What do not-so-local genealogical societies have to offer? PLENTY!
Someone posted a question on Facebook once that caught my eye. It said, “Why should I join another society?” For me the benefits seem like a no-brainer! connect with researchers who are in areas where your ancestors lived, and access “local” databases and information. I’m a believer because joining a distant society broke one of my long-standing brick walls!
Location, Location, Location!
To answer the question, “What do the individual state societies offer”? (and here I would include county societies as well), I’d like to start with the obvious – they offer information specific to their locale. Many larger societies take pride in their websites, and their collection of online databases, often compiled by volunteers from within their own group, indexing local records. I’ve seen not only cemetery lists and indexes, but vital records of all kinds – marriage and divorce records, obituaries, biographies – even on very small county-level society websites!
“Premium” & Just Plain Awesome Databases
A few societies also offer access to well-known premium databases with membership. Even if you don’t care to join a society, take the time to peruse the websites of those societies at both the state and county levels of where your ancestors lived. Many offer free databases, and/or links to other websites of interest for research in that area.
Publications & Presentations
Most all society memberships include a newsletter or magazine, ranging from bi-monthly to semi-annual publications. One great reason to join a distant society where you will most likely never attend a single meeting, is to be able to post queries in their publications. Many societies also offer discounts on publications they have for sale. Other benefits of society membership might include access to online webinars, powerpoint presentations, or lecture notes from past meetings. Most websites offer surname databases, which often link to other researchers working on those names.
Inexpensive Research in Local Records
Some memberships include discounted research rates. One society offered members research in their facilities by a volunteer genealogist for as little as $5/hour. But by far the best deal going, if you have Massachusetts ancestors in the Berkshire county area, is a $12 individual membership in the Berkshire Family History Association. Your membership includes two hours of research by a volunteer, in the Berkshire Athanaeum, the area library and archives. It was by taking advantage of this offer that I broke my brick wall on my distant grandfather, David Stevens.
Breaking my brick wall: I had collected many tidbits of verifiable information about “my” David Stevens, but there was more than one person of that name in the county, so determining his parentage had been nearly impossible. Taking full advantage of the benefits of joining the county society, a researcher photocopied every resource in the local archives that mentioned my ancestor, David Stevens. One item was a will which listed him, along with several other names that I knew to be his siblings, as well as personal information about them (spouses, where they moved to) – as heirs to Eliphalet Stevens of Pittsfield, thus breaking that brick wall and adding another generation to my family.
Support Your Local Society!
Sadly, many genealogical society websites begin with pleas for members to show interest so they can continue as a society. The extreme opposite of those sites, was the one society that stated if you didn’t attend at least 5 meetings in a year, you would be dropped from active membership.
While I’ve only addressed US genealogy societies in this post, I am certain that the same is true of many of those in other countries.
Finding Not-So-Local Societies
Here are a few on-line directories for finding societies that are both location and/or ethnicity specific:
- Federation of Genealogy Societies (FGS)United States
- Genealogical & Historical Society Directory
- Ancestry’s List of Genealogical Societies
- Wikipedia’s List of Historical Societies
What kinds of benefits do societies offer??
Finally, I’d just like to share a few special deals, in addition to many of the above-mentioned benefits of genealogical society membership offers that I found by perusing the web. (membership fees listed here may not be accurate, but should be close at least):
West Valley Genealogical Society Ind. $35, Couple $60
– Access to subscription websites from home – (New England Historic Society, Ancestry.com, World Vital Records and Fold3)
Southern California Genealogical Society From $35/year
– From-home use of various subscription databases
– 24/7 access to an extensive archive of Jamboree Extension Series Webinars, Live-streamed Classes, and events.
– much more
Berkshire Family History Association Ind. $12, Fam. $14, Student $5
– Two hours of research time by a seasoned genealogist in the Berkshire Athanaeum. (photocopy charges extra).
Middlesex Genealogical Society Ind. $25, Fam. $30
– A membership card which gives you access to vital records at town and city record offices in Connecticut. (Many of the Connecticut societies offer this)
Indiana Genealogical Society Ind. $30, Joint $35
– Access to 1,500+ databases, representing all 92 Indiana counties
– Discounts on subscription databases and conferences
NY Genealogical & Biographical Society Ind. $60 – 1 yr, $100 – 2 yr
– So many proprietary databases, its an absolute must for research New York ancestors
New England Historical & Genealogical Society (American Ancestors) Ind. $89.95
– A kajillion New England databases, and much more. Worth every penny if you have New England ancestors.
These are just a few of the additional benefits of membership that these societies offer. Spend some time finding the societies near the areas you are researching, and see what both their websites and membership have to offer. You just might break your own brick wall.