A poll of WAGS members shows that 60% of their Australian research is not local to Western Australia, it is spread across Australia. A similar poll of members worldwide research revealed that for a majority of members their primary interest is not in Australia. The same would apply to the majority of local societies world wide, the local society attracts members for other reasons.
So why join your local society, or for that matter a society in another state / county or country, and what benefits can you expect?
More bang for your buck
Local Family History or Genealogy Societies, whether in Australia or overseas, have great resources in their book and digital libraries, and a wealth of knowledge (see below), but it is not limited to local history.
They have very reasonable annual membership fees, and just for these two reasons alone, they are well worth joining, even without considering access to pay sites that they have in house as well.
Your local family history or genealogy society will almost certainly have subscriptions to a number of the pay sites out there. This depends a bit on the size of the society, and their ability to afford the subscriptions to the library editions for the pay sites, but most would have at least one of the major subscription sites covered.
Experienced society members will know all of the tips, tricks, and traps associated with using pay sites, and will be able to guide you on their use, via informal or structured courses, or one on one as you do your research in the library, so help is on hand.
Joining a society will be a fraction, generally just 10-15% of the cost of joining a single pay site.
For example, our society currently has eight pay sites subscriptions available on the computers in the Library, with more in the pipeline.
To join just one pay site could cost you around A$30.00 per month, or about $360.00 pa.
Our membership is currently A$55.00 pa, ie., about A$4.60 per month for a single member.
Say no more ..
Help is on hand
Family history societies are not for profit organisations, quite often have charity status, and are not driven by the need of a healthy bottom line to satisfy shareholders and their ever increasing demands for a greater return on investment.
The people who run the local societies are usually all members and volunteers, and are driven by their willingness to help others, and of course enthusiasm for their hobby.
Local Societies have a wealth of knowledge in house, and the vast majority of their members are very willing to share, especially with newcomers. New members are given guidance but always encouraged to make their own discoveries; so you learn by doing, rather than having someone do it for you.
A lot of Societies have affiliations, and reciprocal arrangements, with other nearby and far flung, State / County and other Country Societies.Some of the very large societies may have paid administrative staff, but generally speaking tasks are undertaken by volunteers.Commercial genealogy organisations are not driven by a desire to help their customers in the same way as a local society, and if you want help when you get stuck, well good luck with that you are on your own
Not everything is online
One of the biggest misconceptions held by new researchers, which is promoted and exploited by the commercial sites in their advertising campaigns, is that you will discover everything there is to know about your family history by joining their pay service.
When you see things such as the suggestion that you don't have to know anything about your family, it is all there for you to discover your *B-S-D* should start working overtime.
As a general rule, 95-98% of the information that you need to discover about your family is not online.
There is a great deal of terrific information available online; local societies contribute to the online data available, and do so by having Members Only sections in the websites. Commercial or pay sites provide indexes and databases of original material such as census records, parish records, shipping records etc. This data is sourced from government bodies and church authorities, and the pay sites pay the suppliers of the data a fee for providing them with the data. The data is increasing in quantity, but not all of it is relevant to you, and not of all of it is good quality.
For instance; indexes are not necessarily complete; spelling of surnames is sometimes quite inaccurate (or downright atrocious); images are not always available, and not always legible; the search facilities throw up far too many possibilities, the majority of them of no value to you at all.
Would you sell your family history data to the public?
Data that you provide by putting your family tree into a commercial on line family tree site no longer belongs to you, it can be and is sold to others, including to other members of the site through their subscription fees. The site itself can be sold, and your data goes with it.
Other people are paying to read your tree, you are paying to read your own tree, and on some of the sites you have no control over who has access to your tree.
The upside being that you have access to any number of other trees, some of which have some of your people in them.
The downside is the commercial sites use your data to make a profit.
Before you consider putting your information onto a commercial genealogy or family tree site, read the fine print you may be shocked at what you find. And...
What you find online isn't always accurate
Of the 2-5% of genealogy information that is online, in particular that which you discover in a family tree on a commercial site or (so called) free site, 50% of that will probably be inaccurate, just plain wrong, or deliberately falsified.
Family trees that you discover when searching through the internet, especially those on the pay sites, are often; badly researched; have been copied (or stolen) from someone else who may not have done done any research themselves, or not done it correctly; will have no sources quoted; and are very often just plain wrong.
