Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Favorite Genealogical Society

If you don't count my parents, I don't have Eastern Washington ancestors. Like many Americans in today's mobile society, I don't live anywhere near where my ancestors lived. My parents are from Western Michigan and a year after they wed in 1966, they moved to Alaska to do mission work with Native Alaskans. Twelve years later, we moved to Eastern Washington and have lived here ever since. The courthouse and cemeteries, archives and libraries for this area hold few records of our family. So why would I want to join my local genealogical society?

That's the unasked question that basically was at the back of my mind for many years after becoming actively involved in genealogy. I knew there was a local society here in town. For many years, our local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, had a weekly genealogy column by Donna Potter Phillips. Donna always highlighted the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society in her column, but for some reason, I never thought about it enough to consider attending meetings, much less joining as a member. Little did I know that someday, Donna would become my mentor as well as my fellow team blogger for the EWGS blog!

I do regret that I didn't join EWGS sooner. How nice it would have been to get advice early on in my "hunt," especially in the days before it was common for people to have personal computers and Internet access to use as research tools! The society has dozens of experienced family historians and researchers who did genealogy the old-fashioned way and so a lack of online resources is never a challenge to them! They know where the hard-to-find documents are and how to access them. EWGS has always had fantastic yearly workshops and seminars, bringing in "big name" genealogists as speakers, and in attending these, I would have learned so much more at an earlier stage in my obsession passion to find those elusive ancestors.

My first interaction with the society was when I attended the October 2002 workshop on military records, presented by Craig Scott. I was not a member, but somehow I heard about the workshop and decided it would be a good experience for me, as up to that point, I had mainly researched vital and census records. The workshop was very informative and helpful since I have many ancestors who served in the military in our nation's history. I believe I attended one or two more October workshops over the next year or so and then at that point, became a member.

It wasn't long after that when I was asked to serve on the Ways and Means committee and to organize the society's next Rest Stop fundraiser. Most of the funds that are raised are used to purchase new books, CDs, and other resources for the society's genealogical collection, housed on the third floor of the downtown branch of Spokane Public Library. Eventually, I volunteered to head the Members Education committee, which plans and finds presenters for our computer education classes held every third Saturday of the month, free for our members. Many of my readers also know that I started a society blog, with assistance from fellow members Donna Potter Phillips and Charles Hansen. Recently, I served as Vendor Chairperson for the 2009 State Conference committee when our society hosted the Washington State Genealogical Society's annual state conference. My latest adventure involves accepting the nomination to serve on our board as 1st Vice President, whose responsibilities include planning programs for our regular meetings as well as finding presenters for our annual workshops and seminars.

All this is said not to pat myself on the back, but to show how joining and serving in your local society can be a worthwhile and enlightening experience. My society has taught me leadership skills and research techniques, offered networking techniques (you soon discover who within your society is the "expert" on certain research topics or locations!), and expanded my friendship circle, which includes members from age 11 to 88!

In addition to the benefits mentioned above (workshops, classes, etc.), our society offers the award-winning Bulletin published four times a year and a genealogical collection covering U.S. and international resources that rivals those of many societies in much larger cities. We have working partnerships with the Spokane Public Library, our four local Family History Centers, and the Eastern Washington Historical Society. Many of our members also belong to local heritage and lineage societies, so our resource network spreads wide over the area. We often collaborate with other local genealogical societies in Eastern Washington, notably the Tri-City Genealogical Society and the Northeast Washington Genealogical Society, as well as those in North Idaho.

As for other societies, I'm a past member of the Western Michigan Genealogical Society and the Potter County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society which has served me well for the purposes for which I joined at the time. But being active in my local society, even though my ancestors did not live here, has enriched my genealogical life much more than those societies located in my ancestral locations. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society was one I recently joined due to the wealth of data on its website which is available to members only. I'm also one of the founding members of the Geneabloggers "society," a loosely-knit organization of genealogy bloggers and their readers. As social networking and traditional societies and clubs evolve and as video streaming and other technologies improve and become more affordable, I believe we will see virtual groups becoming more popular, not just in genealogy, but in other types of groups as well.

If you are involved in the search for your ancestors but have not considered--or have discounted--your local genealogical society as a resource, I encourage you to take steps toward membership. And if the society somehow isn't what you'd expect, then volunteer and do the necessary work to make it exactly that. Don't be afraid to try new things. There'll always be naysayers. Sometimes those kind of people just need to see a plan take shape before they can let go of their fears and embrace it, especially when it comes to things like technology. Better to have tried out a society and have it disappoint than to find out later down the road that you could have saved a lot a time and energy in your research by being connected with a great group!
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