Monday, June 22, 2015

Genealogy Society Woes

My genealogy friend, Susan Petersen of Lincoln, Nebraska, writes the blog Long Lost Relatives.  The end of April Susan blogged about genealogy societies in An open letter to genealogy societies.  To briefly point our her frustrations which apply to many local and states societies within many states, they are:  hoarding money, journals and newsletters not available electronically, repetitive conferences, web sites not being updated, regenerating of board members and officers for years and years, lack of innovation and development of new techniques.

Her points are well taken.  Continually I hear people mention or write about a genealogy society that is struggling to exist or on the brink of extinction.  They often ask, "Why is this happenings?"  There are probably many reasons, many of which are addressed by Susan in her April 2015 blog.  Of course, the few left within the society will point their finger at Internet.  Who needs a society when you have Internet?

Welcome!  If a society is not making their members feel welcome, there is no reason for members to join.  Members can be people who attend meetings during the year or people who live a distance away and want to support the society.  This goes hand in hand with the regenerating of board members.  Over and over, board members are juggled around year after year.  Yes, they are usually very willing workers, but what happens when somebody from the outside world want to become a board member?  Most likely they are turned down because the board has turned into an elite group.  The same board will ask for volunteers.  When somebody volunteers, most likely they are never contacted and at the very least not felt welcome.  Out of the mouths of those same board members, you will hear "We can never find officers."  This placates their need for juggling officers!

What experience do people need to become a genealogy society board member?  Is this information spelled out somewhere?  At the time of the organization of a genealogical society and formation of the board, all of the board members were board-beginners.  Clues to what is considered appropriate for board members can be found in the society's by-laws, mission statement and/or standing rules.  If you have joined a society, regardless of the membership fee, you have invested in that society and you are entitled to know the inner-workings of the society.

A by-law is a rule or law established by the organization to regulate itself.  They are important or the genealogy society become an "anything goes as we want it to go" society.  By-laws are so important that the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society have theirs posted on their websites.  Many societies, large, small, local or state post theirs on their web sites.  They take this seriously!  As a member you should also!

Each state and local genealogical society has their own wording for by-laws, but basically they are a base for regulating the membership criteria, their non-profit status, purpose, meetings, officers, board of directors, committees and more.  Unfortunately many society board members become complacent when it comes to adhering to the by-laws.  When their membership goes downhill and there is a total lack of enthusiasm, it is time for somebody to ask who is running the show.  Is one person on the board exerting their authority?  Are board members adhering to the by-laws?  Do they even read the by-laws?

The standing rules of a genealogy society normally will contain more explicit information pertaining to the duties and responsibilities of officers, trustees and committees.  Is there an overlap in responsibilities on your society's board?  Maybe you need to add a committee of people to oversee special duties and functions.  Is one person on the board assuming too much responsibility for the affairs of the society?

Most genealogy societies have a mission statement that contains their purpose in a few words or one or two sentences.  The Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library's mission statement is, "The Southern California Genealogical Society exists to foster interest in family history and genealogy, preserve genealogical materials, and provide instruction in accepted and effective research techniques."  At least once a year, every society's board members need to re-read the mission statement and ask if they are fulfilling that statement.  Why would you want to join a society that has no guidance or goals?

Why does a genealogical society need a web site, Facebook page or blog?  Answer:  to be in touch with their members and prospective members.  What about those few who still do not care to own a computer?  Are they not significant?  Reach out to everybody, even though you cringe at the prospect that a member is not computer savvy.  We have come a long ways in the genealogy world, but we need to embrace all genealogists of various levels of expertise and experience.  Is your web site up to date?  There is nothing more frustrating than paying membership dues and either not receiving publications that are specifically noted in membership benefits and/or consistently viewing a stagnant web page.  If you are to receive four publications a years, whether in paper or electronically, you are entitled to those publications.

Time!  We all need more time.  I have heard this continually within genealogical societies.  It is difficult to expect volunteers, whether officers, committee people or members, to contribute on a timely schedule.  However, by working together, it can and should be done.  Working together is the key!  If your society has specific projects, set a time frame for them and adhere to it.  Fulfill your goals.

