Our History

The First 25 Years By Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking


It was 1975. The nation, weary from the turbulence of the late 1960s and early 1970s, was gearing up to observe its 200th birthday. The great Bicentennial commemoration of 1976, it was hoped, would renew our sense of national pride by reminding us of events that had forged the character of this great country. The celebration would be far more than parades, fireworks, and tall ships. This was to be an ongoing event in which everyone from school children to senior citizens would be involved. History was at the heart of it all.

[Above photo: Early FGS Presidents (Left to Right): David Vogels, Artie Sniffin, Barbara Dalby and Ron Stratton]

Despite the patriotic fervor to save the nation’s personal and collective past, historical records were being lost to floods, fires, neglect, and legislative acts. Vital records, critical to genealogical inquiry, were closed to researchers in some states, and the threat of more record closures was real. Concerned individuals and small organizations were having little influence on preservation and legislative efforts. A collective voice was needed.

One activity flourished: the unscrupulous were attempting to benefit from the newly awakened fervor for examining the past by selling would-be-family historians unauthorized coats-of-arms, fraudulent pedigrees, and worthless genealogical services. Conscientious researchers needed protecting. The unwary public needed alerting.

Programs and projects at the national and local level encouraged the study and preservation of American’s past. Existing historical and genealogical societies were invigorated, while new organizations were springing up all over the country. Local, social, institutional, and family histories were being mass produced. Census records, cemetery records, military records, and indexes by the thousands were being printed in virtually every state and county.

In the absence of any national coordination of projects, there was a considerable amount of duplication. Overlap was especially noticeable with indexing projects. Small groups, for example, might undertake the creation of court record indexes, expending much time and energy, unaware that another group was working just as feverishly on the same records. Sometimes statewide project implementers would learn too late of local efforts that could have contributed to the bigger undertaking.

It was in this environment that the idea of a national umbrella organization was born. In June of 1975, a group of over 45 persons who were attending a conference in Salt Lake City addressed the problem by forming the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

Call for Membership

The first call for membership was mailed to several hundred organizations and institutions in August 1975. The purpose of the Federation, it was stated, was “to provide a clearinghouse—a center for an exchange of information—for organized groups to avoid duplication of projects, efforts, and keep informed on activities, conferences, and projects being undertaken in North America.” Just two months later, in October 1975, a small Federation seminar was held in co-sponsorship with The Newberry Library in Chicago.

The first membership form promised a bimonthly letter to be sent to member organizations and a conference to be held each year. Potential charter members were urged to join by sending $20, their list of current projects, and names of individuals who might be willing to serve as regional vice-presidents. The response was gratifying. In less than seven months the Federation had enrolled 54 organizations as charter members. The Colorado Genealogical Society was the first to join when a Federation organizer, Colin James, paid its dues.

“The 1977 membership application announced the ambitious and thoughtful goals of these leaders, the member organizations, and their appointed delegates. ”

Establishing the Federation

Around this author’s dining room table, articles of incorporation were signed and by-laws for the Federation were roughed out. A Midlothian, Illinois post office box was the Federation’s first legal address. In August 1976, delegates from several member societies, attending the Bicentennial Conference on American Genealogy and Family History in Cleveland, elected the first set of officers: Barbara M. Dalby (IL), president; Helen L. Harris (PA), vice president; Loretto D. Szucs (IL), secretary; Herbert A. Hotchkiss (CT), treasurer; and Margaret Kern (IL), recording secretary.

Regional vice presidents were named as well: George E. Williams (CT),Thelma Kohlberg (IL) and Colin James (CO). John P. Megaris (IL) was newsletter editor and George E. Williams became membership chairman. Subsequent annual meetings after Cleveland, Ohio, were: 1977, Chicago; 1978, Silver Springs, Maryland; and 1979, Omaha, Nebraska.

The 1977 membership application announced the ambitious and thoughtful goals of these leaders, the member organizations, and their appointed delegates. Objectives were: (1) to promote the study of genealogy; (2) to assist members in educational programs and workshops; (3) to stimulate the activities of state and local organizations; (4) to provide for the exchange of information among its members; (5) to prevent duplication of effort; (6) to encourage the indexing of all genealogical material, published or otherwise; (7) to alert the public to any misleading genealogical advertising; and (8) to encourage acceptable genealogical standards.



