You post a carefully worded query about your immigrant great-great-grandparents on the Net or in a genealogy magazine.
Then, like lightning, comes the reply: Here is a clipping with a biography and church membership from the old home town, or here is the address of a historical society that has the centennial book (and photo) you need.
Yes, it sometimes happens that way. But, all too often, it doesn't. The queries just languish. You wonder if anybody's out there reading - or caring about - what you have to say.
None of us can solve everybody's genealogical problems. But every one of us can help some fellow researcher here and there through ``acts of genealogical kindness.''
Make performing a few such acts in 2001 your New Year's resolution.
It's not hard to do. If you work on computer, go into your local Genweb and find the queries board. Read through the messages until you find one you think you can help with. Same procedure if you subscribe to a genealogy magazine or read a newspaper genealogy column.
You're not an expert on the person's family, you say? You're not a professional genealogist or a librarian either?
That doesn't matter. Everybody knows something about his or her community, or can find it out. Maybe you spot in a query from someone clear across the country the slightly garbled name of a local church. Go to your phone book, then send that person the church's name, address and phone number.
You've poked around local libraries. You can tell a distant researcher exactly where to find the microfilmed backfiles of local newspapers or the collections of biographies of locally prominent people of the past. The next time you're in the library, write down names of papers and books and send them to the person making the query.
There is no limit to the ways you can help. Look up the history of a town or the story of a railroad wreck the writer is interested in and send a photocopied page or two. Open up your phone book and get the mailing address and office phone number of the cemetery that a fellow genealogist in another state wants to check out. A stamp is still a bargain, and an e-mail doesn't even cost that much.
Of course there are plenty of other resolutions a genealogist can make for the new year. You can read some books on historical or cultural topics pertaining to your ancestors. How about brushing up your cyber-skills by enrolling in a computer class at a library, college or senior center? Try writing up a summary of your family research, making copies and sending the copies to family members.
No law limits you to one New Year's resolution. Drop by that historical society you've been meaning to visit, take out a membership and spend an afternoon poking around. Tell the younger members of your family the stirring tale of their ancestors. Offer to give a talk on genealogy at your social club or before a history class at a nearby middle or high school.
But if you really want to make a fellow genealogist's day, spend some time in 2001 looking for a chance to practice the occasional act of genealogical kindness. Who knows: Maybe someday you will open an envelope or an e-mail and there will be that name or marriage date you've been after for years.
Things that you do have a way of coming back to you.
Update: The Times Leader's Web site has undergone some changes
recently. Here is a guide to finding ``Out on a Limb'' online:
The site's address is www.timesleader.com. Although some sites do not demand that the ``www'' be typed in, this one does.
``Out on a Limb'' will now be carried under ``Features.'' The old ``Generations'' section is gone. The column was absent briefly during some online changes by the Knight Ridder newspaper chain but will be regularly available again this week.
``Out on a Limb'' runs only every other Sunday, and it will be removed from the main online Features page after seven days. To access the latest column more than a week after it has run, you will have to call up the main Features page for the Sunday it ran. To do this, go to the line containing the Web site name and date on top of the page, replace the date with the date of the last Sunday that ``Out on a Limb'' ran, and hit enter. This procedure gives you the main features page from two Sundays ago, containing the column.
Links to Luzerne County Genweb and other local sites are no longer carried. But as a public service I will run those Web addresses here from time to time. Want a list? Send me your postal mailing address (check end of column) and I will get one to you.
The process of accessing Times Leader obituaries and other articles published since 1992 remains pretty much the same. Click on ``News Library'' and you will get a page telling you exactly what to do and what the charge is.
Queries: ``Looking for information on Peter and Louisa Straub and their children (Herman, Peter, Margaret and Edward) ... they immigrated to Wilkes-Barre in 1866.'' Contact Ron Bechtold, firstname.lastname@example.org..
Ron, I'm sending you copies of two clippings from the Times Leader's library. Hope they help.
``I am looking for information on my great-grandparents Charles and Emma (Cherry) Jones of Wilkes-Barre.'' Charles died of mining-related injuries between 1930 and 1932, while Emma died in April 1975. Contact Jana Stanley, 470 Carroll St., Susanville, CA 96130. E-mail is StanleyCrafts@aol.com.
Jana, I've found an article you might be interested in and I'm sending it to you. Check into the Times Leader's new Web site (in ``Update'' above) for more possible leads.
Local History Moment: It was the legislative session from hell. The morning of Feb. 8, 1944, found the six members of the Swoyersville Borough Council fighting sleep during a meeting that had begun early the previous evening. Faced with a partisan struggle over a proposed 1944 budget, the members hadn't been able to agree on anything - even adjournment. It was many hours before the mayor showed up to break the voting tie and send the fatigued councilmen home. In the meantime, according to the Wilkes-Barre Record, the board ``kept messengers busy providing eats and drinks.''
News Notes: The next meeting of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society is scheduled for Jan. 23 and will feature Mary Ann Moran, director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, who will speak on her organization's holdings that would be helpful to genealogy researchers.
I will be offering my two-hour introduction to genealogy again at Boscov's Campus of Courses in Wilkes-Barre this winter. The sessions will be scheduled for Sunday afternoons in January and/or February. They're free. Just bring a pen and notepad. Watch the Times Leader for Boscov's two-page ad late this month and early next month for exact dates and times.
Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.
Tom Mooney, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711. Email is email@example.com