What Genealogists Want

Last weekend I gave a talk about “What Genealogists Want” to several members of historical societies and museums from around Western Pennsylvania. The focus of my presentation was what information today’s genealogists are looking for and where they are looking for it. I also discussed the role historical societies and museums can play in our “I want it now!” technologically-centered world. It is no secret that the Internet has revolutionized the way we conduct our genealogical research. But, there is still a wealth of information to be found at museums and historical societies. While traditionally researchers had to physically visit these research repositories to obtain information from items such as yearbooks, local and town histories, funeral home records, membership booklets and lists, and other miscellaneous sources, the use of the Internet for research may prompt such groups to start thinking about making certain aspects of their collections available online through databases, photo archives, and other searchable files.

While there are many resources out on the Internet that compete for the dollars we spend on research, it is important for societies and museums to think about what information will be most useful to their patrons. If genealogists find what they are looking for at a particular museum or historical society, they will be more likely to “give back” to that organization by volunteering their time for special projects, or through donation of compiled family histories, books, or other pertinent items that others can use for their own research. There is also a valuable opportunity for networking with other researchers through meetings and other activities sponsored by museums ans societies. Regular interaction helps to ensure that the relationship between the individual family historian and the community historian a mutually beneficial one.

After last week’s conference, I am convinced that there needs to be a continuous dialogue between genealogists and historians as “partners in preserving the past.”