Being A Good Genealogy Ambassador

Sometimes, things just don’t go our way when we try to get our research done. Other times, not only are they not going our way, they’re definitely going against us. It’s easy to get frustrated when a clerk tells us that a particular record doesn’t exist when we know it does, when the one volume we drove half a day to use is “out being rebound”, or when we simply run into someone having a bad day and looking to pass it on to someone else. But it’s precisely those moments of adversity that allow us to make the best impression.

On one particular research trip, the man sitting at the next microfilm reader over from me was photographing the film. The rules clearly stated that you could take photos but you had to pay an additional (and rather ridiculous) fee to do so. He obviously hadn’t read them. The librarian came over to tell the man that he couldn’t take pictures unless he paid the fee. I can’t imagine while crossing the library to shut this guy down, that she thought it would go well. It didn’t. Have you ever seen Bill Cosby’s Himself – the part describing his wife having a conniption? That was this guy.

She got exactly the reaction she probably expected. In the end, everyone was aggravated  and each of their spouses probably got a lengthy, expletive-laced description of the encounter as soon as they got home. But what if – what if – in that moment when his free photographic world came crashing down around his ears, the guy apologized profusely and thanked her for pointing out the rules he forgot to read. You know she would not have expected THAT. He wouldn’t even have had to pay the fee – just apologize, thank her, and stop taking pictures. How much better of an opinion of genealogists would that librarian have than she probably does now? How much more likely would she be willing to help the next genealogist rather than simply endure him or her. While it’s not easy, and unfortunately, we all have our moments, I think it is important to bear in mind that we are all ambassadors of genealogy each time we walk though the library, courthouse, or archive doors.

I’m not trying to toot my own here, but I feel pretty strongly about representing the hobby and profession well. Recently I had to stop myself from creating one of “those moments.” In the past, I had gotten copies from a particular county recorder by ordering all the filmed deed indexes, and then getting copies of the deeds from the county recorder themselves once I had the volume/page references. It was cheaper and faster than ordering a zillion rolls of film. It cost me $1 per page and I had them within a week.

So this week, when I needed some more deeds from that county, I hopped on my email, fired off the list of deeds I needed, and waited breathlessly to find out how cheaply I was going to solve all my ancestral mysteries. The answer rather surprised me. If I wanted to pick the copies up in person, it was $28. The office was about 8 hours away, which made it a little unlikely I was going to jump in the car to do that. However they would mail them to me for an additional $28. As you might imagine my initial reaction was something like “ARE YOU KIDDING  #$%#$% ME? $28 TO PUT THEM IN AN  %^$%@! ENVELOPE?!

But I waited a day, until I was more calm, to respond. While I still felt (and still feel) that it is a ridiculous policy, it IS their policy. Me going gonzo in an email isn’t going to help that, and would probably have the opposite effect.  So I sucked it up. Here is the slightly edited, names-changed-to-protect-the-innocent-version. Though it probably doesn’t whether they were or not, the nice things I said are actually true:

“Thank you for your response. I am in Cleveland, Ohio, which would be kind of a long commute to pick them up :)
I don’t remember such a large charge for mailing, but it has probably been 5 or 6 years since I have gotten copies this way. If that’s correct, at $2/page, it would be less expensive to work from LDS microfilm.

I certainly appreciate you taking the time to look up the deeds for me, and hopefully I will get a chance to make another visit to [YOUR OFFICE] this summer. [YOUR] Recorder’s office is definitely one of the nicest county offices I’ve worked in, and I love going there!”

Here is the response I received back from this message:

“Mr. Staats,
It certainly would be a long commute, but we would be happy to have you! Our current charge is $2.00 per page for mail copies. Please visit us if you ever come to [OUR STATE].
I think our office is a nice office, as well. Thank you for the compliment. Have a great day and maybe our paths will cross one day.”

I think I made the right decision.

Looks like I better get to the FHC catalog and order some deed microfilm (DO YOU KNOW THOSE ^&#$%*#  FLIPPING THINGS WENT ALL THE WAY UP TO *#$&#$&!* $7.50??!!!)

Please comment below. I’d love for you to share how you were able to be a good genealogy ambassador.

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5 Responses to Being A Good Genealogy Ambassador

  1. I really liked this! I think that it’s so easy today to say things via e-mail that we never would say in person. Always good to THINK first! And your story about the man in the library – all I can say is when did we forget our manners?

    It’s hard sometimes, but you are so right about…we all have the chance to be good ambassadors each and every day!!

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  2. avatar Charles Hansen says:

    We do need to be good ambassadors, so the next genealogist to go to an archive is not feared by the clerks.
    Have you checked for a local genealogical society close by that could do the look up and copies for you? I do that kind of look ups for my local gene society for a lot less than the $2 a page they quoted.

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  3. avatar Sierra Pope says:

    My Mom has always said you get way more with sugar than spice. I always hear her in the back of my mind.

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  4. avatar Sheri Fenley says:

    Great post Chris. I starting to share some experiences I have had and it got a little lengthy so am going to write a post over at my place. This is a topic that needs alot of attention. All it takes is one bad apple to spoil it for the next person.

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  5. avatar lisa sullivan taisey says:

    EXCELLENT article. I always try to be a kind person to everyone who crosses mypath. One kind word may change a persons day. BUT….i take it personally and get VERY upset when i am treated RUDELY when i am so nice. When I went back home to NJ to do research you would not believe how mean nd crabby people are. Some nice folks too BUT sometimes if i snap right back and giv it right back it helps but i hate being so snippy. Maybe you should do an experiment??

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