One fine day, you are happily working at a quaint family history library. Word has spread that you willingly help others when they timidly begin their search for ancestors. A middle-aged man confidently approaches you and catches your eye. Today, your presence in the library is to serve so you ask, “How may I help?”
Without hesitation, the man blurts out, “Find me a name.”
Perhaps this only happens in certain segments of the genealogy spectrum, but it’s deflating. It’s deflating because volunteers want to do more than just help you add a name to your tree like a tally mark on a headboard or belt loop (so to speak). Genealogy is more than finding names. It’s about discovering your ancestors and learning from them and the legacy (for good or ill) they left behind. Yet for some, they just want a new name.
In most of these high-pressure situations, volunteers rarely have been exposed to the patrons tree before hand. Now, with the badge of ‘volunteer’ and the implied ‘expert’ badge that comes with it, miraculously the more knowledgeable must pull a rabbit out of a hat on demand in a short amount of time (depending upon the library hours and how close it is to closing time). Thus, this question, regardless of harmless intent, is defeating.
When I encounter such situations, ‘find me a name’ sucks the passion out of me quicker that a vacuum inhales a child’s Lego piece that you barely noticed before you passing over. Yet, I can’t let it show. The person thinks this is a legitmate request and I as volunteer can oblige. They don’t realize they just asked for the moon.
If I were helping a beginner, I would poke around, look for a family line that has a lot of record hints and teach them how to evaluate and attach sources. If they find new names along the way, we celebrate and all is well.
But find me a name is not ‘teach me how to do family history. Instead it is a demand to deliver someone new without having any preparation time and a short time window to research. Oh the pressure! Oh, and I’m to do this for free. Eek.
As I’ve pondered this again and again, I keep thinking there must a better way for me to handle this. I can’t change the demand, but I can change my reaction.
I need to translate what the request is, into something I can handle. I can handle, “Will you look at my tree and find me a starting point?” I can analyze a tree and make suggestions of where someone can go next or get their feet wet as a beginner. Perhaps I can teach the person how to evaluate sources and as they practice the lessons, they’ll find a new name when the new name is ready to be found.
So, the next time I encounter this situation, I will simply explain that I can make recommendations but I can’t promise I’ll find a new name.
What do you think? I don’t want to bash the “Find Me A Name” people. I want to know how you would or have handled such situations.