52 weeks to better genealogy Week 46 – volunteering

Week 46: Assess your volunteer potential. The last two weeks’ challenges focused on volunteerism and local genealogy societies (which are also dependent on volunteers). Take a look at your skill set and determine what types of opportunities best suit you. Do you speak two languages? Maybe you can offer translation services. Do you only have free time after the kids are in bed? Perhaps an indexing project is best for you. Knowing your strengths can help shape your research process. If you take this challenge a step further and actually volunteer, give yourself a pat on the back. Bloggers are encouraged to assess and share their own skill sets, as well as any volunteer experiences they have.

LightbulbI can’t believe so many weeks have gone by since I last wrote about one of these tasks. This week’s topic is about volunteering for your local genealogy or family history society. What can you offer?

Volunteering in any capacity is rewarding. Often volunteers get more out of the experience than the people they are helping. A few years ago when I was training to be a counsellor I volunteered at the Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross as a Crisis Centre Counsellor. It was a very educational experience for me.

I spent my weekly shifts finding clothes and beds for a night for people who, for various reasons, weren’t able to find these things for themselves. I also answered phone calls on the Crisis Line from people who needed help in one way or another. Sometimes they just wanted to talk to someone who wouldn’t judge them. Sometimes they wanted to be told what to do, or what not to do. I was in dread of the suicide call but I never got one.

I usually wandered around the cafe every so often to make sure everyone was OK. Sometimes I’d give people a shake to make sure they were not suffering from too much heroine. I did have to call an ambulance once for someone who had done just that.

For people in these situations life is a struggle, one day at a time, and all we can do is help them get through that day, and listen to them when they want to talk. Occasionally we were able to help someone to get themselves out of the mess they were in and remember who they are and what they are capable of, and that is the best feeling of all!

I changed careers and here I am, a genealogist. I still wanted to volunteer somewhere, and make some sort of contribution to the world, and the Society of Australian Genealogists is where I chose to help out.

My training and experience is in IT and so when I saw a request for help installing CDs on the computers in the library I thought “I can do that’. That was in about 2006 or 2007.

Now, in 2010, I am still installing CDs on the network, on the server that I helped to set up. I am Convenor of the IT Committee, mostly because I was the last man standing. I have helped to set up an arrangement for third-party support for our computer networks, and even though I don’t always know what they are talking about, having not those networking skills, I know enough to know what we want. I have found a use for other skills, such as team leadership and organisation, and dealing with other organisations, in doing this work.

I also use my IT analysis and design skills on the Society’s website. I haven’t built it but I help decide what should be in it and what it should look like.

I am also on the Education Committee, initially as a result of starting The Master Genealogist (TMG) Sydney User Group in 2003 when I could see that if I didn’t volunteer to start the mailing list no one else would. I have developed from being utterly terrified of speaking at the first meeting of the Group to giving lectures and workshops for the Society on genealogical and social media topics. The confidence this has given me is priceless.

I’m now on the Council, helping to make strategic decisions about how the Society conducts its work, and I enjoy that too.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: You get more out of volunteering than you put into it. And you might develop skills you didn’t know you had in you!

Photo courtesy of Artography on Dreamstime.com

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – Week 38 – Second Life

Week 38: Investigate Second Life (http://secondlife.com/): a 3D virtual world community. Check out the presentation What is Second Life? (http://secondlife.com/whatis/?lang=en-US) This learning tool has all the appearances of a video game, but there actually are vibrant genealogy social communities and discussions within the network. Genealogy Wise maintains a group of Second Life genealogists (http://www.genealogywise.com/group/secondlifegenealogists) and a calendar of upcoming discussions. You do not have to join Second Life for this challenge. The goal is just to give genealogists exposure to this type of genealogy learning tool. If you have a blog, you may jot down your impressions of Second Life if you wish.

I gave Second Life a go a few months ago. It’s a very rich environment, with lots to do. Some members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) were holding meetings and other activities there, which is why I decided to check it out. Most of their activities take place in the United States, which is far away from where I am.

It’s a steep learning curve, though, which I decided I could’t afford the time for, so I stopped playing with it. Now it’s time for another look.

So in I went. Luckily the program remembers my id and password.

Second Life arrival

That’s me in the centre foreground, in the jeans and singlet. As far as I had worked out previously if you want alternative clothes you have to buy them. You make up your name when you sign up, and mine is rather unimaginative, as you can see. I thought that if I didn’t use my first name I wouldn’t know when people were talking to me, and I might forget my own name! Oh well.

As you can see, I belong to a group called Just Genealogists. And that’s what we are. There are meetings and parties, and I don’t imagine I have been conspicous by my absence. I think I used to get emails when notices were posted, but I must have worked out how to turn them off after I gave up on Second Life.

I appear to be in a hotel foyer, and I can see other people, and I can also see the conversations they are having. They are fairly uninspiring conversations. One of these people seems to be doing rather complicated dance moves.

So far all I have managed to do is to walk forwards and backwards a bit, and I’ve found a list of gestures I can perform. When I shrug or look embarrassed I look like a silent film star, with those exaggerated gestures.

Let’s go outside:

Second Life outside

Hmm. Obviously I’m not supposed to walk from place to place.

