Genealogy societies are so important for family historians. The continuing education, research assistance, field trips, library collections, and other membership benefits make them a must-have resource. One of the things I love about traveling to societies to present is I get to see what they are doing to help their members. Societies are implementing some great ideas to help members and visitors learn more about their ancestors. The following are just a few of the ideas I’ve heard about recently. Maybe these will give you ideas about something new your society should try.
It’s no surprise that attending meetings in person is difficult for some when you take into consideration your members' jobs, family obligations, and even health or mobility issues. In addition, your society membership should include not only those who live near your meeting place but also those who live far away but whose ancestors were from your hometown.
In order to accommodate everyone, more and more societies are adding a virtual option to their websites. These recordings are either live video recordings of meetings or archived recordings of only the speaker (make sure to ask the speaker’s permission before recording or uploading their presentation to your website). Either way, it’s a great member benefit and takes into consideration everyone’s needs. Platforms like Zoom, Go To Meeting, YouTube, or just using a mobile device to record and post a mp4 file can make this a reality for your genealogy society.
A Meeting Before the Meeting
Increasingly, genealogy society meetings are becoming much more than just a short business meeting with an educational presentation. Many societies provide time before the main meeting to network, socialize, and even hold mini-lessons or SIGs (Special Interest Groups). In the case with societies that have two presentations back-to-back, this arrangement provides some flexibility for the society to host a 2-hour workshop given by the same speaker or 2, 1-hour talks by different presenters. In the case of one society I presented to, they meet weekly. They hold one general meeting with a paid speaker and the other weeks are dedicated to helping members, having informal discussions and lessons.
Taking Your Genealogy to The Next Level
Have you considered offering a meeting where members study a genealogical book in depth? The Pima County Genealogy Society in Tucson, Arizona did just that by offering a special class where members could participate in group study of the book Genetic Genealogy In Practice by Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne. The group, led by two instructors, studied each chapter together and were assigned homework. At the end of the nine weeks they participated in a “graduation” at their regular meeting. What a great idea for learning more as a group! This in-depth study provided members with an experience in addition to the DNA SIG most societies have.
Consider holding your own group study with other genealogical texts such as Val Greenwoods, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy or Dr. Thomas Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Documentation or Mastering Genealogical Proof. If you need some ideas for how to hold such a group, check out the study groups genealogist Dear Myrtle has conducted online using Mastering Genealogical Proof and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.
If a group study is too much for your society, you could always have a Book Club SIG where members read and discuss books that are genealogically relevant. These don’t have to be serious texts they, could involve memoirs, history, or even fiction. Some ideas include:
- White Like Her: My Family's Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik;
- Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
- Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman
- The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah;
Prepare Members for Success
Does your group take a field trip to a major genealogical library or archive like the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah or maybe the Allen County, Indiana Public Library’s Genealogy Center? Many societies near me are taking time six months or more ahead of the trip to prepare members for a successful research experience. They are meeting regularly to provide insight into research at the facility and everything the person needs to know to research there. They then have members pick projects to research and prepare by using the online catalog, preparing research logs and research plans so that they are ready to go as soon as they arrive. No wasted time and members feel like they aren’t lost.
What’s your society doing? Is it time for something new? Maybe your society has a great idea they should share with others? Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your society!