Three Presidents

The three presidents who first served the Federation brought to the office a significant diversity of backgrounds and skills. All had one thing in common, however: a commitment to raising the standards in the field of genealogy, and unusual courage to get the organization off the ground despite what seemed at the time to be unsurmountable odds.

Barbara Dalby, the Federation’s founding president, came to the office as a prominent genealogical teacher and lecturer. She had served on the governing boards of a number of genealogical societies, including president of the South Suburban (IL) Genealogical and Historical Society. Mrs. Dalby had received the Illinois State Genealogical Society’s award for outstanding service to the field of genealogy.

In 1978-79, George E. Williams served as FGS president. Mr. Williams had founded the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, Inc., and for ten years served as its managing secretary. During this time the CSG grew to over 4,000 members. Recognition for Mr. William’s many Federation activities as president, the holder of other offices, and chair of critical FGS committees, particularly in the area of records preservation, earned him special commendation with the 1980 establishment of the George E. Williams award for service to FGS.

Photo right: David Vogels (left) presenting George E. Williams with the George E. Williams Award

The third president, Ronald Stratton, was a radio station executive who was active in genealogy in his hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Mr. Stratton was the Federation’s vice-president under George E. Williams and had been vice-president of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists. In his acceptance remarks, he suggested that the Federation was at a critical point in time, with an opportunity to grow significantly during the coming year.


The Newsletter

Early Federation newsletters carried lists of publications and projects, by organization, similar in concept to the current “State Reporting” section of the FORUM. It was not until 1979 that a bulk mailing permit was obtained. Other highlights of the first five years include the initiation of a Speakers List, an innovation that was, through 1995, continued in FORUM with a column titled, “Profile.” Excerpts gleaned from member organization newsletters, and announcements of workshops and seminars, the forerunner to “Calendar of Events” now featured in print and at the FGS Web site, rounded out the contents of these four-page issues.


The Federation’s activist role in vital record legislation solidified during the second five years of its history. Discussion within the genealogical community convinced the Federation that while genealogists recognized that some vital records were being obtained for fraudulent purposes, legislators must be informed of the value of these records in family research. The Federation and member organizations worked together to find remedies for the problem less drastic than closing the records entirely.

One solution was to propose model Bills for legislative action. FGS endorsed the following: (1) the Bill To Open Vital Records for Genealogists; (2) the Bill To Prevent the Fraudulent Use of Birth Certificates; and (3) the Bill To Microfilm Old Vital Records Prior to 1900 (and deposit the films with the State Archives). The second bill had been passed in one state; the third Bill was pending in two states. The Federation was then working with seven states on the first Bill.

Involvement was not limited to legislative action on vital records. By 1980 the FGS Newsletter had expanded its coverage to include more information on the genealogical collections, activities, conferences, and concerns of its member organizations. The June 1980 Newsletter asked member organizations to support the Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Sutro Library by encouraging California senators to fund and maintain Sutro under the auspices of the California State Library.

The Sutro case proved, perhaps for the first time, that record access and preservation concerns in one state could be witnessed and acted upon by genealogical and historical societies throughout the country. The importance of the Federation as a national organization to marshal the resources of its member societies was becoming clear. As more member organizations became involved, state legislators and record agency personnel began to acknowledge that genealogists, numbering in the thousands, were an organized force that could effect change.

Code of Ethics

In August 1979, George Williams on behalf of the Federation developed the Genealogists’ Code of Ethics. Asking legislatures to open vital records to genealogists deserved a commitment that the members of genealogical societies could use and care for these records in a professional manner. The first member society to adopt the Code was the Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County, Washington.

Member Services

In August 1979, the trademark management seminars were inaugurated at “The Organization: Management of the Genealogical Society: A Symposium,” sponsored by the Federation in Omaha, Nebraska. The Federation soon became a consultant for new genealogical societies. To guide them through the maze of incorporation, bylaws, and organizational procedures, FGS published a handbook written by Doris Bowers, titled, Genealogical Society Guidebook (1981).

A Speakers Bureau established in early 1980, and publication of Doris Bowers’ Planning a Genealogical Conference the following year, proved to be great aids to program chairs. Educational programs of societies were further helped by the 1981 publication of Ten Lessons for Beginners in Genealogy by Myrtelle Molyneaux, C.G.. This work included a bibliography by Eileen Willis.

