Every effort The Society and its individual entities make is to this end and we are well respected for this around the world.
During the past several years, I visited many Society Branches and Special Interest Groups in my role as Vice President and President and represented OGS at many functions. I was regularly asked about why people belong to The Ontario Genealogical Society. Conversely, I attended events where members shared their excitement about belonging to OGS or when new people stepped forward to find out how to join enabling me to gather some of the answers “on the road” as well as from my own experiences.
The answer is simple: OGS has been and continues to be all about COMMUNITY, EDUCATION and ADVOCACY.
From the very beginning, the formation of individual Branches, prior to the creation of The Society in 1961, was based on Community. Individuals came together with a shared interest in genealogy and family history. They wanted to share with and learn from each other and to work jointly on projects that would benefit the whole. When The Society itself was created from those participating Branches, the goal remained the same – to work together in mutually beneficial ways to enhance genealogy for all.
Whether it was as individual Branches, or as a Society, members worked on projects in their own areas, knowing that they could count on others across the province doing the same. This reciprocal relationship ensured that although a person might not be living in an area of genealogical interest to them, their efforts were valuable to someone else; conversely, others were working on their behalf to make information available that would affect their ancestral research. This was and continues to be our symbiotic relationship. The projects and interactions may be different now but the relationship continues.
Through our Branch, and now Special Interest Group (SIG) and Society meetings, we all benefit from one another’s knowledge and skills. Often people meet others from the same family line or with the same geographic area of interest. That introduction and subsequent relationship often plays a major role in breakthroughs for one or both parties. Discussing family research with an individual or in a group setting that is provided through the general and special meetings throughout our organization allows people to share methodologies, best practices and skills.
Can non-members attending one or several meetings benefit from some of the same things? Yes, of course. However, becoming a member takes one to a different level of involvement and understanding. That sense of camaraderie and companionship often develops into deeper participation and commitment to ensure that others will have the same opportunities to access records, to develop a deeper understanding of family history research, and to work and advocate on behalf of items of specific interest to genealogists, not only within the area, but across the province, the country and around the globe.
That community extends again when people meet one another at conference or in other, larger settings. Again, yes, non-members can take advantage of this opportunity but it is the collegiality of the members that strengthens the bond and makes the connections and learning opportunities more likely. OGS is as much a service organization as it is anything else. Members strive to serve one another and the broader heritage community.
The educational component of the Society and its individual Branches/SIGs stems from this sense of community but also expands it. Think of the many educational opportunities that arise through individual contacts, through general membership meetings, through one-day seminars or workshops and also through the annual multi-day Society Conference which is only made possible through the efforts of our Member Volunteers, the Board of Directors and Provincial Office Staff. Branches and Special Interest Groups have created their own publications, as has the Society, both alone and in partnership with Dundurn Press.
The Society journal Families and both The Society and Branch/SIG newsletters expand the community and educational aspects of membership. Now, OGS members have free access to instructional and educational webinars each month. Additionally, through an arrangement with The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, members have access to free and discounted courses (print materials not included). Publication sales and reduced conference fees are but two other benefits.
Advocacy has been a major part of OGS and its beliefs since its inception. Members strive together to protect, preserve and make accessible various record groups and other items of importance to genealogists and family historians. The following are but a few examples.
- Cemeteries. With the Ontario Historical Society, OGS members continue to transcribe, photograph and preserve cemetery information and work towards the location, identification, registration and preservation of cemeteries with the goal of seeing them registered with the local land registry offices and protected by The Ontario Registrar of Cemeteries. OGS continues to have an ongoing, productive dialogue with The Registrar. Read more about our ongoing cemetery projects and our work with unregistered cemeteries.
- Census. OGS has a strong history of advocating for the preservation and release of census records. We continue to be in communication with both Statistics Canada and Library and Archives Canada and have been told that census records in any form, since they seem to be changing, will be preserved and released but the time may be extended to 100+ years since people are living longer.
