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(+) Addressing the Long-Term Future of Your Genealogy Society

19 Apr 2024 4:39 PM | Anonymous

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. Please do not forward this article on to others without the author’s permission. 

NOTE: This essay contains various personal viewpoints.

I travel frequently and spend a lot of time with the officers and members of various genealogical societies. Almost everywhere I go, I hear stories of cultures diminishing in size, or maybe a few anecdotes about communities trying to keep what they have. Despite all of this "doom and gloom," I've heard a few unusual anecdotes about genealogical societies that are thriving and expanding year after year. Not only are these few societies recruiting new members, but they are also providing more and more services to their members with each passing year. 

Why do the majority of societies fail, while a few succeed?

I hear a variety of "reasons" why societies are diminishing these days. I assume those are not genuine reasons, but rather "shoot from the hip" justifications. Common justifications include "competition from the Internet," "the economy," and "people simply aren't interested anymore." 

To be sure, competition, economic obstacles, and even a lack of motivation are present everywhere. If society members and officers do nothing to counteract these tendencies, inertia takes hold and societies suffer. However, these factors affect all communities. Why do certain genealogy societies thrive and even expand, while others contract?

I believe the answer is a combination of several variables. However, looking back in time reveals some of the causes, and perhaps even some of the answers. Years ago, our forefathers witnessed and possibly contributed to similar issues in other sectors. Indeed, in recent years, even those of us alive today have witnessed similar falls and reversals in a variety of corporate ventures. Perhaps the solution to your genealogical society's future growth can be found by first reviewing the history of comparable difficulties in other fields of effort.

Here is the first question to consider: What happened to all of North America's railroads? 

The railroad industry in the United States expanded rapidly during the 1800s. In several aspects, it resembled today's Internet firms. Consumers couldn't get enough of the railroads' "product:" convenient and easy travel. People traveled to locations they had never been before, even if it was just to see family in another state. Corporations also rushed to ship their products by rail since it was more cost-effective.

Almost every year, inventors developed newer and more efficient locomotives. Steam came first, followed by petrol and diesel. Railroad cars used to transport passengers have also improved. Times were good, and America had a promising rail-based future.

So, what happened? Why isn't North America covered in train lines today? Why doesn't everyone use the railroad to travel to work?  

Railroad firms are now mere shadows of their former selves. Why? Because the automobile (and trucks) came along and ran the railroads down.

Senior managers of railroad corporations appeared to believe that "we are in the railroad business." In truth, they were in the transportation business, but few executives knew it. Over the years, just a few railroads have expanded into bus lines, trucking companies, even aircraft, and other transportation businesses. 

Railway Express serves as an excellent example. This corporation specialized in railroad freight brokerage and delivery, with a focus on smaller products that required far less transit than a full boxcar. Indeed, it was a "railroad company" that was eventually pushed bankrupt by a newer company that viewed the true business as carrying packages (parcels) by whatever means made sense: United Parcel Service. The new corporation, commonly known as "UPS," appears to be doing well ever since. FedEx came along later but added to the woes of railroads. 

The vast majority of railroad companies attempted to stay simply that: railroad companies. Then their executives inquired, "What happened to all the customers?"

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