10 October 2008

Does OGS offer good value?

On the home page of their website the Ontario Genealogical Society display the following:

Interested in learning more about your family history?

Do you live in Ontario?

Did your ancestors live in Ontario?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then The Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) can help.

A year ago I sent in an application to join the OGS and membership became effective this year. I joined for two reasons.

First, I'd always said that I have no Ontario roots so saw no benefit. I added, jokingly, that if I ever found an Ontario connection I would join. When research turned up a great uncle who had worked for Canadian Pacific at Fort William (the Lakehead), although only for a couple of years prior to joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force, my bluff was called.

Second, I wanted to support the Ottawa Branch of OGS. As an Ottawa resident I attend some of the Branch monthly meetings and other events which are freely open to all. The Branch is an important contributor to the local heritage community. I'm not comfortable being an eternal freeloader.

I still want to support the local branch. The branches are the strength of OGS. They run on a shoestring ($15/year in the case of Ottawa Branch) through the work of volunteer members.

But, just as I'm not comfortable being a freeloader, neither am I happy sending a substantial annual subscription ($45/year) to OGS HQ for what is for me comparatively little benefit. Let's have a look at the benefits of being an OGS member as described on the OGS website.
I'll append my comments.

As an OGS member, you:
  • receive the Ontario Genealogical Society's quarterly journal Families, quarterly newsletter Newsleaf and 8 issues/year of e-NewsLeaf.
As I don't have Ontario roots its perhaps not surprising I don't find much of interest in Families. It's a benefit I'd happily forego if given the option of a compensating reduction in membership fee. On the other hand, Newsleaf and e-Newsleaf do provide information I'm pleased to receive.
  • receive flyers describing publications and supplies available for purchase from OGS
Is this referring to the inserts that come in the mail with Families? Is that a benefit or junk mail?
  • can submit four family name queries each year to the Name Game - which is published in the quarterly Families
Again, not something I can benefit much from as I don't have Ontario roots. These days there's more distribution for this type of query on an internet newsgroup or social network.
  • have the right to vote at the annual general meeting and regional meetings, the right to hold office and the right to join any branch or branches.
I'd happily forego these provincial benefits if I could just pay the fee levied by the local branch.
  • receive invitations to regional meetings and the annual Seminar for further education in genealogical subjects and social contacts with other genealogists.
Isn't this what comes in Newsleaf?
  • can participate in genealogical research projects specific to Ontario.
I thought that's what I was doing when I helped index the Ontario Death's for FamilySearch. I don't recall being asked if I was an OGS member. Or perhaps this is referring to local cemetery indexing projects and the like. Did anyone ever get turned down as a volunteer for one of these because they were not a member?
  • get a membership card which can be used as a passport to resources.
Passport? What does this mean? The members only section of the website perhaps? Is there value there so far? The section includes the ability to:
  • Change your Password.
  • Review the 1962-2006 back issues of Families.
  • Read the current and back issues of e-NewsLeaf.
  • NEW - Search the Strays Database.
  • Read the growing collection of Church Histories of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.
  • NEW - more histories added July 2008.
For me these are of marginal additional value.
  • can take advantage of OGS group rates for home/automobile insurance and out-of-province/out-of-Canada emergency insurance (MEDOC®) with Johnson Insurance Inc. and the Scholarship and Academic Grant Program for participating members
Are these any better than CAA, CARP or the many other affiliate rates most people have access to through other memberships?

My evaluation is that only if you can answer yes to the question Did your ancestors live in Ontario? is an OGS membership likely to offer good value, not just if you can answer yes to any of the three questions as the Society claims.

To repeat, I'd still like to have a way to support the local branch without having to send three times the money to OGS HQ to do so. Why would OGS not provide a local only membership option?


Dorothy Kew said...


I'm a member of OGS, Halton-Peel Branch. I have no Ontario ancestry,being an immigrant, born in Jamaica. My research interests mostly lie there, so no doubt you're wondering why I'm a member of OGS. My interest is primarily in genealogy and local history ... I'm the Local History librarian at the Mississauga Central Library. I don't see my membership in OGS along the lines of what it can do for me but more what I can do for my branch and for OGS. My membership has given me the opportunity to meet all sorts of people with similar interests. I'm involved with my branch. Okay, maybe you don't think that at present OGS offers "good value" whatever that is in your opinion. Keep in mind that it's run by volunteers.

Maybe you can help improve the "value" of OGS membership by offering to index or do some other kind of work that will help OGS and eventually all of us.

