There are lots of blogs out there to help you learn how to do family history research. This blog lets you watch our progress as we roll the Canadian Genealogy Survey out across the country. We'll also track developments in research on family history. It's a bit of a twist, but we hope you'll find something of interest. We welcome your comments.

If you haven't taken the survey yet, you can find it at:

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Why Do You Belong to a Family History Society?

In my last post I mentioned the research conducted by Ronald Lambert among Ontario Genealogy Society members. Reading through his discussion of his results, one of the things we wondered about was whether all family historians were 'alike' or whether there was some difference between those who join family history societies and those who don't. So when we set out to survey family historians we made a special effort to 'get the word out' to those who might not be members of any society.

What we found when we analyzed the results is that while there are some differences, they are quite small. It seems that although the majority of family historians who answered our survey were not members of any genealogy or family history related societies (about 63% overall), both men and women seemed to join in equal proportions (35% for women, 38% for men). The average age of members was 60 years and for non-members 64 years. More than half of both groups (57%) reported having a university-level education and about the same proportion were married (74% for non-members; 72% for members). A somewhat higher proportion of non-members were retired (61%) than members (49%), and non-members had, on average, been actively working on their family history for 19 years, compared with 15 years for members of family history societies. The one difference that seemed to stand out was that for family historians with high school or less education, a larger proportion were members of family history societies.

It seems that basic demographic factors don't really explain why one family historian decides to join a family history society and another doesn't. So we're left to wonder, why do people join family history or genealogy societies? If you're a member of one or more societies, what is it that makes you want to be a member?


  1. Good question. I think opportunity counts for a lot. When most of us start, we're not really aware of societies and probably don't understand the benefits they provide. Few who join a society subsequently leave; they soon come to see the merits of meeting like-minded people and exposing themselves to new ways of thinking at meetings and conferences. But if you don't get quite that far, joining a society seems like a waste of time and money--meetings you don't want to attend with people you don't know and don't care about. What gets you to that first meeting? Luck may have a lot to do with it. Anecdotal evidence from several countries seems to suggest that activity begets participation. The societies with the most programs and events are the ones with the most stable, or even growing, memberships.

  2. I had been doing genealogy for several years before I attended a meeting of Toronto Branch of OGS. A work colleague persuaded me to go by telling me that Shirley Lancaster had a sales table of British family history books and pamphlets. That's what kept me coming as well as the occasional British courses and workshops. I now have many friends there so I remain a member and have been actively involved. I don't think I would join now.

  3. I wonder if it might have something to do with learning styles. I have always been one to first ask someone who might have the answer how to do something before I will look it up or read a book. Joining a local society means I have a whole group of "experts" to ask when I need help or information. I also like the personal interaction and sharing of stories and information. Working together helps everyone progress. Genealogy is solitary enough; joining a local society gives me a chance for (pointed) social interaction, too. What makes me stay is the quality of the people, the talks, the information and events.

  4. Interesting comments. I have also benefitted immensely from the tips and info shared at family history society meetings. Recently, fellow BIFHSGO member Brooke Broadbent reminded me of the research conducted by Adrienne Horne while at the University of Calgary (her book, Genealogy Mania, is available through Amazon). Horne suggested that one of the major reasons for belonging to a family history society was that it provided an opportunity to share. If family and friends aren't inclined towards genealogy, then joining a society might provide a group of like-minded people with whom to share the stories of our triumphs and tribulations. I think that might be part of it too.