The old adage that there is nothing worse than dinner with someone researching genealogy, is a mite misleading to say the least. The influence that hobbyists have over the documentation and discovery of history is growing at an astounding rate. Even these genealogy buffs themselves sometimes underestimate what they are doing as only valuable to themselves and family, however immediate or extended. What these people can offer to professional archivists and curators is oft overlooked by both the professionals and the hobbyists.
In a recent article in St. Olaf News, entitled "Search of Online Archives Spurs Donation", author Clair Olson conveys the experience of Ms. Vivian Engbreit. While in her search of family information through the online archives at St. Olaf, she discovered she had dozens of unique photos that the University did not. She made a decision that she would contact the archivist. When the archivist heard about the collection she had, he was "salivating," as he put it.
[St. Olaf Associate Archivist] Sauve is well-versed in early St. Olaf history, yet some of the photos and documents were completely unfamiliar even to him. The collection injects more information and images about early St. Olaf life into the archives and provides a new perspective.
While, in this article , Engbreit's father had been a noted genealogist, I think this is still a compelling case for consideration, Engbreit, up to that point, was probably not aware of the value her collection held for others who were researching, or for the general advancement of historical knowledge.
History has so very much to do with perspective and the context from which it is drawn, because of this, modern researchers are in a very unique position to not only find, but to reflect and impart this knowledge to others. History in the past has been largely composed by a singular search, the rich, the scholarly, the victors, the conquerors, but it doesn't have to be so any longer.
The vantage point from which you are able to view your ancestors' lives may be vastly different than that from which a scholar might look at it, or perhaps, your ancestors might be overlooked by such a scholar. By fitting together the puzzle pieces of lives from all different walks and experiences we are able to complete a much richer, more complete picture of life in different eras.
One of the greatest contributions you can make is to make your work publicly available if you are able. When you are doing your research, confirm your facts whenever possible. If you are unable to confirm the facts, or if information is taken by word of mouth, always cite the source of the information. If you have a substantial collection of photographs, family trees or a published memoir or biography, contact your local historical society to see if you can contribute to their collections. These foundations, organizations and societies are always more than willing to discuss options with you about how you might be able to contribute. Most of all, no matter how frustrating things get, remember that what you are doing is important and valuable.