Maybe your genealogical society has sparse bank accounts, but most have funds that are adequate enough for projects and some type of conference or meetings.  Cutting corners in genealogical education is NOT an option.  People who attend conferences, whether members of not, will be paying for the conference, spending transportation money, as well as money for food and lodging.  Is your conference worthwhile enough to attract members and non-members?  Keep in mind that non-members may become members if they are made welcome and if they learn and enjoy the conference.  Are webinars and online videos killing the conferences?  Genealogical societies need to readjust their attitude toward conferences.  Ask yourself why people are not attending.   Can you appeal to smaller groups more frequently and still educate them?  People want something, free or purchased, when they attend a conference.  Because of expenses, vendors are not attending conferences except for the "big three."  Look at the genealogical population in your area and decide what will work best.  Think outside the box.  Do not be afraid to do something different.

When I began doing genealogical research approximately 50 years ago, the only way to obtain information was to write to a library or courthouse.  Of course, you could always drive there.  We did not make phone calls and there was no e-mail and no fax machines.  Many courthouses did not have photocopy machines.  When I was about 17 years old, my mother hired a professional genealogist to mentor me.  This was the greatest gift my mother ever gave me.  The mentor did not tell me exactly what to do, but had me resolve, with her guidance, my research problems, evaluate the evidence and determine the steps of the research process.  In 1960 this was the beginning of genealogy in my life.  I have never ceased to learn, study, receive education and have ceaselessly attempted to share my knowledge with others.  At age 71, I am still contributing and learning.  I welcome and embrace the younger generation of genealogists.  They are the ones, like I was in 1960, who will carry on the research.  However, this can also be two-sided.  Does the younger generation embrace the older genealogists?  Sad so say, many do not.  Just because you have achieved a certain level of research ability by age 35 and hold positions on genealogical society boards, does not mean that you can ignore and discount genealogists who have years and years of knowledge to share.  Is your society appealing to every age, race and nationality?  About 20 years ago I was shunned from a genealogical society because I am a professional genealogist  We both lost in this case.  I was looking forward to learning more about doing research in that area and I would have willingly share my expertise with them.

Turn your society into a win-win group.  To do this, look at every aspect of the society, beginning with the mission statement, by-laws and standing rules.  Do some soul-searching to determine your role in the society and how you are going to make significant improvements.  Have you considered what would happen if the library opened its doors and nobody walked through those doors?  What happens if your society ceases to exist simply because lack of enthusiasm, structure and consideration.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

NEBRASKA --- host to the Family History Expo

In less than a month, the Midwest Family History Expo will be coming to Kearney, Nebraska.  It begins at the Holiday Inn Convention Center on Sept 12th at noon and ends at 4:30 pm on Sept 13th.

There will be vendors and exhibiters and speakers and people talking GENEALOGY.  You won't want to miss out on this event.  I will be speaking on both days.  My topics are:  Organizing Your Genealogy Mess (and who doesn't have a mess?); Prose on the Prairie:  Letters, Dairies and Journals; Nebraska Homestead Records Online; Westward Migrations:  Midwest to the Plains States; Annulments, Separations and Divorces; Am I an American Now? --Becoming Naturalized.

James L. Tanner will be at the Expo to give you all kinds of advise about, Ancestry, Google and  If you have German ancestry, you won't want to miss Ruth Ellen Maness, AG who speaks about German websites, research in German records and even about Scandinavian church records.

Artlene Eakle returns to speak on New England research, immigration/emigration records and the Scots-Irish.  Brad and Sharon Monson will be lending their expertise about proving your pedigree, tips for beginners, Google and scanning photos and documents.  In addition,
Beth Sparrow of Nebraska will be speaking about Find A Grave and USGenWeb.  There are others along with a great panel discussion, Museums and their Genealogical Value.

