I grew up in a family that never volunteered for anything that didn’t have a paycheck attached to it. I always attributed this to the fact that my parents were children of the Depression, and any time or money they had to spare was to be saved—just in case. Now that I have a family of my own, I’ve changed my mind about that former no-volunteer credo: it was probably more closely linked to my parents working, running a house, and raising three daughters. They were simply too exhausted to try to give anything else.
This may be why I was so impressed by Maddy McCoy, a parent whose one-woman volunteer project creating a slavery inventory database of Fairfax County, Virginia, itself is impressive. On the surface, the project seems small, just a single county in a single state. Its impact, however, is much larger. A database of enslaved and free black individuals in Fairfax County before and after the Civil War, the identification of significant area landmarks, and the potential the project has to inspire similar projects elsewhere are all coming courtesy of Maddy, who is doing this on her own time, with no impending financial gain.
But family historians, I’m learning, are like that. They volunteer their time for projects like the World Archives Project at Ancestry.com so more people can freely access information about their family’s past. They answer questions on message boards to point other researchers in the right direction. They photograph cemeteries, return lost heirlooms, and preserve the history of hometowns their families never even lived in.
Why? Because everyone has the right to learn more about his or her past. The hundreds of ways to get involved in grassroots preservation projects are a testament to that. We’ll be featuring a dozen or so of our favorites in the November/December issue of Ancestry Magazine—ways, big and small, that anyone can help out, often with very little effort. But I’d love to hear more about what you’ve done or what you dream of doing that could make a big difference to even one family’s history. Make your comments here or send them directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep up the good work.