When I first dipped my toes into the genealogy & family history Society arena I was steered in the direction of the local society. That was back in 1988, and I have been a member of that Society ever since.
That was the days before the Internet and the days before on-line facilities. The way to become involved with a society was to pay the appropriate membership fee and in exchange receive a quarterly journal. For this particular Society I still have all those journals, all 104 of them! Surname interests were submitted to the Society using pen and paper and inserted into an envelope with a stamp. They appeared in the journal within a few months. In order to “connect” or share information with a fellow member you wrote a letter. I am still in touch with several of those early day researchers. One has become a great friend and resides in New Zealand. I can still recall the excitement when an envelope arrived with a New Zealand stamp on and I devoured the letter full of details of domestics, holidays, friendship and of course family history, the latest finds and discoveries.
This was the days of indexing parish records, monumental inscriptions and strays and much, much more. The data was indexed, checked and collated on index cards and slips and stored in shoe boxes. There was an army of volunteers working for the benefit of the members and the society. Working in a way that was completely alien to many of the new genealogists of today. I recall checking a series of monumental inscriptions at the churchyard of a rural parish in Surrey during a series of lunch breaks, in the days when pharmacies closed for lunch. Really it was all very civilised and looking back on the changes both within my profession and family history we really have been on a quite a journey.
A volunteer held those shoe boxes of data and undertook look ups on behalf of the Society. There might have been a fee to members or non members. It depended on the indexes and the Society. As I write this I have glanced back through a few of the early journals. Some of those journals contained articles from members who were deemed knowledgeable within the Society and many have since passed away after contributing so much.
Today, we can pay a fee and access an amazing amount of records via the on-line portals and business of Ancestry, FindmyPast and several others. Genealogy and family history is at risk of being deemed an on-line and “there at the touch of a button” hobby, but that is a subject for another Society Saturday.
I believe in giving back. Not necessarily to the Society that I have gained so much from, but to the wider hobby, obsession, genealogical arena. Paying the way forward in terms of knowledge, support and simply providing funds in the form of membership fees. That first Society I mentioned above had their annual fee at £6 for over 15 years and for me it was worth at least two or three times that. That Society is established in my home County. I have not attended a meeting for over 15 years because of geography, but I look forward to the journals and usually read them within days of it arriving. The membership secretary is in fact the one that processed my membership back in 1988!
Perhaps the instinct to belong to something somehow kicks into our minds and encourages us to part with cash to join a group of like minded people. Whatever the reason, stepping forward to Societies that we are members of,.and assisting in the society growing, moving forward into a new dimension of family history is important not just to the society but to us as individuals.
I believe that it is not necessarily what our Society can do for us, but what can we do for our Society.