03 June 2020

Death of Societies

A family history organization you probably never heard of, The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE), is no more. 

According to a blog post by Paul Gorry the demise was not anticipated by members. Out of the blue came the message:
"The board members and staff regretfully announce that, as of 15 April 2020, the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors no longer exists as an active society."
Organizations, just as the people in our family trees, are born, marry (amalgamate), have offspring and die. There aren't too many genealogical societies that survive to be centenarians, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, established in 1845, is the outstanding example of longevity. 

At meetings and in newsletters it's routine to hear pleading from nomination committees for volunteers to fill key roles. It's well known that only a few percent of members are ever prepared to step forward. Few respond, fortunately, only a few are needed. It saves the trouble of an election but is not a sign of health.

Just as a species is likely to go extinct once the population falls below a critical number so an organization is likely to die if membership is sub-critical. Societies that adapt to change thrive and grow. An organization can continue, kept on life support with the same people filling the leadership roles, until they no longer can. Not healthy? 

That seems to be what happened to ISFHWE which despite the International in the name never worked to reach out much beyond the US to grow membership. 

We may be sad to lose an organization but should acknowledge there is a natural lifespan. When that happens should we hold a celebration of life and move on?


Discover Genealogy said...

I actually once was a member of this society, during the time I was editing a family history society journal. Over the years, I have cut back on society memberships, partly due to costs and partly to having too many projects on the go that demanded time.

I have always been a proponent of webinars and other online communications (such as digital journals) but with the recent situation, I think most groups may be overdoing the Internet communication thing. While it is nice to have regular meeting organized, it means that members cannot visit in person, one of the most important parts of keeping a society vibrant and finding new people to sign up for committees and executive positions.

For some of us, getting to meetings in far off places (e.g. to Devon, England from Calgary, Canada) is impossible, so we appreciate all the online information. that does not help the DFHS much in terms of active participation, although I have tried to participate through things like transcription projects.

Anyway, this year will tell whether societies as we have known them still have a real future.

Teresa said...

I had heard of it and had I had more time and money, might have joined, but that just wasn't possible. Sad to hear, but not surprising given the prevalence of Facebook groups and the ease of using them for connecting people with like minds.

Barbara T said...

Unfortunately, I never heard of this organization despite being an editor of a society journal.