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Family Associations

Family associations can be a powerful aid to researchers in breaking through the proverbial brick wall.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 1373 (approx.)
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Why join a Family Association

"There is power in numbers." In the realm of genealogy we discover that many genealogists networking together can be of great benefit to any singe member of that group. There are several examples of multi-researcher platforms available to the genealogists, especially with the advent of the internet. The success stories about how someone found a pearl of data concerning an ancestor from a database, a public website, a forum, or as a result of joining an association or society continues to pile up and validates the idea, that the more sets of eyes that you have out there looking, the better the chance something will be dug up. Add to that advantage, a family association that collects many researchers of a particular surname, and you have some pretty intensive help researching your surname of interest.


On my inspection of the topic of "Family Associations" I found that there is a bit of conflicting descriptions connected with the topic on the internet. Generally speaking, a family association is a group of people who share a common ancestor or the same surname. The members of a family association may have various goals in mind, but exchanging and sharing genealogical information, sources and workable techniques concerning a common research subject is the overall importance to the researcher.

But there are some variations of purposes connected with the term "Family Associations". Most commonly is the "American Family Association" which has nothing to do with family associations in America, but rather is a non-profit organization that promotes conservative Christian values.

I also noticed after inspecting a Family Association directory that some associations are entertaining bigger areas of interest than a single surname. Like Joseph Smith is in addition to the documentation of that Smith line, it is also dedicated to the history of the Mormon religion.

The above association directory does not contain, by far, all of the associations out there. A quick tour of any engine under the keywords of "Family Associations" or under a particular surname will immediately demonstrate the hundreds of websites representing the various family associations. One can easily type a surname into the search engine of choice and soon find an association connected or at least a single family researcher's website.

One of the more powerful tools being used by some family associations is a linking up with DNA testing organizations, like, and establishing a surname DNA project. Thus, family associations can be contacted via

How Can Family Associations Help Me?

I will give you an example of my own experiences with a couple different family associations. I joined the Owen Association in 2006 after it was obvious that my mother's family line had crashed into the preverbal brick wall. It became very apparent that many of the members of the Owen Family Association were having the same difficulty trying to find a link to some half dozen documented Owen clans in the Halifax County area of Virginia. This was due in part because the British during the War of 1812 destroyed many of the documents concerning the area. One would have thought that such a concentration of the same surname would be related, but after DNA testing, and some documentation, it was found not one Owen family was related to the other. I myself discovered a link to one of the Pole Cat Creek Owens which I would never had been able to do on my own research. It was obvious such a connection would not have been possible without the association and the DNA project.

With another example, it is sometimes the lack of data or perhaps the omission of data that is just as valuable to a researcher as it is for a researcher to find more data. This was the result when I joined the Smith Worldwide Family group, which was also participating in a DNA project from With hundreds of participating DNA samples, all with the surname of Smith, I was reasonably sure I would discover something. When I didn't, it became evident that my Adam Smith may have change more than a few syllables of his last name. With the first DNA cross-matching exercise, I found myself, indeed, with the idea of taking my research into another direction. So, in fact, no matches might be just as important as matches would be.

Starting your Own Family Association

Remember, you can always start your own family association, if you discover there is not one to your liking. However, like the dwindling fraternal organizations across the United States, keeping the members engaged and interested may prove to be your hardest task.

There are some important issues to resolve before starting an association. Knowing the purpose and scope of the association is vital. For example, of a smaller scope, I publish two newsletters once a year, each geared toward a separate surname. I think of the 4 to 6 page newsletters as a kind of glorified Christmas card. I find this sufficient in my scope and have as the purpose to inform family and friends of genealogical progress in the family, which gives any family member the opportunity to respond and add content such as their research results or just stay in touch. Of course, my being the author of a couple family books, promoting my books also enters into my purpose. Just the fact that I maintain an annual publication to over 300 people is a sort of a family association. Some associations branch out into annual or in the case of my Owen clan, a tri-annual family reunion event, which is generally sponsored by a particular family unit. The scope can be as large as every Smith surnamed family in America, or only one Smith family line. Either way, the bigger the scope and the grander the vision, the more work it will be in keeping everybody informed and pumped up. The bigger the purpose, the more you will need to assign duties to others. Some important jobs to be covered in an association are a newsletter editor, a person who handles membership dues, and an informed historian. If your association is also linked to a DNA project, then someone should be the DNA project manager.

As your association progresses to ever larger grouping, you will find yourself struggling with the various spellings of a surname and whether to include them. Such decisions will ultimately fall on your shoulders or your tight-knit group who were with you when somebody excitedly mentioned, "Hey, why don't we start a family association?"

You might consider having working meetings, where all the various association officers actually work on each duty and chore, or a tele-communication, or the use of a forum on the internet at a set time. One would prepare the newsletter, another working on the correspondences and another on the website etc. In this way, you can have fun sipping coffee and eating pastries while contributing to the group's vitality. Obviously, a working meeting will not work if members are flung across the entire United States. It will take a lot of volunteering hours which needs to be handed out. Such a commitment can be too much of a burden for one or a couple people.

Family associations can really tackle some larger projects than what one researcher could possibly do. The association can eventually create databases, publish books, and transcribe important documents, to name a few activities. When confronting everything connected to a single surname, the larger scope of the research can reveal some surprising results that would have never been spotted by a single researcher plugging along.

If you do start an association, be sure to create a plan which includes the dissemination of your association. Think of it as a genealogy party, where everyone is invited. If you like to get your feet wet before taking the plunge, you can always join and participate at your local library with their history section or the local genealogical or historical society. In this way, you can better appreciate what volunteers do and what you might be in for if you join or create a family association.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2011.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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