Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Year's Wishes for SGS

What would you MOST like to see happen at SGS in 2010?
I've been pondering this question for the last couple of days, trying to figure out where to focus my energies in the coming year (or at least 5 months).
One looming issue facing SGS is our library lease. Our current 10-year lease is up in April 2011. Since we really can't afford our current rent, I'm having grave doubts about our ability to negotiate a new lease that is within our financial reach. Ironically, the space we have--while in a great location--doesn't fit our current needs very well. We could really use a class/social room that will hold 30-40 people. We need more easily accessible parking. We need more space for computers and appropriate wiring to support them. BUT we can't really afford to pay even our current rent, so how can we afford a more spacious location?
How important is the library to SGS and its membership? The recent survey on this site and the library sign-in log indicate that it is only used by a very small fraction of our membership. Is it important to the rest of our members to maintain this library? What should its focus be?
The other issue I continually ponder is how to get more of our members actively involved in SGS activities. We've tried expanding our class and program offerings. Will more members turn out than the usual handful? If not, what would bring more members out to SGS? The state focus groups started in 2005 brought out a lot of members, but attendance at those meetings quickly declined. What programs could/should SGS offer that would interest more members?
I'd love to know your thoughts on these and other issues facing SGS. What would YOU like to see happen at SGS in 2010? Please click on the word "comment" below and let me know your thoughts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There's always something new to learn....

Yesterday's Computer Interest Group [CIG] meeting was, as always, educational. Dawn Bingaman, CIG chair, shared a web-based application she "discovered" before taking off on a research trip this fall. It's called Evernote [] and is definitely worth a look. What Evernote allows you to do--for free!--is share notes, documents, photos, saved records, even videos and audio recordings with anyone you wish, or just yourself. These records can be accessed by ANY web-accessible device--desktop or laptop computer, web-enabled phone or PDA, Mac or PC based. Do check it out. Space is somewhat limited [40 MB/month] unless you want to pay a small fee, but Dawn found this web tool very useful on her research trip.
Lou Daly shared her new "toy"--a Livescribe pulse pen []. Using special dot paper, the pulse smartpen records and links audio to what your write. Lou plans on using it when interviewing relatives, so she can focus on listening to their answers instead of trying to write down everything. This new system should make it so she won't have to transcribe what is recorded--the pen will do it for her! Is that cool or what?
There were about 25 in attendance at yesterday's CIG, a relatively low number for this SGS Special Interest Group. Please remember that ALL of our SIGs are here for YOU, our members. If you're not finding groups and meetings that meet your needs, please let us know. What are we missing? Are you interested in starting a new group? We just need ten people to express interest to start a new SIG. Let our Director of Education, Jean Roth [] know your interests.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Party Musings

Thank You to all who attended today's holiday party.
We had a little trouble with JoAnne's DVD, but had lots of treats and most people tried the genealogy holiday craft project. At least three people expressed interest in joining a genealogy craft group. Are there any other takers out there?
Special thanks to Cary, Jean and Mary for all their work preparing for the party.

Now, my question for the rest of you.....why weren't you there? Please answer the survey question to the right. I won't know who's answering what, but am curious to know if social get-togethers are just not desireable or you're not into holiday gatherings, crafts, ??? I've been thinking that maybe we need to start having more informal gatherings--like weekly coffee and chat sessions to "talk genealogy." Is that something members would attend?

By now all members should have received their latest Bulletin and Newsletter. I've had positive responses from about 15 of you, saying you like having the Newsletter available online. How about the rest of you? Please let me know by either leaving a comment below [they come directly to me] or emailing me directly [ (use the "@" sign instead of "-at-")].

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A new Query Website

Back in the olden days, genealogists sent queries about their ancestors to genealogy societies in the areas where those ancestors lived, and waited patiently for someone to see the query, realize it's their family, and send a letter to the query poster. Sometimes it took many years to get a response. Sometimes you never got a response.
With the advent of the internet and groups like Rootsweb (now Ancestry) and (Genforum), digital message boards were developed. I'm guessing most of you have posted to either or both of these. They both offer message boards for localities and surnames.
Now there's another message board site, Dick Eastman, probably the foremost genealogy blogger in the US, developed this site. It's essentially one huge database, with categories for locations and surnames and also ads (for genealogy services and societies) and event listings. It's very similar in concept to Craig's List, but for genealogists. GenQueries is advertised as having no fees, no spam, no account required, and no invasion of your privacy. You can even sign up for an RSS feed and monitor postings without searching through the site.
This site just went public the beginning of November, so it doesn't have a huge number of posts yet. But notice that you can search the entire site from the search box at the left top of the home page.
And yes, SGS was one of the first societies listed--back on September 21st.
Do let me know if you have any success posting to GenQueries. I'm still hoping!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

