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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What do not-so-local genealogical societies have to offer? PLENTY!

Someone posted a question on Facebook today that actually startled me. She wrote, “what do the individual state societies offer?” For me the benefits seemed obvious - connect with researchers who are in the area that your ancestors lived, and access “local” databases and information. Well not only that, but joining a distant society broke one of my long-standing brick walls, so the concept is near and dear to my heart.

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!

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.

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.

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. The researcher photocopied every resources that mentioned my ancestor, and one was a will listing him, along with several others that I knew for sure to be his siblings, as heirs to Eliphalet Stevens of Pittsfield.

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, however I am certain that the same is true of other countries.

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:

West Valley Genealogical Society Ind. $35, Couple $60
- Access to Footnote & World Vital records in library and in home

Southern California Genealogical Society From $35/year
- From-home use of Access NewspaperARCHIVE
- 24-hour access to archived sessions of the Jamboree Extension Webinar Series

Berkshire Family History Association Ind. $12, Fam. $14, Student $5
- Two hours of research time by a 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 696 databases, representing all 92 Indiana counties

NY Genealogical & Biographical Society Ind. $60 - 1 yr, $100 - 2 yr
- So many proprietary databases, its an absolute must for research New York ancestors

Ohio Genealogical Society Ind. $35, Joint $40
- Home access to World Vital Records

New England Historical & Genealogical Society Ind. $79.95
- A kajillion New England databases. 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 checking out their websites. You just might break your own brick wall.

1 comment:

Shannon Thomas said...

My husband and I joined our local society and we have spent loads of time there. They are constantly adding records to their searchable online databases. They also have tons of information there. I love going there; all of the volunteers are always so helpful and very eager to help out.