Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Genealogy Societies:
So What are They Good For?

A distant relative of mine (by marriage), upon learning that my husband was a "cop," once called him on his personal cell phone because she needed him to get her spared from receiving an impending ticket. When he explained to her that such a tactic would not only be frowned upon by the department, but that he would be unable to do so for her, her only response was, "Well, what are you good for, anyway?"

With all the changes in the genealogy world—everything from the trend toward solo research to the click-of-a-mouse access to digitized records—one wonders what, if anything, our previous collective genealogical efforts might any longer be good for. If we no longer need the strength in numbers afforded by group effort to gather and preserve records, or crowdsource research solutions, or even bring in special speakers to train us in advanced research techniques, what's the point of banding together as genealogical societies?

I couldn't help notice the irony in such thoughts formulating in my mind as I sat in various sessions of a genealogy conference I just attended. It took coming together as a group—listening in class, yes, but also networking and even reaching out to inspiring speakers—to spark those ideas. There is something about people getting together which brings out those new thoughts. When we expose ourselves to others' ways of thinking, or doing things, or explaining stuff, that something gets triggered in our own minds. We start seeing how others do things, noticing how others do "different." It brings on the "what if" pondering that opens our own mind to possibilities.

Anyone who is bursting with the urge to share their latest family history discovery understands the need to find someone to tell that news to. Likewise, anyone who has been stumped so long on their mystery ancestor that they can't stand the stand-still any longer. Genealogy societies are, in one way, a sounding board for fellow researchers. We discuss new research plans, check out new resources, pass along tips, chat about family. Yes, we can do this over the phone, or by texting our research partners, or posting the latest victory on a Facebook genealogy group or page, but the conversation is more dynamic and continuous when it is live than when it is asynchronous and flowing through a keyboard (or worse, those tiny keypads on cell phones).

Societies become the brain trust for local researchers. There is always someone who knows the best way to find a document, or connect with the local history expert, or get the local oral history; societies become the ready-access go-to place for a wide variety of "stuff."

Granted, I have my own ideas for the vital role societies can continue to play, and you have yours. They may be entirely different, but I guarantee that, if we were to come together, face to face, something about our joint presence would trigger something creative in our thought processes and augment any ideas either you or I could have come up with on our own. And, watching what unfolds while we engage in such a process, we'd observe even more reasons for people to come together over this joint passion of ours.

Meanwhile, with every passing development pulling us away from face-to-face or person-to-person, we lose the chance to stand up as advocates for our collective strength. It wasn't more than a month ago, remember, when the national representative for local genealogical societies announced that they were passing their baton to the national organization for genealogists. Why unnecessarily duplicate effort, right? But we forget that the original mission of that national consortium of societies was to serve societies, not individual genealogists.

Hopefully, in this latest process, we have not lost our collective voice.

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