Genealogy is a very collaborative activity. Think about every book you’ve accessed, every online site you’ve used, every lecture you’ve attended on genealogy. All of these were prepared by, indexed by or written by someone: a genealogist who wants to help you. (Ok, we could argue that big corporate sites like Ancestry.com and others are interested in their shareholders and the bottom line, but even those sites started somewhere with one person’s idea and a common goal of sharing genealogical research with others.) Generous genealogists spend hours in front of microfilm readers, in local archives, in cemeteries and elsewhere to put together many of the indexes we use everyday to move along our research.
Another way you can assist other researchers from the comfort of your own home, or through visiting local repositories on occasion, is by monitoring an online message board such as the combined boards at Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.com. These boards are organized by topic, surname or location. By watching the boards that interest you and sharing your expertise and/or offering to do look-ups (if you are willing to do that) you can answer researchers very specific questions or help them think of other avenues to research.
When I lived in Boulder County, Colorado, I monitored the list and volunteered to do look-ups, usually obituaries, to assist other researchers. (Since I moved, I am in the process of learning how I can do this in my local area.) I also watch surname boards for names I have in my own research to try to connect with other researchers working on the same line and to potentially answer questions I had perhaps already solved.
This option does not take up very much time, depending on the geographic locality or how many message boards you decide to help out. In Boulder, I may have had months with no questions or requests and then some months might have had 3 or 4. Plus you can choose not to answer them if the month is busy for you. This volunteering option is probably one of the least restrictive.
So, think about this as an option for helping fellow researchers. In our age of the Internet and fast communication, it is so much easier to collaborate and share information than it ever has been. Continuing in the collaborative and cooperative tradition of our genealogical forebears keeps the field of genealogy one of mentorship, and upon that friendships are built and cousins are found.