Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Keeping Local Societies Healthy

There has been an interesting thread on the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) mailing list about "Keeping Local Societies Healthy." It was started in response to a thread about the New York G&B society plan to donate their collection to the NY Public Library. Betty Majewski started the new thread, saying:

"Local societies must get off the mark and find out what their members want. We can't sit back any more and wait for members to walk through the door.

"Our local society is stronger than ever because we have aggressively marketed our presence in the community and continually poll members to find out what we're doing right and how we can do better.

"Among the changes we've made to increase and keep members:

* Added a short subject by a member to our monthly meetings in addition to the featured speaker.

* Newsletter focuses on news and methods of doing genealogy today, solicits and features a member's success story each month.

* Rent a booth in the annual Community Country Fair where we can talk to members of the community.

* Maintain a Web presence.

* Offer classes free to the community for both beginners and experienced researchers.

* Sponsor a Genealogy Fair and advertise it to the community every year or so.

* Present an annual all-day seminar with a nationally-known speaker.

* And I write a semi-monthly genealogy column for our local newspaper.

"Notice member involvement is a feature of most of the above ideas. Our membership is double what it was five years ago. Our biggest problem is finding a reliable space that can accommodate from 125 to 130 persons comfortably and finding an affordable space for our library (nearly hopeless)."

Kirsten Bowman responded, saying:

"I think you've hit the nail on the head. It seems to me there are two major functions that local societies can perform effectively. First, of course, would be promoting an interest in genealogy in the community and providing training. Second is advertising local holdings on the Internet and offering transcriptions or lookups (for sale). My own society has a nice collection of local history, but most residents here don't have roots in the area. Descendants who would be interested in these records are scattered all over the country (if not the world). Few of them are likely to travel to our little valley to see if their 3rd great-grandparents are buried in the local cemetery or listed on the local land maps; they want to find leads to the data on the Internet.

"With the growing interest in family history, and the increasing number of retirees--who are more prone to the genealogy obsession--it seems that local societies *should* be growing too. But perhaps the convenience of working on your family history at home on your own schedule is making societies somewhat obsolete. Or maybe the Internet *is* the new society."

And Randy Whited contributed:

"My local society has had a similar transformation in the past two years or so. This year our monthly attendance has roughly doubled, membership is up and there is more 'buzz' before and after meetings. I attribute the turnaround to a push by the education committee and listening to our membership. As it was noted, anyone can, and likely will, stay home and do a lot of research online. The society has made education and methodology high priority so as to provide something unique that the membership just can't get online. The real beauty of this has been the discovery of great talent within our ranks. It has been a positive experience for all involved."

I agree with all of the above. Betty provides excellent ideas for genealogy societies to work with. Kirsten and Randy's observations are right on-point, too.

I would like to think that the work we at the Chula Vista Genealogical Society are doing in our little corner of the genealogy world (as "the most southwesternmost genealogy society in the continental United States" - it's really in a corner!) matches pretty well these comments.

What other activities will keep genealogy societies healthy? Tell me. Or post it on the APG mailing list.

1 comment:

Moultrie Creek said...

I still maintain that gen-societies and historical societies have a lot of potential with distant members if they will provide online support for them. I'm doing research in Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas with societies that have little or no online presence. I would love to participate if they would just give me the opportunity!