November Board Meeting

Monday's November Board meeting turned out to be quite lengthy, as one of the items on the agenda was a report from our Bylaws Review Committee by Bonnie Larson, chair. This group has been meeting on a regular basis, working through every article of our current Bylaws and evaluating how well they serve SGS and its members. We spent over an hour discussing their 2+ pages of initial recommendations. One issue that has not been dealt with yet is the extent to which SGS should allow digital communications to supplant in-person meetings or mailed notifications. Do you have an opinion on this topic? Have you read the Bylaws? Copies are available to all members at SGS. Your comments and suggestions would be welcomed by Bonnie and her committee. Please mail your comments to SGS, care of Bonnie.

The biggest issue facing your SGS Board is our rapidly deteriorating financial position. Our actual income/expenses to date since May are currently almost $5000 under budget. The Board had to make the difficult decision to pull money out of the Dave Ault inheritance bequest, which we had hoped to save for a down payment on our own facility, to have sufficient funds available to pay our rent through April. While the Board is working on one grant proposal and searching for others, we need your ideas and help to find additional sources of revenue to keep our library and programs running. There's a large note pad on an easel at SGS (in the family histories area) for your fundraising ideas, or email them to me (

Our annual year-end donation appeal letter should be arriving in your mail box next week. We know this year has been financially onerous for many of our members, but please consider making a donation--however small--to SGS this year. All donations are tax deductible and will help us survive.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Getting the most from Special Interest Groups at SGS

I happened to stop by SGS this morning while the Irish Interest Group was meeting. There were about a dozen people sitting around the big table. Jean Roth has been leading both the Irish and German interest groups for many years, and doing a great job coming up with topics and presentations. After the meeting, one of the regular attendees said to me, "You know, Ginny. I could put together a presentation based on some of my research for an interest group meeting." What a novel idea!
SGS supports Special Interest Groups (SIGs) focused on Irish, German, and Canadian research, computers and genealogy, and MAC computer users. We also still have a few functioning State Focus Groups--Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, Missouri, ??? [there may be others, but they're not coming to mind].
All of these groups are supposed to be forums for group learning and sharing. Group leaders should not have to bear all of the responsibility for preparing discussion topics. All of us who have been researching our families--whether for a year or multiple decades--have learned things in our research that are worth sharing with others researching in the same areas. Please consider offering to talk about something you've discovered, even if you've only got 15 minutes of material to share. Talk to your group's coordinator and let them know you're willing to help. And check the SGS calendar for future meetings of the groups that overlap your research areas. If you haven't been to an interest group meeting for awhile, drop in and start participating. What you've learned might help someone else break through their brick wall.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"What's New in Family History" according to Mary Slawson

For those of you who didn't attend yesterday's LDS Family History Fair in Redmond, I'd like to report on Mary Slawson's keynote presentation on the above topic. It's a bit of a misnomer in that she focused on what's new in LDS family history--not the entire field. But other than that, it was very interesting and informative.
The biggest shock was Mary's comments about the Family History Library's plans to totally phase out all CDs and microfilm. Can you imagine NOT pawing through all those rolls of microfilm at the FHL? I can't! Don't start holding your breath yet, as it could take awhile to digitize and index everything on those hundred of thousands of microfilm rolls and thousands of CDs. But it was a shock to hear that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when the FHL has no microfilm.
Mary also talked about the new Family Search Family Tree program being developed. It provides for on-line collaboration among people working on the same families, with detailed sourcing capabilities and provision for posting multiple conflicting facts. It's also designed to link to your existing genealogy software.
Another new LDS genealogy development is a set of style guides being added to the Family Search Wiki--articles on how to do genealogy in different countries written by FHL experts.
Of course, we all know about Family Search Indexing and the Record Search pilot site. But did you know the FHL is also involved in a huge book scanning project? They're scanning books from the FHL, BYU, Allen Co., Houston, Mid-Continent and many other libraries. Mary reported that they've already completed the scanning of over 40,000 volumes. If you go to and click on "Search Records" and then "Historical Books" [in the drop-down list], you'll see that they've actually scanned 52,743 books already! There are several search boxes to use for finding your surnames and/or locations in the scanned items.
If you'd like to check out some of the new features the LDS folks are working on, take a look at You'll find links there to most of the projects mentioned above.
Thanks to Mary for a great keynote and to the Redmond and Bellevue LDS stakes for another great day of genealogy presentations.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Sorry for the delay in posting, but as some of you know, I’m off on a cruise. One of the relatively new features of Holland America cruises is a Microsoft “techspert” on every ship to get people hooked on Windows and Windows Live for writing blogs and posting photos.

