Strengthening a Genealogical Society on FamilySearch Wiki

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Genealogical societies who wish to grow need interesting projects, valuable products, contributing members, customers, and revenue. A wiki – a Website where anyone can edit without having to be a techie – is a great vehicle to foster these society-strengthening attributes. FamilySearch Wiki is an established and rapidly-growing community of volunteers whose tools, services, and contributors can help you turn your genealogical society into a thriving powerhouse.

Catalyze projects and products[edit | edit source]

Simplify & democratize the society Website[edit | edit source]

Several bottlenecks can prevent society members from adding valuable content to their Website:

  • All content may have to be submitted to a Website czar.
  • Decision makers may be hard to reach.
  • Only programmers may be able to add content.
  • Editors may delete good concepts in an attempt to improve readability.

Liberate writers[edit | edit source]

Wikis were made to increase the number of authors on a Website. Wikis liberate Web publishing in the following ways:

  • They offer simple authoring tools so that non-engineers can contribute.
  • They relax the rules on who can contribute to a given site.
  • They eliminate "middle men" from the Web publishing process by letting subject matter experts publish directly.

Get help[edit | edit source]

Democratizing the publication process doesn't just help writers who want to contribute. It also helps the few society members who are constantly tapped for new content. For a genealogical society, having only one or two Website contributors is like having only one or two trainers -- it can be a burden to the few who carry the load. Creating a writer-friendly environment helps to spread that load.

Improve content quality[edit | edit source]

When many people collaborate together to create content, the resulting content is better than when one or two people restrict the process. Content quality improves with the number of authors because a wiki governs content creation democratically -- by consensus -- and as the saying goes, "We are smarter than me."

Add reference information[edit | edit source]

On FamilySearch Wiki, the members of your society can add answers to genealogical questions they answer repeatedly. Then you can link to those answers from your society’s wiki page or your personal wiki page.

Fortify meetings and training[edit | edit source]

Societies are constantly looking for new content to present at their meetings. FamilySearch Wiki is growing at a rate of over 1500 pages per month, so it is a great place to find information about what’s new in:

  • record collections
  • data sets
  • software
  • methodology

You can also announce your society's training events in the wiki’s locality pages, as well as your society’s wiki page. Feel free to post presentations, handouts, and homework assignments on the wiki.

Learn new tools & techniques that support projects[edit | edit source]

Wiki project leaders have learned a lot about what makes projects succeed and fail. Is there anything new your leaders could learn about tools and techniques that support projects? Do they know how to...

Use project-enhancing tools[edit | edit source]

  • Convert MS Word or Adobe Acrobat documents to wiki pages
  • Use Skype for audio meetings and real-time support
  • Use Adobe Connect for meetings that require screen sharing
  • Use Excel or Google Docs to track projects
  • Use Google Docs to allow many people to edit a document simultaneously

Leverage efficient techniques[edit | edit source]

  • Recruit a critical mass of volunteers
  • Divide large projects into specific tasks
  • Divide tasks into required skillsets
  • Recruit volunteers for each skillset
  • Energize teams to work faster
  • Leverage the help of even non-genealogists to accelerate a project

Our FamilySearch Community Services Team would be happy to share some best practices in project support with you or your society board. We’d be happy to join you in a virtual meeting about these topics, and we can add a toll-free conference call and screen sharing to the meeting. In the meantime, one source of information that might yield some initial answers for your society is How to Run or Manage a Wiki Project.

Another way to learn best practices about running projects is to model your new projects after successful ones created by others. To give your society some ideas regarding how to start or run a project, you can link to other wikiprojects that have achieved great success, either on this wiki or on others.

Grow membership & foster activity[edit | edit source]

Your society probably has some members who pay their dues and attend the occasional meeting, but who aren’t deeply involved.

Give them what they need[edit | edit source]

Society members need:

  • An audience (someone who will pay attention)
  • Interesting challenges
  • A feeling that they’re helping someone
  • A feeling that someone values their work

Contributing to a wiki is an easy way to fulfill these needs. Contributing to a wiki makes it easy to gain a voice, solve many genealogists' problems, and become a key influencer in your area of expertise. What do your society’s inactive members know that would help other genealogists? Find out and have them contribute!

