More questions this weekend: so exactly why do people want to be part of a local genealogical society?
Our northern California region has—thankfully—several city- and county-wide genealogical organizations which gather together on a quarterly basis to compare notes on administration and strategies for groups such as ours. Granted, our consortium cover a lot of area—a swath across the state's map from the San Francisco Bay to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, encompassing ten counties—and our needs vary from group to group. Though we have diverse memberships, the basis of our organizations is to serve our local areas with whatever members require to remain successful in their family history quest.
Of course, we have the usual issues any local genealogical group might have: escalating costs in the face of diminishing membership. Face it, we have some stiff competition. There are other organizations out there which can provide a stellar lineup of speakers for training, or digitized documentation at a click of a mouse. It seems whatever a researcher might want, it can be had...elsewhere.
So, why have a local genealogical society? Perhaps that was the question on each member's mind as we discussed our challenges at yesterday's meeting. If all we are doing is providing services we can feebly offer—compared to professional organizations currently in the market—then that question seems rhetorical. Why, indeed? We may as well give up while we are (barely) ahead.
Perhaps looking at the situation differently might provide some answers. Could it be that we need to shift our assumptions of what people really would like to see in a local genealogical organization? One point brought up in the meeting was that many of us just want to connect with others who see things the same way we do: "genies" whose eyes light up at the mention of details for which others' eyes glaze over.
Could it be that we are looking for the personal touch? The opportunity to connect with people? People who are doing what we are doing, each on our own path, but sharing the commonality of a joint search adventure?
In the broader training world, there has been a shift away from instruction—the delivery of facts—towards a more experiential, hands-on, type of learning. If we, as local groups, were to align ourselves with this recent conceptual shift in the overarching world of education, would we be able to employ that personal touch to revitalize our organizations?
For the business world, optimizing their profit comes with buzz words like working "smarter" and finding ways to automate, or streamline, or remove redundant layers of the organization chart—and, in many cases, I'm all for that. I don't mind if AI is put to work on transcribing seventeenth century German script, or figuring out which part of my DNA test aligns with my paternal versus maternal line. But there is no feeling quite so hollow as realizing I've been chatting with a bot when I thought I was relating with a real person.
As the rest of the world abandons itself to the reality of more bots, perhaps the opposite is what people are hungering for: a real, live person with whom to share their triumphs and frustrations, at least concerning this pursuit they are most passionate about. This could be our clue as to the niche local genealogical societies can claim as our specialized domain, a place where people support other people in each one's individual quest to find their own roots.