Saturday, November 18, 2017

Partnering to Augment Our Reach

In the midst of the rainy weather that blew through my stretch of the west coast last Thursday, our genealogical society happened to have the privilege of hosting probably the most important speaker ever to appear in our local lineup: Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for

Of course, we bemoaned our fate of having our biggest day turn into our soggiest day, to date, of this season. Everything we had planned so meticulously to insure we were ready for the crowd that was sure to materialize for this learning opportunity seemed futile. There's no competing with yukky weather.

Things did not bode well for us from the minute, in mid-morning, that my power went out. A weather-related outage, it was an unscheduled annoyance which wouldn't be resolved, according to the utilities company, until after I had to leave my home to set up for the evening's meeting.

On the other side of the equation, our fearless speaker, traveling to us from her last engagement hundreds of miles away, had to scramble when her flight was diverted to another airport on account of the weather—and then landed later than anticipated. Hello, Bay area rush hour traffic. This was not in the itinerary.

Still, everything worked out, and we can now safely declare the event a success. In retrospect, I'm realizing this was an occasion which could not possibly have happened without one element—and facing the uncooperative weather has reminded me of the true support which bolstered our efforts. That key element was partnership.

Here's the thing: we are a small society—less than one hundred members. We may be situated in a city of three hundred thousand, but we have a lot of growing to do. More to the point, the facility which hosts our membership meetings provides a room which holds about thirty five people. A room that size would never do for a guest speaker of that magnitude. Nor would the facility's less than adequate technological capabilities; there is no way the wifi in that building would be up to handling a live demonstration of the Ancestry website.

What to do? The answer to that question—and likely to many challenges genealogical societies will face in upcoming years—is to seek innovative answers through partnerships. I'm not talking about formal, long-term arrangements, but simply the teamwork to put together an event that meets the needs of multiple organizations.

In our case, the answer to our quandary came quickly. We are a city which celebrates its ethnic diversity, and one such group had approached our society almost a year ago, asking us to help teach their members how to preserve their ethnic heritage through the skills inherent in family history research. Now that their native-language-speaking ancestors were all but gone, this association wanted to pass their heritage down to subsequent generations before it was forgotten entirely.

Once we had shared that educational opportunity with this other organization, we got to know them better—well enough to feel comfortable asking them if they were interested in partnering with us in other educational outreaches. Can anything make more sense than blending groups which seek to preserve their heritage with genealogical societies mandated to preserve local family history?

It was thanks to this ongoing partnership that we were, months later, able to bring in a well-known speaker and host her presentation in a top-notch facility (a lecture hall at a university in our city).

Every group is different, of course, and the potential for partnership must be viewed on a case by case basis. But it is as clear to me as the next day's sparkling sunshine against the raging storm of our event's evening that the only way our event could have been a success was if we were able to pool our resources and talents with another group sharing mutual goals.


  1. I follow Crista online and I'm sure her presentation was spot on; following all the 'commotion'.
    Wonderful to hear of the community family that is developing.

    1. Gayle, I'm learning to value that partnership to build community. It's encouraging to see what one small group can do if it is willing to join with other small groups on a focused effort.

    2. And yes, you are right: Crista was spot on, and seemingly unflappable, despite the travel challenges.

  2. My local gen clubs are small, so we partner with the town library to host more expensive speakers and attract a larger audience. More people are getting interested every day, thanks to shows like "Finding Your Roots" and the numerous ads for DNA testing kits!

    1. Marian, it's interesting you bring up those programs and even the DNA testing ads. I've just been reflecting on that--more tomorrow. And I can track the increase in readership and even search hits here at A Family Tapestry based on the season start for those popular genealogy programs.

      I also love that you mentioned the local library. That partnership has become such an accustomed pairing that I even forgot to mention it today! We wouldn't even have a place to meet, in our Society, if it weren't for the local library. Some partnerships make things better, but without other partnerships, we might have nothing at all!


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