Saturday, August 26, 2023

New Options for Service


Years ago, genealogical societies used their ability to coordinate projects to advance our collective research capabilities. Local societies such as the one in my county used that volunteer willpower to publish indices of local records—deeds, burials, voter registration. Whatever could lift a distant researcher over his or her brick wall and onto further pursuits, that was the goal for the resources the society assembled.

Now, with so many digitized resources at our fingertips, perhaps we have forgotten that we can still be of assistance to others. I am still amazed when our society sells some of those decades-old publications—until I realize that our county is part of a remaining, though dwindling, black hole of digitized resources. Not many of our records have made the cut when it comes to offerings from genealogical companies.

Now, with Ancestry promoting their new "Circles" and urging subscribers' collaboration, and MyHeritage giving examples of such collaboration at their website as well, perhaps genealogical societies can turn their attention to using these services to be of assistance to others online.

The other day, members of our local society gathered for an in-person discussion group. We've found that, with many of our programs still being offered online despite the passing of the pandemic, what's been missing is the social element. We just miss hanging out together before and after our monthly meetings—so we simply made that a separate event.

Out of this week's in-person discussion group, members shared their memories of decades past in our community. It was obvious that there is a lot of "institutional knowledge" represented in our membership. It was agreed that these are memories which need to be shared and passed down to subsequent generations. One longstanding member mentioned wanting to do a project using an old high school yearbook, in which he'd research his high school teachers and their families to see whatever became of them. Someone mentioned that that would be a great article for our newsletter. But why stop there? How can we harness our decades-old tradition of service in promoting family history research with these fresh ideas and technology tailor-made for sharing?

With Ancestry's Circles, I wonder about setting up collaborative research projects, not just for one family line, but for all the families in our community—a First Families tree, for instance. If enough people are willing to work on it, we could capture the stories of the city's families and preserve them in one place. It could be our gift back to the community.

I've heard of others who have wanted to do the same sort of project at MyHeritage—find a unifying factor which binds together a community, then research the families who were part of that time period in the community's history. I'm on the lookout to spot any other such projects now, just to see how others are approaching these possibilities. While there may not be a market for self-published genealogy books from societies at this point, that doesn't mean we as societies can't still put together our collective efforts to provide resources to the genealogical community at large.

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