Genealogy organizations: what have you done for me lately?

On 9 January 2013, Amy Coffin posted “Mind the Gap: Comparing Genealogy Associations to Other Info-Based Groups” in her We Tree Genealogy Blog. The post referred back to a blog post written by the CEO of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), “SLA in 2012: Laying the Groundwork for an Essential Association.” I would invite all of my readers to read both posts, as well as the comments on “Mind the Gap.”

Amy wrote that genealogy organizations should look to the organizations of other fields, such as SLA, for inspiration in meeting their members’ needs.

Though I am a member of no less than six state genealogical societies, a few more historical societies, and a handful of county societies, I am only on the Board of Directors of one organization—which is also a professional organization in the same vein as the SLA. Of course I mean the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Quite honestly, while the CEO of SLA used a lot of inspiring catchphrases, I cannot see what actions the organization has taken that could be implemented by APG or any other organization as an improvement. A “vision” without action to back it up is mere fantasy.

Amy made a comment that resonated with me: “Why is APG membership essential to my development?”

For me, the answer is simple: The APG membership itself is essential. By this, I mean the members, individually and collectively. The knowledge of local history, repositories, records, etc., of  members of APG is the greatest genealogical resource in the world, in my opinion. Learning from these members–not just in a classroom or lecture hall, but through one-on-one discussion–has been the single most important factor in my genealogical education.

To bring this perspective back to the discussion at hand: Amy and several other commentors mentioned several things that APG should be doing better.

APG (and other genealogy organizations) are volunteer-run membership organizations. They rely on the hard work of volunteers. So, in essence, “they” are us.

When a genealogist says, “XYZ County Genealogical Society doesn’t provide any essential services or products to me, so I didn’t renew,” there is a distinct, discernible belief that “the Society” must be a provider to its members.

The reverse is closer to the truth.

There is no “Society” without the work of its members. If you, as a member, are just sitting around waiting for “them” to give you something, then you will probably be disappointed. As a member, you should be contributing–whether it be as an officer or on a committee or even just something as simple as writing an article for the newsletter.

What societies do provide to their members rests solely on the backs of other members who are willing to volunteer their time, energy, and hard work to making the society better. The members who contribute nothing but complain that nothing is being done are the biggest problem with societies. There can be no “take” without someone “giving.”

I recognize that time is limited, and not everyone has free hours to contribute. But the dues that members pay themselves help to keep the electricity in the library on, or purchase new books, or pay for a speaker to present. Just by maintaining your membership, you are contributing. And if you suddenly find yourself with a free weekend, maybe you can spend some time organizing or indexing the vertical files, or writing an article for the newsletter, or baking cookies for the next meeting, or filling some other need.

Genealogy organizations, including APG, exist through the efforts of volunteers. Members can either complain about the problems, or work to change them.

My choice to do the latter is why I sit on the Board of Directors of APG and several committees, as well as paying dues to all of the societies of which I am a member.

Genealogy blogging for fun and profit

This post has been inspired by Thomas Macentee’s 2012 update to the 2011 “Genea-Opportunities” series of blog posts.[1] Longtime readers may recognize that it was this discussion that originally led to the birth of this blog in its current incarnation. The first topic Thomas has proposed for this week is “Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit?”

I previously discussed the reasons for my own blogging in a post entitled, aptly enough, “Why do I blog? Why do you blog?” The reasons I expressed in that post remain relevant for me, but now I would also like to discuss the general nature of blogging as a professional genealogist.

There are a number of professional genealogists who have been blogging for many years. These blogs have different focuses and their own unique strengths and weaknesses–as do most blogs of any kind. But these blogs are also among some of the most read and recognizable blogs in genealogy.

In the past year or so, I have seen quite a few professional genealogists begin blogging. Part of this, I believe, is due to the “social media” mantra that is prevalent throughout every part of our lives in the 21st century. Businesses–especially small businesses–are expected to have a social media presence.

Unfortunately quite a few of these blogs are not born out of passion. And so they do not develop a voice. The writing is sporadic and doesn’t really say anything special. In other words, it is content marketing–without the content.

This blog has developed to have two main purposes: (1) to discuss important subjects in professional genealogy; and (2) to help educate genealogists toward performing professional-level research, even if genealogy for them is “just a hobby.”

Notice that I did not include a purpose (3) to help “drum up business.” Simply stated, I do not expect to bring in research clients through this blog. It has occasionally happened, but that is not among my reasons for writing. I write because I am passionate about it–I am passionate about genealogy and passionate about writing.

For my fellow professional genealogists, I would offer this advice: If you would not otherwise have any interest in blogging, do not do so just because someone says you should. You do need a website to compete in the online world, but that website does not need to have a lackluster blog. Your blog should be how you communicate your thoughts to the world. It should mean something to you, first and foremost. Write because you feel you have to do so, not because someone else says you have to do so.

Blogs can certainly be a source of income–through affiliate marketing (i.e. advertising) or through promoting your lectures or publications. I have been known to do both of these on occasion. But the revenue generated through these means is not much.

