Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gentle Advice for Genealogy Societies

[Note: The television show mentioned below never aired as expected. However, the advice for genealogy society still stands. Groups should always be prepared for an influx of web site traffic. --Amy, July 2009]

In April 2009, an American adaptation of the British series Who Do You Think You Are? will run on NBC. If this show is well accepted, interest in genealogy could rise. People will start Googling their family names and searching for ways to learn more about genealogy. When these new folks click on your genealogical society's web page, what will they see? Will it be enough to get them through your virtual door?

In the process of creating the Texas Genealogy Events calendar, I have looked at the web sites of dozens of local, regional and statewide genealogical societies.

However, culling event information from some genealogical web sites has been surprisingly challenging. If you--as part of a genealogical society--are interested in attracting an audience for your events and gaining new members, I offer the following suggestions:

Keep your web site current. Use dates and years. Does your event page say the current year anywhere on it? If you post a list that says, "Meeting on March 1," or "Meeting the first Thursday of the month," how are we supposed to know if you mean this year? It may seem basic to long-time society members, but potential new members won't know the routine. In my web site visits, I saw several genealogy societies' web sites that showed no year information anywhere and I had no idea if the society was still going strong, or if the page I was visiting was an old one.

Provide detailed location information. "Meeting at the library," does not tell potential new members where to go. At the very least, provide the name of the library, the address and a phone number someone could call if they were lost on the way.

Include email addresses where questions can be addressed, then answer those questions. When trying to build this calendar, I had questions I wanted to ask before adding events of certain societies. I emailed five or six different societies, asking if "meeting 1st Thursday of the month" was still going on, or requesting clarification of some confusing details. Not a single society I emailed returned a reply. One of the societies was a biggie, and I was surprised at the silence.

Make your group and events sound fun! The Internet is the stage on which your genealogical society is standing, and the potential new members clicking on your web site are the audience. What kind of impression does your web site give, and will it entice visitors to take the next step? It's very hard to enter a meeting room full of people where you don't know a soul. Tell us what to expect and convince us to walk through the door. If you have a social time before your meeting, describe it. Will there be coffee and treats? Are there smaller groups gathering after the meeting to discuss specific genealogical topics? Describe those events. Are there regular casual meetings at local restaurants? Tell us and make sure new people know they're welcome.

Many smaller genealogy societies are barely hanging on, and frankly, they need new blood. Having a web site with current, detailed information and veteran members willing to reach out will attract the eager new members that are out there. A genealogy web site does not have to be fancy, but it should provide enough information to sell itself to the larger genealogical audience.


  1. After working with websites for years, that's good advice for any website really. Content is king. People will be both bored and confused if you don't update the content or reply to questions, which makes them stop coming back. They will find a new place to go.

  2. Great post Amy and as Brian said the advice you give is spot on for ANY blog or website.

  3. A very informative post Amy. I am the publication editor of the county historical society here in Mississippi. One of my top priorities is to have fresh content on the society's website (adding new material to the online archives, keep contact information fresh, etc.) and also on the society's blog. Today's genealogical/historical society must be an active participant in online ventures in order to survive. I would estimate that 25 percent of our new members each year learn about us through our online presence. A society's online presence whether it be a website or blog, is simply the organization's call card. And the information you supplied is right on the mark.

  4. Amy, great article! I'd like your permission to reprint it on the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society's blog.

  5. "Who Do You Think You Are" is an excellent show that also has an Australian edition which has sparked a lot of interest down there (so my sources tell me).
    Sadly, it seems that NBC did not show the program in April as promised...