There are lots of family history societies around Australia and New Zealand and they play a key role in genealogy research. Membership fees are typically very reasonable, so here are some great reasons why it’s worth joining up.
1. They can help you get started. If you’re new to family history, joining a society is one of the best ways to learn how to go about researching your family tree. And they’ll advise you on best practices, such as documenting and organising your research, how to store data, and the best online resources.
2. Swap and brainstorm research. Two (or more) brains are better than one and discussing ways to approach your research with other people can really help overcome ‘brickwalls’ or tackle a problem from a different angle. Plus you’ll get encouragement from the group to keep going.
3. Local expertise. Family history societies offer an amazing network of local knowledge. Members can offer helpful contacts, publications that may be useful, and may even have photographs of the local area that have never been published. And never underestimate the power of local oral history such as anecdotes and stories, which can be a powerful research tool.
4. Use their resources. In my experience family history societies have amazing libraries dedicated to the local area. The ones I’ve visited when I’ve given seminars have local history books that only had a short print run, one-off publications by members, newspapers that may not be on Trove, local ephemera and more.
5. Be part of a community. While we’re lucky to live in an age where so many resources can be digitised, researching online can feel isolating at times. Joining a society means you’ll have a support network of historians just like you who are passionate about family history. You’ll be able to celebrate your successes – those eureka moments when you finally piece something together – with like-minded people. Plus, societies often have monthly seminars and events that you can attend.
6. Help preserve our history. Societies are one of the gatekeepers of all that wonderful research that people are doing. They help collate it, archive it and keep it safe for future generations. Joining up means you’ll be part of that.
7. Contribute your skills, or learn new ones. Family history societies are always looking for help with their day-to-day operations. That can include bookkeeping, archiving, marketing, IT support, building a new website or editing the monthly newsletter. Have a think about what areas you could help with – then offer your services.
8. Be an influencer. If you’re not happy with how the local history is being preserved in your area then get involved. Societies often lobby to save local buildings and monuments from destruction or dilapidation, for example. You may even be able to shape local decisions and policy.
Perhaps you’re already a member of one of the hundreds of family history societies across the country? You don’t need to stop at just one, or restrict it to Australia. So consider joining a few more in the areas where your ancestors’ lived – wherever in the world that may be.
Cassie Mercer founded the award-winning magazine Inside History in 2010. The history bug struck her when she discovered the story of her 5x great grandparents – in the late 1700s in Ireland, one was a highwayman and the other was the madam of a brothel, of the Lower Sort.