When Seeking Out Records - Suggestion for Reaching Colleagues Who Care

This is a story of extremes; the indifferent vs. the passionate.  Being almost done with my Kinship Determination Paper’s research I have encountered a full range of people personalities in my quest for obtaining information.  I’m trying to understand why some clerks, researchers, “professional” genealogists, historians, ministers and distant family members are so nonhelpful and others go above and beyond.  In the future, how do I insure that I contact those that care and avoid those that don’t?
As a child, I loved Highlight’s Magazine for Children.  We couldn’t afford a subscription so I looked forward to having my mom read it to me when we visited the doctor or dentist.  The “Goofus and Gallant” feature always made me laugh.  Maybe it was how my mom read them but I really wanted to be like Gallant!  Then there was the “Do Bee or Don’t Bee” segment on Romper Room.  I identified with the Do Bee.
In reflection of the past five months I think I’ve been in contact with half Do Bees and half Don’ts.  My findings don’t appear to have anything to do with area density; rural or urban doesn’t seem to be a factor at all!  It seems that locales in economic distress exhibit the least desire to be of help.  Maybe it’s because the employees are stressed due to over work because of unfilled positions or limited resources.  Perhaps it’s the overall mood of the community.  Or they can’t focus on the past as it’s so difficult dealing with the present.  The topic would make an excellent  dissertation for someone to investigate! 
In the past week I’ve joked about the following situations I encountered but mind you, I’ve used gallow humor to deal with the frustration:  
·      No one answers the phone in the probate department of a Midwest county office; repeated calls made at various times over several days.  Are they all dead?!  Called the operator who responded, “I know, I’ll transfer you.”  No voice mail, no email. 
·         Emailed a question through a city’s website link, “Ask a Librarian.”  No response.  Called a few days later, phone out of service.  Looked online for a new number and none found.  411 has the number I tried so I reported it out of service.  I emailed another library the original question.  Got cc’d on the forward and then got a response from who the email was forwarded to.  Response said, “You are welcome to visit [name of library] and look through these volumes.  We ask folks to make an appointment so that I will be sure to be here (I’m the only full-time staffer here). “  I responded that I couldn’t come as I live far away and I just needed direction on where the record I was searching might be found so I could arrange for a look up.  The response was, “Oh, ok.  The ...(first facility I had emailed but gotten no response from)… has the information.  Unfortunately, it’s closed these days but plans to reopen at some point.”  The person did do a look up and in one volume negative evidence was uncovered so I still needed to check other sources.  Called the city to find out when the library will reopen.  Was told there is no known date.  It’s a budget problem and not mold, mildew, fire, water, or a gas leak issue.  I’ve had to revise travel plans in the past due to all the above concerns except budget.  That’s a new one for me and will certainly make for an interesting footnote!  Going to have to check out Evidence Explained for help on that citation. 
·         Tried to email a city department but the form filler didn’t work.  Copied the email address and tried to send from my personal email – returned as undeliverable.  Looked up a different department, no email address.  Emailed the webmaster about the problems and asked that my request be forwarded to the appropriate departments.  Got a response, “ok.”  No apology, no thanks for letting us know there’s a problem with our website, no nothing, which means I never heard from any of the departments who I asked that the email be forwarded to.  I'm thinking it's because there is no email.
·          Spoke with a clerk in a county records department about obtaining a deed.  My only question was, “Does your office house records from 1920?”  I was expecting a yes, no or maybe so answer.  I got, “I’ll transfer you.”  Ok, a new take on “maybe so.”  Asked the same question to the next clerk.  Got, “I’ll transfer you.”  Was transferred back to the original clerk.  Clearly frustrated, she said that I should just come in and ask that question.  Huh?  Like I’m going to get the answer in person and not on the phone?!  I told her why I couldn’t come.  She said, “Well, find someone to come in for you.”  I asked for a recommendation since I don’t live in the area.  She responded, “I don’t know, maybe a title company” and hung up.  I’m thinking that the department should stop paying for phone service as a way to balance their budget since the employee will only speak to people face-to-face.  Would skype count ?  Perhaps the probate office figured this out already and stopped paying for phone service which would explain why no one answers that phone.
·         Received a letter in the mail from a state archivist (not the same state as the above) that said, “Unfortunately, we do not provide copies of county records…You will want to contact (the county) to obtain a copy.”  Clearly the archivist cannot comprehend what the request was – it stated that the county has lost the record.  I’m fairly certain the record was microfilmed and that’s why I contacted the state archives.  At least my check was returned.  Maybe I should donate it to the city with the budget problems. 

Since I want to remain a “Gallant Do Bee” I’m thankful this week for:
  • The State Archivist (of a different state) who remembered that I had emailed a question a few weeks ago, found something recently while assisting someone else and emailed me the new information.  Wow, now that’s service!
  • Same situation happened with a county probate office – the individual I had been in contact with several weeks ago just happened to find something that she thought might be helpful.  It was regarding guardianship of a collateral line I was working on and yes, it was valuable, just like her!
  • The small town library that did several look ups, then scanned and sent the findings at no charge.  I sent a donation as I was so impressed with their helpful, dedicated staff.
  •  A county archivist who answered all my questions on the phone, made several suggestions and asked for a copy of the paper when I’m done so their collection can grow.  This individual demonstrated passion about her community and plans for the future. A winning combination!
H     Here’s my plan on how to not waste time with the losers and connect with the colleagues who care – I started a database of my contacts that were most helpful.  It has name, position, contact method (phone/email), and date of contact.  I thought about making a Goofus list, too, but decided against it.  I’m going to hope that maybe those negative folks were just having a bad day, week or month and not a lifetime. Personnel changes could also occur and I want to continue doing "reasonably exhaustive research" which means I just may have to recontact the same resource locations again in the future. I also wrote thank you notes to those that were so helpful and asked if I could have their supervisor's name to let that person know how valuable the employee was.  Kindness is contagious and I want it passed on!


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