Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Should Genealogical Societies Offer? My 11 Suggestions.

There was an interesting #GenChat on Twitter on 31 October 2013, hosted by Jen Baldwin on this subject.  I won't go through the log of the chat and summarize the suggestions made - you should read it if you are interested in this topic.

What I want to do is provide my own ideas of what a "traditional" genealogical society could offer to members and visitors.  Every genealogical society is different - some are local, some regional, some national, some ethnic, etc.  They offer a range of features and services.

In my opinion, people join genealogical societies in order to be educated on a regular basis, have a regular and enjoyable social outlet with like-minded colleagues, and to contribute their talents and knowledge to colleagues and attendees.  The local society should be welcoming for potential members, and a place where members can improve and share their abilities and knowledge.

My discussion below is for a local society (town, city, county) that has a physical presence in the community (i.e., the "traditional" genealogical society that is often struggling to stay afloat).

A local genealogical society could offer (to my mind, the more the better):

1)  A regular (monthly?) meeting in a public place that features some sort of educational aspect - a speaker, a panel, a discussion.  This serves both an educational need and a social need.  There could be snacks and drinks provided, door prizes or opportunity drawings, etc.  This is an excellent way to encourage members to create and make presentations, and serve on committees.

2)  Special events to enhance social interaction among attendees - a summer picnic, a holiday party, etc., in a public place or at members homes.

3)  A yearly seminar in a public place, perhaps with a sitdown or buffet meal for a cost with a well-known and respected speaker(s).  This serves an educational purpose and helps the society find potential leaders through committee actions.

4)  Regular workshops/user groups (weekly, monthly, quarterly) intended to help attendees learn about specific resources, educational resources, genealogy software programs, genealogy websites, computer techniques, DNA, etc.

5)  Genealogy education classes for beginners, intermediates and advanced researchers on a regular basis (e.g., annually).

6)  Hands-on, one-on-one or small-group research help by mentors or experienced members in a semi-private environment.

7)  Research trips to local repositories, family history fairs or conferences, or local historical sites.  Carpools can be used for distant trips or for those who don't drive.

8)  A regularly published newsletter with news of upcoming events, highlights from past events, genealogy industry news, member research articles, local repository information, etc.  The newsletter can be paper/mailed, PDF/emailed, or a combination thereof.

9)  A website that is updated regularly providing society meeting and event information, the newsletter, society documents, event photos, etc.  It could have a "members only" section with speaker handouts, newsletters, member directory, local genealogy databases (e.g., cemetery, directory, family paper collections, anything digitized by the members), etc.

10)  Social media network pages - a society blog, a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, etc., with frequent postings to promote meetings and events.

11)  Record collection, indexing and digitizing projects that help the genealogy community and provide members a way to "give back" and "pay it forward" the help they've received over the years to the genealogy community.

There are my eleven suggestions about what a local "traditional" genealogical society could offer to their members and their local genealogy community.

Of course, a genealogical society needs enthusiastic members to volunteer for board positions, to write articles for the newsletter, to serve on committees, and to help with meetings and events, etc.  Funds are required to support speaker programs and seminars, publications, outreach programs, facility rental, equipment, etc.  So societies usually require yearly dues to keep them going.  TANSTAAFL!!  [do you know what that means?  "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch."]

In my experience, the value of a local genealogical society far exceeds the cost of being a society member.  Perhaps I'm spoiled by my local San Diego societies, but the societies that I visit occasionally in other cities and states (from small senior communities to large cities) have many of the elements that I listed above.

What other types of "features" or "opportunities" could or should a traditional local genealogical society offer?  Please tell me in comments.

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

If each local society could accomplish these 11, Randy, there would be no need for talk of them "disappearing"!!

Thanks for sharing your excellent list! ;-)

Geolover said...

I'd add interface with local/County/regional library, Archive or other repository. Do they have a place for patrons to pick up a brochure describing the Society with contact information? A meeting room? Would it make sense for Society members to be present at regular times to provide genealogy-research help? Is there a buried manuscript collection that Society members could volunteer to index? Could the Society provide support such as raise money for a microfilm scanner/reader?

Dawn Watson said...

