By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Have you ever needed to look up a marriage record at a courthouse in another state? Have you ever wanted to see your great-grandfather's grave marker that was hundreds of miles away? Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK), found at www.raogk.org, is a website that functions entirely on the service of volunteers. You can go online and request a small genealogical service-the copy of an obituary from a local newspaper, for instance-and a volunteer will do it for you for free.
Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness is administered by Dale and Bridgette Schneider in Lincoln, Nebraska. It went online in March of 1999; it started out as an Iowa-wide service but has since been expanded to include every state in the U.S. as well as many other countries. Today there are more than 4000 RAOGK volunteers, each committed to do at least one act of genealogical kindness per month. In 2007 there were 71,000 research requests filled.
RAOGK is not a professional research service, so you can't contact a volunteer and ask them to do in-depth genealogical research for you. (If you want in-depth genealogical research done, hire a professional.) But if you have one or two research requests for one or two records, a volunteer can help you. RAOGK volunteers look up birth, marriage, and death records from county courthouses; obituaries from local newspapers; grave markers; and many other genealogical records.
How do you make a research request? First, look up a volunteer in the area where you need a lookup. Don't ask a volunteer to do something outside of their specified area, and don't ask someone else to look something up for you if you live within travelling distance (75 miles or so). Remember, a volunteer is donating their time for you. Pay them for expenses like parking fees, gas, postage, and copying fees.
Only ask for one or two items regarding one or two ancestors. Be very specific in your request, and remember that the more information you give the more easily they will be able to find your ancestor. Don't send the same request to two volunteers; they don't want to waste their time duplicating work. Volunteers will not look up any living individuals or birth parents for adoptees; no birth information will be searched after 1930 without proof of death being provided first.
If you decide to take advantage of the great resource that is RAOGK, you may want to consider giving back by volunteering. It's not a huge time commitment-you're only committed to do one lookup per month, and more if you have the time. See the frequently asked questions on volunteering for more information.