In the fall of 1983, FGS published Handbook for the Organization and Operation of Genealogical Societies by Kathleen W. Hinckley and Betty Robertson Kaufman. The volume addressed all aspects of bringing a genealogical society into existence and then managing it properly.

“Annual national FGS conferences began when 130 registrants attended the “FGS Symposium and 6th Annual Meeting in Collaboration with Illinois State Genealogical Society’s Fall Conference and 13th Annual Meeting,” in Decatur, Illinois, October 22–24, 1981.”

FGS Newsletter

In 1981, new editor Joyce B. Hensen of Kansas crafted the FGS Newsletter into a 12-page periodical with a regular Message from the President and columns called Know Your Officers (biographical sketches); Honor Roll of Members; News From the Societies; Calendar of Events; and Legislative News. Projects in Progress, added in 1984, described publications and enterprises undertaken by member societies. This column continues today as State Reporting. In 1982, newsletter subscriptions were increased from $6 to $8 for FGS members and from $8 to $10 for non-members.

NARA Independence

The September 1981 issue of the Newsletter included an urgent message from Rabbi Malcolm Stern. “The Reagan budget as approved by Congress is posing serious threats to the services which the National Archives will be able to render all of us interested in genealogy. The inevitable cuts in staff, programs, and publications will affect our researching. This is bad news. The good news is that we can do something to counteract these problems: We can help to make the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) an independent institution by urging our senators to support the pending Archives Independence Bill S1421, and by requesting the Senate to hold hearings on the bill this year…”

The challenge was accepted. The Federation joined forces with the historical community, rallying their respective member organizations to conduct a vigorous campaign for NARS independence. Issues of the Newsletter urged action until, on June 21, 1984, the United States Senate gave unanimous consent to S. 905, a bill to restore independence to the National Archives by separating it from the General Services Administration. On August 2, the House of Representatives passed a similar legislation. This was cause for celebration!


Annual national FGS conferences began when 130 registrants attended the “FGS Symposium and 6th Annual Meeting in Collaboration with Illinois State Genealogical Society’s Fall Conference and 13th Annual Meeting,” in Decatur, Illinois, October 22–24, 1981. The 1982 FGS West Coast Conference in Buena Park, California, was hosted by the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and the Orange County Genealogical Society. Fifteen speakers were featured and 502 registrants were accommodated. At this meeting a new set of FGS By-laws was approved, and an Awards Committee set in place.

The “First National Conference for Genealogists in the Northeast” was held in Hartford, Connecticut, July 13-16, 1983. 801 persons attended the event, which was co-sponsored by the Federation, APG, and the Connecticut Society of Genealogists.

Denver, Colorado, was the site of the 1984 conference on September 12-14. The Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies was the host society and the event was chaired by Betty Kaufman. James W. Moore, Assistant Archivist of the United States, was a special guest at the Federation’s Annual Meeting where he received a Directors Award for distinguished public service in support of genealogy.

Genealogical Coordinating Committee

On August 13, 1980, at the Temple Square Hotel in Salt Lake City, FGS director Rabbi Malcolm Stern conducted a meeting to foster closer relations between various genealogical groups. Robert Anderson, Arthur Sniffin, and George Williams represented the Federation. Representatives were also present from the American Society of Genealogists, Association of Genealogical Educators, Association of Professional Genealogists, Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the National Genealogical Society.

Within two years the Genealogical Coordinating Committee was in place. The Federation was appointed treasurer for the National Archives Gift Fund (known as the Malcolm S. Stern NARA Gift Fund). This fund was established to finance the creation of genealogical finding aids at the National Archives and its regions. Monies would be donated by genealogists: $1 per genealogist per year. The Federation was also directed to maintain a clearing-house calendar for genealogical conferences.


Two presidents served FGS during this five-year period. In 1980 and 1981, Robert D. Anderson was president, having been a director for three years. He was a counselor for the Nebraska Association for State and Local History and held memberships in the National Genealogical Society, National Historical Society, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archives, and several other genealogical and historical societies. He was a national lecturer on genealogy and the editor/publisher of a genealogy magazine.

