Thursday, April 30, 2015

An open letter to genealogy societies

Dear genealogy societies,

No doubt some genealogy society people will be offended by what I've got to say, but this has been on my mind for a long time. I've discussed my concerns with society members from around the country as well with some society board members. I'm just ready to take the conversation to a more public forum.

I have been a member of many genealogy and historical societies - local, state and in a variety of states. As with any type of structured organization, the experience varies with each one. Over the last couple years, I have not been renewing my membership to several of the societies I've been paying dues to for many years.

Why? Mainly, it's because the societies are not meeting my needs as a member. And why is that? Because, as I say tongue in cheek, "genealogists are stuck in the past." While that is where we need to be as genealogists, the past is not where societies need to be.

My list of frustrations with many/some societies today:

1. Hoarding money. I've been a member of societies that have between $14,000 and $80,000 in the bank and at annual meetings the board members seem to be proud of this. When I've asked what the funds are earmarked for, the response has been "saving for a rainy day" to "we don't know." I have some suggestions for how these societies could put the funds to good use for their members: adding books to the society's library, paying for the digitization and online availability of records for your geographic area, paying speakers for their services rather than expecting them to donate their time with no honorarium or travel expenses.

2. The journals and newsletters you send out are a waste of paper and usually a waste of my time. The content is of no value to me. Often, newsletter articles are reprints of something I read online months before. Journals and newsletters represent a bygone era. We are in an electronic age. Give me your news and updates via social media and your web site. And if you insist on continuing to publish your newsletters and journals, please give me the option of receiving it digitally. I don't want your paper.

3. Conferences are usually pretty good. But I've been to enough at this point that I'm hearing the same stuff over and over again. A lot of the content is geared toward the beginning genealogist, not those who have been doing this for a long time. And please don't think that you have to fill every minute of the conference day. You don't have to have entertainment at a luncheon, nor do you need an after dinner speaker. You know what genealogists like? We enjoy the opportunity to visit socially with fellow genealogists - to share our stories, our research successes and frustrations. Much of the time I learn more from these informal gatherings than I learn from the conference content. We need that time with each other. Build it into your conference structure. Make sure your conference rooms have tables. Some of us like to take notes - either on paper or electronically. It's extremely difficult to do this when juggling a notepad or laptop.

4. Web sites aren't updated, nor is content removed once an event has occurred. Hopefully, we are all Googlers and it's frustrating when we do a search on a topic, then land on a web page about an event that occurred five years ago. Keep fresh content on your web site. As a society member, I expect that I may have to pay for content that is behind the curtain. Those databases and indexes that are for "members only" is incentive for people to join your society. Make sure your web site indicates the city, town, county and state in which you are located. Your web site also needs to provide a method for contacting you.

5. You need fresh blood. Some of my societies have been recycling the same board members over and over for years. The societies operate from "we've always done it this way" rather than seeking new and innovative ideas.

6. Think outside the box. Learn about new technologies. I applaud the societies I belong to that offer webinars and podcasts. Not everyone is physically able to attend some of your in-person sessions. Remember that your out-of-town and out-of-state members are entitled to a level of membership services, too. I'm always hearing "we want to get younger members" but the societies are not using the social media strategies that attract that audience. And guess what, if you don't have a society member who has those skills, it's okay to use some of that money you are hoarding to pay someone to do it for you. I recently read a comment in a Facebook forum that a well-known member of the genealogy community was rejected as a conference speaker because he would only provide his syllabus in digital form.

7. While thinking outside the box, let go of the annual membership strategy. Whenever I join your society, I expect a full 12 month membership. When I join in June, don't tell me that I have to rejoin in July and pay another full year's membership fee. And let me be able to join online. I want immediate gratification. Don't make me have to write a check, put it in an envelope, find a stamp and go to the post office. 

What I've described is not necessarily representative of all of the societies in which I've been a member. But I've heard the same or similar concerns expressed by fellow genealogists around the country. I want to support you, I want to be a member, but I expect some member services for my dues and I expect you to put a good portion of the money you collect back in to member services. I'll reiterate my earlier idea that you can put this money into your library collection and the digitization of records.

I'll continue to join and support some societies, but certainly not as many as I have in the past. As Bob Dylan sang more than 50 years ago, "the times they are a-changing."

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Post to remove stolen content

Apologies to my readers. This is a post that is supposed to be used to get another site to remove content that was stolen from this blog.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Missouri State Genealogical Society Conference

Not only did the genealogists come to town this summer, but I got to meet up with some of my long time genealogy friends at the annual conference of the Missouri State Genealogical Society (MoSGA) in Columbia, Missouri in August.

The keynote speaker was D. Joshua Taylor, president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and on-air talent for Genealogy Roadshow and Who Do You Think You Are? I had not heard Josh speak in person before, so that was a real treat. The conference was also an opportunity to meet up with my fellow bloggers, Jenna Mills of Desperately Seeking Surnames, Diana Ritchie of Random Relatives. Also part of the "Genealogy Girls Gone Wild" weekend were Beth Foulk (Genealogy Decoded) and Diana's friend, Nancy Knight. I also got to spend a few minutes catching up with Kathleen Brandt of A3 Genealogy, another researcher on Who Do You Think You Are?

