Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What If...

As I was sitting in my office this morning, paying my monthly bills online, I realized it was time to renew my genealogical society membership. I figured while I was at it, I might as well renew my membership with another gen-so that I had let lapse too. I pulled out my checkbook, wishing I could make an online payment along with the rest of my bills, when my thoughts drifted back to Denise's commentary on the article written by Jim, and to the comment I left on Denise's article.

The gist of it all is that Jim is lamenting the fact that membership in genealogical societies has dropped and he's hoping that the new Internet researchers will realize what they are missing and join genealogical societies in large numbers once again (his "Big Bang Theory). Denise then wrote about how she's had a "much more satisfying experience online" than she ever did at her local gen-so. I agree with Denise, as my comment reflects.

So then I looked down at my renewal membership form and asked myself what I'll get out of my membership. I'm really struggling with that. I rarely go to local meetings because the topics presented are geared towards beginners, which is a waste of time for me. I don't go to the conferences of the national organization because it's just never been feasible for me to travel to them. I do visit their web sites, but so does everyone else. They either don't have a special "members only" section or what they have there doesn't interest me. That leaves their journals, the ones I had to dust off and move recently when I got new office furniture. I quickly flipped through a couple of them and wondered if I should even bother keeping them. Trying to look up a topic, surname, or area of interest, in 8+ years of journals from two different organizations that overlap heavily on their content (Polish genealogy) would be a nightmare.

I thought about just not bothering to send in my dues since they don't provide me with information I can use in a way I can use it. But what kind of message does that send to the organizations? Would they understand that I believe in and value what they are doing and providing to their membership but not their methodology? I know from past experience as a board member of a gen-so that the folks who do not have or want to use computers/internet are quick and loud to complain, insisting that things continue to be done the traditional way. But does anyone else give their board members feedback about wanting them to march forward with more efficient ways of doing things? Have you ever written the gen-so board you belong to to tell them that it would be ever so nice if all of their past journals were searchable online? Or have you ever spoken with a board member to express how much you would value webcasts of meetings? I mean, think about it. If the only voices they are hearing are the ones who say, "don't change", is it any wonder that they are so slow to move forward and make changes?

I'm thinking it's time to start a campaign. A write-in campaign. What do you think about sending a letter in with your dues the next time your gen-so membership is up for renewal? Do you find your gen-sos lacking like I do? Would you be willing to let the leaders of the gen-sos you belong to know that you are not satisfied with the status quo and specifically identify what direction they should take to keep you as a satisfied member? (Assuming that you are dissatisfied like I am.) Food for thought.

By the way, I've decided not to discard my old issues yet. I'm going to scan them so they are searchable :-)


  1. Great idea. I've always been a big proponent, whether it be genealogy or not, of letting vendors know why I haven't re-upped or sent my yearly donation.

    When I just decide to stop sending the yearly check, very few of these organizations try to contact me. And those that do then ask why I haven't reupped. I'll take your suggestion and send a letter or email next time. And not just a complaint, but some suggestions for improvement.

  2. I agree about some of these
    organizations. They need to understand that society is
    mobile and people leave the
    city/town where they are born,
    to seek employment, education
    or for whatever reason.
    I went to my local society,
    and they had nothing of value
    for my family. My family has
    been living here about 60 years.
    I felt uncomfortable the first
    few times I visited, and I
    wondered if this is how others
    were treated also. Maybe because
    I was so young compared to most
    of the other patrons? Some of
    us just get the bug early!?

  3. Jasia

    I think that with all these good comments between your blog, Terry's and Denise's, someone should be nominated to write a rebuttal article, as it were.

    I nominate you. Tag you're it.

  4. Oh Thomas, I think people are pretty tired of hearing me beat this same drum. Denise did a good job I think. But there's room for more voices... I'd like to hear a fresh one, from someone who could put their own unique spin on things... like you! You specialize in unique! You'd be a perfect rebuttal author Thomas! Tag right back at 'ya!

  5. Jasia, I agree with you! Rather ironic of my next articles for a new genealogy magazine (aimed at beginners) is about joining a gen soc and what good things you can get out of it. ;-) I've only belonged to one, and it's not local for me so I've never met these folks. I agree that times have changed and we can do so much more, so much more quickly, online. I used to teach classes, again before the internet genealogy "big bang" - what a difference those classes would be now. Getting people to do "hard" research, in person, in downtown Philadelphia vs. finding it on Ancestry in fifteen minutes? Big difference. What the gen societies don't realize is that those folks who complain about keep things the same won't be around in another 20 years. The next generation isn't interested in the old way!

  6. You hit the nail on the head! Many of your suggestions are right on the money and would instantly add value if implemented. I got my renewal notice for a nat'l soc recently and have been seriously thinking about the value I receive. I've been hardpressed to come up with anything. As for my local-soc, rather than pull out I've taken the plunge this last year and become a board member. Yes, I'm the youngest, but my group has been embracing me with open arms, and changes have already been made to enter the 21st century. They're terrific. But ya have to take it upon yourself to reach out. It got me to thinking about other groups that might not be so receptive, and I've been wondering about membership levels. Hence the poll question on my blog this week (and mentioned in my podcast) asking my readers if they are actively involved in their local soc. Lisa at & Genealogy Gems Podcast

  7. I agree that gen societies need to incorporate technology to maintain and gain membership. Guess I would place myself in the middle of the road as I benefit from sitting at home gleaning info from the internet, but also enjoying traditional aspects of belonging to a gen society. Being involved in a local group gives me the opportunity to push for needed changes however slowly they come.

  8. Hi Jasia,

    I wrote a response on my blog, although I did not talk about the use of technology. Here's the link:



  9. At the risk of everyone knowing I am a technophobe, how do you scan these journals so that they become searchable?
    It sounds like you have some fantastic genealogical societys in America and I have always been rather envious of being able to get together with like-minded people, an opportunity that rarely comes my way. I hope to see plenty of lively and healthy debate!

  10. Bronwyn

    Here is how I would scan them to be searchable:

    You'd need to scan them and somehow do OCR (optical character recognition) to render the image as text. One way is to create a TIFF and then have Adobe Acrobat do it. But Acrobat, either Standard or Professional, is expensive compared to Reader which is free.

    Then it is a matter of somehow building a database or wiki with all the text.

  11. Bronwyn, I'm putting together a post on the topic of scanning journals. I should have it posted next week.

    Everyone... great comments!

  12. As someone who is active in her local genealogical society as a Board member and an Editor, I'd say please! if you are a member & can't attend meetings, do send a letter, or better yet, make suggestions year round about activities you'd like to see or initiate.

    Most of the society members I know are not 'doing everything the old way' but sometimes groups need a nudge, to refocus the speakers list, for example, or to add new value to websites for 'members only'.

    Now about those journals, are you sure that they aren't already indexed, in PERSI perhaps? If not, why not ask if the publishing organizations are looking at indexing or scanning the journals and offer to help with a future project.

  13. Hi Thomas,
    Thank you for your reply!
    Soon as I posted that comment I remembered that "Presto! PageManager for EPSON" allows converting into Word for some typefaces, tho it is not completely reliable. Sounds like you would be taking on a big job Jasia, but as I rely on library sessions to do this sort of thing I could not really entertain doing it.
    Thank you for taking the time to send your suggestion, and looking forward to your next post on the topic Jasia.

  14. Well J, you tagged me and I took up the offer.

    Here is the rebuttal I've posted:

    In a nice way, I sent the link to Mr. Beidler who wrote the original article and thanked him for spurring such a lively conversation among us genea-bloggers!