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
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).
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.
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.