Beth Foulk
Beth Foulk has been speaking about genealogy regionally for quite some time. I first met her when she spoke at the state conference of the Nebraska State Genealogical Society a couple years ago. Beth is knowledgeable, energetic and enthusiastic. Many of us have commented that she should be on the national genealogy speaking circuit. That is going to happen when she speaks at the conference of the National Genealogical Society in St. Charles, Missouri next May. If you are going, make sure you attend Beth's sessions. Beth totally rocked it in Columbia with her pre-session. Even though I heard her speak about timelines at the Nebraska conference, I learned even more this time around.

Josh Taylor shares some "behind the scenes"
stories of genealogy on TV
Josh Taylor's conference sessions were informative and interesting. However, the talk I enjoyed the most was his after dinner presentation with some "behind the scenes" stories from Genealogy Roadshow and Who Do You Think You Are? While contract provisions don't allow him to tell all of the secrets, he was able to share enough to give us a glimpse that it's not always like you see it on TV!

It's always a treat when you find something in the book sale that relates to your family.
My Revolutionary War ancestor, Johannes Bellinger,
is included in this volume I found on Early Families of Herkimer County New York.

The highlight of the weekend was hanging out with my friends and talking genealogy.

Me and Diana Ritchie
I still don't have that "selfie" thing quite figured out!

Jenna Mills - probably Tweeting about the conference

Diana, Nancy and Me
Diana and I were winners in the prize drawings.
Apparently I didn't understand the "rules" so I dropped my ticket in any old basket I found.
So my prize was donated to the library of my local society.
Photo (c) Jenna Mills 2014

After enjoying a wonderful meal with friends,
overlooking the Missouri River at sunset.
Coming Up in 2015!
Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist
will be the featured speaker next year.
I'll be there!

Sometimes I don't always make it to the conferences I register for, but when I do, it's well worth it! I'll be making two trips to Missouri next year - for the NGS conference in May and the MoSGA conference in August.

When the Genealogists Come to Town

I admit that I haven't been blogging much this year. It's been a period of transition following the death of my father, moving and adjusting to my new life. That doesn't mean that I haven't been doing genealogy, however!

My last post was last spring when I wrote about meeting up with Dear Myrtle and Mr. Myrt, Pat Richley-Erickson and Gordon Erickson. Since then, I've met up with two more genealogists who came to Lincoln. I still find it fascinating that we genealogists are able to get acquainted on social media, so once we meet IRL (in real life), we are already friends.

In August, one of my Facebook genealogy buddies, J Paul Hawthorne of Escondido, California was in town for business so we made plans to get together. 

Susan and Paul at the Nebraska State Capitol
We had a nice dinner, during which we talked nonstop genealogy. I gave Paul the ten cent tour of Lincoln, which included a photo op outside of the Nebraska State Capitol and the statue of our city's namesake, Abraham Lincoln. The next afternoon, in nearly unbearable heat, we toured Wyuka Cemetery, visited several of the points of interest on the self-guided tour and stopped at the memorials for 9/11, the Nebraska firefighters and the Nebraska Holocaust Memorial. We also made a stop at my Dad's grave in the veteran's section. A serviceman was there, placing pennies atop the stones of the veterans. He told me that he comes as frequently as possible to pay his respects.

This past weekend, Laura Prescott was making her way across the country as she is moving to Utah to work for She posted on her Facebook page that she was hoping to meet up with other genealogists along Interstate 80 to help break up her trip. I first met Laura when she spoke at the Nebraska State Genealogical Society's conference a few years ago. So, along with my fellow Lincoln genealogist, Gail Blakenau, we made plans to have breakfast on Sunday morning.

Gail, Laura and Susan
One thing you can count on when you get together with other genealogists, it's non-stop talking about family history and research. And I always learn something new! It was great seeing Laura again and to learn about her new adventure with Ancestry - developing online education classes. This is definitely something to look forward to in 2015.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Meeting Up with Dear Myrtle

I continue to be amazed at the power of online social networking. Yesterday morning over coffee I was browsing through my news feed on Facebook. I saw that Dear Myrtle, Pat Richley-Erickson, posted that she was in Iowa City, heading west. I jotted off a quick message and asked if she and Mr. Myrt might have time to stop in Lincoln on their way home to Utah. Within minutes, we had a plan to meet later in the day at a restaurant just off Interstate 80 on the north edge of town.

Susan and Dear Myrtle - Pat Richley-Erickson
The Floppy Hat Genealogy Meet Up
The Ericksons kept me posted throughout the day as to their location so we could plan to arrive about the same time.

This was our first time to meet in person, but we've known one another for several years because of Facebook. I've attended countless webinars and hangouts conducted by Pat and have learned so much about genealogy and tools from her.

I must admit, I felt honored to have her and Gordon "all to myself" for a nice relaxing dinner and to share our thoughts and experiences about genealogy collaboration, technology, presentation techniques and more. I was thrilled they were willing to schedule time in their travels to spend some time together.

Most genealogists on Facebook will likely agree with me - over the years, you get to know your Facebook friends as well, if not better, than the friends you see every day. You keep up with the highs and lows, the successes, family matters - all in addition to what we share with one another about our life in the genealogy world. I've been fortunate to meet several of my Facebook friends over the last four years - either at conferences or by getting together when they were passing through town. There's no awkwardness because we already know each other.

Pat and Gordon are intelligent, kind and interesting people. I'm honored to have them as friends.

Mr. Myrt (Gordon Erickson) and Dear Myrtle
Lincoln, Nebraska