Bringing Genealogy Societies into the 21st Century: Recap

Federation of Genealogical Societies logoI just finished listening to the very first episode of “My Society,” a free weekly Internet radio show sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies. This week’s episode featured Curt Witcher, speaking on the topic of “Bringing Genealogical Societies into the 21st Century.” This fits very well with his keynote presentation at RootsTech: “The Changing Face of Genealogy.”

You can listen to the archived version for free at

The recurring theme through the episode was “high tech, high touch.” If societies want to be successful, they need to find ways to touch more people with their mission-centric activities. Technology for technology’s sake isn’t the answer, according to Curt. Taking what you’re good at and what is tied to your mission — whether it’s queries or publications, etc. — and using technology to touch more people with it is what will drive success.

Societies need to remember two things, according to Curt. When people engage in an activity, they want two things:

  1. They want to be successful.
  2. They want to enjoy themselves. (Yes, people want to have fun with genealogy!)

The Indiana Genealogical Society was given as an example. They publish news items and queries on their blog. They started a digitization program with a probate court; this project brought in over $2,400 in donations and grants. (What society wouldn’t like to have a project that brings in money?!) Their “biggest” success, in terms of bringing in new members, has been their “2 for 92” program — where they set a goal of having on the IGS website at least 2 databases for each of Indiana’s 92 counties. They’ve met this goal and have 565 databases on their website! As Curt said, your society has to have a meaningful presence 24/7. It allows members to be successful and to enjoy themselves. With that much data, the Indiana Genealogical Society certainly does that!

One of the phrases used by both Curt and by Thomas MacEntee, the host of My Society, was “If you’ve always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” (Which Curt added the follow-up: “And how is that working for you?”) “Always” and “never” should be red flags for things that need to be explored. Clearly, societies cannot keep doing things the same way they always have. This isn’t to say that everything needs to be dumped. (“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, certainly, but the bathwater does need to be changed” was how Curt put it.)

So how do we get our societies to change? First, you need new talent. Relying on the same core volunteers for everything only burns them out. Curt recommended looking beyond your society. Tap into other networks, whether it is your church, local convention and visitors bureau, local schools, etc.

One point that struck a chord with me was his observation, “We can’t allow perfection to be the obstacle of progress.” It will never be perfect. As soon as we embrace that fact, we can move on and have progress. Yes, things will need to be changed, but that’s ok. Along with that thought was one of my favorite quotes: “It will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

I think Curt and Thomas did an excellent job getting “My Society” off to a strong start.

My Society airs on Saturdays at 2:00 Eastern/1:00 Central.

(Disclosure: I am the webmaster for the Federation of Genealogical Societies. This post was written on my own time; I will receive no compensation for this post, nor was I asked to write it.)

Societies and Technology at FGS 2011

Federation of Genealogical Societies logoSince the recent RootsTech conference, a lot has been said about genealogical societies and their use (or non-use) of technology. Joan Miller has recapped Curt Witcher’s presentation at the Federation of Genealogical Societies luncheon on her blog. (Basically, societies must embrace technology or they’ve sealed their fate.)

The upcoming FGS conference in Springfield, Illinois (7-10 September) features a entire day devoted to society management topics. Several of this year’s society offerings address technology:

  • “21st Century Marketing Techniques for Genealogists/Genealogical Societies” ~ Thomas MacEntee
  • “Building an Effective Society Web Site” ~ Amy Johnson Crow
  • “Internet Collaborative Tools for Genealogical Societies” ~ Jane G. Halderman
  • “How to Manage a Large Genealogy Database Project” ~ Laura G. Prescott
  • “Engaging a New Generation of Genealogists” ~ D. Joshua Taylor
  • “Finally, a Society Website Anyone Can Manage” ~ Robert Raymond
  • “Printed vs. Online Publishing for Societies” ~ Donna M. Moughty
  • “Energize Your Society with an Indexing Project” ~ Jake Gehring

Join us in Springfield, Illinois for a great conference!

