20 November 2011

What Do I Want From A Genealogy Society Website?

Did I happen to mention that I recently was appointed Secretary for the California State Genealogical Alliance?  No?  Well now you know.  I am so thrilled to be working with Alliance to further genealogical endeavors in the State of California.

The California State Genealogical Alliance Blog  is our current endeavor to reach out to not only the membership, but to the entire genealogical community.  Managed by Gena Ortega, there are currently four bloggers:  CSGA webmaster, Cat Nielsen will be posting about  CSGA webite news.  Special Projects Chair Cath Madden Trindle, CG will report on Alliance projects , the Online California Research Guide and give reviews of California resources.  Legislative Watch Chair Junel Davidsen, CG will keeps us updated on legislation that affects the genealogical community and present a "Find of the Month."  And me?   I will be contributing to the blog with a monthly spotlight on member societies and present a Volunteer of the Month.  Do you know of a volunteer that deserves special recognition for their efforts?  Please contact me by either leaving a comment or email me directly at  :   sherifenley at gmail dot com    so I can make them a rock star.

Writing the first post that spotlights a genealogical society got me to thinking - what do I want to see on a genealogy society website?  I am tech-challenged beyond mortal comprehension so I am not sure how difficult it is to make the items on my list happen, but for what it may be worth here is what I like to see on a genealogy society website:

I adore sites that have  a clean, sharp, uncluttered  look and are easy to navigate.

The landing page of a society's website should tell me exactly what I am going to find on the site and clearly labeled buttons for me to click and take me there.  Example:  Let's say I read somewhere that Our City Genealogical Society has an obituary index located on their website.  When I arrive at the website I do not want to have to spend time looking for it. There should be a button for me to click on and whisk me away to the index.

One of the first things I look for are PHOTOS - photos of special and even not so special events and meetings that include the membership.  Photos that show the benefits of membership.  Photos of smiling genealogists enjoying time spent with others who share the same interest and passion.  Photos that make me want to belong.

Another section I really enjoy is the History of the Society.  When was it established?  How many people are currently members?  Who was the first president?  Special achievements?

An important part that I see lacking on many websites is the Contact Page.  It does not please me when the only way to contact the society is to mail  a letter to a P.O. Box.   Who are the current board members and what is their email address?  I appreciate the convenience of  a contact form right there on the site to fill out.

One of the best ways to get the feel for a society and the way they run things is to read their Newsletters.  I understand that the most current newsletter is a benefit of membership and have no problem with that. However, a sample of a  newsletter from the last year is not an unreasonable request.   I have come across quite a few society websites that only have newsletters from 10 years ago.

And last, but certainly not least is the section about Membership.  In a perfect genealogy world, one could become a member simply by filling out an online form then click a button to pay the dues online.  Having to print an application form, fill it out by hand, write a check, buy a stamp and mail it practically guarantees that I won't be a member of that society anytime soon.  I am lazy that way.  Make it as easy as possible for people  and I'm going to bet that you will see membership numbers rise.

So there you have it.  My rants and raves.  What about you?  What do you want from a genealogy website?


  1. This is an excellent list. The only thing I would add is directions and a map for the location where meetings are held (something I always need since I'm so directionally impaired.

  2. Interesting list Shirley, I find it enlightening as I am the web mistress for our local genealogy club.

    That said, let's see how I do with your list, just for fun.

    1.) Landing page, have tabs, and links to the other pages, starts off with our Mission statement and ends with an explanation of our club vs the GENWEB site for the county.

    2.) Photos, well, that is pretty much a fail, as I only have one photo on there.

    3.) History, flunk, have none, will contemplate that tho, kinda like that idea.

    4.) Contact page, hiding in our case under the name of Officers. It is tough to get all the officers to give up an email addy. In fact, one right now has not done so despite several requests by this web mistress, and, this officer happens to be a tech savy member, VERY tech savy. I have yet to figure out what the issue is, and not even our pres has been able to wiggle that email addy out of that member. Or rather, permission to use their email addy. I stand befuddled. Oh, we do have a PO Box too.

