Thursday, January 13, 2011

Genealogy Society Memberships: What Makes You Join?

Today was the day that I renewed my membership in several genealogy societies. I also decided not to renew memberships in two societies. Here are the reasons why and why not:

Renewed distance membership in small society.
I am a member of a very tiny society. They send me a small publication 4 times a year. I am invited to meetings, but never go because of the driving distance. I give them my money to support their group. I want them to keep going to preserve the area's history, and expect nothing else from them. I am happy to pay.

Renewed membership in regional society
Frankly, the society doesn't do many events and I don't know where my money goes. However, I really like the members. They're a fun crowd. Basically I pay to hang out with them.

Renewed distance membership in state society
I may never get to a meeting with this organization, but I love what they do. They have their act together as a group and make good contributions to genealogy. They also welcomed me as a distance member and put me to work. I am happy to support them from afar.

I also made the decision not to renew with two groups.

Let membership lapse in large society
Sometimes with big groups, individuals get lost in the crowd. I sent in my checks and received publications, but that was it. Differing philosophies on genealogy education made me decide that it's time for an amicable parting.

Let membership lapse in regional society
Shortly after I joined this society, an officer told me that the group events are geared toward the 55+ crowd. I was also told that there aren't many genealogy society officers my age because we have trouble keeping our commitments with all the other things going on in our lives (such as taking care of children, etc.). Really. I mentally dropped out on the spot and haven't been back. One less check to write this year and forever.

There are a couple more societies where my membership renewals come up mid-year. Barring any big change, I expect to renew those as well.

My reasons for belonging to genealogy societies depend on the group. Some I want to help fund. Some I expect to help me learn. Some I support because I admire the way they help others learn.

There are so many genealogy societies, historical societies, heritage societies, library friends groups, and more out there that depend on our financial support. It would be nice to fund them all, but we can't. That's why today I had to make choices to stay or go. Some were easy, some weren't. It made me wonder how others decide.

What about you? What do you look for in a genealogy society membership?


  1. Wow I had no idea you had to be 55+ years old to be considered responsible enough to handle things besides taking care of yourself and actually committing to something. What a terrible thing to say to someone! I would think societies would welcome anyone who wanted to help out, in whatever fashion, because volunteers are desperately needed. Sorry you were treated that way. It is so wrong.

  2. Jen, this society was set in its ways. Their membership #s were strong, so it's not like they were hurting for seat warmers. I'm kind of thankful it happened because it saved me the time of trying to build relationships there. Every group is different. That one is just *really* different.

  3. Amy,

    My decision making follows the same guidelines as yours. Though I've never had a group say *that* to me before. :) The only difference I have is that some societies I join because of the databases they offer online. I don't go to their events or participate in any other way except perhaps for reading the publications. In those specific cases that works for me. I've cut back a lot on my memberships the last few years.

  4. I've just joined my third society, and am only a recent member of my other two. It's not possible to join all the societies I would like to support. The membership fees would add up too quickly! The three that I've joined either offer services to me, or I want to support their work to preserve local heritage.

  5. I am definitely in the over 55 age group! I dropped membership in a local society. I attended three or four times and could not seem to start a conversation with anyone. Then in the newsletter they advertised for volunteers for an interesting cataloguing project - and I've worked in a school library. At the next meeting when I tried to volunteer, I was passed around to four different people, the last one abruptly told me, "That's done. We don't need anybody. Maybe you could bring refreshments." So why did they put the appeal in the newsletter? I didn't return and didn't renew. I do belong to several societies either because of databases they offer, or because I believe in supporting their projects.

  6. Amy, I liked the thought process in deciding whether to join/renew or not.

  7. I did the same type of review at the end of December when renewing (I wanted to get those "end of year" business expenses in) for my genealogy societies - I belong to about 15 of them.

    I am on the fence about one national society because I think they finally are "getting it" in terms of social media.

    Otherwise I support many far-flung societies not only because of their databases but because I believe in their mission and they have forward-looking attitudes!

  8. This was a very enlightening post, Amy! As were everyone's comments. I think some societies are geared more toward the geneasnobs rather than the geneablogs. :-) It's too bad because there should be room for all people, all backgrounds and all skill levels.

  9. I joined Mayflower, but not DAR. The Mayflower group is small in our state of NH and I got involved immediately with the scholarships and the newsletter. I have fun with the other people, all about 35 to 65, on the board. DAR was too small and grandmotherly, but my daughter wants to join in Boston because there is a small, yet young group there. To each his own! The others I join mostly for the journals. I don't consider NEHGS a "Society" even though it is in the title. I consider my NEHGS membership the key to a great library, both online and "brick and mortar".

  10. Excellent post, Amy! I've been lucky with my local society. I joined to take advantage of the classes and see if I could volunteer or help others with my experiences. I didn't expect to be the youngest person in the room by a few decades and was a bit hesitant, but they were all very kind to me.

    Having said that all of the positions seem a bit fixed and they don't ask for much input on the society. Just a show up, socialize for a couple minutes, then sit down and have the class. I suppose it could be worse. Sorry you had such a bad experience with yours. You would think that bringing in younger blood would be a point of excitement!

  11. I just went through the same process and it was similar to yours. One local society I've belonged to for years and plan to remain a member and hopefully become more involved.

    I have been a member for years of another local society that is not in my area. I am a huge fan of theirs not only because of the great work they do but because they so warmly welcomed me when I attended one of their meetings when I was in the area. I am extremely happy to be able to support them.

    Since I've joined so many new organizations over this last year, I expect to have to put even more thought into my choices next year.

  12. You are certainly not alone, as many of the comments already indicate. I'm doing the same kind of review simply because the money isn't there this year. I'm finding it to be a painful process, as I really don't have any good reason to let any of my memberships lapse except the money situation. The same applies to my subscription sites...if only I could win the lottery :)

  13. Just found your blog and love it. I printed out my first membership form last night to a distant genealogy society that I will be joining since my ancestors are from there and I hope to learn more.

    I've gone to the local GS off and on but never truly feel welcome there. I am going to try again next month.


  14. Tina, thanks for the comment. I hope you like the distance society. I really enjoy supporting mine.

  15. Amy,
    Just catching up with the blogs and wanted to add my voice to the "job well done!" chorus. This article should be required reading for every member of every genealogical society board which is why I'm emailing it to my fellow directors at the California Genealogical Society. Thanks for telling it like it is. (And thanks for your membership.)

  16. Unlike most of you, I don't belong to any genealogical societies - yet. I remember Thomas MacEntee posting a comment on my blog about how the Southern California Genealogical Society offers at-home internet access to Normally this would cost $72/yr, however, it is included with your $30/yr membership at SoCalGS. I also just learned that our local West Valley Genealogical Society membership ($35/yr) includes at-home internet access to both and (normally $80 and $99/yr each, respectively).

    Offering this type of access to their members is definitely an added benefit.

    Irene Winterburn

  17. Thanks for the tip about the West Valley Genealogical Society! I didn't know they were offering Footnote and WorldVitalRecords with their membership. My Footnote is up for renewal soon. Hmmm...