David S. Vogels, Jr., of Denver, Colorado, became president of the organization for 1982.Vogels was then serving as president of the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies and a legal administrator for Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, Denver. He went on to hold the office of presidency in 1983 and 1984. The David S. Vogels, Jr. Award was established in 1990 to honor the accomplishments of this president.


The first awards given by the Federation were in 1983 at the Hartford Conference. Brainerd T. Peck, a founding member of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, received the Distinguished Service Award. Other special awards were presented to Chief Archivist Reed Whitaker, and staff members Diana Duff and Mark Corriston of the National Archives Kansas City Branch (now titled the National Archives Central Plains Region. These awards recognized their efforts on behalf of genealogists. Volunteers at the Kansas City Branch also received certificates of recognition from the Federation.


The years 1985 through 1989 were years of growth, evaluation, and definition for the Federation. Three of the most challenging issues confronting the Federation during this period were the search for a National Archivist, Federation finances, and a contract with Ancestry to produce FORUM. The FGS board of directors and three presidents faced these concerns with resolution and fortitude.


After serving the organization in various other capacities, the following individuals became presidents of the Federation: Arthur F. Sniffin, of Huntington Station, New York, came to the presidency in 1985; Scharlott Blevins of Davenport, Iowa, served three consecutive terms from 1986–1988; Velma Rice of Renton, Washington, assumed the presidency in 1989.

Others who served terms as FGS officers from 1985 through 1989 were: Myrtelle W. Molyneaux, Leland R. Adams, Wayne T. Morris, Rabbi Malcolm Stern, Helen L. King, Arlene H. Eakle, Betty R. Kaufman, Joyce B. Hensen, Carole C. Callard, William Miller, and Glade Nelson.

Directors from 1985–1989 included: Dr. Ralph Crandall, Dorothy M. Lower, William B. Neal, Velma Hash Rice, June B. Barekman, Richard L. Fortin, Raymond Riley, Eldon Weber, Ray Novak, William E. Miller, Gary R. Toms, David C. Dearborn, Kathleen W. Hinckley, Christine Rose, Eileen B. Willis, Dorothy Ray Richardson, Vicki Frazer Arnold, Michael B. Clegg, J. Richard Abell, Marsha H. Rising, Bonnie Jean Everhart, Sandra H. Luebking, Brenda D. Merriman, and Wayne T. Morris.

Federation Finances

Participation in or sponsorship of a series of successful conferences (Kansas City, 1985; Orlando, 1986; Cincinnati, 1987; Boston, 1988; and Kansas City, 1989) and generous financial contributions of some board members kept the treasury intact during some difficult years.

In 1986, the first annual budget was adopted by the FGS board. A study that year demonstrated the cost of providing membership services exceeded dues by more than 30%. Proposals to raise dues were considered each year from 1986, and in 1989 a 25% increase in dues was adopted. It was hoped this increase, supplemented by a high growth rate (memberships would reach 300 in 1990), would be sufficient to carry the Federation into the 1990s.

From Newsletter to FORUM

In early 1986, Loretto Dennis Szucs was appointed editor of the Federation of Genealogical Societies Newsletter. Sandra Hargreaves Luebking served as associate editor. As a result of new computer technology, reports from regional editors, and contributions of guest columnists, the Newsletter underwent several style changes. The mailing list remained the same, however: a copy to each member society and complimentary copies to several major libraries and archives.

In 1988, Ancestry and the Federation announced a joint effort to dramatically increase the FGS Newsletter distribution. Challenged by Ancestry’s proposal to subsidize and distribute its publication, FGS reached its goal to acquire a mailing list of over 50,000 names in early April, 1989.

The arrangement with Ancestry, the award-winning publisher of The Source, The Library, The Archives, and a number of other well-known genealogical titles, provided all those who belonged to FGS member societies with a newsletter. Some societies submitted their entire membership lists, while others whose by-laws did not allow that option, drew up a separate list of their members who wanted the mailing.

FGS retained responsibility for editorial content and Ancestry, Inc., assumed the tasks of design, production, advertising, and distribution. One change encouraged by Ancestry was for the magazine to be titled, FORUM.

This collaboration proved to be a valuable and effective arrangement which greatly benefitted the genealogical community. The partnership remained in effect for four years. During this time, Ancestry expended over $200,000 to provide fourteen issues of FORUM. At the end of that time, FGS employed Ancestry to continue production which they did until 1994.