This morning I attended a presentation on Windows Live Photo Gallery that demonstrated some of the program’s features. Basically it works like Picasa or any other photo storing and editing program—and it’s a free download from

But there’s a particularly intriguing feature in Windows Live Photo Gallery—the ability to identify individual faces in uploaded photos and to have the program “learn” these faces and automatically identify them in future photos. Our techspert demonstrated how you can then search for all photos with a particular person identified in them without having to actually look at each photo. Pretty cool!

It seems to me that this might be a very useful feature for genealogists. If you can identify “Great Aunt Martha” in a series of scanned photos that you know are of her, Windows Live Photo Gallery might be able to identify her in other photos you’ve scanned but didn’t know exactly who was in them. It’s definitely worth a try. Just be sure to use the exact same name for each time an individual appears in one of your photos.

Do try this out and let me know how it works for you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

SGS Committees

It seems like half of my time these first 5 months in office has been spent trying to find people to serve on various SGS committees. Maybe when the Society had 2000 members all of these committees were fully staffed, but now that we're down below 600, it's a bit more difficult, especially since we're also trying to keep the library open 30 hours a week, which means a minimum of 6 shifts per week [preferably 7, so there are two people for the evening hours[.
We now have active participants on the Library Trustees, Retention/Disposal, Editorial Board & Publications Committee [need more help], Long Range Planning, Audit, Seminar [need some new people], and Computer committees. We have not appointed anyone to the Security and Program committees yet; the Elections Committee is not appointed until March--but we'll need people for that. I would love to have a group of people willing to make presentations on behalf of SGS--a speakers' bureau--as we get requests for presentations fairly often. Wouldn't it be great to be able to introduce people in retirement homes to genealogy by bringing an introductory class to them?
Most of these committees don't meet very often and have pretty limited duties. They're a good way to "ease into" becoming more active in the Society.
If you're interested in becoming more involved in any of these activities, please email Director of Volunteers, Rosemary Lehman, and She'll find a place for you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How do you organize your genealogy research?

Maybe the Board was just a little slap-happy after our almost 3-hour meeting today, but we decided to make this month's blog poll on how we organize our genealogy notes. We're most curious to see your answers...and read what you have to say about this topic.
Karen Sipe and I had hoped to spend some significant time talking about organization in the Beginning Genealogy class we taught during the Fall Seminar. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and barely gave the topic lip service. For this I apologize. We had hoped to talk about organizing files or notebooks by surnames, locations, time....there are as many ways to organize family history research as there are researchers, I suspect.
Personally, I've tried color-coded files, surname notebooks, and boxes by family line [with separate file folders inside], but somehow I always get too busy to file and end up with piles...and piles....and piles. If I'm lucky, I can figure out where a particular piece of paper I'm looking for is by how deep it is in the pile, but that hasn't been happening much lately. It's obviously time to get organized...again.
I'm thinking I might just wait until I hear what Elissa Powell, our Spring Seminar speaker, has to say on the subject. One of her four presentations will be "Twenty Years of Stuff. Now What Do I Do?" I'm hoping she's got some simple solution for my piles!
Please share your thoughts by taking the poll [column to right] and/or sharing your comments [click on green word "comments" below].

