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           June, 2006

      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor

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  Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness
- by Charles Hansen

        One of the parts of genealogy that is the most fun is doing your own research. The happy squeals from researchers at the library, Family History Center, courthouse, cemetery or historical society attest to the fact genealogists love to research. One problem is that few researchers live close to where their ancestors lived so that requires a lot of traveling to distant sites to check out cemeteries, courthouses, libraries and historical societies.

        One way to research, a distant location is through the Family History Center near you. The LDS has collected huge amounts of records for the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. By ordering microfilm from their Family History Library in Salt Lake, you can do a lot of research on distant sites without leaving your local area.

        Many people hire a professional researcher or even a local researcher from the local genealogical society, but both of these options can cost quite a lot. The professional researcher is trying to make a living and the local genealogical society researcher is trying to make money for the local genealogical society, so they can buy more materials to add to the genealogy collection there.

        Another option is the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. While it is all volunteers doing the lookups, it is not a free service either. Volunteers are allowed to charge for their expenses, but not their time. Many of the volunteers are in the United States, but there are volunteers in other countries also. There are more than 4500 volunteers. Each volunteer has agreed to look up or perform a service (like pictures of tombstones) at least once a month.

        I actually started doing similar lookups on the old Prodigy bulletin boards. Later I was able to get the researcher job at my local genealogical society, but there was no Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness then.

        One of the volunteers at our local library, Karen, is listed as a volunteer who does pictures of tombstones at local cemeteries. She even has a bouquet of flowers for the unmarked graves. Because of her volunteer work, she has become very friendly with one of the employees of a very large cemetery and there is a possibility that this friendship will lead to some new research materials. I read their Frequently Asked Questions and they ask not to ask for research not listed on their list of what they research. I do not know if Karen had a different list of research items, but I know she used to go to the library and the courthouse for the Random Acts queries and I even helped her with a few questions on where to find what information.

        When doing research for others, the thanks received are always wonderful. The Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness has pages and pages of thank you notes from satisfied people, so try them. Go to their site and read the Frequently Asked Questions, and then post your own query.

  Preserving Our History
- by Carol Sanderson

        It was August of 1980. We had just moved into the house in Chelmsford, MA. After a week of unpacking and putting things away, I was ready to stop for a while and do something for fun. Because it was now Labor Day weekend when we never ventured too far because of traffic on the roads and other reasons, we looked for something to do close to home.

        I had found something in the local paper about an urban national park. We decided to go see what it was like. It was in Lowell, MA, a city, that had grown there because of the Merrimack River and the mills in the early 19th century.

        The mills had long since left for a place where labor was cheaper, first the south and then Asia. The city had suffered a lot of unemployment because of this. The mills were empty and some of them really falling into ruin. Some of the local people had banded together to try to save some of their history sand preserve it for others. They had, after acquiring some of the buildings and obtained permits for what they wanted to do, started with some very basic tours.

        The first part of the tour we took was on a trolley through part of the city down to one of the old mill buildings...the Boot Mill. We disembarked and went into the mill building. There, some of the spinning machines were set up so that one could see how they ran with a long bar that had belts attached to the machines so that the power in turning the pulleys would make the machines go.

        After observing that part of the process, we went down to the lower floor where the water from the river was used to turn the turbines that produced the power. Docents, dressed in period costume, were there to answer questions. They were good and had researched their parts well.

        We went outside at that level and walked a short ways along the river to where we boarded a boat. This took us up to the Pawtucket Canal. It was an entirely different view of a dingy mill town that we got from the river. It was one of green grass and flowers and a very scene of nature and serenity. One did not usually see that part of the city. We landed, our guide told us how and why that canal and some others were built and used. The Pawtucket Canal had been the first one built and had been used to carry barges and log rafts around the falls of the Merrimack, a thirty-foot drop in level. As more mills came into being, they were built on other canals that diverted some of the river water for their power. These extended trough parts of the city and more of it grew around them.>

        One of the men who did some of the enginéering and planning for one of the mills, a James Francis, had an idea for controlling the water, perhaps in case of a flood. He proposed building a gate at the place where the Pawtucket Canal entered the Merrimack River. People thought it was a foolish idea and called the man foolish and other names that implied the same thing

        Mr. Francis paid no attention to them and built this huge wooden gate in an apparatus that would guide it when lowered and raised. It weighs a lot, how much I do not remember. It was held in the raised position by ropes that reminded me of some of the ship hawsers I had seen. There was an axe kept there too so that if the gate néeded to be lowered quickly all one had to do was cut the ropes. This gate impressed me, but the fact that it had been used only twice since it had been build was even more impressive. The guide said that it had been used in the 1936 flood and had saved the downtown area of Lowell from the flood. The river crested at 68 feet that time.

        All the rain we have had, 10 to 12 inches has caused much flooding along this same river today. If there had not been dams and other controls of the flooding, it would have been much worse. They lowered the Francis gate, this time too, and helped to keep the downtown area dry. The river crested at almost 59 feet when it crested.

        Thus, the dream or idea of this persistent man has helped save the city from huge flooding three times now. This whole area has become a National Urban Park; actually, it was the first one. There are now more of these parks in other cities helping to preserve their history for other people. The story of the park shows how cities or governments may help preserve our history on a larger scale.

        I have been dismayed on watching interviews with people whose homes have been flooded or destroyed. This devastation is true in the areas of Florida hit by hurricanes in 2004, the Gulf coast and Louisiana in 2005, in New England in 2006, the tornadoes in the midsection of this country and other world wide disasters . People are saying, we lost everything. One woman, whose husband is ill and in a nursing home, said "Over 50 years of our lives together, is gone in this flood."

        Knowledge of how to save some of the valuable documents and books from water and dampness exists today. It is done on a large scale for the cities and larger units of our society. I doubt if it is feasible for individuals. However, even we can do something to preserve our things. Scan or take pictures of them and put them on a media such as a CD or microfilm and then store them in a safe place out side your home...a safe deposit box in a bank or something like that. I have heard of some people making copies of these things, keeping the copies and storing the real things elsewhere. That would make more sense. This sort of thing is something that we put off until we have more time. We do not always know when disaster will strike. Think about doing something now.

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