Saturday, February 20, 2016
What's So Interesting?
It's the busy part of the month right now for me—even more so, once I got the brainy idea to schedule my monthly Beginners' Genealogy workshops for the third Saturday of each month to handily follow our third Thursday Society meetings, for which I'm responsible for arranging program content. Let's just say the third week of any month will not have schedule gaps for anything beside genealogy.
Well...maybe coffee. There is always time for coffee...
As if I didn't have enough to do, I got the brainy idea to add yet another project to the genealogical society plate: Special Interest Groups. After all, having come back from an exhilarating family history research trip to Ireland over a year ago, I couldn't just keep all those resources and info to myself. I wanted a way to share what I've learned with others who are interested. So we will be launching our Society's Special Interest Group on Ireland on Saint Patrick's Day, which—conveniently—also decided to fall on the third Thursday of the month.
Launching a Special Interest Group program begins to prompt other such ideas. If setting up a group for people researching their Irish roots, what about those researching their German roots? Or Italian? Or Japanese? Or Native American? Given a Society of any decent size—our membership hovers around one hundred—the possibilities could be almost endless.
The key is: we all want to know where we came from. We want a sense of history—our history. Though we may never be able to go back to the places from which our ancestors once emigrated, we still want to know what life was like there, what customs filled our ancestors' days, how they lived, what they looked like, who was most important to them. I don't know why we want to know this—we just do.
It may be different for other genealogical societies. Maybe those of us in the west and southwest have more members pursuing Mexican or Filipino roots than, say, our counterparts in New England. But it's hard to say. After all, one unexpected pairing of meeting place and Special Interest Group is the southern California genealogical society interested in French Canadian ancestry—go figure.
How do we, as genealogical societies, determine which special niche would most interest our members? Sometimes, it takes the direct route: ask your membership. But it also is a two-way street. While many may be interested in joining a group, if no one is interested in facilitating the group, it may never even get launched in the first place.
If we take the position that our societies are ever evolving, we add another variable into the equation. At our local society meeting this week, a visitor came up to me, inquiring about beginning her quest to find her Hungarian roots. I know absolutely nothing about that region, nor could I think of one member who did. But given the training to begin her own research, this woman—who is a native speaker of the language—could one day find herself offering a valuable service to others asking the very questions she asked of me this week. As our members' knowledge of general genealogical research principles expands, they become better equipped to delve into these specialized niches—and eventually mentor others who wish to learn.
While that compelling wish to learn more about our ancestors and where they came from is something we may not fully be able to explain, there is no denying it is there. How we, as genealogical societies, facilitate that learning process that equips our members to pursue their personal roots may become a function of how we, in turn, have facilitated the learning process among those in our "learning community" in general.
For me, as a student of the "game" of how organizations accommodate the development of their members, perhaps the most interesting aspect of it all is to see what worked best for each society, based on the composition of each group's specific membership. What works for one group may not work for others—but no matter what the result in one group, we can all learn from each others' experience and craft better co-operatives among our members to suit each individual groups' needs.
Above: "Winter in Enkhuisen at the Corner of Dijk and Sint Jansstraat," 1892 oil on canvas by Dutch artist Willem Koekkoek; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.