What do my fellow professional genealogists think?


[1] Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES – 2012 UPDATE,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 9 July 2012 ( : accessed 9 July 2012). Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES (LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY),”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 18 April 2011.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Genealogy blogging for fun and profit,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 9 July 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Results of Twitter and Genealogy survey

 Those of my readers who also follow me on Twitter ( @michaelhait ) may have participated in the following survey.  For those that are unaware, last weekend I created an online survey using to see how people have used Twitter to further their genealogical activities.  I promised to post the results, so here they are, with my analysis added.  In total, 76 Twitter users responded.

Please feel free to view these results and make your own assessments.  However, please do not publish this information without credit.  This survey was taken as part of research into an article that I am working on for a major genealogy magazine.  If you would like to publish this information, please email me with the details as to how you want to use it, to .

1-1.      For which of the following genealogy-related activities have you used Twitter?

Answered question:  76           Skipped question: 0

Discovering new and interesting Genealogy-related blogs or websites:    68 (89.5%)

Connecting with professional genealogists:                                             33 (43.4%)

Promoting your Genealogy-related blog:                                                29 (38.2%)

Advertising your surnames of interest:                                                    28 (36.8%)

Seeking advice in genealogy methodology or records:                            18 (23.7%)

Advertising your brickwalls:                                                                   10 (13.2%)

Connecting with distant relatives:                                                              9 (11.8%)

Other:                                                                                                    16 (21.1%)

Summary of “Other” responses:

  • Promotion: 5
  • Resources/articles: 4
  • Networking with other genealogists: 3
  • Inspiration: 1

2-1.      How successful have you been in these endeavors? (1 being low rate of success; 5 being high rate of success)

Answered question:  63           Skipped question: 13








Rating Avg

Response Count

Connecting with distant relatives








(55-32) 23

Advertising your brickwalls








(53-33) 20

Advertising your surnames of interest








(55-23) 32

Seeking advice in genealogy methodology or records








(54-24) 30

Promoting your Genealogy-related blog








(54-22) 32

Discovering new and interesting Genealogy-related blogs or websites








(61-2) 59

Connecting with professional genealogists








(56-21) 35


2-2.      Do you have any specific success story that you would like to share?

Answered question:  17           Skipped question:  59

  • “Found a distant cousin”
  • “I’ve gathered several ideas for my own genealogy & gotten quite a few ideas for articles! Great! I’ve also decided to start advertising my brick walls, and surnames. Unfortunately, my brick walls involve JONES & SMITH! I plan to begin a genealogy blog soon, and will certainly advertise it at Twitter when I do!!”
  • “I was Twittering during the NERGC and was able to meet a couple other Twitterers who were also at the conference, including Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. And Dick Eastman, but that was more do with with me sitting in the APG booth at the time…”
  • “Not yet, but I could be coaxed in a month or so. [The success story is still developing.]”
  • “Nothing in particular, but my blog following has really increased and I have a lot of valuable and useful comments that i did not get before I started to Tweet. I have also found some neat blogs to follow that I did not know about before.”
  • “I haven’t really been able to get much help through Twiter, but I am hoping that by promoting my blog, that it may help later on.”
  • “Tweated about my brickwalls and surnames but no one responded. Did find some interesting people to follow.” 

3-1.      How often do you use Twitter?

Answered question:  61           Skipped question:  15

One (1) hour daily                                                                               20 (32.8%)

Three (3) hours daily                                                                           15 (24.6%)

Less than one (1) hour daily                                                                 15 (24.6%)

Over six (6) hours daily                                                                         7 (11.5%)

Every other day                                                                                     4 (6.6%)


3-2.      Do you use a stand-alone Twitter reader (i.e. TweetDeck)?  Please identify.

Answered question:  40           Skipped question:  36

  • TweetDeck:  22
  • Twhirl:  4
  • Seesmic Desktop:  2
  • Tweetie:  2
  • Twitter Gadget:  2
  • DestroyTwitter:  1
  • Eventbox:  1
  • Nambu:  1
  • PeopleBrowsr:  1
  • TwitterFox:  1

3-3.      Do you use Twitter on your mobile phone?

Answered question:  62           Skipped question:  14

Yes                              12 (19.4%)                  No                               50 (80.6%)


3-4.      Do you use any of the following add-on Twitter applications?

Answered question:  45           Skipped question:  31

Twitter Groups                                                                                     25 (55.6%)

WeFollow                                                                                            25 (55.6%)

Mr. Tweet                                                                                            11 (24.4%)

TweetStats                                                                                             2 (4.4%)

TwitterCounter                                                                                       1 (2.2%)

GeoFollow                                                                                             1 (2.2%)

TweetBurner                                                                                          1 (2.2%)

Other:                                                                                                    9 (20%)

  • Twibes: 2
  • TweetLater: 2
  • Qwitter: 1
  • Twine: 1
  • Magpie: 1