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Stories to Tell: Chance Discoveries While Volunteering

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

stories volunteering

Raelynn Klafke of Murphy, Texas, is a genealogist whose retirement provides her with extra time. Several years ago, she and Joy Rife, her friend of 40 years, called FamilySearch to ask how they could volunteer to help other researchers. “The person who answered the phone was over record preservation camera capture,” recalls Klafke. “He told us about serving as camera operators, [and] we were convinced it was for us.” The pair flew to Melbourne, Australia, and spent six months digitizing historical records.

“I love old documents and books,” Klafke says. “It’s such a powerful feeling, touching something that has been kept over many generations. I’m pretty convinced that if anyone ever digitized records, they wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

After another volunteer stint in Salt Lake City, Klafke and Rife headed to Norton, Kansas. “Joy was born and raised in Kansas, and I knew I had ancestors there, too,” Klafke says. Her fourth great-grandmother’s brother, J.W. Vining, was Norton’s sheriff—and he’d worked in an office right across the street from where Klafke was running the FamilySearch camera.

“When I got there, I picked up this book and opened it right to something about J.W. Vining. I grabbed another set of pages, and there was his name again. I was like, ‘Ok, he knows I’m here.’”

The serendipitous discoveries continued. “As we’d digitize, I’d come across a name and say, ‘Hey, isn’t this your family name?’ Then we’d go home and look up those people to see how they fit into the family.”

The friends’ next record imaging stop is at the Plaza del Patriarca in Valencia, Spain. Klafke doesn’t expect to find her family history there, but no matter. “If I can help someone else find and feel that connection to their own ancestors … what a privilege.”


stories volunteering

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