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Family group in 1903

Family group, 1903.

Else Churchill from the Society of Genealogists writes about the collaborative nature of family history research and extols the benefits of joining a family history society.

Family history is personal

Family history can be very personal activity, working on your computer alone (often late at night) using various online databases to piece together the family trees and record trail that make up your family story. As you progress, you will realise that family historians are very collaborative. Many will have uploaded their pedigrees onto various websites in the hope that a hitherto unknown relative might come forward with more information. Lost cousins are sometimes helpful and always interesting! If you have hit a brick wall in your research, it may be because you lack local knowledge of the places where your ancestors came from. One way of finding these local and helpful experts is to consider joining a family history society.

Join a local family history society

Every county in the United Kingdom has a family history society. Each will have a website and publish a regular journal or newsletter that members can sign up for. Some societies may even have their own premises with resources made available to members or even non-members. Local family history societies are generally very active. They often work help to transcribe, catalogue or index records held at local archives in order to make the sources easier to find and use. This work may eventually be published by the society itself as a book or CD or online in collaboration with the record office or even commercial partners. The projects undertaken by family history societies are varied.  Many have transcribed and indexed parish registers or contributed towards the National Burial Index which is currently online through the website Findmypast. They may have transcribed wills or poor law material or any manner of local record. Often a local society will work with its local registration service to index the births, deaths and marriages registered locally (as opposed to the copies which are sent to the Registrar General each year) and make those indexes available online through the website.

Volunteering with the record office means many of the Societies have a tremendous amount of on-the-spot knowledge of the records and families of their area and are always willing to share that expertise. Society volunteers will often provide family history help desks in local libraries or archives (including the London Metropolitan Archives); or attend genealogy outreach events at family history fairs or the enormous Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at Olympia each year. Family history societies have regular meetings at their various branches, with interesting talks, an opportunity to meet other genealogists, and catch up on the news and gossip, as well as seek help and advice.

Federation of Family History Societies

Most family history societies in England and Wales are members of the Federation of Family History Societies. The FFHS website has details of all its members and it’s an easy portal to find their websites, addresses and useful contacts. Scottish Societies are members of the Scottish Association of Family History Societies (SAFHS) which maintains a similar portal website. All societies charge an annual membership subscription which supports their activities.

Society of Genealogists (SoG)

The UK’s largest family history society is the Society of Genealogists (SoG) which is the National Family History Centre. Unlike most local societies, the SoG has its own superb genealogical library in central London which is free to members and for non-members on payment of an hourly or daily search fee. The SoG’s library contains copies of local records from around the UK and overseas, and has free access to many genealogical websites. The Society runs the UK’s largest programme of genealogy, talks and courses. The SoG’s website has information about the library, and genealogy help and advice which is available to its members and non-members. You can download free information leaflets and genealogy hints and tips, as well as follow news and information about the Society and the genealogical community. The Society of Genealogists has its own Facebook Page and you can follow the SoG on twitter @SoGGenealogist.  Or why not take a look at the SoG’s online monthly newsletter?

Else Churchill is the Genealogist at the Society Genealogists in London and a member of the Lords Chancellor’s Advisory Council on National Records and Archives. She has over 30 years of experience as a genealogist. Formerly a professional genealogical librarian and  researcher, Else has worked for the SoG since 1994.

04 July 2013
Last Modified:
14 June 2019