(Reprinted with permission from Ancestry Daily News Archive. Originally posted 6/18/2001 © 1997-2010 Ancestry.com)
Since the weather here in the Midwest is just now starting to feel like summer, it is strange to be writing about Family History Month in October, but now is the time to begin planning.
Last year, the Ancestry.com editorial staff did a little digging to learn about the origins of Family History Month. From Curt Witcher, manager of the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana and president of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), we learned:
“The concept of designating October as ‘Family History Month’ began several years ago. It originated with the Monmouth County Genealogical Society, whose aspiration was that during this month, societies would do something special to draw attention to and promote family history. Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia all passed ‘proclamations’ in the last few years declaring October as Family History Month. At the last NGS board meeting, the NGS board officially endorsed the concept and will use the NGS Newsmagazine to promote the idea.”
This year, as Dick Eastman mentioned in his newsletter last week (www.ancestry.com/library/view/columns/eastman/3999.asp), more societies are joining in and are helping to make Family History Month an official nationwide event.
With official recognition of Family History Month, we can get a media spotlight shining on genealogy. This extra attention brings in more researchers using the libraries, archives, and courthouses seeking the records of their ancestors. This added use helps these facilities justify increased budgets to add to existing collections, aid in records retention, expansion of facilities, extended hours, digitization of records, new projects, etc. As Dr. John Daly, Director of the Illinois State Archives says in his article, “Genealogy Power,”
“Family historians and genealogists have replaced academic researchers as the principal users of public archives in the United States. The combined memberships of the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians today are twenty-eight thousand. A study published in American Demographics in December 1995 cited that 113 million Americans have some interest in genealogy, and that 19 million have a strong working interest in the field . . . If the administrators of public archives in the United States had to rely upon the use of archives by academic researchers alone to justify the existence of archives, they would find it extremely difficult to do so.”
More researchers also means more members for the genealogical societies that help us to preserve the records we rely on, and help keep us informed in regards to issues and resources that affect the genealogical community. More members mean more funding and more volunteers for the important projects they are currently working on, or dream of starting.
In addition, as mentioned before, it can bring more researchers into the game, and more researchers means more potential cousins to exchange information with. Who knows what this new wave of genealogists will bring to the table? The key to your brick wall? A family bible passed down through another line? A fresh look at attacking a shared research problem?
Making It Happen
So how do we make it happen? A great place to start is with your local society. Attend the next meeting and ask what they have planned for this auspicious occasion. The “FGS Delegate Digest,” Summer 2000 (Vol. 7, No. 2) offered the following suggestions to its member societies:
• Conduct a one-day “Introduction to Genealogy” workshop in your area.
• Contact editors of area publications (community and genealogical) to request a feature article on family history.
• Request that local libraries display family history material during October.
• Sponsor a writing contest for children, “Family History Begins with Me: Writing My Own Life Story.”
• Ask our museums, historical, ethnic, business, and religious organizations to highlight the role families have held in their respective history.
• Provide volunteer speakers to local service clubs and organizations for October meetings about family history.
• Convince local and state officials to deem October as Family History Month.
As anyone who tried to access the Ellis Island database in its early days can attest, there are a whole lot of us out here. The trick is for us to be noticed by the rest of the world. As Dr. Daly says in his article, we need to “Point out that persons with family history interest represent 113 million American citizens, 113 million consumers, 113 million letter writers, and 113 million votes.”
Another thing to remember is that when you are a member of a society, you are counted as a family historian. As our collective voice is heard, we in essence become masters of our own destiny.
NOTE: Feel free to pass this article around on your favorite lists. The more people we get involved, the better our chances for success. Look for more updates and announcements on the project in future issues of the Ancestry Daily News.