If you want to see how a successful club does it, look no further than our own Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.
The group has its roots in the early 1990s, when some local genealogists began getting together. Soon, Dean Sawyer was offering public genealogy presentations, and he and wife Marge Sawyer and volunteers were transcribing cemetery listings in the Sawyers’ Forty Fort home.
Today the society has a research center in Hanover Township, statewide visibility and an impressive 248 dues-paying members.
Several of the society’s leaders sat down recently after a board of directors meeting to reflect on what’s driven that growth.
“My opinion is personal service,” said past President Alan P. Drust. “When people come in here, they get attention. We hold workshops. There’s always something going on.”
President Roseann Kebles sounds a similar theme. “It’s our ability to offer one-of-a-kind records,” she said, gesturing toward the expanse of materials and equipment in the society’s headquarters building.
The society does hold meetings, but just four a year (March, April, September and October), at the McGowan building on the campus of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre.
One key, they agree, has been events and programs that draw members of the public. In recent years the society has partnered with the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania to offer l weekend conferences featuring a wide variety of experts. Hundreds of people attend, many from other states.
To board member Jack Miller, it’s workshops like these and the ones focusing on the specific needs of Northeastern Pennsylvania genealogists that are vital. The specialized sessions in areas like German genealogy and Polish genealogy reflect the area’s historic ethnic composition.
The latter ones are not mere passive lectures. Held at the headquarters building on the grounds of the Hanover Green Cemetery on Main Road, they enable participants to use computers and be walked through research methods and resources, all under the teaching of an expert in the specific field.
For beginners, the group also offers its “Genealogy 101” program every first Thursday.
But genealogists stumped by a research problem don’t have to wait for an announced event. The headquarters is open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, and noon to 4 on the second Saturday of every month. Any genealogist, member or not, is welcome to stop by and get some advice.
“We have a core group of researchers who are very interested in helping people,” said Kebles of these popular walk-in sessions.
Incidentally, the society is an agent for the massive records storehouse of the Mormon church and can obtain those records for anyone’s local use.
Getting where it is today wasn’t easy. After years of seeking funds and materials, and with help from prison trusty labor, the society renovated a small building – a former water company facility – in Kingston Township.
Outgrowing that site within a few years, it moved to the present location in the former caretaker home at Hanover Green. That building houses the computers, the research volumes and now the society’s biggest ongoing effort – the digitizing project. The goal is preservation of all local records of cemeteries, churches and funeral homes, as well as old newspapers and anything else that a genealogist might need.
With the society “swamped with records,” in Drust’s words, more volunteers are desperately needed to transfer crumbling paper and faded microfilm to a secure, readable format and ensure future access.
For contact and membership information, go to www.nepgs.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.