Friday, July 10, 2009

Genealogy Societies Need To Look Toward The Future (Follow-up Post)

When I wrote my last post, I was not expecting the outpouring of comments that I received. I never thought it possible that so many people would not only read my blog, but comment. Oh - and these were not the typical "great post" comments that I generally get - these were honest outpourings of people who have shared my experience. At most, I get about 5 comments on a post. As I am writing this, the post has gotten 23 comments. W-O-W!!! I was never expecting anything like this and all of your comments have really warmed my heart.

So what I wanted to do was write a follow-up post and expand on the possibilities that using technology offers. I also want to address many of the people who left me comments to answer their more specific questions and/or suggestions.

Getting A Blog
This is a great way to keep members informed with just about anything - from news that occurs in between meetings, members' accomplishments, general genealogical news, marketing upcoming events, for discussing new websites, or keeping members that don't live in the area current with the happens of the society. Want to know the best part? Blogs are free and super easy to set up. Geneabloggers has a great set of articles that perfect for a newbie getting ready to start a blog.
Blogs are easier to create and update than a website - but you can still put news, photos, videos, calendars and a lot more! The possibilities on this one are too great to pass up.

Creating An Email Newsletter
This is not only a great idea to help save trees, but it also saves on printing and postage costs. Savings in printing and postage costs (hopefully) means a drop in the needed money for membership fees or an opportunity to use that money elsewhere. These days, it is not that difficult to create a newsletter. All you need is a word processor (I use because it is free and it can export to .pdf format), some volunteer writers, and an email address. You can create free email addresses at a ton of places, but I highly recommend using Gmail because it is easy to use but also stock full of great features.

Creating A Student Membership Fee
Ok...this one really isn't technology related, but it is still hugely important. Many young genealogists are either in school or moving out for the first time. When it comes to money, things are very tight (the stereotype of students eating rice-a-roni and mac n cheese all the time is there for a reason!). If it comes down to joining a genealogical society or buying a membership to - what do you think they are going to choose? So, appeal to the younger generation and give them yet another incentive for joining.

This is not only a great idea for young genealogists, but for everyone on a tight income. Have the society raise money to offer one potential member with financial difficulties the opportunity to join through a scholarship program. Consider having potential recipients write an essay or commit to a certain number of volunteer hours in exchange for a free membership.

Twitter and/or Facebook
Twitter is a social networking site that allows a person to write in 140 characters or less what they want. While some people think it is pointless, it can be very useful. For example, someone from the meeting could use Twitter to tweet live updates of a lecture or meeting (especially useful for those societies that are regional or serve a vast majority of people). Just ask Randy Seaver about when he tweeted live from the Bloggers Summit at the Jamboree. He got such positive feedback and it made many of the people who were not able to attend feel right at home.

Facebook is a HUGE genealogical resource these days. I am friends with mostly genealogists, and there isn't a single day that I don't learn something from a friend of mine on that site. People use Facebook to connect via Fan pages or Groups. People promote their blogs and genealogy societies through Networked Blogs and their status. Everyone is so friendly and so willing to help in anyway that they can! I've gotten help on brick walls and given research suggestions. Not only has my electronic social life improved, but so has my research! Through Facebook, I have gotten to feel like I really know all of these genealogists that I talk to online or read their blogs. By the time I finally meet these people face-to-face, I feel as if I've known them forever!

Facebook is what gave me the courage to go to the Jamboree this year. Since I had been interacting with many of these people on facebook or other websites, I felt totally at ease when I finally met them in person. There was no awkward getting to know each other phase and the only natural thing to do when seeing this people for the first time was to give them a huge hug! Honestly, using Facebook (or similar tools) will help ease any nervousness or uneasiness that could prevent a potential new member from joining. Many of the people who left comments on my last post only echoed what I had been feeling.

Here is a comment that Jessica made:
Your post couldn't echo my thoughts more. I've been thinking about joining a local genealogy society for awhile now, but I'm 25, and I look younger, and I know I'd look like somebody's granddaughter who just tagged along for the ride.I'm a pretty new genealogist too, and I don't like the idea that I'd stick out and have little to contribute. If the local society had some sort of blog or Facebook group where I could test the waters, I might have jumped in awhile ago.

Here is a comment that Tina made:
I totally agree with you about looking out of place at genealogy society meetings and events. I am 27 and started my family history last year. Whenever I attend an event, I feel so out of place until I get to know everyone there.