(Disclaimer: I am the FGS Webmaster and am a speaker at the 2011 FGS conference.)

What I Learned at RootsTech from Home

I planned to attend RootsTech. I even had my hotel reservation. But things got in the way and I didn’t go. I’m black and blue from kicking myself for not going. 🙁

Even though I didn’t attend in person, I did watch some of the presentations that were streamed over the Internet and followed Twitter posts using the #rootstech hashtag. In the process, I learned some things even though I wasn’t there in person.

1. The Internet weighs approximately 26,000 pounds and fits nicely in a standard storage unit. ( source: Brewster Kahle’s Saturday keynote) In fact, here is a picture of the storage unit that houses Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine.

The storage unit that houses the Wayback Machine. (Photo taken from Brewster Kahle’s keynote at RootsTech, 12 February 2012.

2. The average lifespan of a webpage before it is changed or deleted is 100 days. (source: Brewster Kahle’s keynote) No wonder the Wayback Machine weighs 26,000 pounds!

3. Go with your first instinct. I had planned on going to RootsTech, but I changed my mind. Live and learn. (I do have the 2012 dates already on my calendar 🙂 )

4. I enjoy Twitter. Although I’ve had an account for a couple years, I’d never really used it. Following the #rootstech hashtag was a lot of fun!

5. This isn’t so much something I learned, but rather something that was validated. “Genealogy. It’s all about the experience.” (source: Curt Witcher’s keynote on Friday) I had written and published my post I Don’t Care Where You Put the Comma before his keynote. (For those who haven’t read it: don’t fuss about the format of your citations; just get the elements you need.)

Overall, I came away from my (virtual) RootsTech experience energized. There are so many things I want to do. First up: A renewed effort to finish adding metadata to my photos. Despite what Brewster Kahle said, I actually enjoy adding metadata. I’m just kinda weird that way 🙂

RootsTech 2012 will be 2-4 February. Hey, that’s less than a year from now!

New RootsTech Conference

FamilySearch has just announced they will be hosting the new RootsTech Conference which will be held in Salt Lake City 10-12 February 2011. Sponsors of the conference include, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), and Brigham Young University.

Jim Ericson and Shipley Munson of FamilySearch described it as new type of genealogy/technology conference. Where the GENTECH has had a consumer/user focus and BYU’s Computerized Family History and Genealogy Conference focuses on scholastic/developers, the new RootsTech Conference will merge the two groups.

RootsTech promises to be a forum where “power users” (those who are very comfortable using technology), early adopters and visionaries can interact and collaborate with the creators of that technology. Those creators, in turn, can get feedback from the users. The goal is to spark new innovation, collaboration, and “extend the technology.”

Who should participate, either as attendees or as presenters? According to the website, “Those who want to help define the future of genealogy through technological innovation.”

This is not a replacement of BYU’s annual August conference. As for the annual Computerized Family History Conference (usually held in March), RootsTech was described as what the Computerized conference is evolving into.

FamilySearch anticipates between 1,000 and 1,200 attendees at the first RootsTech conference.

More details can be found at There will also be information available at next week’s Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Knoxville. (If you are thinking about proposing a talk, you will need to act quickly, as the deadline is 15 September.)

This sounds to me like a very interesting concept. If successful, it could bring about more innovation.

Below is the official press release:

New RootsTech Conference to Bring Technologists Face-to-face with Genealogists
SALT LAKE CITY —Technologists and genealogists from around the world will gather at the first annual RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 10-12, 2011. The new conference, hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by leading genealogical organizations, aims to bring technologists and genealogists together to help deepen understanding of current technologies and discover new ideas in applying technology to genealogy. Learn more at

“When the users and creators of technology come together, innovation occurs,” said Jay Verkler, president and CEO of FamilySearch. “The RootsTech Conference will accelerate that innovation through panels, discussion groups, and interactive demonstrations.”

