If you find that the family organization you are looking for doesn't exist, you may want to start your own. Perhaps this sounds like a daunting task, but you can always start small and work your way up to something bigger. To help you get started, we've interviewed several people who run their own family organizations. They have plenty of advice for setting you off on the right track.
When you first set out to create a family association, there are a few decisions that you need to make up front. For example, who will your family association include? Are you looking to create a family association for individuals who are descended from a particular ancestor? Do you want to limit your association to people who live in a specific geographic area? Or, do you want to create a group for everyone who is studying a particular last name? One individual who runs a family association is in favor of not imposing any limits in this regard: "That would tend to defeat our purposes. Although we have "American" in our name we do have membership in England and Australia. We cover the surname internationally and include over 100 spelling variations."
However, if you have a very common surname, this may not be the way for you to go. First, if your name is Smith, it is likely that a worldwide Smith organization already exists, so starting another one would be redundant. Second, if you are starting your own family association, you may want to start on a less grand scale. So, in the case of a common surname, choosing a small region, such as a few states, or limiting it to people who are descended from a particular individual, may be the right idea.
Another decision to make is what exactly will your family association do? Would you like to have a family reunion, put out a newsletter, collect a database of family information? An important aspect of this decision is how many people you have to help you out with this work. Since you are starting the family association, the majority of it may fall on you in the beginning, and that is a good reason to start out with a few smaller projects, such as a newsletter and a reunion.
Once your family organization starts to grow, unearth other people who are interested an genealogy and see if you can't recruit them into helping out. After all, the more hands there are to do the work, the more work can be done, and the more likely it is that your family association will prosper: "It is only when someone will take on the task of compiling the genealogies; another to do the newsletter; and yet others to do the census and other on-site research, that a family surname association is possible. It requires a lot of unselfish sharing on the part of all or most members to make it work," says Reverend John Gray of Greenfield, Ohio, who is part of the teams who runs the National Blue Family Association.
With more hands to do the work, projects that you may want to consider include publishing books, collecting family trees in a central database, and starting a mini family library. If you have lots of volunteers, you may also want to consider helping out in the community by restoring a cemetery or aiding with the transcription of a particular set of records.
Of course all of these types of projects cost money, so the next question is whether or not to charge dues. One individual who runs a family association has this to say on the subject of dues: "Any successful organization must have adequate funds to operate in a first class manner if it expects to be a first class organization. Dues are set by the board of directors and are kept at a level so as to just meet expenses -- primarily the printing, binding and mailing of a quarterly." The Reverend John Gray confirms this thought and adds that some group may have higher dues than others, because they take on projects such as restoring tombstones or erecting family monuments. Many who run family associations do not include the costs of planning family reunions in the dues. Instead, they charge reunion attendees a separate fee, feeling that this is more fair to those who are not able to attend reunions.
Getting the Word Out
Once you've decided to start a family association, you need to let others know that you exist. Most people have found that word-of-mouth advertising is a good way to start, and that sending an introductory newsletter to a potential group of members was useful. However, it can help to supplement these sorts of efforts with advertisements in larger publications such as Everton's Genealogical Helper and the NGS Newsletter. One individual says "our publicist also mails out flyers to the libraries and genealogical societies in our meeting target area (usually the meeting state and surrounding states) and press releases to the local papers in the area." That sounds like smart thinking! Decide where your potential members are most likely to be looking, and advertise there.
Another way to get the word out is to advertise electronically. Find someone in your family who is handy with the Internet and see if they can put together a basic Web site for your family association. Your web page doesn't need to be anything fancy in the beginning, just information such as the purpose of the organization and how to join. If you like, it can later grow to include more information, such as an electronic version of your newsletter or pictures from your family reunion. Once you have your page, be sure to register it with search engines so that it's easy for others to find. Electronic bulletin boards and other online locations where genealogists gather are also good places to advertise your new association.