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28 April 2011

WHEN VISITING ARCHIVES: GIFTS AND GOOD WORDS

     With so many family history researchers planning their spring and summer Ireland vacations, I thought I would share a travel tip I learned from others. Bringing gifts with me to Ireland never occurred to me until I met a woman who enlightened me. She always packs small gifts to give to staff members and locals who help her with her research. I've since met others who follow the same practice. One woman travels with souvenirs of her hometown of Philadelphia, such as small Liberty Bells or Hershey's Kisses candy. Another brings along copies of her own town's history to give as thank you gifts.
     When I am in the American Southwest, I like to collect the "storyteller dolls" made by many Native Americans. The dolls usually depict a grandmother or tribal elder telling stories to children. I have given these dolls to some Irish family historians as gifts. Not only are the dolls a uniquely American treasure, the Irish genealogists appreciated the thought behind the gesture--that they are keepers of their townland's stories.

      These gifts serve a purpose to the giver, also. Your Irish contacts are sure to remember you!
      On my last trip to Ireland, I spent the bulk of two weeks in the reading room of the archives of the National Library of Ireland. I am sure I taxed the patience of the librarians I peppered with questions and the runners who retrieved the files I ordered every half hour or so. On my last day of research, I put together a gift bag full of candies and treats for the Library's "tea room." I was not prepared for the outpouring of gratitude shown by the staff for just a small gesture of appreciation.
     Many archives, libraries, and institutions have a snack, lunch, or tea room. Bringing cookies or snacks for the staff is a good way to thank the entire staff for all the help they give researchers.
     One librarian in Ireland suggested yet another way for researchers to show their appreciation: she requested that I write a letter to the "boss," expressing my satisfaction with the staff's service. Her request reminded me how often I take for granted the services of librarians and archivists and staff members who contribute to my family history research. A simple compliment expressed to a library or archive director might have an effect on a person's job or might help a department obtain funding.
     I can't say that I always remember to commend a staff member or bring along a treat to an archive, but I do find that the gesture is always appreciated when I do. A simple "thank you, your staff is terrific" can go a long way towards brightening the day at your favorite archive or library!