For many years as I have helped patrons first in the Mesa FamilySearch Library and most recently at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I have been asked about doing research in different countries around the world. I have also noticed that most of the other volunteers (including missionaries) when confronted with questions about an unfamiliar area of the world, have declined to help and told the patron to find someone who knows about that particular area or country. The volunteer or missionary could be a very competent genealogical researcher but when confronted with something outside of their comfort zones, they defer to the "experts." This genealogical nearsightedness even extends to different areas of the same country. I have heard other volunteers decline to help when asked about research in the southern part of the United States or even in New England.
Now it is true that the professional level certification or accreditation organizations have areas of focus. For example, you can get accredited in a specialized expertise in a specific region of the world. In all most all cases, this level of expertise involves years of intense research experience. Is that what the average patron in a library or Family History Center is looking for? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps all they are looking for is some help to get started.
Instead of considering a genealogical question about some place in the world you know little or nothing about, how about considering the question as a challenge to expand your own knowledge and learn a little bit more about the world? Genealogy is genealogy and doing research is doing research. It really doesn't matter all that much about the topic or the geographic region of the world. What really matters is answering some basic questions about the particular area or subject matter in question.
Yesterday, I was asked by a lady at church if I could help her with doing some genealogical research in Vietnam. Now, I do not speak or read Vietnamese. I do not know much about the records that may or may not be available, but I do know how to do research and in an hour or so, I compiled the following list of Vietnamese genealogical resources:
- Vietnam Genealogy https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Vietnam_Genealogy
- Family Tree Forum: Vietnamese Family History https://www.familytreeforum.com/showthread.php/97001-Vietnamese-Family-History
- Ancestry.com Vietnamese Message Boards http://boards.ancestry.com/localities.asia.vietnam/mb.ashx
- VietnamGenWeb http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~vnmwgw/
- Cyndi’s List Asia and the Pacific http://www.cyndislist.com/asia/
- FamilyTree.com Vietnamese Genealogy http://www.familytree.com/culture/vietnamese-genealogy/
- Vietnam Record Selection Table https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Vietnam_Record_Selection_Table
- Vietnam Cemeteries https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Vietnam_Cemeteries
- Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_of_H%C3%A1n-N%C3%B4m_Studies
- MyHeritage.com Family Trees https://www.myheritage.com/research/category-Vietnam/vietnam
- FamilySearch.org Catalog Vietnam https://familysearch.org/catalog/search
- Vietnam Genealogy https://www.vietnamonline.com/az/vietnam-genealogy.html
- Facebook Gia phả Việt Nam - Vietnam Genealogy https://www.facebook.com/giaphavn/
My friend was educated in Vietnam and I assume she speaks and reads the language. I may well be that what I have found so far is not enough to help her find her ancestors. That may take communicating with the record repositories in the country or existing relatives. This is true about any country of the world where the records are not readily available online. Do I now know enough to help this lady with her research? Absolutely. In fact, had she walked into the Library and I had been asked to help her, we could have found most of this information in a few minutes of searching by just looking at the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki.
Certainly, there are areas in the world where finding ancestral records is a real challenge, but that challenge does not need to start with the experienced genealogical researchers brushing off questions about places they know little or nothing about. Why not answer these inquiries with something like this:
I don't know a lot about that country, but I do know that there are some online resources that we can look at. Why don't we sit down here at a computer and look at the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki and some of the other resources that are available?Maybe we could all take the same attitude about our own research. If we don't know how to do something, we can look for books, classes or online references about the subject. I haven't known a lot about Irish research. But I do have Irish ancestors so I have been reading Irish history and learning about the records. I may never be considered an "Irish Genealogy Research Expert" but I can start searching for my own records and probably help someone else with their research.
Oh, by the way, what about the language barrier? Here is the name of a book recommended for Vietnamese research: "Gia phá: kháo luân và thú hành. Hanoi: Nha Xuat Ban Van Hua, 1992." Now, if Google Translate cannot help me, where do I go? Well, in a matter of a few seconds, I found about six or seven online Vietnamese to English translation programs and there is always, Tu dien anh viet, which translated is "English - Vietnamese Dictionary.