On Saturday 16th June the Society held a Taskholders Meeting at Dartford Technical College, the first for several years. Over 60 Task-holders, the President, Vice-Presidents and Committee Members took part in the meeting to look at how the Society meets existing and future needs and challenges; to also see if the Committee can provide any extra assistance to Task-holders. Various points were raised and ideas and views were freely exchanged.
David Williams (Financial Officer FFHS and Chair of Sevenoaks) and David Cufley (Vice President and the Society representative to the FFHS) gave an overview of The Federation of Family History Societies and its relevance and importance as an umbrella organisation and in representing Family Historians to Local and National Government, Archives and Libraries. Maureen Wilkins (Publications) and Janet Rose (Society Librarian) gave a demonstration about the Society Library and what it can offer to members. There was discussion about the future of projects and the change to the agreements with Local Authorities and Archives for the preservation and publishing of Parish Registers. Already Bob Woodward (Projects Co-ordinator) has produced several parish registers on CD/DVD and is co-ordinating an indexing project. Volunteers are always needed.
The importance of the award winning Society website as our presence on the Internet and of the Society’s presence at Family Fairs and the Journal was discussed. The President, Jean Stirk, gave an interesting talk about indexes, the importance of indexing and the potential pitfalls. Vera Bailey, Society Secretary helped to coordinate what was a successful day that has given the Committee plenty to think about.
† What follows is the text of David Cufley's presentation:
Future of the Society
"In 1988 an episode of Star Trek – The next Generation saw Enterprise find three 20th century people who had been cryogenically frozen and stored in a space station. Our heroes revived them, cured their illnesses and then introduced them to the year 2364. One of these people asked, “What happened to my family?” Councillor Troi walked over to the ships computer entered her details and a full family tree was displayed showing the latest descendent “Thomas.” I would guess 10 generations.
In 1909, E. M. Forster wrote a short storey called “The Machine Stops” in which the people all reside in hexagonal shaped rooms which could satisfy all their needs. The main communication for the people and their rooms was through, what we now call computer screens. It is only when the machines that sustain their lives start to break down that they asked the question ‘Does a better life exists above ground outside their rooms in the fresh air meeting other people’.
I mention these two stories because this is what I believe a lot of family historians are turning too. They are isolating themselves in front of computers in their homes without communicating face to face and they believe that all the information they need is on computer and the internet and it is accurate.
Because of the popularity of family histories on television and the entertaining way, it is portrayed more and more people are starting to research their family histories. However, in this boom in family history the membership of Family History Societies is stagnant or declining. Less percentage of these people feel the need to Join Societies like ours. You all are the exception to this rule.
The consequence of this is that we have smaller groups attending meetings, the facilities such as bookstalls are declining and it is becoming more difficult to provide our own publications and indexes.
The underlining cause of this decline is the commercialisation of this hobby and volunteer organisations not being able to compete with professional bodies although the cost is far less per benefit.
Let me highlight some of these issues.
Less members means it is harder to get volunteers. You all are the exception to this rule.
Increased legislation i.e. Health & Safety issues and public liability make each job more onerous and therefore people are less likely to volunteer. You all are the exception to this rule.
In regard to Jobs like the Treasurer, it has become more involved and so the Society has had to find alternative ways to manage these activities.
Less volunteers means less publications as fewer indexes are produced by volunteers. Now NWKFHS has taken on the initiative to produce scanned images of original documents. These are maintaining our publication output. The home researchers on their computers without going to Libraries and Local History centres can index such images. Thus meeting the trend.
Publications need to compete with commercial products, which require an expertise outside most people’s talents, so it is harder to find volunteers of the right calibre. You all are the exception to this rule.
Publications are not being sold at our own branches in the same numbers as previously because they can be ordered on line and obtained more quickly than the monthly meeting allows. This is a loss of funds to the Society and will affect services.
Order our publications on line requires NWKFHS to set up a system to provide online facilities. This needs volunteers and a service provider to organise and manage the system.
