Savoir faire — A society by any other name… Does it attract more people?

About a week ago, blogger Scott Phillips received a letter from the Ohio Historical Society (OHS), explaining why they had taken the bold step to change their name to the Ohio History Connection. This letter prompted Mr. Phillips to write about it in his blog, Onward To Our Past, and to address the issue of attracting younger generations to genealogy.

Nearly two years ago, OHS held focus groups throughout the state to gain a better understanding of what the public thinks of them. They discovered that people think the word society sounds “exclusive, private, and antiquated.”

Ohio Historical Society

OHS chose the word connection because at the “core of our service, we are a conduit to Ohio’s past.” They want to attract people with an affinity for history or “one we hope yet to spark.” “We provide expertise, we tell stories, we create experiences, and we help others develop skills to educate our youth. ” They asked Ohioans what they thought about the new name, and people said it sounds “fresh, open and fun.”

What I take away from OHS’ actions is that they consulted with the community at large, not just their members, they want to improve their public image, and they are not happy with status quo. Looking outward not only helps you attract more members, it can also help attract new funding.

In genealogy societies, we need to raise our profile and develop projects and programs that will convince our neighbours that the study of genealogy is important to our heritage and the community. While most societies cannot afford the cost of holding a public survey, we can start with an inexpensive survey among our members and our members’ families. As Mr. Phillips suggests, we need to be more inclusive and open.

As for the name, Connection, I like it. After all, we and our ancestors are connected to each other, to the streets where we live, to our city, to our province, and to our country. If your ancestors lived in Montreal, odds are they are probably in some way connected to the St. Lawrence River. My connection to the St. Lawrence is that my father learned to swim there.

Read the blog post and OHS letter here and perhaps discuss within your society what you think about changing the name.


About Gail Dever

Gail Dever is a Montreal-based genealogist and blogger and a webmaster for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
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