Saturday, September 23, 2017

Evolving : A Sense of Community

Thursday night was our local genealogical society's monthly meeting. Of course, there isn't a meeting—at least for our group—that goes by without it prompting thoughts. Many thoughts.

It's a season of change at our local genealogical society. Not only because genealogy everywhere is changing, the result of a new universe of research possibilities bestowed upon us by technology, but because of changing commitments, we, too, must adjust.

I sometimes think ours is a society different from all others. Perhaps it's because we're in California, where everything seems to run differently. Somehow, we're less stuffy—and more engaging. Less "professional"—and more eager to learn.

Whatever it is, we are the type of group that visitors—sometimes our guest speakers, as well—find welcoming, informal, comfortable. That mode has become a hallmark of the community which has evolved among those of us in our county who are fascinated with genealogical research.

Granted, there are some longstanding members who have been dedicated society volunteers for decades, but there are new faces, as well. Each new person brings a unique perspective along with the specific purposes which caused him or her to decide to become part of our society. Thus, with each new member, our group becomes increasingly enriched—no matter how infinitesimally small that change may be—by the qualities that person brings to our circle.

We morph from what we were to what we are to become ever so gradually with the inclusion of yet one additional member. But the pace of change seems to have become supercharged with the blending of community and computers. Some of our members have joined us from long distances—the value to them in associating with us can only be met by our willingness to expand to offer digitally-accessible services. While we appreciate their financial support in the form of the dues which enable our organization to provide the varied services we offer, we need to remember to expand those services to include meaningful access to those who can't just hop in the car for a short drive to our meeting location.

We can look to others who have already accepted the challenge of opening their organization's "doors" to, virtually, the world. Societies which have set up a Facebook presence make themselves instantly accessible to anyone, anywhere, who speaks the same language and searches for the same details. Yet while serving these new additions to their community, the process itself of providing that service instigates a change to the organization, as well.

Genealogical groups have learned to publish blogs, produce podcasts, archive webinars. We are getting our word out—and reaping a following from those who are receiving that word. Every new act we add to our society's repertoire changes us as a society.

We learn from genealogy trailblazers. Our society's current president, Sheri Fenley, has been participating as a panelist in a sharing-while-learning experiment conducted by DearMYRTLE and associates, the GenDoc Study Group "hangout." While we observe DearMYRTLE—a.k.a. Pat Richley-Erickson—conduct on-air programs, we gain inspiration for what we, too, can replicate in our own circles.

But every time we catch a glimpse of what we, too, can do, we interject a trajectory of change into our group's status quo. Granted, each change—whether of method, or ideas, or new people and their own unique contributions—may be so slight as to not be immediately noticed. But eventually, the change will be felt. And then the question becomes: how do we handle that change? How do we counterbalance the ravages of change to respect the integrity of the community?

There are some people who may feel that, if the group changes, it will no longer be the same group. True, with change, that sense of community will not remain the same. It doesn't, however, mean the community is no longer meaningful or useful. The one size which used to fit all will not always work, yes. But if we see our organizations as the living, dynamic entities that they actually are, we will plan to adapt to honor that sense of community cohesiveness while also stretching to become the inclusive organization we need to grow into if we hope to meet the needs of those whom our services inspire.      


  1. It is great that your group is open to new people. I have been to groups over the years, in quilting, genealogy, parent teacher organizations, etc., that say they are open but are not. They do things the way "they have always been done" and do not welcome new ideas. They sit in small circles with no room to pull up a chair. Your group may change but it will be better and stronger.

    1. Wow, Colleen! How's that for explicit body language for being unwelcoming?!

      I wonder how un-self-aware some groups are. For a group which wants to grow, there's no room to afford such behavior, whether intentional or unaware. Your small-circle story must have been an uncomfortable yet eye-opening experience.

  2. Local genealogy clubs here in New England have been increasingly welcoming newcomers because (1) genealogy itself is changing, becoming higher tech, and (2) groups need fresh members to keep the spark alive, suggest new speakers, get new volunteers, etc. A lot of the spirit depends on leadership, too. Jacqi, your group sounds great.

    1. So true, Marian! Granted, in our local society, we owe a lot to our president for her leadership and example. But everyone in the society helps to make that difference, too--and that outreach, in welcoming in new members, is vitally important.

      In addition, we've realized that we have many faithful members who have been dedicated volunteers in many capacities for decades and they have mentioned it is "time" for others to step up to the plate. If we don't have new members, who would those volunteers be? We are too committed to our mission to not assure its continuation in future decades.

      On top of that, "new" members also means younger members, and our outreach to the next generation is vital, for all the reasons you mentioned. That's why I find the NextGen movement so encouraging on a national level. Hopefully, that movement will be echoed at the local level as well, through local societies' being welcoming to younger generations, as well. It's all going to require a willingness to change, but it's vitally necessary.

  3. No new ideas with the one in town that was disbanded for infighting :(


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