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Funerals and Missed Opportunities

I attended a funeral for a lady I'd never met the other day. It's not that I didn't try to meet her. But I never managed to convince her to talk to me. Her father was a step-brother to my great-grandmother, so we were two generations removed from each other. And I really, REALLY wanted to talk to her about my great-great-grandfather--the person I've spent 20+ years researching. Sadly, she was probably the last person alive who might have known R. H. Collins. If I could just have talked to her.
This past weekend's SGS conference focused on Oral History. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to ask this lady questions. And since I was busy teaching during the seminar, I didn't get to attend any of the sessions that would have made me a better interviewer/listener. Maybe next time.
The SGS Seminar Committee had a de-briefing session this evening. The speaker evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, with several speakers receiving the maximum possible scores. It's a shame more people didn't come to hear them. Hopefully those that did attend won't let their relatives become missed opportunities like I did. The lady I never met sounded like a really interesting and wonderful person.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SGS Fall Seminar a Success!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the SGS Fall Seminar yesterday.
Attendance was a bit lower than last year's event, but those who attended gave the sessions rave reviews. Of special note was our keynote speaker, John Hughes, who was called "a wonderful speaker" and "totally fascinating!" and Cary Lynn Bright, who presented 30+ ways to Bring Your Family History to Life in Your Home.
The members of the Seminar Committee [Karl Kumm, Jean Roth, Pat Younie, Cary Bright, Linda Fitzgerald, Christine Schomaker, Mary Roddy, Tom Hamilton, Jean Morton, Jan McNair] deserve special thanks for their hard work pulling together such a well-run event. Set-up helpers Mollie Fitzsimmons, Sharyl Swope and Bruce Finlayson and clean-up helpers Cindy Stevens, and James Ryan were especially appreciated. A few more strong helpers at the end of the day would have been nice....
A big issue facing SGS now is finding a place for future seminars. The Sand Point Education Center, where we've held our last three seminars, has reverted to the Seattle School District and is on their list of schools to be re-opened next year. While there are many venues available for single-speaker events, locations for multiple simultaneous sessions are considerably rarer. If you know of any appropriate places for future SGS seminars, please tell us. Appropriate locations need to be wheelchair accessible, near a Metro bus line, have ample parking, and be reasonably priced. Contact us via the "comments" option below, by calling SGS [206-522-8658], or by emailing or
Thanks again to all who helped produce another great event!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SGS Programs

"Program, Program. Git Yer Program" was the title of one of the FGS presentations I attended last month. According to that speaker--and several people who have responded to this blog--programs are the key to building a genealogy society's membership.
Taking that advice to heart, Director of Education Jean Roth and I have been working hard to put together several new educational programs for the coming months.
I'm sure you're all aware of our two big seminars each year. They are a major source of revenue for the Society and a way for us to reach out to family history researchers in the Puget Sound area who may not be SGS members, as well as providing learning opportunities for our own members. Revitalizing these seminars has been a major effort the last two years.
Now we're turning our focus to educational programming for our members.
What kinds of programs does SGS offer?
First, regular monthly [more or less] speakers on a variety of topics. We've added a November program and have three NEW presenters/presentations scheduled for Jan-Mar 2010.
Second, instructional classes. We'll be offering another beginning genealogy workshop, a two-part beginning computer genealogy class, and a new intermediate genealogy research series in early 2010.
Third, special interest groups. Our computer, Mac, Canada, German and Irish interest groups continue to run their own monthly programs. Several state focus groups--Illinois, Pennsylvania, New England [yes, I know that's not a state, but they morphed into a region]--continue to meet and offer interesting area-specific programs. We have plans to better support these groups in the coming months.
So, what are these exciting new programs? Sorry, can't tell you. They'll be announced at the Fall Seminar this Saturday and in our upcoming Newsletter. If, after checking out our new offerings, you don't see what you'd like, please let us know. And if you'd like to help plan future events, we'd be happy to have your assistance.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

HQRL's Seminar with Dan Lynch

Along with about 150 other area genealogists, I spent today in Tacoma listening to Dan Lynch, author of Google Your Family Tree. I have to admit, my main reason for going to this all-day workshop was to try to drum up some more registrations for our seminar next weekend. After all, I've been doing genealogy for 30 years, working with computers for 40 years, and using Google for 10 years. What was I going to learn about using Google for family history research?
Answer: A LOT!
Dan is an excellent presenter. He's well organized, repeats the things he really wants you to remember, uses technology well, incorporates humor into his presentation, easily adapts to interruptions [like announcements over a loudspeaker], and makes time for anyone and everyone who wants to ask questions.
So...what did I learn? Without giving you too many free tips, let me just use keywords and symbols: "~" "translate this page" "+" Google Alerts "~vintage" "Language Tools" 
Sorry, you'll have to buy Dan's book or attend one of his seminars to get the details.
The other thing I learned is that there is always something new I can learn by listening to other genealogists, even if the presentation is on a topic I think I'm pretty well informed about. We each have different approaches to using the tools that are available to us. You never know when that one new "tidbit" might open the door for your family research. 

