Monday, February 21, 2011

Genealogy Societies: What Keeps You Coming Back for More?

Earlier this year, I asked what makes you join a genealogy society. I had just dropped some memberships and renewed others and I wanted to know your criteria. I have another set of questions for you on what makes you stay in any given group:

What do you like about the genealogy societies to which you belong? What makes you stay a member and renew each year?

Please comment if you can. I am very interested what you have to say on the subject.

Here's my answer on what keeps me coming back to a genealogy society year after year:

A active online presence. I'm a distance member at most of the societies to which I belong. Seeing the group exist and evolve online allows me to connect from afar. It also allows me to see where my money is going. I want to comment on their blogs and Facebook pages. I've been a member of several societies where my only contact with the group was through a mailbox. I prefer more interaction, and tend to gravitate toward societies that are willing to reach out in different ways.

A deep commitment to preserving local/regional history, or a genuine love of genealogy. I love groups that maintain a tight connection to the past. I belong to one society that is too small to have their own library, but they are in tight with the local library and have dedicated themselves to making the research room a must-see. I have no problem paying my dues to this group every year because I can see where my money is going. They have a clear mission and I support it. I also belong to a group that has few local resources, but they sure have a good time talking about genealogy. They make it fun, and I'm happy to be a member of fun.

A variety in programming and social meetings. The monthly in-person gathering with a speaker is nice, but I also enjoy less formal meetups just to talk about genealogy. I like being a part of societies that have interest groups, webinars, online chats and more opportunities to socialize.

Resourcefulness. Societies with vision get my renewals. I like knowing my membership dollars go toward groups with creative approaches to volunteer utilization, marketing, forward thinking and a willingness to try new things. This is how you grow and I enjoy being a part of groups that understand that. 

In looking at these answers, I realize that I haven't mentioned society magazines, quarterlies and journals. While these are nice, and I read them (eventually), they are not the reason I belong to any given society. I keep thinking of all the time and money put into these publications, and here it's not even a factor in how I choose my genealogy society memberships. I wonder if others feel this way, or is it just me?

What about databases? The societies to which I belong either don't have them, or my research does not pertain to the ones they have. As of now, databases don't do it for me in terms of membership preferences, but I expect that to change as I join new groups.

Also, I realize that the key themes in my answers are interaction and socialization with a heavy dose of online contact. These are not the usual answers one would expect, so I'm wondering if I am off base in my preferences or not and that's how this blog post came to be.

So what about you? What are your societies doing right? I want to know what motivates you to join and stay in any given group. 


  1. Good question, Amy! It just occurred to me that the main reason that I belong to my local genealogical society, which has very little programming, publications or online presence, is the ability to tap into the collective knowledge of the group on the history of our geographic area and its people. I am probably the youngest member of our society, by far, and haven't lived in the area all that long. It's a good network to have, should I get stumped on a local research project.

  2. That's a great point, Missy. The collective knowledge of society members is a great resource.

  3. Our society continues to have good learning programs almost every month, and a couple of big seminars each year. When I started years ago I was about the youngest person there, but they welcomed new people and have changed over the years to embrace the new technology. I am now one of the people that liked the old ways, but have been willing to look at the new technology. I also belong to a society where I have a brick wall hoping some day to break through.

  4. I haven't joined any so far, but you and Missy pretty much summed up what I will look for when I do.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Charles. Between your comment and Missy's I'm thinking that all the experience and knowledge of a society's members is a great asset and a reason to continue membership in a society. I wonder how many groups view the local history and general genealogy knowledge of their members as a value to their society? Something like that could be harnessed and marketed through fee-based research requests and other ways to garner $ for a group. Now you have me thinking...

  6. Amy, we (as in the genie club I belong to) have offered to do free research (1 hour to each researcher) and then LOW fee research (for hours after that free one) for others not able to come to our area. That offer used to bring in a number of queries each year, but that has been dropping and dropping and dropping. I figured everyone thought they could find it all on the net so why pay a genie group?? I could be WAYYY off base, just my take on it.

    Our group does offer some resource books, and they seem to, for the most part, move pretty well.

    We do not have on line data bases. At this time we have very few members that would have the expertise to do that and do it well. Better make that, might, have ONE member.

    And, if we went online with data bases the public would want more than we are prepared to give them right now. It takes a LONG time to prepare records for the net or for publication. Ya, I should know, as I am in the thick of it.

    Our group does offer a variety of speakers. We offer friendship and kinship and some of the members have done a lot of local research and so are great resources. We try to keep good relationships with the local libraries, historical societies and county officials. One meeting the local deed registrar came and spoke, she drew a HUGE crowd.

    We do maintain a bare bones type web page (ya, I do that too).

    Our open session Q & A before meetings has been pretty successful as well. Any and all research questions entertained, and all in attendance can offer up answers.

    Yep, have a newsletter, emailed to you each month via a PDF file. If you want hard copy, for a bit more $$ we will do that as well.

    This is a one county genie society, not a regional or state or national society.

  7. Carol, thank you so much for the comment! I can only speak as a distance member of a small society, but I belong to one group that has carefully culled obituaries out of local newspapers for decades. These are organized in binders. You can search these for free in person at the library, and pay a few cents for a copy. They also offer to to the digging for you for $5. I ordered from a distance and was happy to pay. They even threw in some extras and I donated some more money.

