Saturday, June 2, 2007

More about Genealogy Societies - Change or Perish?

George G. Morgan uses his regular Ancestry column (at to share his thoughts about how genealogical societies could or should change their programs, meetings, publications, etc. in order to adapt to the changing environment that societies exist in.

His thoughts and comments are cogent and timely. I encourage all genealogy society members, especially society leaders, to read his comments and see how they fit your own society.

The Chula Vista Genealogical Society (CVGS) is doing almost everything that George suggests for programming. The exception is that we still offer weekday monthly programs, but have started Saturday programs 3 times a year. Perhaps we should do more Saturday programs, but old habits of our members are hard to break.

CVGS doesn't have Special Interest Groups for specific subjects; rather, we have a monthly Research Group to discuss all subjects. We have regular field trips, a computer group, special classes, a cemetery project, and a social half-hour at our meetings.

CVGS publishes a newsletter for those that choose not to receive it via an email notice and PDF download. About half of our members download it now, so that saves a significant amount of money.

CVGS has a web site at and a blog called the Chula Vista Genealogy Cafe at

All in all, we do OK by George's list! How about your society? Can it benefit from George's comments and suggestions?

UPDATE 6/5: George G. Morgan has a lengthy comment to this post - please click on Comments and read it too. His best comment is:

"The other thing that societies may overlook and lose out on is getting members involved in projects. The camaraderie and the friendships that form and grow as a result are a major benefit that bonds us all together. In addition, there is a huge amount of fun -- and learning -- involved that you cannot duplicate in an individual genealogical research experience."

Excellent thoughts! While large societies can sponsor seminars and conferences, they can lose the personal touch. Small societies can touch each member and enhance their genealogy education and experience. The best solution is to belong to both kinds of societies to take full advantage of the benefits of both!

UPDATE 6/5, 10:30 PM: Mike Ferguson made some cogent comments today, especially about newsletter publishing, in a second comment. Please click on Comments below and read his thoughts.

Thanks to George and Mike for sharing. Unfortunately, a blog isn't the most efficient way to see comments - a forum with a "flat view" (like what Rootsweb does with their message boards) would be ideal.


George G. Morgan said...

Thank you, Randy, for your comments about my column. One of the biggest problems I see in scores of societies these days is the decline in membership. Genealogical societies absolutely must reevaluate themselves and they MUST offer a value for the membership dollar!

A dear friend told me that she conducted a survey of her local society's members last year to determine the 'value' of their print publications (a newsletter and a journal). The response was not unexpected. First, less than 1/3 of the members responded. Second, the response was that the printed and mailed newsletter was skimmed through but essentially tossed aside. (Respondents indicated that e-mail announcements were more effective in generating interest in current events.) The respondents all said that, with the society's journal, they "looked at the table of contents, and then checked the index for their surnames. If there were none of their surnames there, they either simply tossed the journal out or filed it." That's a very sad commentary about the value of the journal when one considers the work and expense that goes into each issue.

Our society's board, let by current president Drew Smith, feels that the quality of the educational programs must be always higher. That means paying speakers for their time and expenses in order to draw better speakers. It also means spending the society's funds to support projects that will preserve and communicate information from our society's geographical area. Print publications are outmoded when a society can publish to the Internet in a searchable document or database format, accessible from anywhere.

While our society actively avers that "not everything is on the Internet," we must acknowledge technology and use it to publish information. This IS a benefit to our members and illustrates, too, to potential members that we are a viable and progressive society.

The other thing that societies may overlook and lose out on is getting members involved in projects. The camaraderie and the friendships that form and grow as a result are a major benefit that bonds us all together. In addition, there is a huge amount of fun -- and learning -- involved that you cannot duplicate in an individual genealogical research experience.

Thank you for your timely and very informative blog, Randy. You do a great service for all of your readers!

George G. Morgan
Florida Genealogical Society (Tampa)

Anonymous said...

Hi Randy (and George),

I read George's blog and this one on this important subject. I have worked on genealogy on and off for over 20 years, and sometimes quit for longish periods, but I think I won't quit again. I have been looking at joining various county societies for areas where my ancestors lived, but the problems you address are much of the reason that I haven't as yet (talking about county level and not state level societies).

Rarely do those societies, even ones relatively close to where I live, have meetings except on weekdays. And I would personally prefer to read everything online, and to publish contributions that way as well for wider dissemination.

I agree that it is imperative that county societies move to the internet, while allowing for print publication options for those without net access. It seems to me that the best and free way to do this is possibly to do so in conjuction with the county's USGenWeb site, with a subsection of same devoted to the society *and* its journals/newsletters. Of course some are already doing this in part, but usually only with a single page with snail mail contact info for the society.

Also another very important question is the role of society publications like records extracts, that many societies depend upon for fudning of other activities. Societies need to look to the future, especially at the LDS FamilySearch organization's ongoing digitization and indexing projects, to see not only how they can collobarate with same, *but also so as not to duplicate efforts*.

As the FHL's site, and affiliated commercial ones, slowly add more and more digitized county level records, all indexed through FamilySearch, then what the county societies need to do is to focus on providing really good quality abstracts as finding aids, and especially to concentrate on other non-official sources like cemetery transcriptions, obituaries and abstracts of newspapers, family Bibles, etc. There simply is no reason to reproduce census information and indexes that are available online either free or commercially.

As an alternative to using rootsweb/genweb space to publish online editions of journals, perhaps the Allen County Public Library should look at providing such a service in conjunction with PERSI, even if it involves small fees for securing copies of journal articles.

It also would seem to me, that for those counties where the societies won't get on the internet bandwagon as it were, then online based parallel societies might need to be formed, again possibly in conjunction with GenWeb, and using the rootsweb/Ancestry message boards for discussion and collaboration.

Mike Ferguson