Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Genealogy Societies Need To Look Toward The Future

Disclaimer: This post is full of my very own opinions. These opinions are not meant to offend anyone. You may agree or disagree with my opinions - and you are free to share your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with me. However, please do not leave me hate mail full of insults. Now then, onto my post:

There is a lot of talk in the geneablogger community (the genealogy world in general) about the slowing down of memberships in traditional genealogy societies. While many of the bigger societies will survive, many of the smaller local societies will probably not.

Think about what your average genealogist looks like: retired. People do not live forever (or stay in good health forever) and therefore, if societies truly want to survive, they must find ways to reach the next generation. Without reaching for the next generation, then all of their research, all of their hard work, and many of these societies are going to disappear.

However, many of these societies do not embrace the future. By the "future", I mean technology and forward thinking. Many of these societies do not have websites (or at least ones that are updates often). Many of these societies are not on Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, or any of the other various social networking websites. These societies are not embracing the resources that are at their fingertips - many of these resources are free!

I guess this all easy for me to say: I'm 19. I'm unique in the genealogy world. And I'm not part of a traditional genealogy society.

I am a part of the Youth Genealogists Association. It is an entirely online association for genealogists age 5-21. Having everything online for this age group is perfect because afterall, it is the computer generation.

The main reason I have never joined a traditional genealogy society is because I was terrified I wouldn't fit in. I am a shy person when it comes to meeting new people. I am so much younger than everyone else and I figured that I was too inexperienced of a researcher to have anything in common with anyone.

But in the last year, my confidence has changed so much. I've joined Facebook, began talking to other genealogists, started this blog, and even went to my first genealogy conference. I finally feel like I know other genealogists and I've realized how muvh in common I have with other researchers. I love sharing research techniques and stories of success. In the last year I realized that I am ready to face my fear and join a regular genealogy society (now, if I could only get some spare money to pay for the membership fees).

The bottom line is that it is time for genealogists to accept that technology is here. Instead of fighting it, we should embrace it. While it will not provide you with every record, it is a valuable tool that cannot be ignored. It is time for genealogy societies to get on the bandwagon:
  • Create a website that is updates OFTEN. Include useful information such as articles, member bios, etc.
  • Get the word out about your meetings and announcements using Twitter and Facebook.
  • Create a blog!
The above are merely suggestions and starting points. The possibilities are unlimited!

Edit (July 8, 2009): I currently want to join several genealogy societies, including the Southern California Genealogy Society and a couple of others. It took me a while to learn to deal with my own insecurity issues. However, now that those issues are gone, I am trying to save money to be able to join these societies. My family is just really struggling with money right now, so it could be a while. Good news though: My birthday is next month and I have a long genealogy wish list of gifts.


Paula Hinkel said...

Elyse, consider joining the Southern California Genealogical Society. We have a student membership that you would qualify for. The annual cost is $20 and you receive copies of the quarterly journal, The Searcher, and at-home free access to AccessNewspaperArchive.com. Members also receive discounts to Jamboree and our publications.

Kirsty F Wilkinson said...

I first joined a Genealogy Society and started attending events when I was in my early 20s and I totally understand how you feel. I am in my early 30s now but still a lot younger than most genealogists and I still get looked at like I have accidentally wandered into the wrong place! It can be a bit off-putting but, as you have found, people are mostly very friendly once they get to know you. Great to see more young people getting involved in genealogy and I hope your experiences and blog will encourage others. Keep up the good work!

Diana Ritchie said...

Great post Elyse! I think that if societies can get even one young and enthusiastic person like you to join, that can be the catalyst to get the society into the future. Your post has made me consider that I should join my local society (even though I have no relatives/ancestors here) just to share some of these ideas with them - not that I'm young, but I am fairly computer literate!!!

Unknown said...

I think you have made some wonderful points and I agree with you about the use of technology. For the younger generation, technology is just life. The rest of us need to follow suit!

Jessica said...

Hi Elyse. I've been following your blog for awhile now, but you've finally brought me out of lurkerdom. :)

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.

But, of course, I imagine a lot of local societies haven't embraced new technology because their members aren't completely comfortable with the new technology. And there I could have something contribute if I finally get brave enough to join a society. My genealogical skills might still be pretty basic, but I can certainly set up a Facebook group. :)

Unknown said...

Let's see that "long genealogy wish list of gifts." :-)

Miriam Robbins said...