One suggestion Dan made is that family historians should post some of their information and photos online so that other researchers can find you. In answer to a question about WHERE and HOW to post family photos, he suggested that local genealogical societies create a photo sharing page on their website. What do you think of this idea? Please respond by clicking on the green comments button below. Also please take this month's one-question survey in the righthand column.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Visit to another genealogy library

I just returned from a week's trip to Missouri to visit with relatives on my mother's side of the family. My husband and I try to do this at least once a year, as I like to get back there to do genealogical research and he enjoys the small town environment. This time there were 5 of us first cousins and my uncle, who is now 84 [going on 60].
Since we were only there for a week I tried to be on my best behavior and not run off to do my research. However, before leaving Seattle I discovered that a relative had donated a box of photos to the genealogical society in an adjacent county. Needless to say, I wanted to take a look at them. Since my cousins were also interested, we scheduled a little field trip.
This genealogy library is only open 12 hours a week--Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 AM to 2 PM. It's located in a former Carnegie Library that the Society managed to purchase for $90,000 [raised in 12 months] in 2002 in a community of about 10,000 people. Counting the floor space on both the first and second floors, I doubt they have as much space as the SGS Library and they certainly don't have the number of books, periodicals, CDs, and other research materials we have.
What they DO have that was impressive to me is an ACTIVE archival preservation and indexing program. The box of photos I found listed online had been carefully indexed and organized into a single archival box with photos separated by archival tissue paper, grouped by subject and placed in archival file folders. The entire second floor of the building housed shelves of ORIGINAL county records [what you'd expect to find in a county clerk's or recorder's office] and project work areas. This group is currently preserving and indexing all of the county's circuit court records from 1900 until 1980 [the State of Missouri is doing the same for all court records before 1900]. The record preservation process and care taken by these volunteers is impressive and the resultant indexes will be invaluable for researchers in this area.
My questions to readers of this blog:
   - Should SGS be doing similar record preservation projects?
   - Could SGS generate enough money to purchase our own building?
   - Is that a worthwhile goal?
Please let me know your thoughts by clicking on the green COMMENT button below or emailing me directly at SGSPresident [@]
Thank you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Planning Meeting Musings

Thank you to the 20 or so people who showed up for yesterday's quarterly meeting. The meeting started with our Washington State Genealogical Society district rep, Bonnie MacDonald, presenting a volunteer award to Marilynn VanHise for her 9 years of work coordinating the King County Records Project. It was also announced that SGS has received written permission to publish this index however we please. Any ideas for how we can benefit financially from this project would be most appreciated.

After the usual "business" [minutes, treasurer's report, president's report], we reviewed the long range planning priorities generated at the quarterly meeting held last March. We also discussed SGS's financial situation--basically that over 80% of all funds generated by SGS go to support the library.

After some discussion, we broke into 3 groups for goal-setting.
The Programs/Education group came up with a long list of suggestions, from program topic and class ideas to suggestions for when and how to offer them.
The Membership/Volunteers group recommended that SGS take PayPal &/or credit cards for dues, move to digital newsletters and increased use of email notices [no more often than every 10 days to 2 weeks].
The Library group set more specific goals:
  • search for a new home for SGS--a good location with parking
  • strengthen relationships with other organizations; possibly combine with another historical or genealogical group for a new home
  • develop the uniqueness of the SGS library--identify our collection's strengths and advertise them.
These are all great ideas, and all need more member input. Since our lease is up in 18 months, it's time to seriously consider relocation. If you know of any potential space--3000 square feet or more that can bear our library's weight, is inexpensive, well located and has good parking--please talk to a Board member.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall Semianr Oct. 17th

SGS hosts two seminars per year--one in the Fall and one in Spring. They generate a goodly chunk of our operating budget. Unfortunately, this year's Fall Seminar doesn't seem to be generating the interest we'd like--and need. What we need to know is--why are we not getting our usual number of registrations? Is it the topic--Oral History? Is it the timing--Saturday, Oct. 17th? Is it that we sent out the registration forms too early--ca. August 1st?
As with every aspect of SGS, the Seminar Committee is made up of volunteers. It's one of many SGS committees that could use some new participants. All of its current members are now either on the Board or doing other time-consuming jobs [like coordinating desk volunteers]. Would you like to help? If so, please call the office or email Karl [k.kumm [@]].
If a seminar on oral history is a dud, what topics would draw more interest? If you've got ideas, please email me or come to the next Seminar Committee meeting. If you lost your brochure and need information, check out

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Where are we going?

