Thursday, January 7, 2010



It’s something that ‘runs’ in the family for me. Especially where it merges with community service.

All four of my great grandfathers were members of fraternal organizations where community service was encouraged. Barney Newmark and Melvin Van Every were Masons, Herman Feinstein was also a Mason, but more specifically a Shriner, and Samuel Deutsch was a member of the Progressive Order of the West.

My great great grandfather, Selig Feinstein, was active in both the Chesed Shel Emeth Society and the Tiphereth Zion Talmud Torah Hebrew Free School. It appears he encouraged his children at young ages to help out – for example, his daughter Rose held lemonade stands to raise money for the Post Dispatch Pure Milk and Free Ice Fund.

I have been a member since 1992 of a local 'fraternal-type' organization active in community service. Not everyone looks at STARFLEET chapters the same as Masons or The Elks, but the activities are likely strikingly similar. I've answered phones at local telethons, donned clown makeup and walked for a local Children's charity, made sandwiches for a local homeless shelter, and participated in the Overseas Coupon Program, providing much needed assistance to service personnel overseas. Additionally my career is as a grant writer for a local non-profit. Though it’s no longer volunteerism when you get paid for it.

The upcoming edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is on Volunteerism with regard to Genealogy. In the spring and summer of 2008 I was briefly a volunteer at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. What is RAOGK? Why did I become involved? Why did I stop? Will I do it again? Excellent questions. Answers follow.

What is RAOGK?

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness is a network of volunteers who have agreed to take photographs of tombstones, or look up obituaries or public records, charging only copy, and occasionally travel, fees. Often charging neither. The website divides all the volunteers by locality. In the United States, you first select a state, and then choose a county. (If you're looking for assistance with public records, don't neglect to look up the county where the state capitol is located. As someone might be willing to look up state records.)

Why Did I Become Involved?

After receiving some significant assistance through RAOGK, I naturally had the desire to return the favor. I looked at the St. Louis list of volunteers, and noticed that while there were several people offering to photograph tombstones, there was no one offering (at the time) to look up obituaries or public records. I submitted my name.

Why Did I Stop?

The requests came fast and furious. I was the only one, so everyone came to me. I had volunteered to look up not only obituaries, but also do simple searches in the extensive microfilm collection at the library. It wasn't long before I developed a backlog of requests. Swamped, I took my name down so I wouldn't get any more as I filled the ones I had. I didn't put my name back up.

Will I Do it Again?

Probably. I enjoyed doing it; it was just time consuming. Now that there are others doing it, I might be able to keep up with the requests. I might also restrict my services at first, perhaps only looking up obituaries, and see if the amount of requests I receive is manageable.

The St. Louis County Library staff will of course look up obituaries too (and other records)...and they charge only minimal fees.

Final Note

If you live in the St. Louis area, and are interested in joining the local chapter of STARFLEET, or would like more information, send me an email. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations!

[Image is a modified World War I poster.]


Judith Richards Shubert said...

What fun you must have with Starfleet! Sounds like a great organization. Kudos to you for volunteering to look up records and genealogical information. You CAN get swamped, though ~ so I don't blame you for cutting back. Thanks for writing the post.

J.M. said...

What a great post. Before reading it, I didn't know about the RAOGK. SO thanks for pointing me in the direction of this site!