    5.) Newsletters have been electronic for a number of years, past issues are for the most part available, hard copy. A member promised to scan them all years ago, still waiting. Promises from busy people sometimes just don't happen.

    6.) Membership page, got one. Electronic membership payments and applications are not. Would mean, I believe, someone setting up a Paypal account or some such. If we are having trouble getting newsletters scanned and email addys to use on the web site, I think you can see that I am not real positive about this happening. And, what happens when the member that has the Paypal acct no longer is interested in helping that way. I will admit I know almost NOTHING about setting up electronic payments.

    Greta your idea of directions and maps will also be considered, although I know that we have almost no visitors from outside the county, and they all know where the localities of our meetings are. We also have had to change our meeting places any number of times over the last year, and it has been a challenge trying to keep the web page current.

    We also offer research help, a separate page for that and an email contact addy, that I personally monitor.

    And, we have a page for our publications list. The list is quite extensive for a small group and hopefully by the time I return up north next year there will be 2 more ready to go to the printers.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, I have a couple of things to contemplate, and maybe add to our pages. Review is a good thing.

  3. Greta - That is a point I really hadn't thought of because if I am not familiar with where I am going, I Google myself a map and directions.

    Carol - Wow! Thanks for taking the time to read through my post and more importantly for taking the time to put your own website through the paces.

    ps. "Please don't call me Shirley" - a line from the movie Airplane and not my name. LOL

  4. I like to see a calendar of events at least a few months out. So many societies don't to this, but I wish they did.

    Congrats on the new gig, madam secretary!

  5. Sheri, great post...but more importantly, congrats on your appointment to the California State Genealogical Alliance! So proud to know such a rising star as you!!!

    I think the only caveat I'd have to your excellent article today would be to remember that the internet represents the ultimate in transparency, a.k.a. the fastest way to lose your privacy. I can understand some officers' reticence to give up their personal email addy. However, with options like gmail, a group can set up an email account for their organization--or for each officer, for that matter--and make it the officers' responsibility to check it regularly (or set up instructions to privately forward messages from that official address to the officer's own email address, alleviating the need to post a private address). There, in one swoop, you can satisfy the posting of email addresses for officers and also increase the ease in contacting. Ditto for site addresses for officers who don't want their home address broadcast to the entire world--or the hassle of changing the web site every election cycle.

  6. Sheri, lets blame the name error on exhaustion, this manic driving from SE Michigan to Gulf Shores Alabama is knocking my socks off, and obviously my brain cells as well! LOL Sorry.

    Jacqi, we actually set up a email addy that several members had access to, and promised they would monitor, especially while I was out of town for an extended visit to the western USA. Guess what, they did not monitor and in fact, no one checked in in well over 3 months and the email addy was closed down. I was able to reinstate it, but, all email was lost. The forwarding idea is one that could use some thoughts tho, that has possibilities. HMMMM. Thanks for that idea.

    Really funny ironic part of all this, the person that suggested the email for the club is the same one that refuses to give us an email addy to use now.

    Amy, thanks for mentioning the meeting schedule, yes, there is a page for that too. I try to update that as soon as I am provided information for any upcoming meetings. Sadly, sometimes because of my schedule, that is not always happening. Yes, she says, with a smirk and a snicker, this web mistress has a life outside of that web site, often a life that is too busy.

    This is a great thread, learning a lot, thinking about a lot.

    And, I'll try harder to not mess up the names. I hope you will all forgive me, rving is hard work! LOL

  7. I'd like a members' only section (carrot for others to join) somembers can remotely access any homegrown/local databases the society may have.

    In addition to a calendar of events a facility to register for events online.

    I'll surely think of other wishes when I sign off.

  8. It's me again!

    I'd also love podcast and webinar recordings from events hosted by the society and notes and slides from lectures in a Members' only area. (More carrots)

  9. Sherri:

    If you want a California volunteer of the month - who better than Cath Trindle. She is just finishing up her tenure as FGS Treasurer and she is the San Mateo County Genealogy Society treasure and always has been

    Chris Green - I think you know who I am