After I closed our genealogical society's monthly meeting this month, a thought came to me. It was one year ago this same month when, for the first time in our sixty nine year history, we had to cancel our general membership meeting on account of a statewide lockdown due to the threat of a new, deadly disease. As much as we wanted to meet, we couldn't. Besides, no matter how much we looked forward to hearing the featured speaker, who wanted to take the risk?
Since that point, it has been twelve months of a very different type of get-together: a virtual one. It didn't take long to get over that missed meeting hiccup and learn to adjust to a new reality. We learned to convene meetings online and, more to the point, we learned how to help each other attend such meetings.
We learned to Zoom. Together.
In the path of all this rapid adjustment, we learned a few things about ourselves. First, we learned that, no matter how "seasoned," we can still learn new tricks. Along with that, we learned how to be kinder, gentler—or at least more patient—in helping each other get back to being with the group. We became more supportive of each other as we weathered the trials inherent in the upset of our normal routine. We even had better opportunities to put names to faces and get to know each other more in a virtual setting.
Although there were some speakers who wished to have their scheduled presentation put on hold until we could meet face to face, even they learned to adapt to the new circumstances. In many ways, as we look back over the year, our society has enjoyed a wider range of speakers and topics than we might have had access to, if limited by those who were willing to drive to our city to meet with us in person.
Perhaps as a by-product of meeting limitations, our board was willing to extend themselves and increase the number of society meetings each month. We re-introduced our Special Interest Group meetings as online events and added a new, discussion-style meeting each month, along with continuing our regular monthly evening event featuring speakers presenting on a wide variety of topics regarding genealogy.
The only downside was the acquired aversion to the threat of "Zoom bombing." Not that we had ever had such an experience, but members were vocal in their warnings about what they had heard from friends of friends. Despite never being on the receiving end of any such unpleasant rants, we found ourselves closing ranks: sending meeting links to only our own members. Gone were the open-door policies of freely welcoming in any visitor who wanted to see what we were all about.
That one policy change could have cost us in membership. After all, not everyone is as fanatical about their family history as some of the rest of us; members come and go as genealogy wanes as a season in their life. Surely, that policy would eventually come around to hurt us in the membership count.
And yet, strangely enough, another dynamic stepped up to mitigate that threat. Now that they could, our members who had moved away from the area—working members who had retired, or those who had lost a spouse or moved closer to their now-adult children—could now show up every month to join us in our meetings. Our monthly meetings became more like a big reunion of past members, glad to check in once a month with old friends.
In addition, those avid genealogists from across the nation whose ancestors had once lived in our area now realized that they, too, could join in the events of our society—even if they, themselves, had never lived in or near our city. The introduction of attendees from so many diverse places makes for a lively gathering leading up to the monthly business meeting. Granted, it's not quite to the level of the buzz of the social gathering before or after those now long-gone face to face meetings, but we're learning to adapt. For some whose health required their strict isolation this past year, it was the closest they had come to social contact in a long time; you could tell those members really looked forward to each month's online event.
If you asked me, a year ago, whether members in the typical genealogical society would take to such technology-assisted remote events, I certainly would have had my doubts. And yes, we have some faithful members now who haven't been able to fully attend meetings for a variety of (mostly computer-based) reasons. But for so many others, the level of engagement has certainly become infectious. Some have commented that they'd like to see the online component continue, even if we are all cleared to return to face-to-face meetings.
What began as a desperate attempt to make up for what we had lost has turned into a bonus that our genealogical society has unexpectedly gained. After a year of co-existing with Covid, we're still Zooming along. And likely to keep at it for years to come.