National Archivist

The Federation’s concern and support for the National Archives and its field branches was increasingly reflected in the FGS Newsletter between 1985 and 1989, a trend that continues today. In 1986, FGS vice president, Rabbi Malcolm Stern appeared before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs at hearings regarding the nomination of the Archivist of the United States. Stern reminded the Senate Committee of the involvement of 20 million Americans in researching their origins, and of the fact that 90 per cent of the users of the National Archives and its branches are highly motivated and politically astute genealogists.

FGS member societies joined the historical community in a letter-writing campaign in support of Dr. Don Wilson for the NARA position. The July/August issue of the Newsletter announced President Reagan’s nomination of Dr. Don Wilson, as Archivist of the United States a strong and clear lesson of what can be accomplished when the genealogical community works together for a cause.

Board Activity

The FGS Awards Committee introduced new awards, including: the George E. Williams Award (for in individual in recognition of outstanding contributions to FGS, a member organization, or both); Award of Merit (for an individual or organization, not necessarily affiliated with FGS, in recognition of meritorious service or distinguished work in genealogy and family history; Certificate of Appreciation (to an individual or organization expressing official thanks for duty performed in an exemplary and outstanding manner, as assigned; and Directors Award (for distinguished public service in support of genealogy).

Other Landmarks

The Cross Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts, 1910 Census became the first microform project selected by the Genealogical Coordinating Committee to be financed by the new NARA Gift Fund. The Gift Fund, administered by the Federation of Genealogical Societies, made possible the distribution of this finding aid to every Regional Archives (then called Branches) of the National Archives.

“1985 marked a commitment to involvement at the national level via a continuance of membership in the National Committee for the Coordination and Promotion of History.”

The FGS Procedure Manual was developed during 1985 and brought definition and uniformity to officers’ and committee roles. 1985 marked a commitment to involvement at the national level via a continuance of membership in the National Committee for the Coordination and Promotion of History. The Federation remained a member for more than a decade.

FGS director, William E. Miller, Jr. helped define the role FGS should play in having genealogists’ interests recognized in laws regulating vital statistics. The National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Public Health Service solicited suggestions from constituents for its publication, “The Federal Model Law (Model State Vital Statistics Act and Model State Vital Statistics Regulations).” The FGS board pointed out that “the compilation to be published should include data on the very oldest records in the respective States, and that information on these records would best be solicited from the State Archives.”

In 1987, an Advisory Committee to assist the Federation board in legal or controversial issues was formed; this committee continues to play a role in FGS activities.


The most significant accomplishments during the period 1990–1994, concerned growth: growth in membership, in FORUM distribution, and in activism by the Federation.

Activism and Involvement

Few appointments are as critical to the genealogical community as is that of the National Archivist of the United States. For the two years prior to the May 1995 selection of John W. Carlin, the Federation closely monitored the selection process, initiating letter-writing campaigns when necessary and providing input when possible. At the same time, FGS supported the outreach endeavors of Acting Archivist, Trudy Huskamp Peterson.

An early and ongoing focus of the Federation has been the preservation and open access to records. During this last quarter, FGS marshaled the forces of a wide contingency of record users to confront policies that would have adversely affected record access. Through the magazine, FORUM, individual readers and society officers were alerted to situations that required their consideration and action.

“In 1994 FGS led a delegation of representatives from the genealogical community in a meeting with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) staff concerning the retention of Railroad Retirement Board Pension Files.”

One such emergency was the threat to the National Archives-New England Region. Located in Waltham near Boston, the branch faced closure because of political favor-swapping. A no-holds barred article in FORUM 2:3 (Fall 1990, pp. 3-4) by Loretto Dennis Szucs, challenged the announced move which would have propelled more than 17,000 cubic feet of records across the state and out of easy reach of the highly populated areas and numerous academic institutions of the eastern seaboard.

Serving 8,500 visitors a year, the Boston-area site was one of the busiest of the regional archives and its closure would not only inconvenience regular users in the area but could set a precedent for other regions. “The National Archives—Another Political Football” identified members of Congress to whom readers could express their concern. The resulting activism ended the threat of closure for the New England region.

