This edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks us to write about our favorite genealogical societies. It is provident that the theme falls in the middle of Polish-American Heritage Month, because the only genealogical society that I am currently a member of is the Polish Genealogical Society of America, or PGSA. I’ve been a member for nearly 20 years! When I first got involved in genealogy, I realized that membership in a genealogical society could be useful to help me learn skills and information pertinent to my new hobby. I wanted to join a local society that had meetings, lectures, a library, and experienced genealogists willing to help newcomers, but even though there were some local societies near me, none of them seemed to fit my genealogical path.
All of my great-grandparents immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, but my local genealogical societies had a greater focus on past history rather than the relatively “recent” history of the 2oth century. For example, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania has a wonderful collection of records and they also offer regular lectures and tours. But I didn’t find much of a need for Civil War records or my city’s colonial history because my ancestors were still in Poland during those times. So I sought ought a different sort of genealogical society – one that could help me with my unique genealogical needs – and found the Polish Genealogical Society of America.
PGSA is based in Chicago, IL and focuses on Polish and Polish-American research. I have never been to a meeting. I have never been to their library. I have never been to one of their offered lectures. But I continue to renew my membership dues. I would love to be able to attend such things in person, but the society offers some benefits even for members that never make it to their headquarters. I became a member to learn, and I’ve been able to do that through their publications and their library offerings.
[Note: Full disclosure since you may see my name on some PGSA publications…from February through September of 2009 I held the position of Publications Chair for PGSA. In that position, I was responsible for the publication of the monthly Notebook newsletter among other things. I resigned from the Board and this position because I felt that I could not devote the amount of time to the job that it requires and deserves. While I am no longer associated with the PGSA’s Board of Directors or publications in any way, I am still a member and I am writing more about my member experiences in this article.]
When I first joined PGSA, they offered two written publications – a newsletter and a longer-format journal. Today, the only written publication is the quarterly Rodziny, edited by author William “Fred” Hoffman. I am usually guaranteed at least one useful tidbit of information from this journal – if not more! Fred’s wit and expertise with record translation and names makes the journal alone worth the society dues. PGSA also issues a monthly email newsletter called the PGSA Notebook. These publications have helped point me towards records or information of which I was previously unaware.
PGSA’s unique collection of records has also assisted me in my research. As I said, I have never been to their library (which is the library of the Polish Museum of America), but through their website and mail services I was able to find information from Haller’s Army records, Polish Roman Catholic Union of America records, and their collection of parish jubilee books. These records and research requests are available to both members and non-members alike, but members receive discounts on the fees.
Over the years I have wondered if it is beneficial to belong to a society that I cannot fully participate in by attending meetings and special events in person. I’ve especially wondered this in the last two years after becoming a member of sorts in a very different genealogical society – Geneabloggers. There are no dues, no meetings, and no “official” publications, but I have to consider it to be a genealogical society because of how much I have learned from my fellow bloggers. In fact, the sense of community among these strangers, whose only bond is a love of genealogy and an inter-dependence on the internet, is stronger than my far-away participation in the PGSA. But I’m not giving up on PGSA. I continue to pay membership dues because I believe in the overall mission of PGSA, which is “to collect, disseminate and preserve information on Polish and Polish-American family history and to help its members use that information in their own research.”
If you have Polish ancestry, consider joining either PGSA or one of the other localized Polish genealogical societies (the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast has a list of Polish genealogical societies here). In fact, I encourage you to find a genealogical society specific to your ethnic background. The wealth of knowledge among the members of these societies will impress you, and don’t be surprised if you learn something new from them!
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about genealogical societies for the preview issue of Discovering Family History. If you would like to read it, my article and the entire issue is available as a free download at http://www.discoveringfamilyhistory.com/DFH_OnlineFree.pdf.
Written for the 82nd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Favorite Genealogical Societies]