Anonymous said...

I feel much as Dorothy Kew does. All my ancestry is in the UK--and I do belong to the societies there (and BIFHSGO). But there is no realistic way for me to participate in, and return value to, the societies in Dorset and Somerset. So I contribute vicariously via OGS.

Is OGS flawed? I believe so. Is there a "fiscal imbalance" between Branches and Provincial Office? I certainly think so--especially in the case of the larger Branches, where tens of thousands of dollars go to head office.

But I have to ask myself whether there would be organized genealogy in many parts of the Province in the absence of OGS and whether there would be Province-wide indexing and transcription programs. True, these mean nothing to my ancestry, but they mean a lot to the community in which I live.

So I continue to pay my annual dues each year, not without misgivings. And certainly I would applaud any OGS initiative that recognized the importance of non-Ontario ancestry.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately OGS is already spending over $45 per member per year. The former president appealed for donations of $20 per member.
If nothing else changes, there will have to be a significant fee increase at some point.
There are many free-standing genealogy groups and societies in Ontario that serve their members well.

Anonymous said...

If you don’t have Ontario roots, then OGS probably is not good value for your money. After all, you can go to Branch meetings without being a Member. I don’t think that will change much; when OGS spends money it likely will be on things related to Ontario or Canada. Even such seemingly international aspects such as our Irish Palatine Special Interest Group is largely based on Irish Palatines who settled in Ontario. Our planned Huguenot SIG may have more Canadian appeal since we hold the regretfully-defunct Huguenot Society of Canada’s library.
If you do not have Ontario or Canadian roots, you would not be interested in:
– OGS being the largest genealogical publisher in Canada. Nearly all our publications are Ontario based and the remaining few are Canada based.
– our transcriptions of some ten million tombstones. They are all Ontario.
– OGS as a defender of Ontario cemeteries. We, along with the Ontario Historical Society, are specified in Ontario law so we are in a unique position to protest the closure of cemeteries. Sadly each protest can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars and so OGS and OHS cannot afford to fight every battle. $45 per Member does not pay for many hours of a lawyer.
– our tens of thousands of Strays which have been published for decades and now going online. They all relate to Ontario (we pass non-Ontario strays on to the appropriate Society).
– the 85 000 life insurance applicants through Empire Life and the Independent Order of Oddfellows. They cover the period 1875 to 1925 and will soon go online, but they are all Canadian.
– the 3 500 family histories in our library. Most are Ontario based, as are most of the 9 000 books.
– our many indexing projects such as the 1871 census index, the Upper Canada Land Books, and the Wesleyan Methodist Baptismal Registers since they are mostly Ontario based.
– our projects to digitize genealogical material. We select only Ontario material.
There is a lot more we should do but what we will do will likely always have an Ontario slant to it and would not be of interest to anyone without Ontario connections.
Some people enjoy genealogy rather than just their own genealogy and they might find any of the above interesting. They would find value in belonging to OGS.
We always like to hear suggestions of what OGS should be doing. If anyone can suggest a project having nothing to do with Ontario or Canada but which would interest a reasonable number of our Members, we would consider it.

Fraser Dunford
Exec Director, OGS

JDR said...

I'm sure I'm not the only person who would like to support the activities of their local OGS branch, but are deterred by the cost of full OGS membership. As a result branch membership numbers continue to stagnate or decline. It's the elephant in the room for OGS.

Anonymous said...

John, this topic comes up every couple of years and gets argued to death every time. I am one of those who feels like Dorothy and John; although I live in Ottawa my roots are elsewhere across the province, country, continent and world. I cannot contribute in most of those locations but I can in my home area.

While Ottawa Branch appreciates your membership, our policy is that the membership fee pays the cost of producing and mailing the Ottawa Branch News. The other activities of the Branch either pay for themselves(Gene-O-Rama, publications, etc.) or are covered by other income (courses, donations, etc.). We operate a balanced budget and are quite happy to continue with our current fee structure. You may be aware that the entire profit from Seminar 2007 has been spent on new equipment, donations or projects. Our difficulty is not the money, it is the volunteers to spend the money and progress the projects. Would we really have more willing volunteers if they did not have to join OGS first? Perhaps a few but since we, as you mentioned, will accept volunteers who don't belong to OGS, I doubt it.

Back in 2004, I wrote an article for the Ottawa Branch News on The Benefits of OGS. It's probably too long to reproduce here and it could be updated but i will see if it can be published on the Ottawa branch website: http://ogsottawa.on.ca/