Here is a comment that Jennifer made that I think needs to be read by everyone who is on a board (or has any high position) in a genealogical society:
I'm glad I'm not the only one who has been "afraid" to go to a traditional genealogical society meeting for fear of being mistaken for someone's grandchild. I am 28, and the only time I've ever met others my age, or younger, interested in genealogy is in the geneablogging community. I also think the geneablogging community has given me more confidence in my research skills, so I now feel like I might actually be able to attend a meeting without feeling as inadequate as before. It's just a matter of finding the time. One of the societies I tried to join did not even have a website, nor any info online about how to join. Just a quick blurb on the local library site about when the meetings were, which was not helpful since I live 1300 miles away.

See - young genealogists really do exist!! I think so many of us are terrified about getting out there. I for one have always felt a lack of confidence in my research skills and have always been terrified that others would look down on me for it. But it isn't just the genealogical societies that need to get out there: the younger generation also needs to make an effort. all you young genealogists:

  • Take a deep breath and just take the plunge!
  • Remember: You have a lot to offer even if you aren't a professional genealogist. Whether it be a specialty in a certain aspect of research, knowledge of the Internet, or even just a great cookie recipe - everyone has something to bring to the table.
  • For the most part, genealogists are some of nicest people you'll ever meet.
  • Even if many members confuse you as a grandchild of another member, you still have something in common with all of these genealogists: A passion for climbing your family tree.

So is time to get together and start implementing these suggestions! It is going to take the work of all genealogists, young and old alike, to make our genealogical societies better. Genealogical societies need to be cherished as a valued resource and the classic way to connect with other researchers. The Internet is a great resource, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.


Miriam said...

Hear! Hear! Elyse, I'm going to link to your two posts on the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society's blog.

Lavender Leaf said...

Yes, yes and yes! Great ideas! I especially like the idea of a student discount (since I am one) and Tweeting a meeting or lecture. Very good for those who are homebound or on the go. Great post!

Thomas MacEntee said...

Another great post Elyse! I've mentioned it over at my GenealogyWise blog posting:

Also - I am getting a bounceback from your gmail address - can you email me? I have a question or two for you.


Thomas MacEntee

Greta Koehl said...

Now I just need to get you to talk to my 19-old daughter - I am trying to get her "hooked" on genealogy.

Jessica said...

Thanks for the pep talk, Elyse. My local genealogical society has a meeting at the start of the month, and I've decided I'm going to go for it, whether I'll be mistaken as someone's grandchild or not. :)

TGblogger said...

Elyse, I just heard about your blog from and was glad to see it. The subject of young genealogists has come up before on the Transitional Genealogist email list and ever since, I've been interested in the stories of others who fall into this group. Glad to see another "youngin'" not afraid to jump in and show (and share) your skills! Good luck! Nikki

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

I will soon begin a blog for the Southern Genealogist's Exchange Society (SGES), sometime after the next board meeting. I'm the SGES historian. I already have my own blog.

SGES is also going to present genealogy to elementary-school students in the form of a genealogy coloring book/workbook, written by society members and illustrated by one of our members who is an artist.

We had some younger folks at our spring seminar, and you're right -- we do need to do more recruitment in that area. We don't have a student membership rate; I should mention that at the next board meeting!

Gayle Gresham said...

I was a young twenty-something genealogist once. Just remember age doesn't necessarily make a person more experienced. Keep doing what you are doing, Elyse! Everything you and the other young genealogists offer is a gift to the genealogy world. As we've all seen with these posts.

Ginger Smith said...

Hi Elyse, glad to see another young genealogist! People (especially distantly related cousins) are always surprised to learn I am one or even two generations younger than them!

PS I joined a local gen society just so I can eventually become one of their board meetings and bring them up to the 21st century!

Cheryl Fleming Palmer said...

Congrats on another great article Elyse! I specifically wanted to congratulate you on your blogiversary as well! Looking forward to so much more!

Jennifer said...

Hello young genealogist, as a member of a small society full of old fogies, we need you and your computer genius. We may have a website but it is really basic and we don't have the computer knowledge to set up blogs and databases, even tho we want to share the information we have collected.
So jump in and join your local society they will worship you, oohing and ahhing over your skills.

Shasta said...

I started out doing genealogy at a very young age as well. It was rare to find anyone my age around, but I figured that as long as I was out and about, maybe others would come out of the woodwork too, and show the old fogies that we exist. Now I am one of the old fogies and fit right in. You have to remember that a lot of them are not technologically savvy, and you can trade skills - you can help them set up websites, and they can help you find those old paper records of your ancestors.

Julie said...

I hadn't thought of the groups in facebook, but I am using it to connect to distant cousins. I have "met" many just by sending a brief message to one that has the lastname of the person I'm looking for. Just recently I found someone who married into the family just this may -- all I had was a sentence from her grandfather-in-law's obit that made the connection.

By the way I've been working on genealogy off and on since 1997, when I was 20 yrs old.