Get your reservations made and mark your calendar.  This will be an event you will not want to miss. See you in Kearney in September.

Ruby ... bound to be gold in this event!  
Holiday Inn
110 S. 2nd Avenue
Kearney, NE 68847 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Nebraska ... where genealogy gold shines!

The horse trotted north out of Kansas and we are now in Nebraska.  Feels like home!  The saddle bag has been lightened.  All of my books, Genealogical Research in Nebraska, revised edition, have been sold.  The mouse suggested that I make a digital copy of it for sale on my web page.  We arrived here in Nebraska much lighter, so it's time to mine for genealogy gold.

First things first!  Genealogical Research in Nebraska, revised edition contains over 545 pages.  There are hundreds of URL links and the mouse said your mouse should be able to click on any of them and find gold.  You can purchase that in PDF format on my website, Genealogy Works,  for $24.95.  Hurry and do this so you can follow me around looking for Nebraska gold!

I suppose the best place to start is the Nebraska State Historical Society at 1500 R Street in Lincoln, NE.  The mouse suggested we get there before the Huskers begin their football season because that society is located on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.  There might not be a place to tie up my horse if we wait too long.
Nebraska State Historical Society

What a great surprise that I have found a list of Nebraska newspapers on microfilm.  They also have the Nebraska newspapers there on microfilm.   Then I discovered their Photo Collections.  They consist of Prairie Settlement, Nebraska Memories, Willa Cather Archives, Omaha Indian Heritage and Plains Indian Ledger Art.  There's a lot in that building, so best you look for yourself.

My next stop is at the Ella Johnson Crandall Memorial Library.  It is at the Union College campus at 3800 S. 48th Street in Lincoln, NE.  The Lincoln-Lancaster Genealogical Society (LLCCS) library collection is there.  Take a peak at what is in that collection and you will undoubtedly find some gold nuggets.

The trip here from Kansas has done me in.  I will let you know about more nuggets in a few days.

Ruby --- mining for genealogy gold in Nebraska

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nuggets in those digital books

I am about to leave Kansas.  The horse and mouse decided to spend another day resting.  That gave me plenty of time to get my two books into digital format and ready for genealogists to buy and download.  Both books are in PDF format and can be read with Adobe Acrobat.

Iowa Genealogical Research contains 418 pages.  It sells for $22.95 in digital format.  Be sure to follow the directions and put it in the cart before paying for it.  There are hundreds of URL links that will keep researchers very busy.

Genealogical Research in Nebraska, revised edition contains 545 pages.  It sells for $24.95 in digital format.  Follow the directions for purchasing it also.  This books contains hundreds of URL links.

Stay tuned for my travels ... the horse and mouse are ready to take off again.

Ruby --- mining genealogy gold and leaving nuggets in digital format.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Kansas Has Genealogy Gold

My trusty companions, the horse and mouse, have turned me south and west of Michigan.  We crossed some a mighty big rivers and ended up in Kansas.  This state promises to be interesting and should keep me busy all weekend.

So far I have been looking for gold at the Kansas Historical Society.  They have a section devoted to Kansas Memory.  The mouse clicked on Osborne County and discovered all kinds of photographs and documents.  Now the mouse wants to click on all of the counties!  The Historical Society's Kansas Digital Newspaper program is interesting.  There are over 200,000 Kansas newspapers available (free) at Chronicling America-Library of Congress.  The horse and mouse are excited that we are turning east and heading to Washington, DC.  There is no need since all that gold is right here for the mouse to find.

There is still gold nuggets to be found in Topeka, so I hunker down to start diggin'.  I discovered the Kansas Military Index and it was shining nice and bright with gold.  I am jumping for joy because there are indexes to all kinds of military records, such as the Kansas 19th Cavalry Enlistments, 1868-1869. There is also an index to Civil War veterans in Kansas.

