Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Taking Genealogy to the People

We all live in a community much larger than the membership of our local genealogy society. In my case, the Chula Vista Genealogical Society has about 90 members in a culturally diverse city of over 200,000 people. The San Diego Genealogical Society has about 400 members in a very diverse city of over 1.2 million. That means that these societies attract 1 of every 2,000 to 3,000 people in the community. Obviously, there is room for growth of local genealogy societies!

The demographics of these San Diego area genealogy societies are significantly different from the overall population - the society members are older, whiter and better educated than the population as a whole, but they are probably not wealthier.

How can local societies grow their numbers? In my humble opinion, only by being more of a presence in the communities they exist in, and by serving the needs of the population as they relate to genealogy.

One way to increase community presence and awareness is to receive favorable publicity, such as the recent article about CVGS in the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper.

Another way to increase presence and awareness is for members to go out and speak to community groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Elks, American Legion, VFW groups, women's groups, church groups, senior centers, etc.

I was invited two months ago to speak to the South Bay Christian Women's Connection today, and I prepared a 20 minute talk (well, it ended up being 30 minutes) about genealogy and what it means to me. I took along handouts with the CVGS brochure (including an application), a pedigree chart and a family group sheet. I took my father's 10-generation wall chart for show-and-tell.

When I first started writing my talk which I titled "Moments in Time," I focused on "what is genealogy and family history," "my own genealogy and family history stories," "how and where to pursue genealogy research," and a bit about CVGS meetings.

My wife read it over last week and said "how boring..." so I added a bit of humor and human interest - some of the strange or funny names, curious occupations, tombstone inscriptions, and the "Genealogy is a Lot Like Sex" T-shirt. I had all of those on this blog and in my "Genealogy Is Fun! Seriously!" presentation material from early 2006, so it was easy to find and include the material in my script.

Then I realized that this was a Christian group I was speaking to, and that some of the funny names, occupations, and the T-shirt idea might not go over too well, so I replaced some of the names and occupations, and eliminated the T-shirt section. I substituted an excerpt from a 1780 will that demonstrated the Faith of Our Colonial Forefathers, and finished up with the excerpt from How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (included in the post here).

There were about 40 in attendance and the talk seemed to be well received. It cost CVGS only the $10 for the handout copies. I got a free lunch out of it, as did my wife, who may join this particular group. There was an inspirational speaker after my presentation, so they really got their money's worth! I know of one probable new member for CVGS (she's leaving next week on a family history trip to the South), and there may be others who were so inspired (I wish!) by my moving presentation that they want to pursue family history research.

We've talked in our CVGS board about having a speaker's bureau and actively pursuing speaking to community groups and inviting them to join our merry little band of genealogy sleuths and story-tellers. I wanted to see how this type of event worked, and I think it is something we will do again with other groups.

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