The SGS Fall Membership meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26th [see details at right]. Will you be there?
SGS is struggling.
Our membership has been steadily declining.
We don't have enough desk volunteers to staff our library during posted open hours.
Our revenues are not covering our expenses.
What can/should we do?
Who will do it?
We started a long-range planning process in March with brainstorming. This exercise generated a list of priorities for SGS. Come hear how SGS is approaching these priorities and give us your input on how to move SGS forward. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Searching for Volunteers

SGS has over 600 individual and dual members. So why is it that the work of running the Society and keeping the library running are left to so few members? Many of the jobs we most desperately need new volunteers for--like being a library desk volunteer, serving on the seminar committee, or helping with publications--do not require huge commitments of time. Desk volunteers can sign up for just one shift a month (5 hours). The seminar committee usually meets once a month for two hours; members spend a couple more hours performing their assigned duties. Our Newsletter is published quarterly and our Bulletin twice a year; not an onerous schedule by any means! Many hands make light work for all of us. What can you do to help keep SGS running?
For those who'd like to know more about becoming a desk volunteer, please sign up for one of the training sessions--Monday, Sept. 28th from 10 AM to 3 PM or Saturday, Oct. 3rd from 10 AM to 3 PM. Just let Pat Younie know you're interested by emailing SGSVolunteers [@]
BTW, a big THANK YOU to Annette Dwyer for the new banner. Quite spiffy, isn't it?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

SGS's Computer Interest Group

Oh, how I've missed our Computer Interest Group [CIG] meetings these last several months! Somehow I've managed to be out of town the second Saturday since May. I didn't realize how much I missed the CIG meetings until attending today's session. It was great!

Today's topic was Family Tree Maker 2009, with new member Jeff Otjen as presenter. Jeff did a really great job of demonstrating many of FTM's features. I've been an FTM user for many years--since it's inception, actually--and have been one of those reluctant upgraders. I'm so used to the "old" format [i.e., FTM 16 and earlier] that I've really had a hard time adjusting to FTM 2008/2009. After seeing Jeff's demonstration of the integrating features and mapping capabilities of FTM 2009, I'm ready to give it another try.

Speaking of special interest groups.....SGS is down to just a very few active ones. According to our last Bulletin, our only active special interest groups [SIGs] are Canadian, Computer, German, Irish, and Mac [as in Macintosh computers]. Is it time to resurrect some of our "lost" SIGs? Our Bylaws allow for creating a SIG if we have 10 interested members. What topics are of most interest? How about a SIG on research techniques, writing your family stories, or Scandinavian research? Other suggestions? Please leave your comments below or email them to me at sgspresident[@]  [remove brackets for correct address.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reflections on FGS

I've been back in Seattle since late Saturday, so now it's time to reflect on last week's FGS meetings and what, if anything, my attendance means for the Society. On the plane to Little Rock, I made a list of SGS issues I hoped to get help on at the meetings. These included reversing our declining membership, getting more members involved in Society activities, how to generate revenue from our library, how to keep our board meetings moving [and under 2 hours?], and how to move SGS into the digital age without offending our non-digital members.
I had high hopes that I'd gather a lot of great ideas from other Society movers and shakers. This didn't happen, even though I spent the entire first day in "Society Management" sessions [the only day such sessions were offered]. There just weren't any opportunities to sit down and chat with experienced Society officers. I did meet a great bunch of gals from Dallas [we stayed at the same hotel], but their society has the same problems SGS does, and they haven't found solutions to them either. And I met lots of people from genealogical societies located in small towns. Unfortunately, what works in small towns is not very likely to work in it?
This is not to say attending the FGS meetings was a waste of time. I heard a number of great speakers, learned a few new genealogy research tricks, talked to a number of vendors [which will hopefully yield a few more raffle prizes for October!] and got our Washington Donation Land Claims book scanned for free.
If you've got ideas to help SGS with the issues listed above, please send me your thoughts.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

FGS Days 4 & 5

Here I sit in the Little Rock airport, trying to catch up on my posts. It's so nice of them to provide free wi-fi for those of us with laptops!

