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