Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Are Genealogical Societies Evolving?

Just as each generation may have differing reasons for joining a genealogical society, our organizations, themselves, are surely changing. While I don't have the resources to go back and read the minutes from local meetings held fifty years ago—in some locales, there wasn't even any society in existence fifty years ago—I have a hunch the genealogical societies of our decade are somewhat different than back then. It would be helpful to inform ourselves of just how organizational dynamics have changed.

I know from our local society's experiences that, years ago, top goals were to preserve records of genealogical significance, provide adequate resources for research in our own community, educate newcomers in proper research techniques, and raise funds for our organization by producing books to sell. Other than in giving up the tactic of publishing books to sell, those overarching goals haven't changed all that much over the decades.

What has changed, however, is the methodology in which we've achieved those goals. With the advent of technology, we approach these tasks much differently. As national and international concerns dominate the field—some of them for-profit—it seems to render some societies' original goals obsolete. After all, who can compete with the professional operations which can roll into town, slam dunk a digitization process, and subsequently make their results available online to all willing to pay the entrance fee, unhindered by geographic or travel limitations?

There are, however, gaping holes left in which the local concerns may still find themselves offering a vital service. The genealogical giants cannot become all things to all people—at least not yet. Local organizations still are the boots on the ground whose voice provides the answers regarding locally-sourced information.

But does that local army of volunteer genealogists still exist to put in the hours to do the work? And do local society members even want to serve in that capacity? Answering queries for ancestor whereabouts may require utilizing a website to gather, and email know-how to answer now, whereas in that proverbial "fifty years ago," the question may have arrived with the afternoon mail delivery. But that is not the real story about change and societies. The question is: Do today's society volunteers even care to spend their time doing obituary look-ups for strangers?

Perhaps the more pertinent question, when puzzling over dwindling society membership rolls, is not whether we can coax the full-time-employed younger generation to join us in our fifty-year-old routine, but whether they care to spend their limited free time doing what genealogical societies are still defining as their core missions.

Perhaps the avocational—and professional—genealogists of today have a different vision of what a genealogical society should look like.

Above: "In the store, when there is no fishing," 1882 oil on canvas by Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I did look ups, scanned them and emailed them! What the heck...share your info! :)

    1. When I think how much easier it is to attend to these components of genealogical research today, I hardly want to go back to the "good old days." Yes, scanning, emailing: clearer document copies and instantaneous results. And all done in a fraction of the time--and much less cost--than it used to take. Makes things a snap to share!

  2. This is an excellent and thought-provoking blog entry. So much is available online and online research can be to productive. Our state genealogical society is fraught with disagreements and I found being on the board a negative experience. I do share my information but can do that in so many ways

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your observations!

      Yes, there are so many more ways to approach a community-based effort to share resources. It seems disappointing (not to mention, counter-productive) in the face of this to experience group dynamics which detract from synergistic activity.

      I think people sometimes vote with their feet, rather than make the effort to explain why things need to change. Perhaps it would go better for organizations if they could learn to read between the lines on this topic. I am so committed to seeing an ongoing community for genealogy participants, so it distresses me to hear what's out there that doesn't meet our potential.


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