What the FGS/NGS Merger Could Mean for Societies

The Federation of Genealogical Societies just announced its agreement to merge with the National Genealogical Society. Here’s why that could have an impact well beyond just merging conferences.

 

Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 33

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.)
Length: 12 minutes.

What Is the FGS/NGS Merger

On 21 August 2019, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced at its annual conference that it has entered into an agreement to merge with the National Genealogical Society (NGS).

Here is the press release, issued by both FGS and NGS:

In a historic move, the boards of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced today their intent to merge. The two organizations, both non-profit leaders in the dynamic genealogy industry, will form one consolidated group that will continue to operate as the National Genealogical Society. Both boards approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) earlier this week, and jointly announced the news at the Opening Session of the FGS Family History Conference in Washington, D.C., this morning.

Leaders of both organizations believe this merger will serve the genealogy community by improving support of both individual members and societies in the pursuit of genealogical excellence.

The organizational structure of NGS will be modified to increase functions that support genealogical societies and family organizations. Digitization projects of genealogical importance such as the War of 1812 pensions will continue. The two organizations will continue to operate independently while all details of the merger are completed, no later than October 1, 2020.

Faye Stallings, President of FGS, said: “We are excited about this opportunity to combine with a premier organization that has been in operation since 1903. This will allow for improved and expanded services to help support societies.” Ben Spratling, President of NGS, commented, “We look forward to continuing the strong legacy of FGS as a ‘gathering point’ for family historians and societies all across the nation.”

That’s the end of the press release.

There was also a brief press conference after the opening session. You can watch a replay of it on FGS’ Facebook page. [Note: You’ll likely need to turn up your volume.]

Also announced at the opening session is that the conferences will be merged. NGS and FGS will each have their own conference next year, but will have only one combined conference beginning in 2021 (which will be in May in Richmond, Virginia.) There seemed to be consensus that the conference would be in May going forward.

The email from FGS reported that the combined conference will be 4 days, with a 5th day devoted to society management topics.

The Impact on FGS Projects

The Records Preservation and Access Committee will remain, as it is already a joint endeavor of FGS, NGS, and several other genealogical organizations.

The War of 1812 pensions project will continue as planned. The money that was raised is in a restricted account and cannot be used for any other purpose than digitizing those records.

Organizing the New Board — and What About Societies?

“We hope to merge the leadership from both organizations,” per Spratling in the press conference. The details have not been finalized on what the new board will look like.

Also to be determined is how society memberships will be handled. FGS is different in that it does not have individuals as members; it has societies as members. You and I cannot join FGS; the such-and-so county Genealogy Society can.

It’s also to be determined how societies will participate in voting in the merged organization.

FGS FORUM

Stallings reported at the press conference that it is intended that the material that would be in the FGS FORUM magazine would be incorporated into the NGS magazine. “What we are anticipating is that we’ll have a section in that [the NGS periodical] devoted to society management topics and we would discontinue the publication of the FORUM after October 2020.

Stallings said that the merger will allow FGS to “kick up our society management related activities another notch.”

My Take on the Merger and What It Could Mean

When the news of this merger broke, almost all of the attention focused on the conferences. “Yes! I won’t have to choose which conference to go to!” “They should have combined conferences years ago!”

But there’s more to this than merging conferences. They’re merging organizations — that’s crucial to remember.

There have been murmurings of a merger for several years. But it’s almost always been on merging the two conferences, especially after RootsTech came on the scene. Very few people talked about merging the two societies.

The reason: FGS and NGS have two different missions, even though they both have a genealogy conference. NGS’s main mission is to promote genealogy scholarship and education — helping genealogists do better research. FGS’s main mission, on the other hand, is to help genealogy societies be better societies.

Those missions complement each other, but they are not the same. It’s like enjoying reading versus operating a bookstore. They complement each other, but reading and operating a bookstore are two different things.

Becoming a better genealogist does not necessarily help you run a society better. I’ve often said that I’m more concerned about whether a society treasurer can handle a balance sheet, not whether they can handle a family group sheet.

I’ve been involved with both organizations, as a volunteer and as speaker. Most recently, I served as the program chair for the FGS 2017 conference in Pittsburgh and the publicity chair for the FGS 2018 conference in Fort Wayne.

I love genealogy societies. I think they are crucial to genealogy. Not only do they help family historians with their research, but they are the proverbial boots on the ground for work that needs done. Preserving records. Fighting for access.

Genealogy societies today are struggling. Competition is heating up for the attention and dollars of would-be members. Competition is fierce for getting and keeping volunteers. Societies often struggle with technology, social media, and marketing.

Genealogy societies today need help.

Learning how to find more ancestors isn’t going to help a society grow. Learning how to interpret DNA results isn’t going to keep volunteers engaged.

There simply must be a venue for society volunteers to learn how to be better managers, how to be better stewards of the valuable societies that they are involved with.

