.
Humanitarian? Philanthropic? – they all add up to VOLUNTEER!
This post was written for the 88th Carnival of Genealogy.