I met up with another genealogist who was mining for gold.  She whispered that I should look for nuggets in Osborne County, Kansas.  It seems that the library there has some buried nuggets just waiting for genealogists.  The horse, mouse and I head for the Osborne Public Library in the town of Osborne.  It is a nice looking place and I hitch the horse up to a sign that is for handicapped.  Sure enough there is gold in that library.  I discover the digitized newspapers that begin in 1876.

Dodge City seems like an interesting place that just might have gold.  I hope I don't have to fight off gunslingers to get to it.  The Kansas Genealogical Society has a library there.  They are joined by the Kansas Society Daughters of the American Revolution in depositing gold there.  I stumble across an index to obituaries and jump for joy.  They begin in 1870.  There is just enough here for me to stick around Dodge City for days.

See you next week!

Ruby ... finding genealogy gold in Kansas

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Michigan ... where there's Genealogy Gold

I can't leave this state yet until I find more gold.   It is shimmering through the trees and the rocks.  Makes a person want to just stay forever.

A gal named Kim gave me a tip on finding some gold, so the mouse and I set off real quick to see what was there.  Sure enough that gal Kim was right!  It didn't take the mouse long to find The Dibean Michigan Marriage Index.  It's full of gold!  Every county in Michigan is listed, along with corrections and additions and new marriages.  Even the mouse bounced around with joy.

Then I discovered gold at the Michigan Department of Health.   It was their Genealogical Death Indexing System where I found it.  There are only thirty years worth of information on it, 1867-1897, but I found some nuggets.

As long as the stable boy tends to my horse, the mouse and I travel along the trails of Michigan.  It was on one of those travels that I discovered more nuggets at the Michigan County Histories and Atlases.    The mouse whispered in my ear that I should let it click on "Browse Michigan County Histories and Atlases."  The diggin' is so good there I was shouting and doing a happy dance.

I may never leave this beautiful state.  There is a Western Michigan Genealogical Society that has Online Searchable Databases.  The mouse said he would just take over and let me rest a spell.  So I leaned back on my saddle bag and let him lead the way.

After a hearty meal of  stew and biscuits, the mouse and I took off for a place called Brighton.  It was there I discovered more nuggets at the Brighton District Library.  They have indexes to marriage notices, obituaries, marriage records, cemetery records and death notices and records.

You will have to just stick with me through all this traveling around.  I may stay in Michigan a bit longer and then you may find me somewhere else.

Ruby ... still mining gold in Michigan

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finding Genealogy Gold in Michigan

It was fun spending a few days in Tennessee.  The horse and mouse won and have forced me to leave for Michigan.  That's a bit further north and you won't believe the gold I've found.

They have what is called a Michigan Genealogical Council.  The mouse showed me all kinds of links at what is called a sidebar.  I hardly knew where to begin.  First I clicked on Michigan Genealogical and Historical Societies.  A big bunch of those so people in Michigan must like to do genealogical research ... what I call diggin' for genealogy gold.  It is such a large state with so many societies, I hardly knew where to look, but I settled for the Jackson County Michigan Genealogical Society.  Pure gold there!  They have death indexes 1886-1899 and death indexes 1900-1901.  There's also a township map and I discovered all kinds of gold there such as a listing of documents and resources for the individual townships.  I may be here for a while.

The mouse doesn't stay still for long, so clicked on Research Tools.  Looks like a lot of genealogy gold there also, everything from libraries and archives to newspapers and finding aids.  There I discovered the Archives of Michigan; Michigan Historical Center.  I love indexes so clicked on Indexes.  Sure enough there I discovered Seeking Michigan that everybody along the trail has talked about.  You can search all kinds of things there.

That Seeking Michigan is a bit tricky, so let me give you some advise.  Go to the top right hand corner and you'll see Advanced Search.  Have your little mouse click on that.  Up will come some search boxes and also the names of all their collections.  That's gold ... death records 1897-1920, Civil War manuscripts, Civil War records, maps, plat maps and a whole lot more.

There is so much here I have decided to put the horse in a stable, grab my saddle bag and mouse and head out to see what gold I can find.  I expect there will be lot of it in Michigan.

Ruby ... finding genealogy gold!