Family history societies, also known as genealogical societies, are organizations where members benefit from their love of genealogy by connecting with others to share research, experience, and knowledge. They are especially helpful because of the access to records and resources that they provide, such as birth, marriage, death, migration, and other biographical information. Societies typically have a focus and range from very small, local organizations to others with hundreds of thousands of members.
This article describes some of the benefits of society membership, types of societies, and links to organizations to help you find the right ones for you.
Jump-Start Your Research
When you are a member of a genealogical society, you can find like-minded friends who are as interested in genealogy as you are. It can be helpful to have other genealogists to brainstorm with.
You can share what you have learned, and even find others who have experienced finding solutions to “brick wall” situations that you might be encountering. They might be willing to share their research methods, for free or for a fee, depending on the help and information needed. Many organizations run social media groups to share information.
Joining a genealogy society that is some distance away may also give you connections to help your research without traveling to that location in person. For example, if you’re researching your ancestors in Ohio, but live in another location, it might be worthwhile to join the society in that particular state. Members share information on records pertinent to their communities.
Conferences, Workshops, and Meetings
Most genealogical societies host conferences, workshops, meetings, live webinars, and online chats. Topics might include instruction on how to find records and information about local historical events. Some might host experienced, professional genealogists or representatives from research institutions, as well as workshops, webinars, and virtual events so that members who don’t live nearby can participate.
Publications and Journals
Genealogical and historical societies often maintain files for families in their areas and may sponsor genealogical publications. Most publish and index records and provide digital resources.
In some societies, personally collected information from members, such as old cemetery records, newspapers, family histories, transcriptions, or other records that are no longer available to the public, can be a valuable perk of membership.
Statewide genealogical societies provide information from across the state and might also provide guidance to records in state archives. Many genealogical societies publish journals, books, research aids, and guides.
Many societies have their own libraries and databases that are accessible to members only. Other groups may have a library or access to a collection within a public library or offer discounts on commercial research services. Check out the member benefits and discounts of each society to learn more about what they offer.
Some of the best things about belonging to a genealogical organization are free resources, which can include online databases, publications, and workshops. Many societies have libraries and unique rooms in public libraries. And they have many discounts on genealogical services.
Whether you’re just starting or have been at it for years, joining a genealogical society can provide plenty of helpful information, tips, and excellent networking opportunities.
Types of Societies
In 2021, the Federation of Genealogical Societies merged with the National Genealogical Society to create a “new” National Genealogical Society. This is a national society for the beginner to the most advanced family historian. Here you will find hundreds of societies around the nation (not all will be listed, but it’s a great starting point). You will also find a variety of conferences, publications, educational courses, newsletters, and other offerings that present continued learning opportunities.
Ethnic genealogical societies bring together people with common interests, including people who share a similar culture (beliefs, values, and behaviors), language, religion, ancestry, nationality, or other characteristics. Just a few examples in this category are the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, the Chinese Historical Society of America, the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.
Lineage and hereditary societies are generally involved in educational, cultural, military, social, and other programs to preserve the documents from the past and they often maintain libraries and museums. Joining a lineage society gives you the opportunity to honor your ancestor’s service and recognize the hardships that were endured. To join a lineage society, members must prove that they are the descendant of an ancestor who was part of that heritage. Most societies require (provable) direct descent and typically only allow members to access their records. Some examples of lineage societies include the Daughters of the American Revolution, General Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Jamestown Society, and Descendants of Mexican War Veterans.
How to Find Genealogical Societies
You can find many other genealogical societies online simply by using the terms that describe what you are looking for in a society.
The National Genealogical Society is a great place for members to find societies. One webpage provides Society & Organization Resources.
Most of the large commercial online genealogical sites such as FamilySearch.org have information about different societies in their community or wiki research pages.
The Hereditary Society Community of the United States of America is a non-profit organization that is the public interface for more than 300 lineage societies.
Cyndi’s List has thousands of links to societies and groups. CanGenealogy is similar to Cyndi’s List for Canadian researchers. The Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS) is for East European researchers, and The WorldGenWeb Project is dedicated to providing genealogical and historical records and resources for worldwide access.
Lineage and ethnic societies can be great resources for anyone interested in family history research. Subscribing to societies’ newsletters, perusing their blogs, following their social media pages, and checking out their website resources are great ways to get to know them to see if they’re right for you.
Legacy Tree Genealogists’ researchers are familiar with the membership requirements of most groups. Whether your family history already includes stories of possible ties to one of the hereditary societies or you hope to find the family connection necessary for membership in another type of organization, we can provide the genealogical research necessary to assist you with completing your application for membership to one or more of them. If you’re not sure if you have a qualifying ancestor, we would be honored to look over your tree to find out. Contact us today to request a free quote!