Josh Taylor, Director of Education and Programs for the New England Historic Genealogical Society, says the time is right for such a conference.

“The collection of technologies present at the last National Genealogical Society Conference in Salt Lake City was so impressive that we see a need and opportunity for a strong annual technology genealogy conference to pursue solutions for the unique challenges facing genealogists,” Taylor said.

The RootsTech Conference is designed to foster innovation by bringing technology users and creators together in a meaningful way. Thousands of genealogists who use technology in pursuit of one of the most popular hobbies in the world will discover how new and emerging technologies can improve and simplify their activities. Genealogists will be treated to technology prototype demonstrations, interactive workshops, and opportunities to test innovative new product and service concepts. Technology providers will get the opportunity to demonstrate product concepts face-to-face to their customer—the family history enthusiast—and better understand their needs.

“Technology is driving a revolution in family history,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of “We’re excited to participate in the RootsTech Conference, and we see it as a great chance to explore with genealogists how technology can help them even more in the future.”

The RootsTech 2011 conference will be hosted by FamilySearch and sponsored by, New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), Brigham Young University, and other leaders in the genealogy community.

“Brigham Young University is pleased to participate in this conference, which brings together the Conference on Computerized Family History and Genealogy and the Family History Technology Workshop under the same umbrella. We think this creates a new and unique national forum for genealogists, software developers, and researchers to move genealogy forward,” said Christophe Giraude-Carrier, Associate Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Computer Science at Brigham Young University.

Technology creators will discover new and existing technologies and techniques to help their development practices and also see how they can be applied to the unique discipline of genealogy. Anticipated themes for the conference include: using social networking to collaborate as families and societies, data backup and digital preservation, using multimedia, records and media digitization, how to use cloud computing to deploy reliable, scalable systems, handwriting recognition and automated transcription, mobile computing devices and applications, GPS mapping, and much more.
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Technology I Can’t Live Without

For the 43rd Carnival of Genealogy, the topic is Technology. What technology do I rely upon most for my genealogy and family history research (hardware, software, and website/blog)? We aren’t to “dilute” our answers by mentioning others that we like.

What’s a techie like me to do?!

Since I always follow instructions (those of you who know me can stop laughing now), I will do my best to stay within those parameters. (Though I want it noted that I consider this tantamount to “cruel and unusual punishment!”)

Favorite Piece of Hardware Besides My Computer:

This is an easy one — my digital camera. I have a Fujifilm Finepix S5200 which I absolutely love. It’s not a true digital SLR, but it is close. I can adjust the ISO from 64 to 1600 (though 1600 is really grainy.) F-stops from f3.2 to f8.0. 10x optical zoom. Macro setting. Adjustments for white balance (including a custom setting), etc, etc. I’ve had great luck using it to photograph documents and microfilm. And it runs of 4 AA batteries. How cool is that?!

Speaking of batteries, it does a good job in that department. One weekend last fall, I visited several cemeteries and took more than 600 photographs without exhausting the batteries.

Favorite Piece of Software Besides My Internet Browser :

This one is tougher. Since the focus is software used for genealogy research and not software used for any genealogical activity, I’ll go with my favorite genealogy software: RootsMagic.

RootsMagic is a robust genealogy program that is easy to use. I like how intuitive and how flexible it is.

Now if I could just find Matilda Debolt Skinner Crossen Brown McFillen’s death date to enter…

Favorite Website or Blog (besides my own):

I’m going to also eliminate any websites that I work on. (See, I can follow the rules!) While I haven’t used it that much for actual research, I’ve had a wonderful time exploring and experimenting on WeRelate. There is so much potential there. I can’t wait for Dallan to finish the match-and-merge feature!

Ok, there are my three pieces of technology. With any luck the next COG won’t be something like “Name Your Favorite Tombstone.” If that’s ever a category, be warned: I will not follow the rules and limit it to one!