We asked volunteer Audrey Sundstrom questions about her volunteer experience. Audrey is helping to answer phone calls and online chats from patrons who need Research Assistance. You can read about Audrey below.
How did you learn about volunteering for FamilySearch?
To tell you the truth, I don’t remember how I learned about the program. I was responsible for keeping the staff at our family history center up-to-date with FamilySearch. That, at times, seemed like an impossible task and so to that end I was always checking the blog, the labs page, the wiki, the help page and the forums page for new information. I could have seen the announcement in any of those sources.
Why did you decide to become a volunteer?
There are really two things I love to do. Of course, first is doing genealogical research; second is helping people. It was a good opportunity to not only be privy to some of the new information and technology advances but also help people. It was easy to setup and it did not interfere with the work I was doing at the center. It was a perfect match.
What is your experience as a family history researcher?
I started searching for my roots in the late 1990s and I soon realized I didn’t know what I was doing. Because my family and I were living overseas at the time, I was not able to get local help due to the language barrier. I took all of the BYU home study courses that I could and that got me on my way. When we returned to the U.S, in northern Virginia, I had access to the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the DAR library, Maryland state archives and several major genealogical libraries all within 45 minutes of my home. On one of my trips to the DAR I learned they were looking to add to their staff to complete a three-month project to clear the backlog of admittance applications. That three-month project ended up being a year. A few years later we moved to St George, Utah, where I was asked to become a ward consultant. Later, I was asked to serve as an assistant director of our family history center. I served as assistant director for a little more than five years; I’m still a ward consultant.
What do you like best about serving as a live research assistance volunteer (LRA)?
Every shift is an adventure. I never know what I’m going to be asked. I love working with others who are online with me. If I get a question I can’t answer, all I have to do is put out the question on our Skype network. It does not take long for someone to come up with either the answer or a suggestion about where I can find the answer. It is always a good day when I learn something new and I learn something new every time I log in.
What is frustrating or not so enjoyable?
The stability of the system right now is a bit frustrating. I never know how well the connections will work. I’m sure that will improve. The lack of real research calls also is a little frustrating. I would like to have more in-depth research calls. (Editor’s note: We’re working on it!)
Do you have any advice for someone who is considering becoming a volunteer?
Yes. Don’t worry; you are never alone, you don’t have to have all the answers. The one thing about the genealogical community is you can always find someone who is eager to help extend your knowledge. As for learning the system, each newbie has a mentor, and there are many pages of on-line help to get you started. I admit I was a bit nervous when I started but after I took just a few phone calls, my confidence grew.
Do you have any ideas about what could be done to improve your experience as a LRA volunteer?
I would like to be able to contact patrons by email or callbacks. That way I could take tasks offline that involve a little more research and be able to contact the patron when the research was completed. It’s my understanding that a solution is being worked on to add that capability for volunteers. (Editor’s note: Yes, we’re working on this too!)
Please tell us about a positive experience you’ve had as a LRA volunteer.
I’m always impressed with how helpful everybody is. If I have a question, all I have to do is to put it out on Skype. Often times I get multiple people helping with the issue! One never knows what will happen on a call. On one notable call, I got a patron that kept referring to me as “you people” making it clear that I know she was not a member of the LDS Church. I was very pleased that I was able to answer her question and give her a positive experience. (Editor’s note: You don’t have to be LDS to volunteer.)
Thank you to Audrey, and to all of our volunteers! If you are like Audrey, and love helping others, you can register to help others with their research questions here.