by Thomas MacEntee | Nov 4, 2010
Just as humans were not meant to lead solitary lives, it is also true that genealogists can't function without some form of social interaction among their colleagues. While there are many options to interact with others who share your same passion for hunting down ancestors, one of the mainstays is the genealogical society.
For me, I can't imaging pursuing my family research without being part of at least a national or local genealogical society. Especially in these days when you can do much of your research online and in the comfort of your own home, being involved with a society allows me to interact with like minds in the genealogy community.
If you haven't checked out a genealogical society lately you might be in for a surprise. These aren't your grandfather's societies: many are using social media to involve their members and attract new members; many offer substantial discounts on publications and even online research subscriptions; some provide access to databases from the comfort of your home; and you'll find a wide array of genealogy enthusiasts involved in education activities.
Just as genealogists prefer to research an ancestor before making a conclusion about the facts in their lives, there is also a duty to research a genealogical society before deciding to get involved - or not get involved.
Before you discount the value of your local genealogical society, you owe it to yourself to at least attend a meeting of the society or an upcoming event.
When you complete the membership application for a genealogical society, you will encounter a section where you can sign-up to be a volunteer. Think long and hard about making this commitment! But seriously, if you do, I can personally tell you it will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have in the genealogy community.
Genealogical societies rely upon not only the monetary contributions of their members and other benefactors, but also on the talents and skills that their members freely contribute as well. Societies can't possibly offer all the services they do if it weren't for their committed volunteers.
Even if you leave "that box" blank, don't be surprised if someone from the organization seeks you out. One area of skills that many societies need right now involve technology and social media. These tools are needed not just to publicize events and activities, but also to attract a younger demographic to the world of genealogy.
One way to gain access to online research resources - beyond the offerings provided by Ancestry and Family Search - is to join a genealogical society with unique collections of records that are made available to members only.
I find that researching my family's history means I always need to keep learning about new techniques and new ways of looking at my research. Genealogical societies are an excellent way to access classes, workshops and research trips led by nationally known lecturers and educators.
Believe it or not, some family historians join genealogical societies just for the discounts and never attend a meeting or use the library or research facilities. As an example, here is what some societies are offering their members:
Why limit yourself to the genealogical societies in your own backyard? Consider this: if you live in California, it is likely that your ancestors made the migration from points East. Figure out the states where they lived and then seek out those societies.
There are certain societies that attract members because of the resources they offer to the genealogical community at large. Many of their members are not local and join online or by sending a check, and do so just as a way of saying thanks.
Personally, I can speak to this as a member of at least 15 genealogical societies, some are far away but I admire their work and their contributions. I may use their online databases, or their publications, and I just want to show my support. Two societies worthy of such support because of their New York City Vital Records are the German Genealogy Group and the Italian Genealogy Group.
Also being a member allows me to have a voice. Even if I can't volunteer to assist with activities, I can from time-to-time send an email to the leadership of the society and weigh in with my ideas and thoughts. And very often the society will seek my input via surveys or emails.
Finally, you can also show your support in non-monetary ways: if you have a blog or website, consider carrying a link to the society's site or Facebook page. The more exposure the society can get, the more members they can attract and thus augment and expand their offerings to the community.
If you've not yet checked out a local, state or national genealogical society, take some time to do so. You might be surprised at how joining a society can not only improve your genealogy research, but it can greatly expand the experience we all call "genealogy."