Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bridging the Internet vs. Traditional Genealogy Gap

James M. Beidler's article in the Lebanon (PA) Daily News titled "Genealogy's 'Big Bang' Theory" postulated that the Internet is killing off genealogy societies, but held out hope that Internet researchers would eventually come to their senses and join societies, attend conferences, visit repositories, etc.

Leland Meitzler noted the article, but didn't comment extensively. Dick Eastman disagreed with the article, and reprinted his two-year old opinion piece that showed that heritage society membership was increasing and posited that genealogy societies should reach out to Internet researchers.

Denise Olson and Jasia recently wrote blog posts discussing the Beidler article noting that they have had problems with local societies and their publications, and making constructive suggestions for genealogy societies. Jasia posted a Carnival of Genealogy in August 2006 about improving genealogy societies that included many contributors, including her own series of articles.

Thomas MacEntee posted "The Pajama Game: Can a Romance Blossom Between Genealogy Societies and Stay-at-Home Genealogists?" today in which he compared the debate to the movie The Pajama Game, and showed that both sides have similar attitudes on genealogy, but different outlooks. It's an interesting post by an excellent writer.

As a President of a small genealogy society (90 members) with an active membership and volunteer corps, I have my own opinions about this topic. I firmly believe that genealogy societies can thrive if they plan and promote the following -

1) Education through programs, seminars, and classes. Help the traditionalists learn computer techniques and help the Internetters understand genealogy research methodologies. Provide links to members for online learning opportunities. Have a mentor program to help beginning genealogists learn both traditional and online techniques.

2) Communication through newsletters, email notices, web sites and blogs. Newsletters can be both paper and electronic, and societies can save money by shifting willing members to the electronic version. Publish articles about using both traditional and Internet resources. Email can be sent regularly keeping the members reminded about programs and activities. Web sites and blogs can draw Internetters to genealogy societies (e.g., if you Google [chula vista genealogy] you find the Chula Vista Genealogical Society web site and the Chula Vista Genealogy Cafe blog at the top of the list).

3) Foster collaboration between researchers with "user groups" for Internet genealogy, genealogy software or genealogy problem solving that bring people together and demonstrate the benefits of working "both sides" of the research aisle. Hold programs that discuss problem solving while demonstrating using all types of resources. Facilitate research trips to libraries and other repositories. Design a matching program to enable computer experts help computer novices with computer problems.

4) Offer society developed databases on the society web site for researchers to find and use. Offer online query research and resolution. Offer locality specific publications for sale or for free. Involve members in creating local databases like cemetery records, obituary indexes, member ancestries and biographies, etc.

5) Adapt society programs, classes and meetings to meet the realities of younger and working genealogists by holding more on weekends and evenings. There are problems with having only weekday meetings - students and workers cannot attend. Evening meetings are difficult for many seniors to attend. Weekend meetings seem to be the best solution. A society can do both weekday and weekend meetings throughout the year.

I am a firm believer in using surveys to gauge the pulse of the society membership. CVGS did an extensive program survey and computer skills survey a year ago (which I posted on Genea-Musings). As a result of this, we put together and executed a basic Computer Skills class, a FamilyTreeMaker course and an Online Genealogy seminar to help our members improve their computer skills and knowledge. The seminar also drew many genealogists from the community that were not society members, and we gained a significant number of new members.

Smaller genealogy societies may have an advantage in present times - they are often more nimble, more innovative and better able to "reach out" to new members than larger societies. Large societies have resources to do large projects, hold regional seminars or conferences, and produce high quality periodicals. The best solution might be local chapters of a larger regional society or association. An arrangement like that would combine the best of both worlds.

The old society model of a monthly paper newsletter and a monthly meeting with a speaker is not enough. Societies need to expand their horizons and try to attract young and inexperienced genealogy researchers. When new members join, they need to be welcomed and enmeshed in the society activities, thereby suffusing the society with enthusiasm and innovation.

The new society model encompasses all of the above and more. There is room for Internet genealogists in local and regional genealogy societies, and they are vital for the future success of societies and all genealogy researchers.

NOTE: While I'm on vacation, I'm posting some "Best of Genea-Musings" posts to keep my readers thinking and commenring. This post was originally published 4 January 2008.

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