Genealogical & Historical Societies Need To Provide Benefits For Distance Members

At FGS 2011 last week I had a conversation with a President of a Genealogical Society in SW Missouri about research, the society’s benefits, etc. I had tried to meet this person in May when I spent the month down in SW Missouri but we were unable to meet up.

He suggested I join the society. That had been on my mind for a while. Looking at their membership benefits this morning I was a little shocked. $28 for an individual and this does not include a quarterly. The other benefits are GREAT for local members though. Sadly I am not one of them. The quarterly is a separate subscription for $15 a year.

Now, let me say I was born in Chicago but spent many years growing up in SW Missouri. My roots are not there. I have done a lot of pro-bono research for a good friend and one of his relatives by marriage because they have roots in the state and I have been able to look at records my family just can’t provide. My Bohemian ancestors came off the boat and settled in Chicago after 1880 and prior to 1925. I have no Civil War history or anything before that. This friend’s research lets me explore that.

So why would I want to join this society? Because number one, I want to expand my business into Missouri more. My parents still live down there so I have a free place to stay. Good for clients who need research done near where my parents live – the hotel (and some meal) expense is gone from their bill.

Number two, I enjoy a challenge and exploring new repositories and records. Every family’s story is different and I learn so much doing work for others.

Number three, because I want to network and make solid contacts with other researchers and repositories in that area. Again, I want to expand my business down there and build a reputation. I also want to learn things from those researchers because some of my Chicago clients have families that passed through Missouri. Even if that client work does not allow me to travel, I will still learn of resources to suggest for future research or to attempt to obtain long-distance.

Number four, I want to write articles for their quarterly. I want to learn from quarterly articles and be in the “know” about what’s going on in the society so my education level rises.

So what can this society, or others, offer me, as a distance member?

  • A quarterly with their membership. This particular society offers that separately. Need to cut costs? Offer it online like other societies do and a paper option for those who do not like using the computer for such things.
  • Online databases.
  • Online publications that are free for members. I’d rather have access to online books and quarterlies rather than fill my personal library with paper books that I may rarely use because I do not have much business there.
  • Finding aids for their collections. This society in particular has their own research library AND a collection at the main public library in town. I think they have a finding aid they give to members. If they posted that on their website for everyone, they might just attract other members because of all the amazing resources they have. I visited their research library and the main library so I know some of what is there.
  • Ways to network. They have a blog but it isn’t updated very often. They are not on Twitter or FaceBook unless I have completely missed them. I did ask my contact at the society about this. My local society, DuPage County (IL) has a blog that I run. After FGS I have many more ways to expand how we use it and to encourage distant members in particular to post and hopefully strike up more conversations.
  • Consider a webinar of one of the workshops they offer.
  • Post meeting and workshop handouts and summaries online. You know who does a great job of this? Tony at the Schaumburg Library. Schaumburg is fairly close but I have not yet been able to attend a meeting. I can always go to his blog and see what’s going on though from his posts and handouts. His handouts also contain other resources and his comments on articles he’s read in genealogy magazines and journals.
  • Get some Official Bloggers working at your meetings or conference if you have people willing to do this. Then distance members can be in the know.

There may be other things but those are the biggies off the top of my head.

What do you think a society should offer distance members? Please comment below.

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0 thoughts on “Genealogical & Historical Societies Need To Provide Benefits For Distance Members

  1. Great article Jen. I just wanted to add that they need to have more of an online presence. A website is not enough. I think they would be able to attract more members if you could sign up online. There are societies I have wanted to join, but do not, just for that reason. Personally, I do not have checks and will not order any just to join a society. I should be able to join through my computer. It makes things easier for all involved. I know this is not exactly the angle your article was taking, but I think it goes right along with it.

    • Jennifer Holik-Urban

      I totally agree with that Terri. My society offers online memberships which I love. I just checked and the society in SW Missouri does not. Well there is another thing they could add to their list. Thanks for your comment!

    • Jennifer Holik-Urban

      Here is another thing – keep your website updated. I’m on one society’s site and half the links are broken.

  2. Sue

    Thanks for this interesting article. You describe me to a tee. I live in CA but most of my relatives are from NH and MN. (and now Ct). I look to see what I’d offered dice I will probably not be using their in-house library resources

    I have to admit I joined one area society again that I hadn’t been active in for several years since I had moved on to a different family but decided it was time to get back to it. I went s ahead and joined again without realizing how much it had changed and what was offered anymore. Have to admit I was greatly disappointed. Buyer beware

    • Jennifer Holik-Urban

      Yes, buyer beware is right! I wonder if societies will take note of the fact people want more benefits as distance members.

  3. Pingback: Military Monday – Searching Beyond those Federal Records « DuPage County (IL) Genealogical Society

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