Oil was put on the rusty threads, but the old bolts would not turn! (AKA, The Drawn Out Death of a Genealogy Society)
Oil was put on the threads, but the old bolts would not turn.
My thoughts, theories, and facts about a failing genealogy society.
(This post is a copy of the same article that I posted on The You Go Genealogy Girls, and Those Old Memories blogs on this same date.)
This pertains mostly to one society but could easily apply to others who are not vigilant with the future of their own societies. Two well written and recent articles can be read here as to the life and death of Genealogical Societies. There are certainly some out there that need to take a lesson from both Susan Petersen and Ruby Coleman. Many of the points-of-fact made in these two fine articles IS what is killing many societies, and sadly my own state society is on that list. The 'good ol' boys' club makes for a slow and painful death! Change is never easy but in this day...you either change and progress or get left behind. I encourage everyone interested in their own Genealogical Society to read the articles written by Susan and Ruby.
A few problems and gripes from my own personal perspective about my State Genealogical Society.
1. There is so much more today for the average genealogist to pick from to help them learn and do quality research, why would anyone waste time with a society who does not want to give much back to them as a member? I volunteer some of my time to a few good sites by helping to index or digitize records. Those sites also give back to me. I also have two local county museum/research centers that benefit me and to whom I help as much as possible. I want my membership to my genealogy society to be a two way street. My state society can't even get caught up on the publications that have been in arrears for months and months, digitizing records for the website is nearly stagnant...there have been no new publications or direct email contacts since the April 2015 Conference. Just a day ago, I got a membership card in the mail which was actually paid in April. Things had begun to progress the last half of 2014 and first part of 2015, now everything appears to be backsliding again.
2. A Facebook page is all that seems to be quite active but has little of consequence on it pertaining to the actual Society itself. It is very little Society news and mostly turned into an inquiry/message board type site. I would love to see some division of the two; news and inquiry. This idea was offered once before and poo-pooed but I still like the idea. Maybe I want to spend time on inquires that day and maybe I only want to quickly check society news (always hoping there will be something uplifting and new) and don’t have time for reading lengthy posts. Other FB sites create separate ‘pages’, why can’t this society do the same?
3. From personal experience my state society has neglected to make use of my offer of free digitizing of records that should be on their regular website (after I offered at least 3 times to help digitize records and got no response from 2008-2013, I quit offering). Those surname family records are still in limbo. Granted I am in the far end of the state, away from most society activity, but I drive and so do most of the society members. I was willing to pick up items too and voiced that to two different past Presidents. Their last State Conference of 2015 brought more requests for help with articles and digitizing...so why didn't anyone contact me OR OTHERS who offered in prior years? This year I was directly asked to help with possible area Rep work, the one time that I could NOT agree to do it because of my husband's illness in 2014-15 and his need for constant care. I did do some graphic design work and printing this last year in the way of certificates and a few other items for the society. I was asked by the then President to help and I did that gladly because it was something I could do from home. I got no pay, nor expected any. I put together a small vendor table group to help bring some variety to the last conference and made several prize donations as they had been sorely lacking in vendors for the several previous yearly Conferences. The only thank you for coming and setting up that I got was from the then President and one other and now past officer/member of the society.
4. How does a State Society elect a new President who makes every effort to bring about change and progress...and then cause so much trouble for her that it led to her resigning after a year of service? (I should add that after having to virtually try to drag them forward because the 'good 'ol boys' resented her straight forward leadership and progressive ideas.) Leadership is truly a quality that few really possess and Presidents of any entity ARE supposed to lead. Most good leaders, including the one who resigned, have years of experience doing just that...LEADING. She has more than 50 years experience, is a well known professional researcher, and had 13 years experience as the head of a 501-C foundation and has written several genealogical publications/books over 40 years. Taking initiative, being out-spoken about problems and solutions, and rallying the other workers/members are known good qualities for leadership. Trailing from behind or being led by a nose ring won't benefit any officer or his/her company/society, particularly one elected to a Presidents job. In the retail or business world, the stagnant and non-progressive type would not even be considered to be President of an organization.
5. Another observation looking in from the outside; personality conflicts have no place within the leadership of any group/society...nor does extreme nasty badgering and bullying. As a close relative of the past President, I admittedly had some special insight into the back-stabbing and obviously malicious attempts toward subverting the Presidential leadership of this lady. The nasty and malicious emails that she received often from two of the “good 'ol boys” for a nearly a year were abhorrent. They should absolutely be ashamed at treating anyone that way. That alone has caused my husband and I to have second thoughts about continuing both our memberships in this society, that yet to be determined. Had it been my choice, all those emails would have been made public and shared with every member of the society. I still think they should be. (The President chose to keep those mostly private, a decision that I absolutely disagreed with.) As President during all that time, she was moving the society forward and trying to protect the Society's assets both real and intellectual.