Elyse, another idea that young cash-strapped people can do who are interested in joining a local genealogy society is to offer to do extra volunteer work in exchange for a year of membership. Many society members don't know how to set up a society blog or Facebook or Twitter accounts. Many don't have classes or presentations in using technology or surfing genealogy websites. A tech savvy young person could offer to do all these things in exchange for membership. Just a thought to spread among the members of the Youth Genealogists Association.

DearMYRTLE said...

With folks like you coming up through the ranks, I have no doubt about the future of genealogy societies.

GREAT post, Elyse.

From your adopted grandmother, Myrt :)

Thomas MacEntee said...

A great dialog starter Elyse! And I love it when genealogy bloggers are opinionated! What is the use of simply regurgitating press releases and what other bloggers are saying - we need more folks like you willing to put their necks out and discuss the relevant topics.

I may expand upon this discussion over at GeneaBloggers.com or on Genealogywise.com - I think that local genealogy societies are at a cross-roads and they need to look to SCGS and CGSL as prime examples of how they can jump into the social media and technology age!

Caroline said...

Excellent post. We must all embrace every technological avenue to pursue our genealogical research. There were naysayers when the Gutenberg Bible was first printed and when the internet was introduced. Too many are too comfortable in their old ways. Now we need to help them catch up.


Tina Lyons said...

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. Of course now that I have attended a few events, everyone at the Allen County Public Library recognizes me (since I live in Fort Wayne and try to attend most of their activities). I just sent in my membership to the Allen County Genealogical Society and hope that the common search for ancestors will make me feel right at home at the meetings. It's great to see many other young people commenting here and if we can get more of them involved maybe they can help societies reach out to the next generation.

GeneRooter said...

My husband (the elementary teacher) asked last week if there are any programs for kids to get involved. Other than Scouting badges, now I have some answers for him. BTW, you and I are now linked.

Jean-Yves said...

This is the same in France, actually :-(

Anonymous said...

The TN Genealogical Society realizes all those things you expressed. In the last few years they have gotten a website, started giving beginner computer and genealogy classes, and asking for volunteers from the younger newest members as well as the long time members. When we have meetings, I am happy to say there is a pretty good mixture of age groups. But, it did not happen overnite. Like you said, it takes planning and seeing the future benefits. Tina

Unknown said...

Elyse, I think Thomas is right about this being a great conversation starter. As an ancient genealogical crone of 64, I am always looking for ways to make family history attractive to my daughter and my nieces and nephews. What we need from you is ideas on what we can do to make you feel welcome and to get younger people involved. And to my contemporaries I would just add, this has to be one of our priorities for the future, or all the hard work we've put in will disappear in a generation.

Jennifer said...


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.

Unknown said...

I'd have to say, from the beginning of my genealogy adventures, I grew up in my local genealogy community, so I didn't have much time to be insecure. I'm 19 and I have to say that genealogists and societies LOVE to see young people get involved. If you show up, they will want you back, forever. Don't be afraid because we as a younger generation have so much to offer, especially helping local societies with accomplishing some of the points that Elyse made.

Leah Kleylein said...

Elyse, I agree with you completely!!! I've gone through a little of the same - I started doing genealogy when I was 21, and though I'm (ahem) older than that now, I'm no where near retirement. Just the other week I did in fact get some looks when I set myself up at a table in a local historical societies library. But you know what, who cares!! If you are enjoying yourself, keep doing what you're doing, there's no need to be shy if you remember that just about everyone else feels the same way...

Kevin Lett said...

I am 32 now but I started doing genealogy when I was about 13. Back then, before the Internet, I never met anyone as young as I was that liked genealogy. Everyone at the state archives thought I was a cute little kid and kinda took me under their wings. Some people looked down at me but I never let that stop me. Fast forward to today and now I know all of the "big-wigs" at the archives because I grew up with them. My friends there have gotten promotions over the years and they have powerful positions at the library. I can get almost anything done for me there and have a great working relationship with everyone. I understand what you mean but young people have got to get out there for themselves. I think the dues for most societies are a factor as to why younger people do not join.

Brenda said...

Good Morning, Elyse~
In regards to 'updating' genealogy societies I feel our Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society is doing many of the things you discuss as: webpage; blog; email chat; eboard discussions when needed. Our meetings were averaging 10-16 and over the last 2 years we are now having 23-30 attending. It is hard as everyone thinks 'everything' is on the 'net' and what they find is correct! Teaching the difference is as important as the how-to's.

