Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Does your society have a Research Group?

One of the recent additions to the Chula Vista Genealogical Society schedule has been a monthly Research Group, where members and guests come to discuss their research challenges. We typically have 10 to 15 attendees (in a 75 member society) with occasional guests (this is an excellent way to gather new members). We use a meeting room at the library that seats 20 people around a rectangular table.

The basic idea of the group is that the knowledge and experience in the group exceeds the knowledge and experience of each individual. The absolute necessary requirement for the group to work is that the people with expertise are willing to share their knowledge, and that the discussion is not dominated by any one person. A group of 10 to 15 is ideal - there is a lot of expertise and the moderator can control the flow of the meeting effectively.

Each month, the moderator provides the genealogy news highlights of the month; then leads a 10 minute discussion about some aspect of genealogy -- today it was where to find articles about genealogy research on the Internet. Then the discussion is opened up to the attendees - what research problems do they have? What good research news do they have? What aspect of genealogy do they want to know more about?

Several attendees present their research problems, often using an information form based on the Everton's magazine form. After each research problem is presented, then the other attendees ask questions, comment on their experience in the area of interest, or suggest avenues for further research by the presenter. We don't try to solve the problem - we try to help the presenter find more resources to help solve their own problem.

The major success story this month was Bobbie - she had an ancestor she thought was named Mary Tirez, based on the only document she had - a marriage record in 1872 in Lake County IL with difficult handwriting. She had looked in the census records for 1860 and 1870 with no success for a Tirez family. On Monday, she received the death record for Mary's son, and it listed his mother's name as Mary Dryer. Then she found a book for Lake County IL that had the Dreigher family in it, and then found 1860/1870 census records with Mary in the Dwyer and Dyer family. It was a great example of perseverance and searching for as many records as possible. And the variety of surname spellings in the records!

We discussed four other elusive ancestors in our 90 minutes, and all of the presenters have some suggestions for further research.

One of the real benefits of this group is that, over 3 years, we have improved the research and critical thinking skills of 20 to 30 researchers, and have gained about 10 new members through the group activities.

Does your society have a group like this? If so, what is the format? If not, why don't you start one?

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