7 Things to Know About The National Genealogical Society

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Welcome to Tenacious Genealogy! Today I’m going to focus on one of the many genealogical societies that you can join as you study more about your family history – The National Genealogical Society. There are a LOT and depending on what you are searching for, some might be more pertinent to join than others.

A few other societies that I can think of off the top of my head are: The Association for Professional Genealogists, The New England Historic and Genealogical Society, The Daughters of the American Revolution, The Sons of the American Revolution, The Mayflower Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, as well as local and state historical and genealogical societies.

While all of these societies will have information and resources to help genealogists both just starting and advanced, The National Genealogical Society is one in particular that is worth checking out.

1) The National Genealogical Society was started in 1903

On April 24th, it will be 115 years since the National Genealogical Society (NGS) had its first meeting in Washington D.C. (A small meeting of three men and three women at the house of Mr. Newton Leon Collamer.) It was originally designated as the ‘American Genealogical Association’, which was quickly changed to ‘The National Genealogical Society’ that November when the society gained a constitution and bylaws. By June of 1904, the Society had been incorporated with 49 members (included one Miss Mary Desha – who had been a founding member of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1890). Despite its auspicious beginnings, by 1908, the Society had begun to falter and it was at this point that a meeting was called to see whether the Society should be disbanded or not. That said, the members at the time decided to give the society another fighting chance and by 1912, when the NGS began publishing its genealogical journal, it was stronger than ever. For a more detailed history, click here.

2) It has published an esteemed genealogical journal (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) almost regularly since 1912

1912 is considered to be another auspicious year in the history of NGS because of the inaugural publishing of the society’s quarterly journal. Members of NGS have the ability to search an index of all the issues since 1912, as well as, PDF copies of most of those issues. Beginning in 2005, NGS has also published a quarterly magazine called NGS Magazine, which focuses more on skills, tips, and tricks that genealogists can use, as opposed to just case studies focused on by the NGS Quarterly. Both are fascinating reads (especially if you love family stories and puzzles like me), but the NGS Quarterly has a style of writing that is more academic and showcases great examples of genealogical scholarship. On the other hand, NGS Magazine’s style of writing is more conversational and easy to understand.

3) Becoming a member is relatively inexpensive compared to many other trade organizations inside and out of the genealogical world

Becoming a member of NGS is also relatively inexpensive compared to many trade organizations inside and outside of the genealogical world. An individual membership for 1 year is $70 and if you choose to purchase a 2 or 3-year membership, the cost per year goes down ($65/$63 per year roughly). In comparison, membership in other organizations can be higher. The Association of Professional Genealogists is $100 annually for most members, Society of American Archivists ranges from $75 to $310 depending on your income, and the American Library Association ranges from $50 to $140 a year. Needless to say, given the benefits that NGS offers genealogists and family historians, the cost of membership is relatively low compared to other trade organizations. For more information on the cost of joining NGS, click here.

4) The National Genealogical Society (NGS) offers a variety of high-quality courses to both members and non-members 

One of the great things about the National Genealogical Society (NGS) is the number of educational resources that are available to both members and non-members. There are three main ‘sets’ of courses that the NGS offers:

  • American Genealogical Studies – a set of four courses created to give future genealogists and family historians a firm foundation in accurate genealogical research.  It focuses mainly on US records, but much of the knowledge can be used or adapted when working with non-US records.  The cost for the first two courses is $45/$65 each for members/non-members respectively. However, these two courses can be bundled for $75/$100, respectively. The third and fourth courses can only be taken once the first two have been completed. They expand on the knowledge of the first two courses and each costs a bit more – $175/$200. More information on these four courses can be found here. Another tidbit to note: If you are interested in becoming a professional genealogist or becoming certified, (which is something I intend on doing in the future) taking and completing the AGS courses is highly recommended and looked favorably upon by many genealogical companies and certifying organizations.
  • Continuing Genealogical Studies –  this isn’t so much a set as much as it is a group of specialized courses that genealogists and family historians can take to enhance their knowledge. Some of the courses dive into genetic genealogy, while others focus on specific time periods or regions. The courses are also more reasonably priced. Most of the courses cost $45/$70 for members/non-members. Currently, only the course on autosomal DNA is priced differently at $60/$85 for members/non-members. While these courses are not required, if one or a few of them pique your interest or would further your own research, they are certainly worth the time and cost. More information on the (currently seven) courses can be found here.
  • Online Courses – NGS also has two free online courses for genealogists and family historians just starting out. One is available to members only and the other is available to anyone. The first one is Family History Skills (the link is the ‘Online Courses’ hyperlink above) and is offered only to NGS members. It is a basic genealogy course and is great for both beginners and those wanting a refresher. The second is The Federal Census – A Historical Overview and is available to the general public. It is a 5 lesson course created between FamilySearch and NGS as a beginners’ guide to US Federal Censuses between 1790 and 1930. Even if you already have a bunch of experience with US Federal censuses, it’s always good to take a quick refresher course to either learn more or remember little facts that you might have forgotten.

5) NGS offers free and reduced cost access to a variety of online genealogical resources and collections

Like many genealogical organizations, NGS offers free and reduced cost access to many genealogical resources and collections. Along with access to its own collections and archives, NGS offers members discounts on Fold3 (one of the premier US military history websites with access to millions of military and other historical documents) and Boston University’s online genealogical certificate program (for genealogists wanting to add to their credentials).  Being a member also entitles a person to discounts on all of NGS’s educational courses, as well as conferences and events in order to learn from and mingle with other genealogists.

6) NGS also has a yearly family history conference and research trips to a variety of archives and repositories

Like many trade organizations (including the ones mentioned above) the National Genealogical Society has a yearly family history conference that hops around the US every year in May. This year will be in Grand Rapids, Michigan and while registration has already closed, I’m excited to see what comes out of it and where it will be next year. NGS also offers research trips to a variety of archives and repositories around the US with different places every year. This year, trips are planned to Madison, Wisconsin; Washington, D.C.; and Salt Lake City, Utah. These trips allow genealogists and family historians from all over to come visit these repositories and get hands-on assistance at those repositories. While these trips are limited in size (from 25-45 people per trip), if an individual has research at any of the locations offered, they are certainly worth the time and money. Click here for more information.

7) NGS’s Book Loan Collection is a 20,000+ book collection available to both members and non-members through Inter-Library Loan

Lastly, the National Genealogical Society has a very large (and growing) collection of genealogical materials held within the St. Louis Public Library. These materials are browsable online and because of their location within the St. Louis Public Library – are available to the public through interlibrary loan! Which means if you find a book or document within their collection, you can request a copy of the book or document to be sent to your local library for you to peruse and research.

Questions? Comments?

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