Society Spotlight: What is a history society’s biggest challenge?

Society Spotlight: In today’s post, the history societies identify their biggest challenge.

In the 4th of my Society Spotlight themed blog posts, I look at the second of the questions I asked the three responding societies:

‘What is a society’s biggest challenge?’

This question is probably the one with the most variation between organisations, as each one identifies what it is that they are trying to overcome.

Some of the themes in these answers were straight forward and as you might expect, but all of them surprised me with a comment about the expectations of those who contact them – which has probably become more prevalent by genealogy and research TV shows.

Let’s delve into their answers…

Society of Genealogists logoAbbie Black, The Society of Genealogists

“The biggest challenge for a genealogical society is that people are not aware of the vast amount of services a society can provide for members.”

“At the Society of Genealogists, members are allowed free access to the Library, which houses the largest collection of parish register copies, as well as many other record types. The library is helpful for beginners as well as seasoned genealogists. Members also have free access to the online Society data which is always being updated. This includes digital images of original documents, as well as searchable indexes. Members also have access to free advice from volunteer genealogists, including a telephone advice service, one-on-one consultations, search services, lectures, and society published magazines. Members make provision for non-members to use the Society’s Library on payment of a daily search fee.”

Newman Name Society logoRobert Newman, The Newman Name Society

“Our biggest challenge is to get more people to join and be active members. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, people joined and we all worked together searching the county archives, transcribing records and sharing their finds.”

“Nowadays I find attitudes have changed, due I expect to so much information being on the internet, now some people find they have a spare couple of days, so they decide ‘to do’ their family tree, they contact me and expect our archive to have the details of their family sitting there waiting to be given to them.”

Cambridgeshire Family History Society logoLisa Newman, The Cambridgeshire Family History Society

“Our biggest challenges are retaining membership, engaging the next generation, getting the message across to go out and explore the archives and not sit behind a computer screen.”

“Thinking about what we can offer, that the Internet cannot – perhaps ancestral tourism, education, an opportunity to meet with like-minded people and learn from each other.”

Competing with the giants

What stands out here is that the smaller societies are feeling the weight of the larger online family history websites – the Ancestry, Geni, FindMyPast, GenesReunited types, and the ‘instant’ trees that they can seem to give their users (i’ll skirt round the quality of that elephant in the room for now).

Whilst the Society of Genealogists is a much larger society that is perhaps more able to digitize content, what’s next for the smaller societies? How can they attract new members and interests? How are they going to compete in the future?

In tomorrow’s Society Spotlight post, I explore their future, when they answer my question of ‘How does the Society plan to preserve its knowledge for the future?‘.

Do they have a plan to avoid a repeat of The Cross Family History Society’s death?, and the risk that Linda McCauley spoke of in my first post?

As ever, leave your comments below, or join in the discussion at LinkedIn.

Family x2 x2 x2 x2 and so on…

I like to think that I can pop back many generations on both sides of my tree and name all the surnames that I’ve been able to ‘collect’ – apart from those where there’s illegitimacy.

I’m going to type out my ancestral surnames now as far as i can remember them off the top of my head. The first line is always my own – Martin and the next line is whoever the bride was. On the second generation i list (a generation back), I start again with Martin and add that generation’s bride’s name. Then move on to the ancestors of the bride in generation 1. Still with me?

Oh… well, take a look at my list of the first few from the top of my head… hopefully that’ll make it clearer.

  • Martin
  • Dewey
  • Martin
  • Newman
  • Dewey
  • Barber
  • Martin
  • Burnell
  • Newman
  • Gilbert
  • Dewey
  • Moden
  • Barber
  • Yarrow

This gives me eight surnames (those of my Great Grandparents – 4 of whom i was lucky to know) before i hit the first illegitimacy blocker…

  • Martin
  • Giddings
  • Burnell
  • Barker
  • Newman
  • Cooper
  • Gilbert
  • Howlett
  • Dewey
  • Boulter
  • Moden
  • Cross
  • illegitimate line (with Barber)
  • Barber
  • Yarrow
  • Bishop

Had there have been no illegitimacy, that would have given me a complete set of 16 Great Great Grandparent surnames.. but we’re down to 15 now, due to illegitimacy in the Barber camp.

The next generation of 32 Great Great Great Grandparents not only stretches my memory a bit, but also brings in a few more illegitimacy lines, taking it down to 28 surnames due to 2 new illegitimate children and the line from the previous generation.

  • Martin
  • Tingey
  • illegitimate line (with Giddings)
  • Giddings
  • Burnell
  • Babbage
  • Barker
  • Head
  • Newman
  • Levitt
  • Cooper
  • Fyson
  • Gilbert
  • Brightley
  • Howlett
  • Clarke
  • illegitimate line (with Dewey)
  • Dewey
  • Boulter
  • Moden
  • Moden
  • Freeman
  • Cross
  • Taylor
  • illegitimate line (the paternal line from the Barber one from the previous generation)
  • illegitimate line (the maternal line from the Barber one from the previous generation)
  • Barber
  • Dewsbury
  • Yarrow
  • Gothard
  • Bishop
  • Bowers

I’m going to stop there, but can you name this far back? I do know further back, in fact, i’ve got about 13 generations of the Barber family up my sleeve and almost the same number of Cross too… but how do you fare?