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Monday, July 25, 2016

Where is all the genealogy? Part Six: Historical Societies

A Google search on the term "historical society" resulted in over 30 million entries. There is also a huge, but very incomplete, list of societies on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia: List of historical Societies. In the United States there are national, state and local societies as well as specialized organizations for the preservation of everything from ships to battlefields. Some of these organizations are just a few individuals while others have thousands of members and maintain major libraries and archives. Many genealogical researchers seem to ignore any organization or website that does not contain the word "genealogy." In doing this, they seem to forget that genealogy is nothing more or less than history.

There is a contrast between "genealogical societies" and "historical societies" but the overlap is significant. A Google search for "genealogical society" results in about 389 thousand results. Clearly there are a considerable number of both types of societies.
In an online article on entitled "History of Historical Societies in the U.S.", author Sara Lawrence makes the following observation:
If the historical societies in the United States today were to be characterized in a single word, no doubt the word would be, “variety.” Some historical societies, like the Massachusetts Historical Society focus on national history, while others specialize in the history of a particular state or locality, such as the Oregon Historical Society, or the Chicago Historical Society. There are historical societies specific to particular ethnic and religious groups, such as the American Jewish Historical Society, or topics of historical interest, such as the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Also common are societies that specialize in pioneer history, genealogy, or preservation of antiques or historic buildings. Examples are The Pioneer Historical Society of Benford County, Inc , the Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Society, and the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, respectively. A good way to appreciate the breadth of variety among historical societies is to take a look at the list of repositories of primary sources put together by the University of Idaho. It contains links to over 5250 websites which describe the various holdings (manuscripts, archives, rare books, photographs, etc) of different repositories worldwide.
As an example of the emphasis of some genealogists, the huge RootsTech 2016 Conference earlier this year had hundreds of classes and not one of them was directed at learning about historical societies. However, this is not always the case, the upcoming 2016 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference list of classes includes some specifically directed at historical societies.

Clearly, involvement with and research using the resources of historical societies is a concept that is not acquired by many genealogists until they have a certain degree of research understanding, experience and motivation.

With the resources of the Internet, finding information about an historical society is pretty simple. In many cases, all you need to do is search for a society in the community, county or state where your ancestors lived. For example, I recently traveled through Rutland County, Vermont where some of my ancestors lived and died. Here is what I found online about an historical society in that county:

I would venture to guess that you can find such a society almost anywhere in the world. The Rutland Historical Society makes the following statement on their website:
The Society will investigate your research query upon receipt of a written request. Please include a self-addressed and stamped envelope. Also please share with us as much pertinent information as you may have. Our researchers are all volunteers so we cannot guarantee a quick response. We will charge fifteen cents per page for any pertinent pages copied. The society will do up to an hour of research for a free will donation. If your request requires more than an hour of time we will advise you. In many cases you will be directed to other sources.
Take some time to investigate whether your own research could be aided by connecting with an historical society.

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