List members' interests[edit | edit source]

People volunteer more when they see a fit between their skills and the specific needs of the society. One good way to engage members is to list each one's skills and activities so they can find others who like to do what they do or who need their expertise. You can list society members on the wiki by:

  • Locality focus
  • Ethnic focus
  • Residence (city)
  • Involvement with projects on FamilySearch Indexing, GenWeb, RootsWeb, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, and other sites
  • Involvement in newsgroups, e-mail lists, and other means of group communication such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Flickr
  • Need for help or advice regarding a genealogy problem

Notify members of each one's interests[edit | edit source]

Recognizing the focus of each member helps them find answers, communicate, make friends, and collaborate on projects according to shared interests. Driving members to these listings will help them make stronger connections with other members. As these listings are updated, members can be notified through:

  • The wiki itself
  • Society meetings
  • Society newsletters
  • The society e-mail list

Members working on interesting projects have a tendency to recruit friends. If you use the methods above to activate members, they will become project evangelists and start recruiting people to join the society and help them.

Grow your project teams[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Wiki has 12,000 registered users and is growing at a rate of 105,000 edits (and 850 million characters) per year. Examine the history pages of the wiki pages that cover your area to find who is contributing content there. Then recruit them to work on your projects!

Another good source of labor beyond the wiki’s current contributors is the Boy Scouts of America. Some societies offer opportunities for completing Eagle Scout projects. Use the wiki to connect Scouts to the projects your society needs to be done.

Recognize member achievements[edit | edit source]

On FamilySearch Wiki, you can post announcements about the achievements of your members. You could recognize:

  • Society tasks (like giving lessons or helping with indexing projects).
  • Members' personal achievements (like completing certification, winning their first client, publishing a family history, or creating a new blog).
  • Wiki pages members have written. Link to them to recognize members' efforts and to drive society customers to member-written articles that can help them.
  • Members who are contributing content. You can link society pages on the wiki to the user pages of members who are contributing. When members add background information to their user pages, this can be a great way for potential members to find members with the same interests.
  • Tasks done with other organizations, like being part of a team that completed a FamilySearch Indexing project. 

Attract customers and revenue[edit | edit source]

Draw people to your society’s Website[edit | edit source]

Drawing people to your Website is just a matter of creating links:

  • Link from society's wiki page to society's Webpage
  • Mention a society publication in appropriate wiki pages. Then link those wiki pages to a Webpage that offers the publication for sale.
  • Every registered member of a wiki has a user page [LINK THIS]. Mention on your user page that you’re a society member and link back to society pages. If each member of your society did this, you could generate dozens of links to the society Website.

Draw people to your meetings & training[edit | edit source]

Post your meeting agendas on FamilySearch Wiki. If the meeting will feature a training segment on digitized Revolutionary War records of New England, post it in the News section of each New England state page and county page. In a very short time you could make dozens of links to your meeting.

Use back-issue content to boost traffic[edit | edit source]

Back issues of society newsletters and quarterlies abound with genealogy tips and lead to original records. These tips are society assets, but most societies derive no value from these assets after the newsletters are published. Republish this information on the wiki to give it wider circulation and keep it working for your society by driving traffic back to your Website! If you have back issues that aren’t in digital form, find members who can either type their gems into the wiki or who can scan them and OCR them. If you OCR them, find others who will edit out any mistakes in the OCR.

Cut costs and add revenue[edit | edit source]

Societies are welcome to publish their whole Website on FamilySearch Wiki. This cuts Website hosting and maintenance costs.

A society can cut newsletter production costs by transforming its printed newsletter to a single wiki page of teasers that draw readers to a blog where they can access the full articles. The blog could then, in turn, point to premium articles found only in the printed newsletter circulated to society members, much as Dick Eastman does with his Online Genealogy Newsletter. Offering the bulk of the newsletter in a blog can also bring ad revenue.

Sell more publications[edit | edit source]

The problem with paper publications is that they are too expensive and they fail to fulfill a growing consumer desire for instant gratification. That is a barrier to sales. Fix this by going virtual with your society’s publications. Link from the wiki to free online indexes of published cemetery books. These free online indexes, in turn, can link to the cemetery books themselves, which you can publish for a fee as e-books on Amazon. This gives the society a steady income stream.

Strengthen your society on FamilySearch Wiki![edit | edit source]

Whether you’re adding interest to projects and products, boosting member contributions, or building your customer base and revenue, FamilySearch Wiki is a great place to be. Our community is ready to help you design creative solutions that will strengthen your society.

See also[edit | edit source]

  • Repository Template is a boilerplate for creating repository pages describing courthouses, recorder’s offices, archives, libraries, societies, museums, or other repositories with one or more collections of interest to genealogists.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Amy Johnson Crow, CG, Staying on Track: Managing Your Society’s Projects, Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, 2008.

Kay Haviland Freilich, CG, CGL, Society Publications: What, When, Why, and How?, Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, 2008.

Patricia Walls Stamm, CG, CGL, Educating the Public through a Society’s Classes, Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, 2008.