Posted by: Christine | December 3, 2012

Why be a Society in the 21st Century?

I haven’t been to a Seminar for ages then two come along together. Just a fortnight after the Guild of One-Name Studies Maritime Records seminar in Greenwich, there was another one, jointly organised by the Guild and the Federation of Family History Societies. As I have connections with both these organisations, I felt obliged to attend – plus it was held at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon in Warwickshire, not far from where I live.

When I got up on Saturday morning, I discovered that, with the new month, winter had arrived . There was a heavy frost and I had to scrape the car windscreen before leaving; Well, to tell the truth, I had a quick look at the newspaper while my husband scraped it – he does these things so much better than me! I then drove very carefully down the Foss Way to Gaydon and a welcoming mug of coffee.

Entrance to the Gaydon Conference Centre

Entrance to the Gaydon Conference Centre

After the welcome and introduction by Guild Chairman Kirsty Gray, the first speaker was Paul Millington on “Publicising your society on the web”. Paul is Profiles and Archives Administrator for the Guild and started by giving us some tips on how to improve our websites.
Think about how visitors will see your site.  Make it easy to read and quick to load. Think about the experience of  the visually impaired – add descriptions to your pictures and links. If you are thinking of starting a website, look at other sites – what do you like? – look at how they do it.
If you are a member of the guild, set up a profile on their website. I was amazed to hear how many members have not used this facility – it is so simple and the obvious thing to do if you want the public to find you.

Paul Millington giving his talk

Paul Millington giving his talk

One of the first jobs when you set up a one-name study is to collect information – lists of Births Marriages and Deaths, Census information etc. How do you save it, display it, make it available to the public or members of your society? Put it in the Guild (electronic) Archives. This is a completely free service for members and you can decide who can see it – from everyone, through registered users to just using it as a backup to your own computer. Now I know how this works, I will definitely be sorting and submitting my information.

There was then a break for more coffee (if wanted) and biscuits, plus chat, before we returned to the conference room for the next session. This was “Running your society” by Simon Leather. Simon runs the Leather Family History Society and he went into the details of setting up a society.
The first thing is to decide what it is for, what are you going to cover – if you are one-namer this will be everything about the name, everywhere and any time. Then the important decision on what officers you need, how often you are going to meet, and where, and how many members makes a quorum?
If you are going to have a journal, how often will you publish? How many pages? Don’t forget to get an ISSN number – it is free, although you will have to provide free copies for various libraries, but your efforts will be preserved for ever.
If your society starts to publish books you will need an ISBN number. This is not free (about £121 for a set of ten numbers) but you will need it to sell your book on Amazon.
Then there are the boring things like setting up a bank account (very difficult with some banks – we were given advice on which to avoid!) and the cost of postage and printing or insurance for meetings.
There was also a look into the future – Web publishing (perhaps an electronic journal to save on postage), setting up a website and of course, what was to be a recurring theme, what to do about an aging membership.

Simon Leather taking questions.

Simon Leather taking questions.

As we adjourned for lunch, I felt glad that my one-name study is too small to set up a society!

The Buffet lunch was very good – I would say much better than the lunch at the Greenwich  Seminar and there was plenty of it. I rather wish I had asked for a doggy bag for some of the left-overs! There was also time to visit the motor museum on the same site, although somehow I never got around to it.

Some of the leftovers from lunch.

Some of the leftovers from lunch.

The seminar resumed at 2.15 with Debbie Kennett on “The power of social networking: genealogy in the 21st century” She came up with some amazing figures for the number of people using social networking sites.
Compared with Family History sites with anything from 2 million (Ancestry) to 65 million (MyHeritage) subscribers:
Twitter has 140m active users
LinkdIn 175m
Google+ 400m (but only a quarter of those are active)
YouTube 800m
and Facebook has 1 billion active users, 81% outside the US.
Did you know that over half the UK population of about 63m are on Facebook, compared with 26m on the electoral roll and 17m on the BT telephone directory? If you want to find living relatives or people with your surname, where are you most likely to find them? One advantage is that a lot of people who use Facebook  are the younger generation. They are not very careful about their privacy and you can build up whole families by looking at their contacts. You can also send messages to anyone on Facebook. Are you looking for a volunteer from that distant branch for your DNA study? Why not try Facebook?
Google+ is good for “Hangouts” or virtual meetings, although most people here are already on Facebook or Twitter.
LinkedIn is a network for professionals, not as “social”
Twitter is good for keeping up with what is happening. You hear the genealogical news there first.
Then there are Blogs –  you are reading one now. I find these are a much better way of communicating with your audience (society, one-name contacts, or just anyone who is interested in what you write) than a website. They are easier to set up than a website and they are free. If anyone sets up a blog as a result of this seminar – please blog about the next seminar, so I don’t have to keep doing it!

Debbie Kennett and her advert.

Debbie Kennett and her advert.

After the Tea Break  (more drinks and nice cakes) was the final session “Why be a Society in the 21st century” in which Chris Braund told us about his experience with the Braund Society. The Braund family is found in the West Country, and has a particular connection with the small north Devon village of Bucks Mills. The society was founded in 1982 and it seems to have discovered the secret of  enthusing the younger generations. Apparently there are people who can’t wait to reach the age of 18 so they can join the committee!
Chris described  how the Society is organised and all the activities it has organised. It also runs a museum and collects artifacts connected with the Braund name – a lot of the exhibits are in private hands so it runs partially as a virtual museum.
Perhaps part of their success is running events for the Twiglets (under 18s) and getting all the generations involved but a lot must be due to their motto “Friendship and Fellowship with Enthusiasm” , not to mention living half the time in the seventeenth century!

Chris Braund with Captain James on the lectern

Chris Braund with Captain James on the lectern

The seminar ended exactly on time, in fact the whole event went very smoothly. The venue, while not having quite the history of the National Maritime Museum, was very comfortable. As mentioned, the food was excellent and there were bottles of  water available, as well as note pads & pens. The sound took a bit of sorting out at first (a bit of feedback from the mike) but was fine for the rest of the day.

General view of the conference room, as we assembled after lunch.

General view of the conference room, as we assembled after lunch.

So, did we answer the question posed by the title of the seminar “Why be a Society in the 21st Century?”. I certainly learnt a lot and talked to lots of other people. It appears that there is a growing problem in societies with an ageing membership and lack of new members joining.

The younger generation are living their lives online and that is where we should go to find them. Societies will change but people will still want to meet others with the same interests – whether it is online or in the flesh. So get out there and grab them.

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