Monday, January 14, 2008

Working Together Really Works!

One of the major problems with doing genealogy research using only online resources is that online researchers may become isolated and not know it. Sure, they may interact with other researchers on the Internet, and even receive packets of paper, web page files, genealogy software files, and the like. They may still be isolated from other more "traditional" researchers - those who search in repositories, place queries in magazines and periodicals, write periodical or journal articles, participate in genealogy societies, attend local or national conferences, etc. In most cases, these "traditional" genealogy researchers have decades of experience in researching, sourcing, analyzing, writing, and helping other genealogy researchers. Often, they want to gain more online research knowledge and experience.

Frankly, "working together" should be the mantra of every genealogy researcher, as well as every genealogy society trying to stay relevant in today's genealogy world. IMHO, it is the only way for societies to grow and succeed - by defining and adapting to a "consultation and learning" model rather than a "monthly lecture" model. Bringing the "traditional" and experienced researcher together with the enthusiastic online "Internet" researcher is the challenge, and there are tremendous benefits for both sets of people.

I will hold my own Chula Vista Genealogical Society up here as an example for this "consultation and learning" model. We have three meetings each month on our calendar, plus classes and weekly consultations. One of the meetings is our monthly society program, with a speaker on a genealogy-related topic. Another meeting is our Computer Group, which provides hands-on computer searching on the library computers, which includes Ancestry Library Edition. The third group is the Research Group - which talks about the genealogy news, offers the opportunity to discuss research problems and successes, with attendees suggestions for further research. The society will hold two all-day Saturday seminars this year to further educate our members and try to draw community interest and new members. We have a beginning genealogy class, a computer basics class and a FamilyTreeMaker class each year.

Our email list includes more than 70% of our members, and they get reminders of every society event, plus important genealogy news. We still send a printed newsletter to about half of our members, the other half downloads a PDF from the CVGS web site. We print up about 100 flyers each month and put them in local libraries, the FHCs and senior centers to stir community interest.

We have a blog - the Chula Vista Genealogy Cafe at to communicate news, articles, and announcements to our members. If someone Googles [chula vista genealogy] our society and the blog are the first matches.

The amazing thing is that the only thing that costs us money is the speaker fee, the newsletter publication, and the flyer production. We are fortunate that our library partner provides venue space for free. We are fortunate that we have a core of knowledgeable and motivated volunteers that make the events and support activities happen. Hosting and running the meetings, sending emails, writing on the web site, and posting on the blog are all free - they just take time!

Many other societies do all of these things and more, and most of them are much larger than our 90 member society. But some societies don't - many have just one program meeting a month and don't do much else to educate their members, or help their members connect to other members with the same interests.

At our table at the San Diego Genealogical Society seminar and luncheon on Saturday were 8 people. Two of us had Jefferson County NY families, two had eastern Alabama families, and two had eastern New York families. Each pair was able to share with the other, demonstrating knowledge and interest while everyone else listened. Isn't that amazing? I wondered how many others of the 160 attendees had these locality interests, and did not benefit from our table talk. And what did I miss at other tables?

One of the persons at our table was a fairly new member, and wondered how she could connect with other researchers with similar surname or locality interests. I offered that there are several ways to do this -

* Post ahnentafel lists of members (names, dates, places) of 6 generations or more on the society web page and blog.
* Survey the members for localities of interest, with surnames.
* Create a card file of the surnames and locality interests of members - put the card file in the library and put a list on the web page.
* Place queries in the society newsletter for surnames and localities. Send them to the society email list, place them on the web site and blog.
* Hold special meetings for specific localities - counties, states, countries - once a year.

The key is to find the widest audience possible - within the society, at the library, in the community, in the region, on the Internet. Putting names with localities on the Internet permits anybody using a search engine to find the list, post or query - and the opportunity to make a contact.

We online researchers often forget that not all researchers are on the Internet every day, let alone every week, doing genealogy research. The CVGS survey in early 2007 indicated that only 24% of those with online access go on the Internet daily, and that 64% go on the Internet weekly. We estimate that 50% of our members don't access the Internet, and 30% don't use email.

If you are reading this post and are not participating in a local or regional genealogy society, and/or do all of your research only on the Internet, then you are, IMHO, penalizing yourself. Connecting with other researchers, both traditional and online, is absolutely vital to your continued genealogy research success. It's fun, too!

If you have other ideas for helping researchers connect to others, or for helping societies grow and help their members connect with other researchers, please tell me via email (, as a comment on this blog, or write your own blog post.

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