Friday, February 18, 2011

What is a federation?

Watching Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek TV series, we learned that the 23rd century galactic "United Federation of Planets" was formed to protect the common interests of its members. Dealing with unknown, hostile aliens and errant Klingons were the chief responsibilities of "The Federation."

So what is the Federation of Genealogical Societies?

Ol' Myrt here suggests the largely US-based organization FGS was likewise formed to protect the common interests of its members. Those interests include society management issues, and technology training to improve society meetings. Perhaps the "Federation's" most important calling is to coordinate efforts to resolve issues of  records access and preservation.

Records access issues are best understood by local genealogy societies, but they lack the experience and resources to muster an effective response. Turning to a strong "Federation" can bring broad public support through a well-oiled communication process. This currently works well on a national level on joint preservation projects with the National Archives and Records Administration. Localized issues aren't handled as frequently if postings to the RPAC page are any indication. April 2010 is the date of the last posting, but certainly records access issues persist. Are FGS, NGS and IAJGS volunteer resources stretched too thin? Should the "Federation" refocus efforts in this area?

A look at the FGS Mission Statement
FGS clearly states its goals at, shown below with my comments in red.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies links the genealogical community by:
  • serving the needs of its member societies (Rethinking strategies for building membership come to mind here.)
  • providing products and services needed by member societies (How about initially providing GoToWebinar-type accounts to rejuvenate participation at the individual society level?)
  • marshaling the resources of its member organizations (Especially helpful with records access issues!)

Additional text on the page seems to muddy the water. (I do not expect FGS to be all things to all people.)

FGS was founded in 1976 and represents the members of hundreds of genealogical societies. (Perhaps FGS should first seek to represent it's member organizations, not those societies' individual members?)
FGS links the genealogical community by helping genealogical societies strengthen and grow. To do this, FGS publishes [the] FORUM magazine, filled with articles pertaining to society management and genealogical news. FGS also publishes an extensive series of Society Strategy Papers, covering topics about effectively operating a genealogical society. (Concentrate on articles about society management, how to grow societies in a digital world, and leave genealogy news to other organizations, as The FORUM isn't published daily or weekly.)
FGS also links the genealogical community through its annual conference -- four days of excellent lectures, including one full day devoted to society management topics. (How about just one day devoted to society management topics, and hold the conference in conjunction with NGS?)

Who joins FGS?
Local genealogy societies, not individuals, pay to join FGS based on the numbers of members within that local society. Theoretically, this is perhaps to place the financial burden proportionately, i.e., larger societies pay more than smaller societies to receive the same benefit. Back in the 1980s I remember individuals belonging to a FGS member society received a personal copy of The FORUM, a practice that has been discontinued perhaps due to financial constraints.

FGS Annual Membership Fees:
Number of Members Price
0-50 $35.00
51-99 $45.00
100-199 $55.00
200-299 $65.00
300-399 $75.00
400-499 $85.00
500-999 $95.00
1000 or more $115.00
Associate Organizations $35.00

It is Ol' Myrt's impression that 80% of the marvelous and dedicated volunteer effort at FGS concerns the annual conference. Though my husband is on the FGS Board, I am not privy to financial specifics. I can only assume that the conference consumes the majority of the FGS budget.

Is producing an annual 4-day genealogy conference the best use of FGS volunteer and financial resources?

What if FGS and NGS join forces to produce a single annual conference at locations that vary from year to year as they are currently doing separately?
  • Instead of meeting Wed-Sat, why not meet Mon-Sat?
  • The FGS Society management track could be held Monday.
  • Tuesday could feature APG Professional Management and Librarians Day tracks and a full day of the vendor hall.
  • Wed-Sat proceed with usual and customary genealogy how-to tracks.
  • Add virtual presentations.
  • The conference would have twice the top level volunteers and experience.
  • Attendance wouldn't be split between two venues in May and September.
  • NGS would be free to educate individuals about genealogy research methodology.
  • FGS would be free to train societies about society management.
  • FGS could increase its participation on the Records Preservation and Access Committee
  • Cut down on NGS office registration activities by having all registration take place online, where participants print their own name tags and syllabus materials. Check-in would require a barcode reader before a participant receives a name tag holder, final conference program, goodie bag, etc.
  • Save money on conference brochures with only 1 conference to print.
  • Save money on conference venue with only 1 conference to hold.
  • NGS and FGS split responsibility for the conference, and split proceeds after meeting obligations to the local society conference committee.
As contracts are probably signed and deposits made for NGS and FGS conference venues through the next three years, it would take some time to implement this suggestion.

What century is this?
With technology changing at warp-five speed, RootsTech is is an essential component of the genealogy conference mix. It's time for FGS and NGS to join forces and "boldly go where no man has gone before." They can call it FGS/NGS: The Next Generation.

Genealogists have been living on the "20th century genealogy conference planet" too long, and it's time for us to say "Beam me up, Scotty." Perhaps even Dr. McCoy would concur.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. These are all very good valid suggestions.

  2. Myrt! Many of the issues that you bring up have been under discussion at FGS for the past few months. FGS is looking at any and every aspect of providing the best services to genealogical societies and the genealogy community. I wonder if Gordon hasn't been talking in his sleep and divulging our meeting minutes . . .

    Thomas MacEntee
    Chair, Marketing & Publicity Committee