Day 4 [Friday] I attended talks by George Schweitzer [again! as entertaining and informative as earlier], J. Mark Lowe, Elissa Powell [our Spring Seminar speaker], and Thomas W. Jones. All were truly excellent. If we ever decide to focus a seminar on Tennessee and/or North Carolina, I would definitely recommend Mark Lowe as a speaker. He had a wealth of information on researching in those states and presented it very well. Tom Jones definitely caters to the "more advanced" genealogists. The lady in front of me had attended this same talk a year ago and was hoping to understand at least half of it THIS time. Not a good sign. I did enjoy the talk, but doubt most of our members would.

This morning I attended talks by Elizabeth Shown Mills ["The Identify Crisis"], Paula Stuart-Warren [on school records], and Barbara Vines Little before heading to the airport. The first two were excellent. I'm sure Barbara knows her stuff [Virginia research], but her slides were not great and she had to keep backtracking, which drove a few of us batty. Elizabeth and Paula were both fantastic and I'd recommend either one of them for future seminars.

Personally, I've had enough heat and humidity for this year and am definitely ready to head home to Seattle, where I understand the weather is finally starting to act "normal." Now why I have to fly to Atlanta to get to Seattle is beyond me.....

Please let me know your thoughts, either by emailing me [SGSPresident [at]] or clicking on the "Comments" link below.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 3 in Little Rock

The Exhibit Hall opened this morning. What a treasure trove of goodies! I tried to make a quick circuit of the exhibits between 9:30 [when it opened] and 11:00 [first session after the keynote], but only hit about half of the exhibits. All of the big genealogy companies are here--Ancestry, FamilySearch, Footnote, NEHGS, NARA, World Vital Records. I hit up a few of them for possible donations for our fall seminar raffle. Hope they come through!

After studying the FGS Conference schedule last night, I decided that I should focus on listening to presentations by potential future speakers for our SGS seminars today and tomorrow. I started with a presentation by George Schweitzer on "US Migration Routes and Settlement Patterns, 1607-1890." Ol' George is as entertaining and informative as ever, dressed in his frontier garb. Also heard "Tracing Scots-Irish Ancestors" by Dean J. Hunter [informative but very dry] and "Genealogical Applications of Historic GIS" [great slides; very informative; but very academic delivery]. Last presentation of the day [5-6 pm] was by Curt Witcher, a librarian with the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN and member of the FGS Board of Directors, on "Future Possibilities with Digital Libraries." Curt's presentation style and content were fantastic, but pretty depressing from the standpoint of generating revenue from our SGS Library. Literally hundreds of thousands of books and manuscripts are being posted to free websites around the world. If you haven't already visited them, check out a few of the sites he mentioned:
Allen Co. Public Library has already contributed over 7000 titles from their collection to Open Library.

Ancestry is offering free scanning today and tomorrow, so I lined up this morning to get a 15-minute time slot. By 2:45, when my time came for scanning, they were running 30 minutes behind. I was going to have them scan a few pages of our 1980 SGS publication of the Washington Donation Land Claims, to see if we might publish a digital edition. The scanning staff offered to scan the ENTIRE book for me if they could do it overnight. Needless to say, I accepted their offer. I should receive a USB drive with all 250+ pages on it tomorrow morning. Such a deal....for free!

I've now been "adopted" by the contingent from the Dallas Genealogical Society. We're all staying at the same inexpensive hotel about 1.5 miles from the conference center and they took pity on me being "all by myself." I was shocked to learn that they draw fewer than 100 to their annual seminars...and that they almost always lose money. Guess we must be doing something right in Seattle!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 2 in Little Rock, Ark.

The FGS Conference started in earnest this morning with "Delegates 101." It appears that SGS has been missing most, if not all, of the benefits of membership in the Federation of Genealogical Societies. They sponsor a number of free programs to support member societies, including bylaws review, advertising for seminars, and conference/seminar planning guides.

The second session I attended was a presentation on cemeteries by Elissa Scalise Powell, our invited speaker for the SGS Spring Seminar 2010. I'm happy to report that Elissa is quite entertaining and has a wealth of information--and some great slides. Everyone will learn something from her, I'm sure.