I believe the new breed of family historian does not research the background of their ancestors other than the BMD dates and census records to try to prove the line. This means that less articles and advice is provided to our Editor for the Journal. There are exceptions which the Josephine Birchenough Bursary has highlighted.
Less interesting Family History Society Journals means less reason to join a Society. There is also the competition of monthly magazines produce by commercial organisations that can afford to distribute CD-ROM disks of research material within their cover price.
The most positive part of our meetings is the wide variety of speakers on family history, local history and allied subjects that are provided by the Society. Some are brilliant at their presentations and all give their services at less than a commercial rate.
This situation is not only in our Society it is also happening to both Family History and Local History Societies.
The more worrying aspect of this situation is that it also is affecting the Federation of Family History Societies. In this regard, they are caught between being expected to provide a professional organisation but still largely run by volunteers who need to be experienced in the same aspects of legislation, management and company organisation as commercial companies.
We are a member of the Federation and it is not only there to support us but it requires our support if it is to exist.
The Federation policy and benefits are outlined on its web site and this policy decided by its members.
The Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS) is an educational charity formed in 1974. Over the years, membership has grown to over 200 societies throughout the world.
The principal aims of the Federation are:
Membership is open to any society or body specialising in family history or an associated discipline.
Education is a vital element within the Federation. This is achieved informally through the regular meetings and discussions conducted by its member societies; also through its publications.
A list of speakers prepared to talk on family history, heraldry or allied topics is available from the Federation.
Co-operation between family historians and others is essential as more and more people become involved in the study of their roots and heritage.
The Federation: makes representations to official bodies on matters affecting the study of family history and related topics.
It has a seat on the British Genealogical Record Users' Group.
It is represented on the British Association for Local History and the Regional Archive Councils.
It has established regular liaison with other Societies and Associations, The National Archives, the Family Records Centre and the Office for National Statistics.
The Federation provides an authentic, audible, and respected voice for the many thousands of individual family historians.
National Projects are co-ordinated by the Federation. A considerable contribution was made to the National Inventory of War Memorials, established by the Imperial War Museum. 1881 census was the object of a national indexing project, completed in 1996. In 2004, the second edition of the National Burial Index, with over 13 million entries, was released on CDROM.
Conferences are organised on a national basis both by the Federation and by its member societies. These draw the attention of the public to the study of family history, encouraging new members to join family history societies.
Those attending conferences meet others with similar interests and, apart from the formal proceedings; many ideas are exchanged during informal discussion and social events.
The Federation Council meets in Britain twice a year comprising representatives of the member societies who define policy which is implemented by their elected executive committee.
It provides societies with an opportunity to exchange views and debate matters of importance to their members.
Several publications are produced to cover matters of interest to officers of member societies.
For individual family historians there is a series of leaflets.
Awards The Federation encourages its member societies to produce high quality journals and websites by making awards each year. The Elizabeth Simpson award for the journal making the best contribution to family history, and the FFHS award for the best website are presented each autumn at the Federation general meeting. NWKFHS won this award 2006.
Exchange Journals. Many societies exchange their journals with their fellow members of the Federation. This ensures the maximum amount of publicity and interchange of information throughout the world, as these journals are usually available for individual members of societies to read. But only to those who join a FHS.
FamilyHistoryOnline This website has been established by the Federation to publish online records and indexes compiled by Family History Societies.
FFHS (Publications) Limited. The publications company was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Federation of Family History Societies. It did commission, publish, and distributes its own and other publishers books and CDs. It had to close down in Autumn 2006 because of commercial pressures. Some of the facilities are being continued through other service providers (commercial).
These services cover many aspects of family history research and its GENFAIR subsidiary assists family historians to buy publications and pay for services online.
To summarise this situation we have NO future unless we get volunteers to provide our members with the services and help they need. The less we do for our members the fewer members we have and the less possibility of maintaining our successful Society.
This is also applicable to the Federation. What we need is to understand - the trends in family history - what our members want - what attracts them to join us - how we can provide these services by adapting our organisation within our budgets - This is why we are here today.
Finally, we do provide a cheap service but perhaps for this reason it is undervalued and the costs should be increased to a commercial level."