I would also mention we have a young gal who started genealogy at 12-13yrs of age and the last year has went from 'quiet' to giving her first lecture last month. You can just watch her becoming more self-assured with her thoughts and sharing her experiences. She is now doing a great job on our publicity. Sidenote: She is also about to become a mom for the 2nd time; is a wife and nursing student and snappy genealogist. Encouragement for and believing in the younger generation is so important. Congrats Alana Fant! I was so shy when I started at 41 and without mentors I would not have made it in this lifetime! That Elyse is my story and I'm sticking to it!!! ;) heheh later gal!

Alanna said...

Your blog was very powerful. My friend, Brenda wrote about me above. I have one story to share, when I was giving my presentation in June I came in to see that an elementary school teacher of mine is a member of our society! She was the one who gave me an assignment to fill our a pedigree chart. That is the seed that was planted and since then it has grown to a hobby that I am very passionate about!
I can definately understand hesitation joining a genealogical scoiety, even at almost 30 I'm probably the youngest member of our soceity currently. My goal is to attract more people 'my age' to our group. I have never felt out of place in the society and they have welcomed me with open arms. I was even asked to take a position on the board this year and like Brenda mentioned above, I gave my first presentation last month.

When I talk to colleges and friends they think that genealogy takes a lot of time and I try to tell them that with online databases and wireless internet and laptops that researching can be done while watching their favorite TV show at night. I also mention there are lots of free sites for reserach and that there is lots of interesting things to be discovered out there!

What you (and other young genealogists) are doing is wonderful. We have the advantage (most of the time) of having our grandparents alive and sometimes even our greatgrandparents sometimes. I have a 3 year old daughter who has to have her own forms when I am working and she travels frequently with me to cemeteries to take photographs and when she was still a tiny baby I would pack her up in her car seat carrier and take her along with me to do research in the library. I hope she catches the same passion that I have for family history.

Good Luck and Take care! I look forward to seeing more on your blog!

Amanda E. Perrine said...

At 27 and pretty new to my search I completely relate to your post. I am going to look into joining my local society (although my family is not from here) to meet fellow genealogists. I am also going to look into going to a conference, as your time at the Jamboree looked amazing! Thanks for the push:-)

Sean said...

Hey, I came across your blog through your Youtube videos.

I will be 25 in August. I am member/volunteer at New England Historic Genealogical Society. There's lots of staff/members who are around my ages. I am one of few young volunteers at NEHGS. When I began volunteering at NEHGS, people were not warm to me but slowly, they finally warms up to me. We got high school students volunteering there as community service.

When I first began doing genealogy, people were little nasty to me on mailing list, supposedly because I am young (16 at that time) so I had to stop corresponding with people about genealogy. I had to stop my genealogy activites online until I was 21 so people will respect me more. It worked very well.

Thanks for writing this blog.


Terri O'Connell said...


Great article that obviously everyone has an opinion on. GenealogyWise has a group called save our local society. I have posted there some of the items you touch upon here.
Like you I tend to be shy, at first, but I joined a few this year and have been pushing at one to move forward.

Keep up the good work.

Robin said...

Elyse, this was a wonderful post. You know coming from a younger generation you could definatley influence the younger side. I had a comment made to me not to long ago from someone that state: "that's why everyone in the geneaology world is retired." I needed some assistance due to time constraints with school and work and kids and that was the response from one of my fellow friends. I was so hurt. My hope in my endeavors is that my children will appreciate the work I have done and what I have left them and continue on. My youngest is starting to become interested. If we done appeal to the younger generations, all our hard work will be lost. So I commend your efforts. Keep up the good work.

S. Lincecum said...

As a thirty-something who still gets "weird" looks from time to time in connection with genealogy, I thank you for this post. Congrats on being highlighted in the World Vital Records newsletter!

A O'Brien said...

Hi Elyse,
I agree. I am 24 and have been researching my family history for about 6 years. I live a long way from many libraries and archives so I do a lot of my research online. I am a member of 2 genealogy societies, but I don't get to their libraries very often as they are too far away. When I do I feel a little out of place there because of my age.
I would love it if the societies I was a member of were using social networking technology like Facebook - I think I would feel much more connected as a member.

Thanks again for your post :-)