When doing your own research in the correct manner, you make the discoveries and fill in the information in your tree, and you know it is correct. It will not be something that someone else has seen on the internet, therefore it must be true and have included it in their tree on one of the pay sites.
Joining your local society will help you in learning how to research, rather than just search, and more importantly where, and where not to research.
There is certainly material in the genealogy sites family trees that is accurate, but all of it should be treated as nothing more than a lead, and certainly not as fact until you can prove it yourself.
Likewise with information you find in local primary sources or repositories.
A good piece of advice when viewing paper documents (as well as digital documents), including birth, marriage, death certificates, is that the only thing you can be sure of is that you have a piece of paper in your hand (or digital image on the screen) ie, don't believe what you see, check it, check it again, and then check it again against other sources.
Searching online, is generally just that, it is searching, it is not researching.
The data found online is not, for the most part, primary documentation, you will only find this material in repositories, National, State, County, Church and other archives and records.
You are not alone
Once you are a member of a genealogy society, you will soon discover that your are not alone, there are numerous other like minded people who share your passion for family history, and been smitten with the same disease.
The majority of members in any genealogical / family history / society, especially those who have been at it for a while, are very focussed on what, and where they need to go to get the information that they are seeking.
Pick their brains, there is a wealth of knowledge there, which will be willingly shared by those who have been where you are now. It doesn't matter if you are a new member, or one who needs a bit of specialist help, help is there for the asking.
Societies are not age specific, but generally have an older demographic, purely because the people are mostly retired from the workforce and have the time to do their research. You will find younger members are most welcome and treated with respect.
You will also find that your local society runs training sessions and courses, both formal and informal. Some sessions will be quite specific in their content, others more general, but all are designed to be beneficial to a wide audience.
Depending on the society, and members knowledge, there may be some very specialist courses available as well. Most societies run a wide range of courses and other events designed to benefit the general public, as well as their members.
Take advantage of what is offered course are cheap, knowledge is shared, and you will get to hear some very knowledgeable local members and other local specialist speakers, and at times some very well known guest speakers from interstate and overseas.
Local and Worldwide knowledge
Here in Australia we are, for the most part, migrants from all corners of the globe. Whether as recent arrivals, those who came as special guests of the government in the early European settlement, or indeed those who were here when the first European settlers arrived. Families have travelled the breadth of the continent, and details of their lives will need to be found both interstate and overseas.
It stands to reason that your local society will have a good handle on your local resources, repositories, and available data. A lot of societies have, or are currently, indexing local data, some for the exclusive use of their membership, and some for public use. A lot of Societies have a Members Only Area on their websites.The local members come from very diverse backgrounds, and will have a great deal of knowledge and expertise about far away places, and the resources, repositories and data available in those places.
Special Interest Groups are generally available for specialist areas of expertise or interest. Examples would be groups interested in Local or State Pioneer Families, a Scottish, Irish, India and Asia, European, the Americas, or a Computer group, or all of the above.
A lot of Societies also have Blogs and Forums where members and the public can ask questions and obtain a knowledgeable answer, eg WAGS Forum.
You never know what (or who) you will find
Even if you don't originate from the local community, you may well find a cousin among the membership, or a contact with a relative through marriage. This happens quite often, and is a great result. You will be pleasantly surprised at just how many connections there are among the members of a local society.
You might get lucky enough to find a relative that you had never suspected as existing, they could be sitting next to you at one of the information, training, or special interest group sessions.
Help with IT
A lot of new members are new to computers, and become frustrated with evaluating the variety of computing options available.
The expansion of the internet and the number of sites now available, the seemingly complex programs for recording genealogy on a computer or online, can be overwhelming to those of us who are not computer literate.
Many societies have computer special interest groups, and they are able to help in getting through the maze, as well as running sessions or courses for specific genealogy computer programs, and how to use the internet.
A real sense of community
Local societies, no matter where they are, exist only because of the enthusiasm and dedication of the people who volunteer their services to their society.
Don't be afraid to help out, every little bit helps, and you get a great return on your investment.
You meet a good number of lovely people, all of whom have a passion for the same thing as you do, all of whom are good at the things that they do for the society.
Perhaps you have expertise as a gardener, in IT, as a cook, or able to do presentations, perhaps in administration, or just a smiling face, it doesn't matter what your expertise is (or isn't), there will be something that you can do to help out at your local society.
Volunteering is a lot of fun, and you get to learn new skills along the way.
You are not alone - and if you haven't already done so join your local society and reap the benefits.