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Local Genealogical Societies Open Doors

Belonging to a local genealogical society can be especially helpful when roadblocks hinder research. Members will often advice the novice where to go next or tell where they got help with a similar problem.

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Prepared by: Bob Brooke
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Many people beginning a quest to find their ancestors often think it's easy, but as time goes on, they get more and more frustrated and may eventually give up their search altogether. That's a shame because nearby there's most likely a source of information and hands-on help that could have kept them on course. That source is the local genealogical society.

The membership of local genealogical societies usually consists of a combination of professional and family genealogists. Each of them offers opportunities to learn from their mistakes as well as insightful resources and guidance when searching records. Joining a local genealogical society is a great way to meet and network with people who are equally fascinated with their family histories.

Most family genealogists begin their study of their family's history by accident. Perhaps it starts by asking a parent about the family. From there, the family genealogist may come up with the idea to write a family history for their children. A whole lot has to happen between the igniting of the spark of that idea and the finished history. Belonging to a local genealogical society can be especially helpful when roadblocks hinder research. Members will often advice the novice where to go next or tell where they got help with a similar problem.

Another advantage is that society members may suggest new directions that the family genealogist was unaware of. At some meetings, potential members get up and introduce themselves and tell about surnames, topics, or geographic areas in which they're interested. More experienced members will sometimes add that they've been researching the same surname, topic, or area. Societies also hold workshops, seminars, and conferences filled with invaluable information for the beginning genealogist.

Often a novice will attend a meeting of the local society through the invitation of a friend who may be a member. Some think they've exhausted all avenues of research until they hear about new ones at the meeting. This renews their search and gives them a shot of enthusiasm which can be infectious at these local meetings.

Genealogical societies provide the means and information to go about researching a family's history and offer the tools that beginners need. Societies can also help a novice find out where to find certain records and how to extract and interpret information from them.

While the local genealogical society is the place to start, those investigating records overseas should consider joining an ethnicity-specific society. Even in today's tech savvy world of the Internet and E-mail, it may be necessary to travel to a family's home country to continue the search. It's important to know where the records are stored and how to interpret them before setting foot on a plane. Local society members who are researching the same ethnicity can provide specific advice about the country of research.

One woman learned how to find living relatives she had in Poland using the methods she heard about during society meetings. On the advice of other members, she went to a local cemetery in the town her ancestors originally emigrated from and saw candles lit on the tombs of her relatives. She asked the caretaker who placed the candles there, and he said a member of the family came by every so often to take care of the graves. By going back a few times, she eventually met her Polish relatives.

While it may be impossible to attend meetings, it's important to join a local or regional genealogical society in the area where ancestors came from. These societies usually publish a monthly newsletter that tells about families living there and also about the region or town, itself.

These newsletters can be valuable resources for networking and are a means to find out if anyone else is researching the same family line. For those who can't or don't want to join a local foreign society, they may find that their regional society already exchanges newsletter with the one abroad and keeps these on file in their library.

A local genealogical society can be a gold mine of additional information, saving the beginning family genealogist both time and money. Membership fees, which include meetings, lectures, and a monthly or quarterly newsletter, are reasonable, ranging from approximately $10 or $12 to perhaps $50 a year. Societies in small towns may only have 10 or so members at a meeting while those in cities can have up to 150 attending.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, 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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