    I do love the local history value put out by this society.

    Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into your society. I for one appreciate it, even from far away.

  8. I initially joined my first local society simply because it was local. Over time I have realized what a great asset it can be and has even more potential with the right volunteers.

    A big shift occurred a few years ago when it was decided to offer better programming as a service to its membership. Because this is a metropolitan area, a majority of the members do not have local roots. Yet our charter is to preserve and provide access to the records of the city and county. We are still a society in transition as we seek ways to best serve these twin elements of our charter.

    To followup on what was said in earlier posts, I think there may be a misconception by the general public as to the purpose of a local society. At least in my case, I spoke with someone today with a high interest in genealogy and has even taken on large transcription projects for his home county. He had never investigated our society because he assumed it was just for individuals with roots in the area.

    With that knowledge, I will now be able to help direct out outreach efforts.

  9. Amy, in our county, you would need to go to the county historical society for those obits. Or, LDS, who a few years ago, filmed the entire collection. It is NOT inclusive, but soooooooo helpful.

    I think something else that needs pointing out, simply, not all societies are created equal as far as local talent. Some might be lucky, really lucky to get, say a Thomas MacEntee. Others are filled with little ole folks with walkers and their entire genie recorded on a 4 foot fan chart. Maybe better make that a 6 foot fan chart! LOL And, that lack of equal creation will explain a LOT!

  10. I am not a particularly active member of the only two societies to which I belong.

    I belong to our state society because I feel a responsibility to support an organisation that does so much to preserve local and regional resources. This society also provides a great educational program with a good range of topics and quality speakers.

    I belong to the smaller local society because it is friendly and is local to the area where my earliest ancestors settled in Australia.

  11. Amy,

    I belong to a local society primarily for the monthly programs and the opportunity to meet and network with people with a common interest.

    As far as the distance societies I have memberships in, I am more looking for the active online presence you wrote about as well as a good quarterly or newsletter. If they have online databases, so much the better.

    Resourcefullness and vision - you bet!

    One thing I am beginning to look for now that my nest at home is emptying, are opportunities to become involved in those long distance societies from a long distance. We'll see how that goes.

  12. I am on the Council of my state society and help with education, IT and the website. We are working on making more of our data, collected over many years, available online to members. We have a regular and varied education programme. As has been said earlier, our greatest asset is our experiences and helpful library volunteers. Unfortunately they are only useful to members who can visit the library, but we are working on ways to change that.

    I am also a member of a few other societies in the regions my ancestors came from, including New England (NEGHS) and Scotland.

  13. Amy,
    What a great discussion. I belong to several genealogical societies and serve on the PR committee of my local gen society.

    I joined my local society for the resources and expertise available. We have a good library and we are moving to more resources online.

    I too prefer gen societies that engage folks online via their website and social media. SCGS is an example of a gen society that does this well. Although I have only a few ancestral connections in southern California I joined while signing up for the Jamboree conference as the member vs non member deal was advantageous.

    I have joined other societies in regions I'm interested in researching.

  14. I had been a member of the local group for quite a few years but gave up the membership because, quite simply, i wasnt getting value for money.
    They won't allow laptops to be taken in, so it makes it difficult to follow up on a line of research if you find something new. They refuse to have a website or email address, and contact is only in person or via snail mail. I've attempted in the past to give them copies of information i've found online, but unless it's in a printed form, they aren't interested. Thumb drives etc are treated with horror.
    They have limited resources, and treat visitors with suspicion (i'm being generous here - the laptop ban was because a visitor to the area came in to do research and put one of the groups cd's in their laptop - the person in charge freaked out and ordered them to remove it immediately before they put a virus on the cd...seriously!! They simply wouldn't accept that it is impossible to put a virus on a cd!)
    When i have attempted to donate cd's i have no further use of, they take them to their 'expert' to make sure they have not got any viruses on them, and this 'expert' can take MONTHS to check them. Add to this the fact that the original cd donated is never added to their shelves, but a copy, i have to wonder what has happened to the original. Needless to say, i now donate to another, smaller, computer knowledgeable group.
    They really have no idea what they are doing and my attempts to educate them are treated with mistrust.
    Using the group's computers means that they are watching over your shoulder, in case while looking at a cd you magically manage to put a virus on it, and even looking at a book and taking notes is carefully watched.
    The current group leadership needs an overhaul and education, but as it stands it's the same group of people every year, swapping jobs but maintaining strict control.
    It's unwelcoming, unfriendly and i can find far more information online. It's just not worth the hassle of going there anymore.

  15. And with regard to the laptop ban - shortly after the ban, (but before i knew about it). i took mine in to show them some information i'd found online about a family i knew one of the members was researching, and i wasn't even allowed to turn it on "In case it sent a virus to their computers"

    A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

  16. Genealogy on your own is a bit like playing golf on your own. No matter what great discoveries you make or records you find, how the satisfaction and sense of achievement grows when you are able to share these with other family members. And how disappointing therefore that many of us are the only members of our close family enthusiastic about researching our origins.

    What's a golfer do? Join a golf club. The comeraderie of others who share your passion adds exponentially to your own enjoyment.

    So all you "solo" genealogists out there, join your local genealogical society and begin reaping the rewards. PS: You'll find plenty of new friends willing to share valuable tips.