When I started doing genealogy, the wealth of data online that we have today didn’t exist. Often the key to finding more information about my family was to visit or write letters to far away locations, hoping to contact the right people who might know our relatives or who knew someone who did. Today we have a plethora of information online through some wonderful sites. This certainly makes genealogy more fun with almost instant gratification of finding a missing record. Despite all this data at our fingertips, something that hasn’t changed is the importance of local genealogical societies.
I have found that joining a local society from the region where your ancestors lived can be invaluable. These societies have been responsible for gathering, collecting and sharing information about the families and towns in their corner of the world for years—before the internet was but a gleam in technology’s eye. They are the people who have made sure that “some old diary” or township map or newspaper wasn’t thrown out. They became the collectors of items that would have been destroyed and that we use to our benefit.
Early in my research I joined a society in Grey County, Ontario Canada. They were extremely helpful in looking through their records and sharing what information they could find about my family. They shared information about the area and gave me better context. Since I was unlikely to travel to Ontario at that time and I couldn’t just Bing or google information back then, this was much appreciated. The icing on the cake was that they passed along my information to cousins that still lived in the area! We happily share information and made a connection again between Canada and the United States.
Why should you care about genealogical or historical societies today since so much is on the internet? The reality is even though we have an unfathomable amount of data online, it is just a small portion of records not online--held at societies, courthouses and other local municipalities. Besides being keepers of data only found locally, these genealogy and historical societies have firsthand knowledge of the area and local history. Their newsletters capture snapshots of what a town or county was like in the early days. If your ancestors were living in the area, they may have experienced some of the same events, shopped in the same stores or met some of the same people. It’s a great way to add the context of place to your family story with resources such as these.
You will add local flavor to your family story as you learn more about the places where your ancestors lived, perhaps even meeting distance cousins as you connect through a local society. Genealogy is as much the people we meet today along our path as it is our ancestors we are researching. Get social with societies!
“If you don't know history, then you don't know anything.
You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.”
― Michael Crichton
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.