Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Don't Genealogical Societies put their Periodical Indexes on the Internet for Free?

One of the big mysteries of genealogy research, for me, is why genealogical and historical societies, large and small, don't have more of a web presence. Most societies have a fine set of periodicals and journals with popular and/or scholarly articles about genealogical or historical research. Some of those societies publish a list of the article titles, and even an every-name index, for each year. Some of those societies have their periodical and journal content imaged and on their subscription website for their members to access and use. But few publish these items on their website for free access by online researchers.

Is there any good reason why the societies should not publish their every-name index, and their list of articles, on a web site with open access for everyone? Surely such an article list, or an index, cannot violate copyright protections - it is usually the society that creates the list and index (the latter perhaps under contract).

It seems to me that an every-name index would be very tempting "subscription bait." To me, the advantages and benefits of having a freely available online every-name index and list of articles include:

* Online researchers using a search engine could find surnames and localities in the article list or every-name index and be led to the society website.

* Online researchers could find their surnames or ancestral names by browsing in the every-name index and be able to find the periodical at a repository to support their research.

* Online researchers who successfully find information in the publications would be more interested in subscribing to the periodical or joining the society.

What is the argument against such an article list and every-name index? That the society would lose revenue because they published a book years ago with an index? That really doesn't make sense to me - online genealogists aren't going to buy those index books - they don't even know that they exist. They have to be led kicking and screaming to a library or society library. Having an online index might lead those online genealogists to at least go to a library to view the the needed periodicals, and perhaps to join the society for further online access to the periodical.

Perhaps the cost of creating the article list or every-name index is the problem? I would buy that argument if the periodical in question had never been indexed. But most societies have indexed their periodicals already, and many are in a word processing format. We're talking text here, so the costs of creating web pages for the lists and name index are relatively low.

Of course, the periodical article titles, author and publication are available in PERSI - the Periodical Source Index published by Allen County Public Library. PERSI is online, but is behind the subscription wall on and HeritageQuestOnline. Entries in PERSI do not show up in results from an online search engine.

One of the large set of virtually untapped genealogy resources are the periodicals of genealogical societies big and small. There may be absolutely wonderful genealogy gems hiding in the dusty stacks of these periodicals and nobody knows about them. In many cases, the local societies have copyright protections on their work, and won't put their materials online. So they continue to desiccate on dusty shelves in hidden repositories, safe from the eager searching eyes of genealogists. It's sad, really!

What about every-name indexes in books or on CDROMs? The same benefits would apply - the online researcher might seek out the book or CDROM to find the necessary information.

What do you think? Would genealogical and historical societies benefit from having a list of their articles online, and an every-name index for their entire, or even partial, periodical run? I think that they would. Certainly, genealogists would benefit! And they might be able to solve many thorny elusive ancestor problems in the process.

Which societies already do this, either on their website, for free, or behind their subscription wall? The one that I'm most familiar with is the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) that has had their New England Historical and Genealogical Register (since 1847) periodical page images and the associated every-name index online for members behind the subscription firewall for several years now. In addition, they have images and indexes online behind the subscription firewall for The Connecticut Nutmegger, The Virginia Genealogist, The American Genealogist and the New Netherland Connections periodicals. Having the online access to the indexes and the page images has kept NEHGS membership high and growing, even with the current economic conditions.

It seems to me that genealogical and historical societies that think "outside of the box" - thinking "what can I do to draw online researchers to my society" rather than "I need to hide my bushels of names under the firewall" - will thrive.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

I was thinking about this subject over the weekend. I cleaned out a shelf of NEHGS registers, and I'm going to donate them to the local library. I rarely use them, since I can search the index online and print out what I need. Below this is a shelf full of Mayflower Quarterly journals, and other genealogical journals. I have to keep them because the Mayflower Quarterly and others is not on line, not indexed on line either. As soon as they are, I'm cleaning out another shelf!

Chris said...

The San Diego Genealogical Society has a partial set of indexes. We have all of the monthly newsletters online as well as a subject index from 2004. We started publishing the newsletter in PDF format then. Nothing before then. Of course the monthly newsletter is not a real "research" publication.

Our quarterly publication, Leaves & Saplings, began in 1973. We have a topic index by volume and in subject groupings.

The individual volumes only had surnames indexed.

The society is in the process of photographing each volume. The print quality of the old issues does not ocr well so a searchable index will not be an easy job.

We also have all of the L&S volumes on DVD's but they were scanned so the will be better with the photographs.

Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post and I agree that more gen socs need to do this.

The Illinois State Genealogical Society has its index from 1968 - 1999 for the ISGS Quarterly available online:

William Bruce Hillman said...

I have been arguing this point with local genealogical societies for years now: but the old-timers won't give in. As far as I know the only group that do this for their newsletters is the Elgin County branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society for their newsletter.

Doris said...

Yes, shout it from the mountaintops! I have been arguing with one of my family association websites about this very thing. Why indeed would we not want to publicize the index? It is the best possible "bait" for attracting new subscribers, and it gives away nothing. It can only enhance the respect others have for the hard work others have done.


Jennifer said...

Absolutely. One group I had never heard of until I ran across one of their indexes online was Le Comite in Louisiana. I found the index, ordered a back issue, was impressed, and then joined the group, and have been a member for a few years now.

Many societies have woefully inadequate web presence, and it is going to drive them under, in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Not only the indexes, but the entire newsletter/journal/quarterly/whatever! Scanned copies of these publications could be posted to sites like Scribd to generate revenue for the association. Scribd handles all the purchasing and customer service tasks, sending you the profit checks from those purchases.