6. Years of complacency have taken a toll in many areas, including adherence to policy and by-laws, seriously declining membership, poor conference management and programming, the same few people just rotating titles for years, a stagnant to non-existent website and more. This last year, a disgruntled officer (who had held his office for years) officially resigned and it was accepted by the board. An interim replacement volunteer was found to act until elections and when the first officer found out, he just changed his mind to keep the job …he followed no by-law rules and did not wait until election to officially run again. The ensconced old officers in this society do not want change. It is run like a small club not a non-profit society and one which is chartered/sanctioned by NGS by-laws. No society can be a one or two man/woman operation as it requires good leadership and members who are proud to belong and volunteer. Change was beginning to be in order in my society but I feel it will now likely remain stagnant or slip back into regression just as it has been for several years...no change, no improvement, no accountability, and nothing to bring in new ideas and very few new people.
7. As for the money. Why such a complaint about spending a little extra of a good sized savings to help promote a good conference? Maybe I am the only one but a few nice rolls/cookies instead of granola bars was a nice thing! The meals were wonderful too and I am betting the society still has plenty of monetary reserves to move forward on. As a former business owner for 35 years, sometimes you have to spend a little extra to gain a lot in the end! Going to a conference to hear a great speaker, experiencing a very good offering of presentations and meeting with friends is always great fun. I like to hear a renowned speaker when I attend a conference. My dues should help pay for a tiny part of these expenses. I can learn nearly all the same things right from home now so why should I drive all the way from western Nebraska to the east of the state for 8 hours one way if there is not something special to bring me? Megan, Laura, and George were wonderful, what happened with the 2014 conference? Were you saving money for something special, perhaps a rainy day... or for a society burial fund?
I have sat silent on this matter for some time, particularly because I have a direct family relationship to the past President of the Society** that I am particularly referring to. I did not feel that many would heed my comments because of that fact. I have thought about and stewed many nights over this for some time now and I can no longer sit in silence. I watched as certain people carried on a vicious campaign against this lady; mostly because she was assertive and pushed for change, advocated for policy adherence and progress but also because they fostered personal animosity towards her and felt a great loss of former power under her guidance. Her guidance and leadership seemed to intimidate them. Even considering a personal connection to the aforementioned President, I truly feel the outcome would have been the same for anyone who might have threatened the Status-Quo of this organization. In the 15 or so years after my retirement that I have been deeply involved in genealogy, I have joined several genealogy societies both small and large, not a one has failed to be inspirational and helpful in some way except what has been my own state Society. That makes me sad. A few young, climbers who have joined the remaining 'good 'ol boys' will not keep my own society afloat unless they too see that progress and a strong leader into the 21st Century is needed. If they too, fall prey to the statement of “that is always how we have done it” that will be an even quicker way to the society graveyard. Age and youth must work together. Just because you are younger and thinking you are smarter, just shaping to the old society leadership and ideas WILL NOT move the society in the right direction. All genealogy societies need both new blood and the old and experienced members. The so called ‘rookies’ as well as the ‘ensconced relics’ should all have a place, but both should realize that change should occur. The ‘rookies’ are the sustaining life of a surviving society! Old and new can complement one another when they choose to work together for betterment of the society. Knowledge is certainly not limited to one age group! Sadly, because of what I personally believe to have been inspired by a lot of early on jealousy and animus by some of the leadership, my society has recently lost a good President and the backing/membership of several of the seasoned members.With a life to live and more to do than put up with intimidation and down right nasty people, her family wondered why anyone should enjoy serving the ungrateful 'beast'. She is certainly not a quitter, far from it, but after a with encouragement from her family and close friends, me included, she made the ultimate personal decision to resign as President after only one short year. Contrary to what some have put forward, members for decades don't leave because their President is aggressively leading but instead because there is nothing for them to stay for.
I believe that The Nebraska State Genealogical Society leadership has to make some serious and progressive changes if they want the Society to survive. Clean house and start over if necessary. Adhere to rules and by-laws. Try to foster and hold the membership. Actively engage and then show appreciation to volunteers. Take special care of the physical collections and ensure their safety and society ownership for generations to come. Work for the betterment of and be accountable to the membership. The times are changing, accept that... and make the needed changes. This is going to be a tall order in my humble opinion, as I see this society sliding into oblivion as have many others the last few years!
**Ruby Coleman, past President of the Nebraska Genealogical Society is my sister-in-law