- Fegan Boys Distribution Home. The former Fegan Boys Distribution Home (Home Children), 295 George Street, Toronto was discovered to have inscriptions of the boys’ names and the dates they had been at the home in some of the exterior bricks. OGS was afraid this building would be demolished in preparation for re-development. The City of Toronto has purchased the property and has indicated they hope to save the building along with others in the area. OGS has offered to assist in preservation or filming of the inscriptions. OGS monitors this situation but has been receiving updates from Councillor Wong-Tam’s office.
- Infant Home Records. In response to a member request, OGS has contacted both the Ministry of Children’s Services and now the Association of Children’s Aid Societies (ACAS) to see what is possible with regard to the release of these records to interested parties if they are still in existence and accessible. Recent information from the ACAS indicated that legislation regarding this will be reviewed in 2015. OGS will contribute to the discussion.
- Library and Archives Canada (LAC). It is great to see a new Librarian and Archivist of Canada who is already reaching out to the heritage community. For a few years recently, we were granted no communication with LAC. We were finally able to set up correspondence, both email and telephone, with the LAC Director General, Content Access Branch. We have had several discussions about preservation of and access to documents. LAC is committed to both, but the realities of this era are upon them as well as everyone else. They cannot function in a vacuum and have formed partnerships with other entities such as Ancestry and Canadiana.org to get materials prepared for use by researchers more quickly and cost-effectively. For example, they granted Ancestry the rights to their digital images of the 1921 census. Ancestry had it on their website for free in browse format only at first but quickly had the index completed. The arrangement was that this would be available on the Ancestry site for three (3) years (for free to anyone with a Canadian IP address) and after that period, the digital files and index would be available for free on the LAC site, but become part of the Ancestry paid subscription package for those who chose to access it there as part of other research they were conducting. LAC knew they could not handle the indexing quickly enough (even though the heritage community tried to offer their free services); nor could they handle the immediate flow on their server which was several billion hits in the first few weeks. Many felt they had sold out to Ancestry and given up our rights. The contrary was true. They maintained ownership, got the info out ASAP and made arrangements to have it free on their site in the future. Similar arrangements have been or will be made for other records. We continue to maintain contact, to ensure we understand situations as they arise and to monitor decisions and activities affecting family historians.
- Libraries and Archives (general). In 2013-14 both The Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Archives Summit held reviews of libraries and archives in Canada. OGS contributed detailed papers to these discussions with member input. We monitor the outcomes of those reviews as they endeavor to set a future course for libraries and archives across Canada.
Now, back to the question….
In the past few years, I have also heard the question, “But what do we get for our money?” OGS does have member benefits such as those mentioned above, as well as agreements with some other provincial societies and FindMyPast to provide reduced rates, and is working to arrange more; however, the truth of the matter is, the people joining now do not join because of the benefits. They, like our previous and many current OGS members, join to be a part of an organization that works on behalf of family historians. They recognize skills they have and offer to use them to serve OGS and the genealogical community by supporting its Branches/SIGs, projects and advocacy.
People can gather information online, but they soon realize it is not all there, or they do not know if what they have is their “family line”, or do not understand how to use or organize the data they have located. OGS may not be the first place they come any more, but after they have found “the low-hanging fruit” they join to find out what else there is and to connect with people who have learned from their own errors and are ready and willing to lead and share that knowledge. They join to help make a difference by offering their background skills and knowledge in leadership, technology or many other volunteer roles.
OGS is a membership-driven organization but it is also a service organization. Some members join for a short while to get all they feel they need and move on. Many others did and still join in order to better equip The Society in meeting its mission and objectives. Many see the vision of OGS to be so important that they donate their dollars to its projects. Others donate their time and skills. Like other service clubs whose members work together to serve their communities’ greatest needs by promoting service, fellowship, values, or pride, our organization works together for the community of genealogists.
Why belong to OGS? How can one not join? Please consider how you fit into an organization that believes in these values and principles and that strives to meet your family history needs. Join OGS.
– Shirley L. Sturdevant, Past President
Other things change us but we start and end with the family.