We are living in an era of trends and lists, especially when it comes to the Internet. No matter what your home page is, there’s usually a couple of “Top 10 Lists” waiting for you – everything from “The 10 Top Foods That Give You Gas” to “The 10 Things You Should Not Talk About in a Job Interview,” which probably includes a number of items from the first list.
There are quite a few “Top 10 Genealogy Research Resources” lists out there, as well. Most of them include the customary: 1) census, 2) online records, 3) city directories, and so forth. However, the one genealogy research resource that trumps them all is a super powerful, knows-no-bounds search engine (no, it’s not Mocavo) that each and every genealogist has in their possession – whether they know it or not.
This remarkable resource is known as Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness (also referred to as Genealogy Karma) – be nice to others and it will come back to you. Whether lineage research is your profession or just an obsession, the one constant is that the process of finding ancestors is a human and oftentimes passionate undertaking. Having exhausted online search avenues, a shrewd family researcher will hit the highways that lead him/her to libraries, county clerk and other government offices, historical societies, lineage organizations, schools, and even hospitals, in pursuit of that missing link in their pedigree.
An astute genealogist also knows to make friends with the people at these various locations, as they can prove to be cornucopias of information, not only in the present, but the future, too. Think of it as a kind of “you scratch my derivation and I’ll scratch yours” relationship that can build over time.
For example, I recently drove more than 200 miles to conduct genealogical research in a small West Texas county. I packed up all of the necessary research tools that I would need for the day, such as my laptop, reading and magnifying glasses, sticky notes, paper clips, as well as a thermos of coffee and a few dozen freshly baked cookies. While all of the items mentioned were used, none came in handier than the freshly baked cookies, which I delivered to the county clerk’s office, the county library, and the county historical commission. I walked away with more than 100 documents pertaining to my search.
It’s amazing how far a bag of chocolate chips will take you when it comes to winning over the clerks who pull the documents you need or give you access to the microfiche you want to peruse. A stick of butter opens many a record vault, a dash of vanilla helps office workers remember you as a pleasant surprise of the day, and a cup of sugar makes them go the extra mile to help you find what you are looking for. If a clerk or volunteer is particularly helpful to you, remember them with a thank you note, a commendation to their boss, or a quid pro quo genealogy favor.
Think of it this way: A genealogist bearing confections is like Baked Good Bribery – the researcher leaves an indelible and edible impression on the caretakers of the records they desire to copy or scan. Whichever way you look at it – Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness is a delicious endeavor. At zero calories, you won’t gain weight – you’ll gain your missing ancestors.