I’m a joiner.

I like to be part of a group, especially a group that is working toward a common goal.

When you think about it, genealogy is such a solitary activity. We spend so much time alone: in front of a computer; in libraries, courthouses, and Family History Centers; writing and researching.

Our families sometimes see us as the crazy/nosey/annoying one, and hide or run the other way when they see us coming (especially when we’ve got netbooks and personal recorders in our hands).

Finding a safe place for us to “be ourselves” as genealogists, and to fellowship with others who share our passion is so important… not just to increase our knowledge, but to preserve our sanity.

Genealogical societies, both local and remote, are the perfect place to fill these needs. However, for me, at least, it’s been difficult to find everything I’m looking for all in one place.

So, I keep looking.

Like many genealogists, I belong to the National Genealogical Society (NGS). Their web site is great, their publications are great, their conferences are great (or so I’ve heard). But mainly I joined to get a discount on American Genealogy: A Home-Study Course. And also, hopefully, on the next NGS Conference… provided I can get a hall-pass to go. So being a member of this group has really been a “remote” experience for me. It helps with the knowledge, but not so much with the fellowship.

For the past three years I’ve also been a member of the Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS). They have an awesome library –which actually contains books that are relevant to my research – some terrific member benefits (like a NewspaperArchive subscription), an informative web site and publications, and they put on one rockin’ conference each year. Seriously, if you haven’t been to the SCGS Jamboree, you haven’t lived (read about last year’s exploits here). And SCGS members are darn nice people, too.

SCGS membership has filled both my fellowship and knowledge needs. Unfortunately, their headquarters are far enough away from me to make attendance at meetings – and visits to the library – impossible.

So finding a local group would really help to fill that void.

In May of 2008, I related my woeful tale about how I tried to join our hometown genealogical society, only to find that it had died such a quiet death that even the newspaper thought it was still alive.

I was disappointed, but determined to find another group.

A couple of former defunct-local-society members directed me to check out the larger “county” groups: the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society (SBCGS) and the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society (SLOCGS). Not knowing anything about either group – with the exception of their meeting dates – it was really a toss-up for me. Travel to meetings for each group would be about an hour, each way. I weighed the pros and cons of both groups (as I saw them), and I finally decided to attend a meeting of the SBCGS. I joined that same day.

(I have not yet visited the SLOCGS, but I still have every intention of doing so… someday… in my free time.)

The SBCGS is an outstanding group. I haven’t been able to attend many meetings yet, (unfortunately (there are only so many weekends in a month), but so far, the programs have been wonderful, and the people are friendly and helpful. I hope to be more involved in the group in the future.

However, I’m still on a quest to either find, or organize, an even more local-to-me genealogical society. I recently – with the help of all-knowing GenSoc Guru Kathryn Doyle – stumbled upon the Santa Maria Valley Genealogical Society, a fairly small group that meets monthly in Santa Maria on a weekday afternoon. I met up with a few members one afternoon at the local library, and they were extremely welcoming, even with my 3 year-old daughter bouncing off the library walls. I really hope to visit one of their meetings in the not-too-distant future… provided that I can find a babysitter.

The group does have what looks like an interesting collection of genealogical books at the Santa Maria Public Library, but with said toddler bouncing off the walls (literally – I’m not joking), I didn’t have much of a chance to check it out. I’m just lucky they didn’t ask us to leave.

So, why do I find it important to find a local group? Well, as I’ve said, that face-to-face interaction is a big boost to genealogical motivation (and depression). Even if the meeting topics aren’t always relevant to my particular area of research, there’s still so much value in attending the meetings, networking with others, and discovering how they solved similar research dilemmas.

Plus, there’s the cookies.

In the meantime, my current goal is to join a few genealogical/historical societies in the areas in which I’m researching: namely in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Iowa. I’m hoping that the brick-wall-breaker information I need is hidden away in back issues of their periodicals. And if I’m really lucky maybe someone will still be alive who knew my family.

You just never know what you’ll find when you’re a joiner.

Written for the 82nd Edition, Carnival of Genealogy: “Breaking Into Society.”

Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal
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