A few $$ can get you an enormous amount of information.
You have searched high and low for records and information in your possession and picked the brains of most of your relatives and family friends. Now you have a list of surnames, a reasonable amount of "facts" about your ancestors, and you think you know who you are and where you came from. Maybe, maybe not, but regardless -- now the fun begins!!
As you were gathering facts and folklore about your family, you no doubt wondered, "How do I know this is true?" or "Where can I find a record to prove this?" This is where your local genealogical society comes in. Normally these societies welcome guests to their meetings. In fact, it is safe to say they are always looking for new faces because that means new ideas, new research and new fellow genealogists. The meetings usually start with a program followed by a business meeting plus refreshments. A nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon or an evening and meet someone who just might turn out to be your cousin.
The first genealogy meeting I ever went to I was asked to stand and give my name and the surnames I was researching. When I mentioned my mother's maiden name, I noticed that the president turned and looked at one of the members. After the meeting that member asked me if I knew her great-grandfather. Of course I did. He was my mother's brother!! My mother had seven brothers and sisters. Unfortunately due to a family feud after my grandmother died, the daughters quit speaking to their two brothers. As a result my new found cousin missed out on all the big family parties we used to have and I spent the better part of a year filling her in on everything she had missed. Strangely enough, when we started sharing our research we found out that we both knew similar stories and rumors about our ancestors. Eventually we were able to combine and compare our facts and answer questions that were puzzling both of us.
But, other than finding long lost relatives, there are many advantages to joining a genealogical society and the dues at the local level are usually very reasonable -- especially when you consider the benefits of membership. As I mentioned earlier, meetings usually begin with a program. This could be a lecture on locating government records, understanding the census, technology, DNA, or local history. Granted, you could find a book at the local library or online information, but here you get to ask questions of the speaker, listen to what others have to add to the topic from their own experience, and exchange information with the person sitting next to you. Quite a bargain!
The business meeting, of course, will give you a look at how much or how little the organization is able to do outside of the monthly get-togethers. Some societies have limited membership so it is difficult for them to offer much more than a monthly meeting. Others offer a wide range of opportunities for research and participation in genealogy projects. Many times this is due to location. For example, I am fortunate. I live in Ohio. A lot of people traveled through Ohio on their way to better opportunities, dropping off relatives along the way. This generated a lot of records. Unfortunately, many records were lost in courthouse fires, but at the same time many survived. Fortunately for me my father's side of the family settled in Clermont County in southern Ohio. They never had a fire and nobody ever threw anything away!! If you have or think you have ancestors Clermont County, this is a good organization to belong to. They have much to offer.
Regardless of the size of your local genealogy society, there are always benefits to be gained. Many have their own libraries. Most have a newsletter that contains information on meetings, local resources, transcriptions of old newspapers, family histories, and queries from members to name just a few. (Queries are submitted by members and request information from other members on surnames they are researching.) If you are fortunate to live near one of the larger groups, you will have an opportunity to participate in projects such as transcribing records or reading cemeteries. Both of these activities are great learning opportunities.
Regardless of what benefits your local organization offers, it is money well spent.
Note for Snowbirds in Southwest Florida: Check out the Lee County Genealogical Society. This is a gold mine. A collection of genealogists from all over the country. I can see endless possibilities here. Plus they have a lot of activities!
Don't forget to watch Who Do You Think You Are on Friday night, February 3, at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central times. Martin Sheen will learn about both sides of his family with the help of well-known genealogists. Next week we will take a look at how you can do the same thing on a budget!