Let’s change my appearance:

Second Life appearance

Actually I have quite a lot of choice here. I didn’t figure this part out before. I can make my singlet longer or shorter, and looser or tighter. I can change the fabric, colour, and fit of my jeans, and create new ones. Skirts, jackets, shoes… I could become a real little dressmaker!

Here’s what I came up with after more than a few minutes:

Second Life outfit editting

I can’t figure out the shoes so I’m staying with chunky.

I could spend hours on this, creating outfits, but I’m not going to. You get the idea. At least I don’t have to traipse around in a singlet.

I’d show you a map of the place, but it’s taking too long to load. Bring on the National Broadband Network! There’s a teleport button so perhaps I don’t have to walk, which is a great relief as my aim is a bit dodgy.

The map also showed events, so I presume I can teleport there and join one. If I knew when I genealogy-related one was happening I could go there at the right time and join in, provided it wasn’t the middle of the night in my timezone. Events are rated PG, Mature and Adult.

I don’t know how popular Second Life is in the States and Europe, but in Australia I am the only person I know that has ever even dabbled in it. Perhaps the speed is the problem. It takes so long for a map to load that it seems I am stuck in whatever location I start off in. The only place I can go to quickly is ‘Home’, which looks like the edge of a castle and has a lot of strange people dressed for a fancy-dress ball:

Second Life Home

It’s all a bit weird and takes some getting used to. I can see how you could spend hours here, wandering around and finding things to do.

Recently the APG Board approved a new Chapter in Second Life. Perhaps I will join.

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – Week 23 – Find a Challenge

The challenge this week is:

Come up with a personal genealogy challenge of your own. Each person has different research goals and experiences. Use this week to come up with your own challenge, and then take the steps to accomplish it.

Haha, I thought. that one’s easy! My biggest challenge is finding the time to get everything done that I need to do. So I’ve decided, for the sake of this challenge, to narrow it down.

I don’t seem to find time to read any more. To just sit down with a book and read it. I used to do most of my reading on the train into the city, but these days I tend to do stuff on my netbook computer, which I’ve talked about before, or read research notes or minutes and notes for Council and committee meetings.

I used to always carry a book with me. Always. Now I don’t. If I think I’ll need something to read I might take a family history magazine or journal with me, but usually the netbook is enough to keep me occupied.

How do I read the books I need to read to further my research? There is so much I have to read:

  • books on Australian history
  • books on Fijian history
  • books written by early settlers and sailors in Fiji (usually downloaded from Google Books as PDFs)
  • books on how to find records for family history
  • journals and magazine, which are arriving all the time
  • fiction (we all need some down-time)

Kobo e-readerLast weekend, when I was walking past my local Borders bookstore, I saw the answer. The Kobo is Borders’ answer to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s an e-reader that is cheap ($199 Australian), light, easy to read, and small enough to take anywhere. It does nothing except read books, which is what I want. It reads PDFs as well as e-book formats.

Unfortunately I couldn’t buy one on the spot as they had run out, and were taking pre-orders. I said I’d think about it and went home. I thought about it so much that I rang and pre-ordered it from home. They told me it would be in on the 7th June, which is next Monday.

On Thursday (3rd June) I got a call to say they were in, and I could pick mine up! Woohoo!!! I did. I had a workshop to prepare so I didn’t really get to play with it until yesterday.

I’m already reading more than I ever did before. I’ve started on Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read before, although the story seems strangely familiar. I think that contemporary fiction counts as educational, don’t you? At least I’m not reading Harry Potter!

And I feel much better for it already. Reading is what was missing from my life.

The Kobo is a little slow to change pages, so I’ve already learned to press the button a little ahead so it’s there when I’m ready for the next page. I’m still looking around at what books I can put on there. It came with 100 books already, including Dickens and Jane Austen.

The PDF part is still a bit of a challenge, though. I downloaded two PDF books to experiment. They are:

  • Smythe’s Ten Months in the Fiji Islands, 1864
  • Fanning’s Voyages to the South Seas, 1838

I’ve had success finding ancestors, or potential ancestors, in these sorts of accounts, so I’ve got to keep reading them. Printing and reading takes way too much paper and toner, and I tend not to read them on the laptop, although of course I search them for surnames and places as best I can.

So far reading these PDFs has not been a success. An e-book flows so that no matter what font size you select, the text flows to fit the page. PDFs don’t do this, so there’s a lot of scrolling involved which is too disruptive, even in these old books where the pages are actually quite small. Apparently they are looking at software changes to allow this, but in the meantime scrolling is slow.

So that’s the challenge I need to resolve next, and this is what I’m doing to resolve it:

  • I’m experimenting with zooming in and changing the orientation to landscape, but it’s still slow to get down the page.
  • I’ll experiment with the different page sizes of different documents
  • I’ll look at different formats. Perhaps these books are downloadable as e-books rather than PDFs?
  • I’ll be experimenting with Descent, the journal of the Society of Australian Genealogists, which was published from the beginning of the Society in PDF form. That will save me having to decide before I leave the house which one I’m up to. If I can resolve the PDF issue!

Wish me luck!