The other 4 sessions I attended today were: "Program, Program, Git Your Program", "How to Control the Debate Dialogue in a Meeting", "Conducting Your Society Business in a Virtual World", and "Using Your Society's Webs Site (to attract new members)." All were uniformly informative and I've got 6 pages of handwritten notes to prove it! I'll be happy to share my notes and the syllabuses (syllabi?) for these talks to anyone who's interested.

I also attended the FGS Delegates Luncheon and an evening presentation by During the "sharing" period at the luncheon I mentioned our completed King County Records Project. The round of applause and shocked expression of the moderator when I stated the number of records indexed [over 1,560,000] were quite gratifying. More kudos to Marilynn Van Hise and her team.
The next three days offer numerous research topics, so I expect to come home well educated.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day One in Little Rock, Arkansas

I'm happy to report that all's well in beautiful downtown Little Rock.
The actual FGS conference starts tomorrow. I got here a day early so I could spend some quality time in the Arkansas Archives. Didn't find much, but it's always great to be researching.
I'm staying at a less expensive hotel about a mile from the conference site. Went down to my free breakfast and noticed a woman in a t-shirt that said something about genealogists. Is that something SGS should sell--genealogy t-shirts? Would anybody buy them?
Spent about 7 hours [straight through] at the Archives and headed to the convention center to check in. Unfortunately, the capitol complex is a good two miles from downtown, and buses are few and far between, so I ended up walking it. Luckily, temps and humidity are mild for Little Rock [both in low 80s], so it wasn't too bad.
Had to get checked in so I could hit the free ice cream social. Got there just in time to grab the last ice cream cup--mostly melted, but still edible. Turned around and who was there? None other than our own Jean Morton. I knew she was coming to the conference, as she has in-laws here, but certainly didn't expect to run into her so soon! Does anyone know if any othe Seattlites are attending FGS? If so, please let me know so I can look for them. [sgspresident [at]]
The opening session for Society Delegates starts at 8:00 tomorrow, so I will be up considerably earlier than usual. Hope I learn something useful about FGS and what they have to offer societies like our's. I'll be attending sessions on marketing, programs, controlling debate in meetings, and digital societies tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heading to FGS

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is holding their annual meetings next week in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a new society president, I thought it might be a good idea to attend and network with more experienced society officers and learn from their experience. I'm particularly interested in how to transition SGS into the digital age without alienating members who aren't computer literate (and have no desire to be), how to increase our membership (an absolute necessity for SGS), and how to increase SGS member participation in our programs and events. If you have ideas on these topics, please respond by clicking on the "Comments" button below or emailing me at SGSPresident [at]
[Disclaimer: No part of this trip is being paid for with SGS funds; it's all on me.]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Board Business

Have you ever wondered what the SGS Board does at our monthly meetings?
This year's Board is focused on fixing the "messes" identified by last year's Audit Committee. Instead of just doing a financial audit, last year's committee conducted a complete functional audit. They assessed the Society's activities vis a vis our Bylaws and state and federal laws related to charitable organizations. Their final report, including appendices, is 56 pages long and is available for member review at SGS. It identifies numerous shortcomings in SGS's current day-to-day operations.
Our August Board meeting dealt with reviewing Board member job descriptions, approving committee appointments, approving a new key policy, establishing a fee schedule for seminar vendor tables and consignment items at SGS book sales, and establishing a safe deposit box policy.
We are trying hard to create a comprehensive new Policy & Procedure Manual for SGS that covers all of SGS's activities so that future generations of SGS members will have a single, comprehensive resource to turn to when questions arise about how SGS business is conducted. The Society has relied on "corporate memory" for way too long; documenting all the "how to's" is a major undertaking.
If you'd like to know more about the Board's activities, please contact any Board member. Our email addresses are published in the Bulletin, or you can leave phone or written messages for us through the SGS Library.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Welcome to the SGS President's blog. As it says elsewhere on this page, this is an effort to improve communication between the SGS Board [via the President] and our members. I hope to post to this blog at least once a week and use it to keep our SGS membership informed about what's going on at SGS, what decisions the Board is making, and what members can do to help keep SGS moving forward. I also plan to post a monthly poll question to gauge member opinion on a topic important to the Society. Please take a moment to post your response.
If you'd like to discuss any of the topics presented on this blog--or anything related to SGS--please email me at SGSPresident [at] [please replace "[at]" with "@" and remove the spaces].
I look forward to hearing from you,
Ginny Sommarstrom
SGS President, 2009-2010