Recently a local social group closed after 95 years. This was not because of low membership numbers but because no one was willing to join in and help out. After several years of serving on the committee the Chairperson, Secretary and Treasure all wished (or needed) to step down.  The committee asked for volunteers to take over these roles – but no one did. The members were not prepared to volunteer, even though it meant the society would close.

Sadly this attitude seems to be becoming more prevalent across our society. Many voluntary social and fundraising groups are facing similar issues. Committee members are being forced to continue their roles for many years due to a lack of volunteers.  They feel guilty about retiring or stepping down even if it is due to ill health.

Why is this?

Various groups I know of have asked their members this question – the answer is invariable is “I am too busy.”  This seems to be a selfish attitude – they want the benefits of membership without doing anything to help. Perhaps they really are too busy with their jobs, family commitments, social life and even social media taking up their precious time. But why should the same few people do everything all of the time? Are we really willing to lose these societies because we can not or will not give a couple of hours a week (sometimes not even as much as that) to help out?  Is the real reason a lack of confidence? If so why not admit it and take steps to learn the ropes gradually before taking over?  I am sure many societies will be happy to help you to do that.

Family History?

So what has this to do with Genealogy? The world of family history research has been filled with societies for decades, and some are now feeling the strain. For some membership numbers are dropping at an alarming rate. This is possibly due to the digitalisation of records on the Internet. Some people believe they do not need these societies as “everything is online”.  Family history societies have to adapt to this relatively new issue.  The lack of members exacerbates the issue of volunteers not taking on roles. Some family history societies need ‘new blood’ to lead the group into a changing future for genealogy research. Sadly too many people are too busy with other things.

How many family history related societies will still be around in 20, 30 or even 50 years? Some may not even survive the next 5 years. Once they have been closed they are harder to re-establish.

Join In!

If you belong to any voluntary run society or organisation please find time to give even one hour a week to help with its running. I am sure that many of you have at least one skill whether it be writing, typing, finance, advertising, social media, organisational skills you could share. Even manning a table at a family history show etc. could take the pressure off those who do other things.  Every little helps and  your efforts will be appreciated.

One important thing to be aware of though is the difference between ‘helping’ and ‘giving advice’.  For some people the thought of making lots of suggestions is their way of helping – but they are not willing to help put those suggestions into practice!  Volunteers may be annoyed by being ‘expected’ to follow up all of these suggestions with no help.  Mentioning problems or suggesting of how things could be improved is fine – but please give some thought as to the remedy and how you can help to put it into practise. Put yourself in the shoes of the volunteers. Would you be happy if someone told you how to improve something, and then left you to it –with no practical help?

I can speak from experience. It is not fun being expected to do everything whilst others stand by and criticise. It was hard enough dealing with that when I was paid to do the job – it must be even worse in a voluntarily (unpaid) role.

Yes, you may be busy, but for those still in work you can add this experience and the skills you learn to your C.V.  It can be a great way of gaining the experience. If you are retired from paid work, your years of experience are invaluable so please use and share your skills and knowledge.

Regardless of which group you belong to

Don’t just join – join in!


Read my ‘Volunteering in Genealogy’ blog here:

Click here to find your local family history society.