Monday, May 11, 2015

So What is a Genealogical Society?

Geneablogger Susan Petersen wrote An Open Letter to Genealogy Societies on the blog two weeks ago.  DearMYRTLE wrote Societies: Trying to Crank it Out the Way They've Always Done It?  on the DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Blog last week.  We had a long discussion about this on the May 4th Mondays With Myrt also.

The "classic" genealogy society model is a group of persons interested in genealogy in a location (neighborhood, town, city, county, state, region, country) who meet in person to share information or help colleagues with their research.  Most of these "classic" societies have elected boards, by-laws, printed or online newsletters, regular program meetings with a speaker, etc., depending on the size of the society, interests of the members, and capabilities of the volunteers.  I am a member of a national (NGS), two regional (NEHGS, SCGS), and several local societies (SDGS, CGSSD, CVGS).  I am most active in CVGS as the Research Chair hosting a monthly research group meeting, and as the newsletter editor.

In recent years, due to the availability of the Internet in almost every corner of the world, the nature of genealogy societies has changed a bit.  Now there are "groups," "communities" and other online groups that don't meet in the formal sense, but are connected to each other.  In general, these groups may have an administrator or two, but there is no formal board with by-laws, no regularly scheduled meeting, etc.  The benefit of these online groups is instant communication, access to experts, and discussion avenues.

I suggest that these groups, and others like them, are just as much a "genealogy society" as those "classic" societies I described above:

1)  A Facebook Group:  Thousands of Facebook groups have been formed to discuss a wide range of topics, from to Cite Your Sources to RootsMagic Users to Find A Grave Genealogy Discussion to "Surname" Family Genealogy (see Seaver Family Genealogy) to "Local" Genealogy Society (see San Diego Genealogical Society)  to "My" Genealogy Society (see Ruth's Genealogy Society),  and many more.   Anybody can start a group and recruit members.  Groups can be Open or Closed (need to make a request) to Join.

You can search any group using the "Search this group" field in the group title line.  Some of these groups have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of members.  Members can ask questions, or answer questions, or comment within the rules of the group.  Record images and photographs and videos can be uploaded from mobile or desktop devices.

You can download a list of links to Facebook Genealogy groups from Katherine Willson's blog at

2)  Google+ Communities:  Hundreds of Google+ Communities have been formed by one or more persons, and other persons were invited or requested to join.  Some of these are by subject, or geographical area, or by interest, or even centered on an individual.  For example, I am a member of DearMYRTLE's Genealogy Community, DNA Genetic Genealogy Interest Group, New York Genealogy, Legacy Virtual User's GroupTech for Genealogy & Family History Researchers, etc.

One of the neat features of Google+ Communities is that online video discussions can be embedded in the Communities with Hangouts On Air (basically an online video discussion), which are then added to the presenter's YouTube Channel.  Up to 10 persons can be on the video presentation at one time.  Some "classic" societies are using Hangouts On Air to have a presenter from a remote location to the society venue.  DearMYRTLE has several weekly discussion groups, and comments can be read in the DearMYRTLE Genealogy Community.  Other well-known genealogists, like Russ Worthington, Tessa Keough, the In-Depth Genealogy leaders, etc. host HOAs on a regular basis.

3)  Webinars:  Several "classic" genealogical societies and several genealogy businesses host webinars on a regular basis.  Most are freely available to watch live, and are available to members or subscribers after the live event.  Family Tree Webinars has more than one webinar per week by professional genealogists, and an archive of over 200 webinars.  You can find a list of all upcoming webinars at  You need to register and then click the emailed link when the webinar is started.  For genealogy education, webinars cannot be beat!

4)  Several companies and book authors have online forums or message boards to provide resources and discussion forums.  Some examples are the RootsMagic Message Boards, Elizabeth Shown Mills Evidence Explained Forums,

5)  Readers can receive daily or weekly newsletters from genealogy bloggers and writers.  some examples are Genea-Musings and Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.  Readers can subscribe to the newsletter from the blog page.  Many genealogy companies and societies have regular email newsletters that provide new features, highlights, research successes, etc.

In the year 2015, there is really no excuse for complaining about your local "classic" genealogy society, or the fact that there is no local society, as long as you have an Internet connection.  Find the outlets that you like, join as required, and enjoy your virtual connections to other researchers with your interests.  Most of this is FREE!

I consider all of the above to be an "online genealogical society" where there is regular communication and collaboration between "members" for the purpose of education and helping the "members."

I'm sure there are more examples of "online genealogy societies."  What other examples do you suggest of "alternative" or "online genealogical societies?

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver

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Cousin Russ said...


When it was first mentioned, that the DearMYRTLE Genealogy Community on Google+ was a "society". However, that is exactly what we are. We Gather, we have Special Interest Groups, we have Book Study Discussions AND we play games. Most weeks we have 5 very different "meetings" with people, from around the WORLD joining is "live", joining in the discussion, in the Hangout On Air or in the Community also in the discussion.

Oh, Did I mention *ITS ALL FREE"

So, we are a

Thank you,


Hilary Gadsby said...

Is it possible that Genchat on Twitter is in some limited way a society in the broadest of terms. Whilst it is broadly speaking a discussion forum much like mailing lists, or though more immediate, it still has a planned time and place to get together as any other genealogy group.

Hilary Gadsby said...

Is it possible that Genchat on Twitter is in some limited way a society in the broadest of terms. Whilst it is broadly speaking a discussion forum much like mailing lists, or though more immediate, it still has a planned time and place to get together as any other genealogy group.

IsraelP said...

Umbrella organizations, such as the international Association of jewish genealogical Societies, whose members are societies might have some reservations about Your conclusions, Randy.

Burning River Genealogy said...

Great post Randy - food for thought and I couldn't agree more.

KevinW said...

I am trying to harmonize this post with Susan's first that started the whole discussion. If my local genealogical and historical societies are not going to give me anything relevant for my membership dues, then it is time to go strictly with the free online "societies?"

Anonymous said...

Randy, I like the view that a society can be online too. A society is not defined as on or off line. Just an organization or club formed for a particular purpose or activity - according to Mr Google's second meaning however he is not too hot on sources. Fran

Caroline said...

Many societies are not just a place for gathering and sharing research tips, but they also can have active preservation projects that help researchers with ancestors who lived in their geographic areas to obtain information their ancestors. They also have outreach programs and initiatives with local repositories such as local libraries, archives, courthouses, etc. Further, quite a few raise money to help other bigger preservation projects. So, while a Facebook group might provide an online place to help groups with their research, genealogical societies still have nonprofit missions that are very worthwhile to support with volunteer help, donations, or both. Your definition of a genealogical society seems to be very limited and describes more of a club rather than a nonprofit organization designed to preserve local history and family history. I know many societies who have Facebook groups open to all to provide an online place for everyone to help each other with research. This is not a replacement for their society but another outreach tool. Records are located both online and offline. People are both online and offline. Thus, like many other types of nonprofit organizations, societies must be both online and offline. One does not substitute for the other, but together allow societies to help more people.

If all societies closed up tomorrow because online groups or forums have now replaced them, think of all those online indexes that would disappear especially the New England ones you search and write about it repeatedly while researching your own ancestors. Those don't appear online by magic. Many society membership fees, donations, and volunteer hands contributed to get those online.

Caroline Pointer