Just having one extra day of society management topics at the conference and a few articles in the NGS magazine won’t cut it in terms of what societies need. I hope that FGS president Stallings is correct and that this merger will allow FGS to kick up their society management activities another notch. Genealogy societies need it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to leave your comments below.

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  • Thank you for interrupting your regularly-scheduled podcast schedule for news of this announcement, Amy. It is surprising news to me and I hope, like you, that genealogy societies will not get short shrift under the new organization. The first thing that went through my head, however, was “What about the conferences?” Next year’s FGS conference is scheduled for September 2020 in my hometown of Kansas City. I was worried that it wasn’t going to come here in 2020, so I appreciate your mentioning that both societies will still have their conferences next year. So, yay! I get to attend a conference without having to pay for a hotel room!

  • I have been an officer and committee member in several lineage societies, as well served on a town historical commission and several town historical societies. I agree, you hit the nail or the head about good managers. It appears NSDAR is aiming to that goal with their varied training courses. In the long run, having skillful officers and chairmen will be good. Though, from what I have noticed over the years, it is usually the same people who do the work. Personally, I am a bit burnt out from making yearbooks, and doing hours of unpaid work and just feel like a keg on wheel. I have improved some of my skills, and have some nice memories of years ago, but now feel not so great where it has lead me. There have been few, if any other members who step up to take over the tasks that I once did.
    I became registrar after someone before me who did a lackluster job and I had to deal with several returned applications from National with many errors… I was a chairman of a committee which rewarded students and heard that another member presented the award to the student at graduation (several times). I see officers and district directors receiving rewards at state meetings and then overworked committee members “line up” for their two minute reports and NOT be part of “State officer breakfasts” nor invited to the State Presidents’ summer gatherings. Corresponding Secretary sends out messages of officers who have lost a loved one- but nothing reported when a committee member has lost a loved one or is ill. The societies don’t like complainers- so possibly the only time one could air out grievances would be at board meetings. I decided to distant myself for a while, and think things through. Like I said, I have some good memories. But, I will be careful what I choose to do voluntarily now on.

    • I enjoyed listening to your thoughts.
      I have to say, I was disappointed to learn the conferences are merging. I just attended my first conference, NGS, this year because it was in my backyard. Then I heard the FGS conference is just across state next year, and thought to myself that I’ll keep it as an option. Maybe one or the other will be within driving distance each year. A week later, I learn that this option will disappear. 🙁

      I’ve been involved with a few genealogical societies, either as a paid member or as a participating nonmember. None of them are listed in the ‘Find a Society’ listing of the FGS website, which I assume means they do not hold a membership. Most are smaller societies so that may be why. It’s possible that there are members who, like myself, are also members of NGS. I have to think that this move of having a society-centered day at conference and a few pages geared towards societies in the NGS publication would be a plus to those smaller societies. Something is better that the nothing they were exposed to before.

      • FGS offers a variety of services to genealogy societies, beyond just the sessions on society day at the conference. So far, I haven’t heard anything being done to address those services, such as bylaws review and website review, other than a column in the NGS magazine and a few sessions at the conference.

  • Thanks for going beyond the hoopla of the announcement and providing a thoughtful evaluation of the potentials and pitfalls of the merger.

  • Great post Amy. I hope we can see an improvement in society support, but like you I have my doubts. FGS has ignored societies for so long that it will take a lot of time and effort to catch up with today’s technology and provide support to societies.

  • Thank you for discussing this issue in a thoughtful way. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m a west coast researcher with no ancestors between the Mason-Dixon Line and the Rio Grande, so I’ve rarely felt served by NGS. I have however served on the board and executive committee of a large genealogical society and served as its FGS delegate, so I’ve attended more FGS conferences than NGS ones — not in small part because all of those conferences were held in western states, making it easier when travel didn’t eat up an entire day away from my school-aged child on either end of the conference. But as a former delegate, I’m also much more aware of the other services that FGS provided our society (a society older than NGS by the way). Website reviews and by-law reviews were both utilized while I served and we very much appreciated the value received from our dues by doing so. I never felt that we were lesser members of the FGS org by being on the west coast and I hope that the new organization maintains that inclusive nature.

    • I love the FGS Society Management lectures and articles. The co-President I’d my local society would love to see the big companies providing more support to societies – encouraging their subscribers to join societies, and directing them to societies in their geographic or subject area of interest.

  • I too am concerned that the mission of FGS may be diluted with the merger. My local and state societies have been members of both FGS & NGS for many years and have received benefits from that. Our local society tries to incorporate society management tools into training, depending on the President’s willingness to spend that extra time.
    Societies are struggling and I hope a focus of this merger will be emphasis on the need to belong to a local society.

  • I was at the FGS Conference in DC this year and the only member of our society to go. I followed the Society track. In 2021 they will have just 1 day to societies. So instead of getting the benefit of attending all the Society classes, I will have to pick and chose which classes on Society Day to go to. I just see the society mission being lost in the shuffle.