Posted by on September 19, 2008 in Ancestry Magazine

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 jcroasmun@ancestrymagazine.com. And keep up the good work.

About Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at Ancestry.com while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...

13 Comments

Kevin L 

I started a blog about Virginia Genealogy where I share what I find on my family and the general resources that I come across. Instead of keeping all of my data hidden in files on my computer, I put it out there for everyone to see. You would be surprised how many people I get to network with because of the blog and how many brick walls I have climbed with that help. I do volunteer look ups, transcribe records, pretty much anything that I can do to expand Virginia genealogy.

September 19, 2008 at 12:46 pm
Fran 

I expected a story about Maddy McCoy and how she did it or what she found. It sounds amazing, and I would like to know more.

September 19, 2008 at 5:38 pm
Brian Conley 

Jeanie’s kind words don’t quite convey the scope of Maddy’s work. I was Maddy’s supervisor when she began her volunteer work with Fairfax County Public Library. She began by re-housing and identifying old photographs, but her skills and interests led to her assistance researching a little known African-American cemetery. Then she performed a background search on a small A-A church which turned into indepth neighborhood history project. Never quite being able to get away from that first cemetery her now extensive knowledge of the pre- and post-war African-American community and her ability to ferret out and interpret historical documentation has led to her creation of a resource (the Slavery Database) that will be a boon to researchers for years to come. Thanks to Ancestry for recognizing Maddy’s hard work.

September 25, 2008 at 4:59 am
enos ray 

i am enos ray and j enos ray was mygggrandfather.i live on marthas vineyard and paint for a living a documentary is coming soon on my life and my art.ido alot of black art one inamuseum one in ”house of blues” andone traveling in the welington collection around the world.my family had avery strange feel to it i recently read in a historical book that the”jane ray” in jenos ray farm,in md. was the first mulatto teacher and what a good thing it was to learn.my daughter shannon is having twins by a black man inmarch.the keene side of the family had lived according to him inthe tubman /keene estate(and i hope not reltive of the ”unpleasant sarah” and a whole lot of otherstuff.but ”who knows,just don’t get too excited and don’t worry about the wrong things—-enos jr.

September 25, 2008 at 1:06 pm
captivating capiz treasures 

It’s an odd thing for me to be blogging about ancestry issues and topics but I really like the idea of getting all of them in a family tree and my daughter when she’s 7 really likes drawing it out in the walls of her room.

However, it’s always a sad thing that you grew having such insights coming from your elders. How did it turn you today anyway? Just curious.

September 25, 2008 at 5:55 pm
Csro McDowell 

I have a membership in ancestry.com, but when I try to access it, all I can get is an offer to sign up. How can I get past this?

October 1, 2008 at 10:47 am
Mike 

You should really think about redrafting your business model

Your site reeks of greed and over-priced offerings.

As soon as someone creates an open-source, TRULY freemium-based model, you’re done. Game over.

Have a good one.

And remember, it’s wise to charge people for something that should be a given.

October 1, 2008 at 9:59 pm
Sharon Goeglein 

I want to remove the want to find Mark Goeglein message. I found him on my own Thank you

October 2, 2008 at 9:38 pm
Mary Mosby 

I am 51 years old. I can’t afford to pay for this search. Isn’t there anyone that can do this for free? I am suposed to have relatives in the Osage indian tribe. My mother told me these things. I would like to know my fathers family also but, everyone wants money. I can’t afford it. So, I guess I’ll never know my heritage or ancestery. Thanks a lot. Sincerely, Mary Lue Mosby

October 7, 2008 at 11:11 am
Eula Barnes 

I can’t get on line with you!!!
I’m a member #24703054
You charged my Discover card
$155. for a year. On 19 Sept. 2008.
What is wrong??

October 27, 2008 at 12:58 pm
Halina 

Jeanie’s kind words don’t quite convey the scope of Maddy’s work. I was Maddy’s supervisor when she began her volunteer work with Fairfax County Public Library. She began by re-housing and identifying old photographs, but her skills and interests led to her assistance researching a little known African-American cemetery. Then she performed a background search on a small A-A church which turned into indepth neighborhood history project. Never quite being able to get away from that first cemetery her now extensive knowledge of the pre- and post-war African-American community and her ability to ferret out and interpret historical documentation has led to her creation of a resource (the Slavery Database) that will be a boon to researchers for years to come. Thanks to Ancestry for recognizing Maddy’s hard work.

October 30, 2008 at 2:48 am
Halina 

Zdrastvuyte.Âûÿñíèòå please telephone of Il’chitin of Karolin which lives Merilend in town Pasadena number.It is searched by a monogynopaedium from IvanoFrankovska the country of Zhivachov .Ona searched us in 2006.We only now found this site, we wrote it, but it does not answer.Help please.Thank you. Halina

October 30, 2008 at 2:49 am
Barbara 

Type your comment here.

November 7, 2008 at 5:13 pm