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.

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

Three history and genealogy societies reveal what they feel that their society, and societies like them, see as their biggest need.

In today’s Society Spotlight themed blog post, I reveal the answers to the first question that I asked the societies:

What is the society’s biggest need?

Before approaching the societies, I had a few ideas as to what the themes of this answer might be – people, time, items/records. However, I was surprised that the other of my guesses – a financial theme – doesn’t get mentioned here.

Here’s what the society representatives had to say:

Society of Genealogists logoAbbie Black, The Society of Genealogists (SoG)

“A society’s biggest need is dedicated individuals who want the work of a society to succeed. Volunteers make up most of the workforce of societies, and they do excellent work in continuing the goals of preserving the past. Volunteers digitize documents, create indexes, and help members of the society do effective research.”

“In larger Societies like the Society of Genealogists paid professional staff are also important to a society’s function; they provide professional expertise and competencies, not only in subject specialisms as genealogists or librarians but in management accountability, finance and human resources. Genealogical Societies with professional staff are more common in the USA but the SoG is unique in the UK.”

Robert Newman, The Newman Name Society

Newman Name Society logo“Our biggest need is for more members and for people to share their Newman record finds so that we can build up our archive.”

Lisa Newman, The Cambridgeshire Family History Society

Cambridgeshire Family History Society logo

“I would say our biggest need is to encourage the next generation so that we maintain interest in the future in order to fund projects that preserve original material.”

“We also need support from the FFHS and (in a perfect world) the big internet sites to encourage people to join FHS’s.”

“With ever increasing competition from the big internet sites, why would someone join a society when they think all of the answers are available at the touch of a button? My colleague this week asked me if she typed her name in ancestry.co.uk would it work out who was related to who in her family? I think I visibly deflated at that point!  So I guess we also need to educate people to manage their expectations!”

What do you think?

What do you think of the society responses – any surprises? Leave a comment below, or join in the discussion over on LinkedIn.

In tomorrow’s Society Spotlight posting I ask the societies ‘What’s the Society’s biggest challenge?‘.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013

Day Two of 2013’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live event.

So, I’m just back home from my third Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at London’s Olympia.

The show, now in its second day, seems to be about the same size as in previous years. Thankfully the heating was on, as I’d already experienced the gentle flurry of snow adding to the shivvering I had done on the drab Earls Court station platform.

Stands at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013
View across Olympia lower court.

At one end of the hall were all the local Family History Society stands – brought together by the Society of Genealogists, whilst the rest of the hall is filled with the behemoths of genealogy – the magazines, the suppliers, and the online datashops – Ancestry, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and GenesReunited etc.

Upstairs, once again was the legend that is Eric Knowles, along with military historians – some in period costume. This whole area was packed with people clutching medals and photos, seeking information on relatives or identification of uniforms.

Following on from last year’s Titanic themed FindMyPast theatre, this year it was the turn of the Crime and Punishment theme (coinciding with their huge launch of fresh C&P records online). Their presenters were informative and entertaining, particularly period policeman Myko Clelland‘s search for Wombles.

A presentation by FindMyPast
FindMyPast’s Myko goes hunting for wombles.

The WDYTYALive Tweetup!

I had really wanted to attend what i think was the first ‘tweet-up’, and had been looking forward to meeting up with fellow genealogy twitter users, but awkwardly I was double-booked with the Richard III talk, so I had to bail, although did manage to meet a few twitter friends.

In the run-up, during, and no doubt afterwards, you can keep up with the latest mentions of the event by following the #wdytyalive hashtag on twitter.

Still, as guilty as that snubbing made me feel, i thought I better share Rosemary Morgan‘s photo of all those that did show up, as a kind of ‘sorry i couldn’t make it’.

Samantha Womack

I arrived before 10am, so had plenty of time until my first booked session – the Celebrity Interview with Samantha Womack (or Janus if you remember her in Game On or Eurovision). Interestingly, interviewer Tessa Dunlop led Sam to reveal that she had not watched the broadcast episode as she felt that it was a personal journey and wanted to keep it that way for herself… plus she said she hates seeing and hearing herself.

That aside, we saw a few broadcast clips from key moments, and also a clip that wasn’t in the programme (something seemingly Sam had wanted kept in the show), which revealed much more about her ancestor Jesse Rider being in ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ in the USA before she ever married or had children.

The Two Kings

Dr Turi King on stage
Dr Turi King shed light onto the Richard III dig and its future.

Dr Turi King‘s (University of Leicester) presentation was fascinating, and detailed the archaeological dig from the outset right up to finding and identifying King Richard III via DNA testing and genealogical research. She also gave an insight into what is still going on with the data and the all important skeleton. Dr King told us that there was still a lot of work to do and a lot of information to write up, and also a modern Y chromosome to follow up on. She emphasised that funding is a major issue in this project and in general in archaeology (a subject which Tony Robinson and Helen Geake also emphasised the other week at the University of Cambridge), and whilst this dig has been back-filled, there were still plenty of things to explore further – including a stone coffin which was left untouched.

The talk buried a few rumours (see what i did there?) circulated by the press – including free DNA tests via Who Do You Think You Are?, and also the rumour that Richard III was buried beneath the letter ‘R’ painted on a carpark. He was not.

Searching for Surnames with SoG

My third and final workshop was one with the great Else Churchill from the Society of Genealogists (affectionately known as SoG). She showed off the Society’s forthcoming much improved website, and also gave an insight into the work and vast collection that the Society performs and maintains. Sounds like the Society has a huge legacy of great and valuable historical sources but they are tied up in a range of formats making them a challenge to see. Still, it sounded like plans were afoot to change this, and the new site would at least make searching those items that are already indexed/catalogued much easier.

All in all, this was probably my most enjoyable WDYTYALive. After my first one being somewhat uninteresting, and my second one (last year) seeing me attend workshops for the first time and getting more value from it, this one built on that but with the added meeting of twitter friends old and new.

I look forward to WDYTYALive 2014 (i’m pretty sure I saw a stand selling next year’s tickets).

View across stands at WDYTYA Live 2013
View across stands at WDYTYA Live 2013