Welcome to Scottish Genealogy Tips And Tidbits

A wee bit of info to help you in your journey to discover your Scottish Ancestors and maybe even crack a brick wall or two!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Ask Not What Your Genealogy Society Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Your Genealogy Society

I love my local genealogy society. I have no history in this area, no ancestors. My husband's parents were first generation here, and that's not that terribly long ago in genealogical terms. But I decided to see what the local society was all about. That was 6 years ago. Shortly after I joined, I noticed that the Society was in need of a newsletter editor. Hmm. Something I could not only do, but do from home. In my career, I was a regular committee-sitter (note that my personal belief that a camel is a horse put together by a committee), so I was clear when I met with the Society that while I was happy to edit their newsletter, I was not interested in being on any committees.

I still don't sit on committees. But I do attend the Executive meetings, the regular meetings when time allows, and am always in awe whenever I drop by the library. It is a beehive of activity. People working on projects: copying, cutting, pasting, entering info into a database, looking up information to satisfy a query or assisting a visitor with finding their ancestor in our vast collection. 

For the Societies I belong to that are too far for me to assist on a regular basis, I don't have the same sense of affiliation, but the awe and admiration are certainly there. And I try to help if and when I can. Sometimes it is the offer to speak, or to submit an article for their newsletter. I know in my heart I am not helping them to the same capacity, but I also know that like any donation, even small amounts of time and assistance add up.  

The genealogy community is an amazing place. It is open, friendly, helpful and caring. There is such an amazing sense of connection to people we barely know by sight, but are strongly associated with through social media, e-mails, sharing research. So why are we so reluctant to help our local societies? This one has always baffled me.  

Most of us who belong to a church community are only too happy to give of our time and talents. If we belong to a club or association, we offer to help in instrumental ways like baking for sales or dinners, selling tickets, setting up for meetings. Parents sit on committees, run phone chains, fundraise. Why is it that genealogists don't help their Genealogy Societies in the same way? 

My hope is the reason for not helping is because we don't feel we are "good enough" at genealogy. Ok, so speaking to a group ties us in knots and causes severe belly cramps. Probably not a good idea to volunteer as a speaker. But ANYone can copy newspaper pages, cut and paste obituaries, birth announcements, marriage announcements or other items of local or family history interest. ANYone can attend a meeting and perhaps leave a little smarter and more energized afterward. ANYone can buy a ticket to a raffle, a social event or some other fundraiser.  

I hear so many people say, "well, they are a clique", "they are all so set in their ways", "its an old lady society" But let's put on our genealogy hats and analyze those thoughts for a minute:  

"Its an old ladies club" Ok, so lots of us have grey hair. Trust me, we have earned it. We have raised kids and survived the constant worry of the teenage years. We have nursed sick husbands, and survived the overwhelming emptiness after we lose them. We have endured careers and are happy to be away from the daily grind, politics and, yes, grey hairs that came with those careers. Believe me when I say we weren't all grey when we started our interest in family history. In fact, most of us weren't grey when we started volunteering either. Don't let our life experience intimidate you or turn you away. We can't help that anymore than we can help our wrinkles, our belly bulge or our arthritic joints.  

"They are all so set in their ways" Maybe. But that doesn't mean we aren't open to new ideas. After all, as a Society, we have been around for years. We have gone from paper research, to microfiche/microfilm to computers and the digitized world. We have managed to change with the times and still stay afloat. What we are opposed to is a new person coming in and trying to take over.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that we don't want to pass the torch - someday. After all, genealogists are all about handing the past over to the future. But we also want to make sure that all of our years of sweat, toil, and papercuts are not going to be for nought. Like any healthy relationship, it comes down to trust. We want to work with you. Get to know you. Discover that our past will be safe in your hands in the future.  

"Well, they are a clique" This is a common one. Please don't confuse our friendship, developed over years of sharing time, stories and memories together with us being a clique.  

The definition of a clique is pretty similar to a friendship circle, with one huge difference. A clique excludes others. Like a private club. Genealogy Societies don't. We are all about membership. Our doors and our resources are open to others. Sure we support each other. We have become friends, after all. We have learned how we work as a group or as individuals. But that doesn't mean we won't do the same for you.

Come. Spend time. Offer to help. Share your research stories and brick walls with us. I guarantee you will be rewarded for your efforts. Heck, you might just want to sit on a committee or take on an executive position so that one of us can step aside, pass the torch, and feel tremendous pride knowing our Society is going to be safe and secure in the future, thanks to your help.





  1. What an excellent detailed post, Christine! I've offered to help at our local genealogical society, although without a car it can be challenging and time-consuming getting to the Library. Still... I probably need to stick my neck out more!

  2. I know how you feel, Celia. So often we say we will do something then the reality of life gets in the way. But at least we are making the effort, right?