Thank you for these comments. We've just started a new regional society (Southern Appalachians Genealogical Association) and are wrestling with the question of what benefits and activities we can offer. This is especially difficult for us because our members (all three dozen of them) are scattered across the continental US. But, your suggestions provide a good starting point!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an inspiring discussion today! I agree with Geolover's suggestions about forming some sort of relationship with a local library or archive - what a great way to raise awareness of the group, and I especially love the idea of members volunteering to index long-lost manuscript collections that could then be shared online. I could see this going even further, if a library does not already have a genealogy section on their web site and would like assistance in building a list of their available resources. A local library or archive might also be grateful for society volunteers who could assist with out-of-state look-up requests.

Drew Smith said...

In our local society in Tampa, we either already do these things (although in many cases we could do them more often or better), or I would like for us to seriously consider doing these things.

The only one I think I would disagree with is the newsletter. I think that news should be released on the website and/or Facebook page as it happens, not to wait for a monthly newsletter. Newsletters made sense in pre-Internet days when you had to collect information for a month and mail it out in a batch (what you could afford in postage).

Jen Baldwin said...

First of all, Randy, thanks for continuing the conversation. The special session of #genchat we did on this topic was enthusiastic to say the least; this is very obviously an important issue for many.
I would add that societies need to advance with the technology. I often hear complaints of the lack of "young members" and I think that virtual events, offering your speakers via Skype or G+ hangout or some other live platform would be a great way to start engaging us "kids." Personally, I cannot commit to society meetings: I have work, a family, other events such as after school events, and more that must come first. If a society were to offer me a virtual benefit, I would likely join and be engaged in that manner. But my priorities are simple: feed the family, get the kids to bed - "it's a school night!" Societies need to find a way to educate themselves and embrace the tools that are now available to them in order to grow. Just my two cents.

Diane Gould Hall said...

Randy, Thanks for talking about an important subject. I belong to several genealogy societies from one coast to the other and over in Scotland. We are very fortunate here in San Diego to have several good societies. I feel fortunate to live here as our San Diego Genealogical Society has wonderful seminars twice a year, with well known speakers. And, we have informative monthly meetings, also with good speakers. Being part of these societies has allowed me to meet and learn from some very wonderful, experienced genealogists. And, what could be better than talking to others about our hobby/passion/addiction and knowing they won't roll their eyes? LOL!

Kevin Ralston of Heritage Forensics said...

Many of these things I've considered and run through the mill on, and the primary problem behind some of these suggestions is funding. A GenSoc either doesn't have the money or isn't willing to pay for anything.

Nobody likes working for free and many of the websites GenSoc's have are great examples of what you get for free (most of them suck... sorry, but we all know its true). In many cases, these "labor of love" projects have a way of become full time monsters. Since nothing is for free, somebody has to bear the cost of it.

I would stop everything I'm doing to work exclusively with GenSoc to implement many of these suggestions, but unless they are willing to make these things happen, it never will.

Although I do not participate in GenChat, the things you've outlined are quite literally almost verbatim a conversation I had with a couple others in mid-Oct (hmm...). I know how to do most of the things suggested, but again (and this is something I've stressed til I'm about sick of talking about it) nobody like to work for free.

Overall, the GenSoc as a whole needs to evolve to survive. Otherwise, they will become a thing of the past struggling on a few members if that. I would like to see them change, this would impact the industry in a big way.

Cousin Russ said...


Great list with many options to make them happen.

However, I have one, minor, suggestion to add to your list.

Have FUN.

Thank you,


Julie Goucher said...

Randy, I took part in this Genchat and wrote about it here

Here in the UK, we are I believe behind Societies in the US - we have not embraced online facilities as much as we should, that is because we do not typically have the logistics of geography in the same way as the US and Australia.

I belong to the Guild of One Name Studies and the Society of One-Place Studies, both of those have embraced online issues.

Many of the FHS here in the UK do offer monthly meetings, typically evenings and after a day of being on my feet or in meetings etc I want to get home to dinner!

When I consider some of the UK FHS it is about modernisation, reflection and succession planning, sadly most have not looked at this, which is a great shame.

GenChat provided a great medium for pondering on these issues and I have thought of several more since I wrote my blog post.

Stephanie @ said...

I would add that we need to begin offering programs that will draw the children and teens from the area into our "world." It is definitely important to provide support for the members who are actively researching in our area. It is also extremely important that we reach out to the younger generation and establish that interest or we won't have the next crop of family historians when we need it. I'm so excited to see more and more societies offering programs at a conference level. Now we need to get them to offer programs for kids, teens, local scout troops, homeschool groups, etc between conferences.