A genealogists friend here in Mesa posed a problem he was worrying about. Over the years he had contact with an acquaintance in the eastern part of the U.S. Recently, this lady told him about her sister who had been working on her family history for ten years or so. Both of the sisters were now very old and the one who did the genealogy is incapacitated. The problem was that the sisters have this huge genealogy file and do not know what to do with it. My friend was concerned that all of the work would be lost and wanted to know if he should try to persuade the sisters to put the research online?
This issue reminded me of my earlier thoughts on the genealogical community. Losing this file containing years of work will be one of those genealogical tragedies, made even more of a tragedy by the ease at which the file and all of the accompanying work can be preserved. Behind this tragedy is the loss of a potential member of the genealogical community. If these ladies had taken the time or made the effort to become involved in the community, someone would have been ready and very willing to help them preserve their family records. My friend is worried because there is little he can do from almost all the way across the country. He is not a close friend of the family and is worried that his efforts to help may be misinterpreted.
So when or how do you "join" the genealogical community? Let me suggest that involvement with others interested in the same goals that you have in researching your family qualifies you as a member. There are no dues, no logins or passwords, it is the act of participation and sharing that constitute the community. These ladies are definitely not part of the genealogical community. Had they been part of the community, the question of sharing the research would have been resolved long before the sister became incapacitated.
How do you find the community? Let me suggest that there are many ways. Online you can immediately be part of the genealogical community by participating in hundreds of ongoing, online social and research efforts. They encompass the entire spectrum of genealogical activities. You can start by putting a family tree online in dozens of public or private venues. You can participate on Facebook, Google+ or many other socially oriented websites and programs. You can find the nearest Family History Center and ask for help or even volunteer to help. You can find a local genealogical or historical society and even if you don't join, you can find people with similar interests who can help with suggestions concerning sharing and preserving your research.
You can take research courses online, attend a genealogical conference or some other activity. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of ways to become involved. Nearly all of these paths to involvement can provide a solution to the problem of preservation. I suggested he call one of the local Family History Centers where they lived and see if someone could contact them about helping to preserve the file and research. If they don't feel comfortable with someone from a Family History Center, then perhaps someone from a genealogical society or other organization might help.
I just hear about these problems most of the time, I give advice but almost never hear the end of the story. Let's just hope this one turns out for the best.