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Kimberly Powell

Save Your Genealogy Society - Become Involved!

By July 16, 2007

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I think all of us will agree that genealogical societies are facing a crisis right now as the lure of online genealogy, and the price tag that comes with it, is resulting in declining membership at a rapid rate. Societies, trying to cope with the pressure, have taken a variety of different paths. Some, such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society, have spent a great deal of money putting many of their unique databases and records online in an effort to attract more members from outside the area, and to more easily serve even the local members. Others have made management changes, sold property, or otherwise tried to meet changing times.

The important word here is "change." Change can be tough. As Dear Myrtle so aptly put it, "bitter power struggles are common among among members of the "old school" and "new blood" in genealogy societies." The "old blood" who have put their sweat and tears into building something don't want to see the new blood come in and apparently "undo" everything that's been accomplished over umpteen number of years. The "new blood," in turn, get frustrated with the lack of interest from the old blood in new ideas and technologies. On the other side of the equation, members have trouble adapting to change as well. There are dozens of members in my local society who don't have email or Internet, and such members can sometimes feel like their needs are being ignored as societies move more of their operations and offerings online. And then their are the members like me who pretty much live on the Internet, who find difficult to remember to renew their membership because they can't do it online!

If membership is declining, then a society is obviously not going to turn that around by doing things the traditional way they have always been done. The societies that seem be succeeding in this new era for genealogy, are the ones that are working hard to produce new publications and offer new services. This growth attracts new members and these new members, in turn, can help keep the growth alive by contributing in new ways and inciting others to join them.

If you belong to a genealogical society and want it to survive and flourish, then make it your mission this year to get involved - somehow, someway. Make it a point to vote in any elections so that your voice is heard. The members of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society are learning the hard way what happens when you don't care enough to exercise your right to vote (you should also read NYG&B Proposes to Implode on Dick Eastman's blog for both his take on the issue, as well as the comments from readers which actually address both sides of the story). Find out if there are any projects in which you can participate. If you live close by and love technology like I do, then consider offering to meet with the society board and introduce them to some of the online technologies available. Maybe you can be the one who starts up a society blog!

If you're already involved in your local society, perhaps even on the executive board, then think about what you can do to better meet the needs of your members. Jasia has written an especially outstanding series of blog posts on declining membership in genealogical societies and things that societies can do to better promote their organization, make it more accessible, meet the needs of members, and encourage more participation. Other genealogists have also shared a lot of great ideas online over the past several months. George Morgan discusses in great detail one society's decision to eliminate print publications and move the relevant content to the Web where it would be available free to the genealogical community worldwide. Read the comments on the bottom as well, and you'll see there is obviously more than one point of view to a decision like this.

Whatever your affiliation with a genealogical society, make it a goal this week (or month) to find some way to become more involved and make a difference. Save the societies!

July 25, 2007 at 5:08 am
(1) Simon says:

The leading thought that i see surviving the internet after its too late to keep it from happening is the “global, giant and global evolutinary leap of mentality. If ONE in 1000 are paying atttention, soon well all see thing about the color they appear without the stagelights. ONe mass grasp of truth from all side and the illusions die. We are human, we will not worship the citcom of the failing institutions. An institute is not an immortal living beign. An institute is someting constucted for a purpose throughtout a time, or a seasona snd then they die. ALl world empires have. One survive with great history and wealth, but who want to rule a people so must in laws and other institutions., AMerica is an institutions; right now, its a higly verneralbe institution, Columbus put the Queens flag here and WE left them on borrowed money. They become more valuable by stealing lands and perfecting them with trojon labor and than leaving everybody. That the extreme, the realith is up to getting peopel united, voting or not if we think alike rather than divided. Leave the Protestant church and go get united.

i cant.

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