Go to Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Diana, Goddess of the Hunt for Ancestors!
 
Go to Every-Name Index
Every-Name Index
 
On the Changing Role of Genealogy Societies and Family Associations
For many years, two kinds of volunteer, non-profit organizations have existed to aid amateurs in genealogical research:  the county genealogy/history societies and the family associations.  The former is usually based in the county seat of the county it covers, and the latter is usually dedicated to one surname (and it variants) and may be based anywhere.  The older, more developed of these organizations may have an office, a small library, and a part-time volunteer staff, while newer ones may be "one person shows" run out of an individual's home.  Most charge membership dues and nominal fees for services, such as looking up records.  Many have a stable of books, CDs, and transcriptions for sale.

These volunteer organizations are typically run by amateur genealogists as an to aid other amateur genealogists on the philosophy that "if I help you, you will help me" the more we share, the faster we will all progress.  To that I can only say, right on! 

No one can deny that, for many decades, the county genealogy/history societies and family associations have provided an indispensable, invaluable service to the amateur genealogist as a vastly more efficient method of sharing information than one-on-one, snail-mail correspondence.  There have always been problems with this situation, however:  the transfer of information, even via societies and associations, was slow, labor intensive, and costly.

It was presumably never the intention that a county genealogy/history society or family association be a profit-making enterprise.  For most, gathering and sharing data was a labor of love, and publications and postage were charged at cost.  But that cost was never small, principally because the market was small and small press runs and small volume transactions are inherently inefficient and thus expensive.  Of course, the Internet changes all that...

The cost of maintaining a web site with a reliable host on the Internet is as little as $5/mo, and there are several organizations that will host a non-profit family association or genealogy/history society for free.  Information that used to be slow and costly to exchange can now be made available instantly on demand with no cost and no labor (once uploaded).  One would think that genealogy/history societies and family associations would be pouring their information online.  After all, wasn't that the whole purpose of the society from the beginning?  Hasn't the only hindrance been the expense and labor, which are now minimal to zip?  Yet, what do we see?

The non-profit organizations ostensibly created for the sole purpose of exchanging information as quickly and as cheaply as possible are hanging onto their resources with a death grip.  The Internet is apparently seen solely as a retail outlet, as a place to advertise and cash in on the bonanza of millions of new hobby genealogists plying the web for genealogical information.  The very organizations who should be doing the most to get information online are generally doing the least and, in some cases, have even become an impediment.

USGenWeb has one of the largest online networks of volunteer county web sites, many of which counties are administered by county genealogy societies.  I agree that the local county genealogy society is, or ought to be, the logical administrator of a non-profit county web site for this network.  Yet county sites run by genealogy societies are often in marked contrast to the ones administered by individuals with no such society affiliations.  The former are stagnant shells, hawking the wares of the society with little if any useful information available at the site.  The latter sites have archives bulging with information and with more pouring in. 

In just 12 years, I have managed to put over fourteen thousand pages of data on my genealogy web site, starting from scratch, so there's no excuse for so many county administrators not doing more and no excuse for county societies continuing to charge for hard copies of their publications when they could easily and cheaply place them online.

Increasingly, these "semi-commercial" genealogy societies and family associations often existing more to puff the egos of their officers than to serve their fellow genealogists are going to find themselves marginalized as more and more people, like me, pour data online for the free use of all.  These organizations need to decide, now, whether they wish to die a slow death of obsolescence or, instead, become the leaders of a movement to place data online for the free use of all.

Is there any money in it?  No, of course not.  But have we not all professed that genealogy is a labor of love?  And didn't you mean it when you formed your non-profit organization?  So what is your excuse for continuing to charge high prices for data you could easily make available online at little cost to you and none to your fellow genealogists?

(If you don't have the technical expertise to get the material online yourself, just ask around.  There are many genealogists with the required expertise who will be glad to help for free, of course.)

As for the family associations and county sites that always were intended to be for-profit businesses supporting their owners, I'm glad to say that, thanks to the Internet, your business model is going extinct. As Gypsy Rose Lee once quipped, "How can you sell it when the amateurs are giving it away?"

©1999-2010 Diana Gale Matthiesen

Contact Home
Page
Table of
Contents
DNA
Hub
Biddle
DNA
Carrico
DNA
Corbin
DNA
Cupp
DNA
Danish
DNA
Ely
DNA
Lyon(s)
DNA
Rasey
DNA
Reason
DNA
Rose
DNA
Straub
DNA
Pedigree
Charts
Census
Records
Every-Name
Indices

"The Cloud" is double-speak for "dumb terminal on a main frame." Been there; done that. Never again.
You are giving away not only your privacy, but control of your data, your apps, and your computer to a corporation. Is that really where you want to go?
The IT guys on the big iron hated the Personal Computer because it gave users freedom and power; now they've conned you into being back under their control again.
Table of Contents
Go to Table of Contents
 
Privacy Policy ______
Every-Name Index
Go to Every-Name Index