by Lisa Alzo | Aug 9, 2012
Anyone just beginning their genealogical research today has a huge advantage thanks to the plethora of online databases and other resources available on the Internet. Blogs, podcasts, social networking sites, and wikis offer additional venues for gathering and sharing information, and for connecting with other researchers around the world. So, in this age of "instant information" how can the ethnic genealogical society continue to be a valuable resource for the family historian? This article will discuss the benefits of joining an ethnic-based group, emphasizing the "Three R's": Relationships, Research, and Roots.
Ethnic-based genealogical societies bring together like-minded people with common interests--including those with similar surnames, or those whose ancestors hailed from the same towns or villages. This focused environment enables effective networking. I belong to several ethnic-based societies and groups related to my Slovak and Rusyn heritage, including the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International (full disclosure: I serve on their Board of Directors), and the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. Through my involvement with these groups, I have formed relationships with fellow members that have developed into long-lasting friendships, and many of my interactions have helped me to break down numerous brick walls in my research, and have provided several opportunities to meet new "cousins."
Often, the answers to our most perplexing research problems come from unexpected sources, including ethnic genealogical societies. The collective knowledge of a society keeps you better informed about resources and research processes (especially when dealing with foreign records and archives). In addition, ethnic societies provide the specific knowledge and insight the family researcher needs, including a number of special collections or resources particular to a certain country or ethnic background. Ethnic-based societies offer members the opportunity to share research findings through online message boards or "members-only" sections for posting surnames and villages. Learning from another researcher's experiences can possibly save you valuable time and money. Finally, most societies offer educational components such as newsletters, meetings, and conferences.
In addition to their genealogical value, ethnic societies help keep heritage alive. Many offer special cultural or language instruction programs, sponsor events or festivals, and may even plan trips and tours back to the ancestral homeland. Members can often assist you with establishing connections with cousins and/or professional researchers in the old country. Some societies may share articles with each other for their newsletters or journals, partner with other associations or groups to hold networking events, or workshops to reach a broader audience of fellow family history enthusiasts, or will participate in national conferences such as The National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Such activities increase networking opportunities and foster a focus on cooperation and mutual benefits for everyone involved.
If you're not sure how to locate an ethnic-based society, try a Google search, read Blogs, and search Facebook, and Twitter. You should also read the Expert Series articles on Tracing Ethnicity here at Archives.com. Society listings may also appear on the following websites:
Genealogists today have a number of options as to where to spend their dollars. Ethnic genealogical societies have to evolve and find creative ways to satisfy current members, as well as entice new members to join. In addition, there needs to be a "mind shift" from the mentality of "that's how we've always done things" and a willingness to learn how to utilize websites, social media, and electronic resources for communication, education, and publications.
Genealogy is so much more than just names, dates, and places. Ethnic genealogical societies offer members the opportunity to reach beyond the facts in documents and vital records, and can help us to understand why an ancestor made the drastic decision to leave his or her homeland. And as members, we owe it to our ancestors not to forget them, and to preserve the rich heritage and beautiful traditions that they have entrusted to us.
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