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Secrets of a Successful Genealogical Society

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Genealogical societies can thrive in this age of Internet genealogy. Consider some of the following ideas to attract new members and boost renewals for your genealogical or historical society.

Use your society Web site. An online presence is essential for today's genealogical society, both as a tool to serve society members, and as a vehicle for attracting new members. Offering a variety of online databases, transcriptions and other content of a genealogical or historical nature that can't be found on other Web sites offers a one-of-a-kind benefit to society members, especially those who live outside your local area. If you're not sure where to start, why not begin with your print publications? Put back issues of your journal or newsletter online. Offer an online index to your published cemetery books. Begin with what is easy and expand from there.

Expand your reach. Many genealogical societies host booths at the national and regional genealogy conferences, but this rarely brings in a wealth of new members. Instead, think outside the box a bit and host a society table at local festivals, heritage events, military re-enactments, etc. This will help expand your society's reach beyond genealogists who probably already know about your group, to the general public who may just be the next generation of addicted genealogists.

Offer classes. A lot of people are interested in their family history, but really have no idea where to start. Offer beginner classes at your society or in area libraries to introduce more people to the joys of genealogy and you may find yourself with many new members to boot!

Get more of your current members involved. Many genealogical societies have members who faithfully pay their dues each year and may occasionally show up for a monthly meeting or seminar, but that's the extent of their involvement. Surprisingly, many of those members may have just the talents your society needs. In my local society we have recently reached out for volunteers for several projects for our Web site, with outstanding results. We have volunteers scanning batches of member charts, cleaning up OCR copies of Quarterly back issues, and indexing records. The key for us was to set up specific projects with specific volunteer needs before putting out the call for volunteers. People are more likely to respond when they know exactly how they can help. Just remember, a society is the entire group of members - not just the Board, or the usual core group who show up for the monthly meetings. Get more members involved and everyone benefits!

Start an indexing project. Building off of the previous suggestion, an online indexing project is a great way to get your far-flung members more involved in the society. Both FamilySearch Indexing and the Ancestry World Archives Project will work with your local genealogical society to identify, scan and index local records of genealogical interest. Online indexing software makes it easy to get a diverse group of society volunteers up and running. Placing digitized copies of the original records on your Web site for members only will help you benefit from the increased traffic that the created indexes at FamilySearch and/or Ancestry.com will provide.

Consider taking your publications virtual. This obviously won't work for all societies, but it is worth considering for most. The cost of sending out your monthly newsletter or even your quarterly journal by email rather than postal mail can represent quite a cost savings to your society. Some members will probably continue to prefer the print publication, but I know many (including myself) are starting to appreciate the electronic versions. A PDF file takes up a small amount of room on my computer or a CD, and also has the benefit of being fully searchable, while the print publications are fighting for space on my already overcrowded bookshelves. Your society's regular newsletter can either be produced by email, or you may choose to use an online blog instead - the news, event announcements and other information for members can be more timely that way. You could also choose to offer two membership levels - one for those who prefer electronic publications, and a second for those who choose the traditional print route.

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