Opening records new to the genealogical community also involved the Federation. FGS was represented on a trip to the Soviet Union in March 1990 by past president Velma Hash Rice. As part of the US/USSR Genealogical Exchange, these delegates demonstrated how a proposed clearinghouse (now operational) between the two countries could function. Organizations represented were the National Archives, the National Genealogical Society and the Federation. By 1992, the way was clear for American genealogists to request research in Russian archives.

The funding of agencies which promote record preservation was a concern of the Federation during this period. A letter from FGS to the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) dated 18 August 1992, urged “the Congress of the U.S. to again authorize the NHPRC at levels that will enable it to strengthen programs of benefit to the thousands of American citizens who depend on records preservation for research on their families’ histories.”

In 1993, FGS joined forces with the National Genealogical Society to create the Records Preservation and Access Committee. Chaired by James W. Warren (MN) of FGS, committee members Linda McCleary (AZ), Joy Reisinger (WI), and Thomas Kemp (FL) were named by FGS and Donn Devine (DE) and Brice M. Clagget (VA) represented NGS. These appointments provided expertise and wide geographical distribution: important components for the task.

In 1994 FGS led a delegation of representatives from the genealogical community in a meeting with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) staff concerning the retention of Railroad Retirement Board Pension Files. One result of the meeting was that a stop-order had been placed on the further destruction of RRB Pensions Papers. In addition, NARA agreed to expand the review process to include other federal records which may have significant amounts of personal, identifying data and solicit input from the genealogical community during the formulation process for new federal records retention schedules.


Between November 1989 and January 1991, FGS membership increased 60 per cent. The year 1990 was a transitional year when dues were prorated to make all memberships due on January 1. Dues were increased in 1991 (the only increase in 20 years of operation) to the current level, based on size of organization. While initially the dues increase resulted in a drop of renewals, total membership by the end of 1994 had climbed to over 300.

A successful program that encouraged dues receipt was the early renewal dues discount. Initiated for 1991, this program provided a 20 per cent discount to any organization paying dues by November 30, 1990. The response was excellent: over 100 renewals came in before December.

The Delegate Role

Another focus during this five-year period was the delegate. Vice-President Fran Carter conducted a get-acquainted session at the Salt Lake City Conference in 1990. Such occasions continue to be a major part of Federation conferences, along with a full-day society management workshop that evolved from a handful of lectures at the Phoenix Conference in 1992. The current pre-conference management seminar has built on experience gained at several FGS conferences, notably the 1983 conference at Hartford, Connecticut, which had a society management track.

In 1991, David Rencher conducted an extensive survey of delegates. Results: most delegates had served two and 1/2 years. Some did not know they were delegates until they received the survey. Respondents ranked the top five issues facing their society as: (1) attracting new members (2) program and seminar ideas (3) securing keeping good volunteers (4) securing and keeping good officers and (5) attendance at meetings.


The first issue of the Delegate Digest was distributed in September 1993. The editor, Birdie Monk Holsclaw, a delegate from Colorado, designed a sleek, single-page newsletter with timely news of interest to delegates. For her efforts, Birdie Monk Holsclaw became the first recipient of the Delegate Award, established in 1993. Birdie continued to edit the Digest until Loretto Szucs assumed responsibility for the December 1994 and Spring 1995 issues. The Delegate Digest then came under the editorship of Sammie Townsend Lee of Dallas, Texas.

Projects and Publications

Under president Glade I. Nelson, the Federation undertook a national project of immense proportions: the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System indexing project. Announced in fall of 1991, this joint effort between the National Park Service, the Genealogical Society of Utah, the National Archives, and the Federation, required massive numbers of volunteers and countless hours of supervision and administration. The Federation agreed to undertake the role of volunteer coordinator. On 28 April 1993, at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, the first entry was made into the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.

As part of the Federation’s commitment to provide quality products and services to societies, the Society Strategy Series, a collection of four-page informative papers, was designed. By August 1991, two titles by Marsha Rising and Sandra Luebking on program ideas for meeting planners were available. In the next 11 months, 13 more titles were produced by authors Betty Kaufman, David Rencher, Sandra Luebking. Fran Carter, Desmond Walls Allen and Marsha Rising. Production was by Rising, Luebking, and Rencher. In 1994, a full set of papers formed the nucleus of a membership package for new and renewing members. Since that time, member societies receive all new titles for the proceeding year.

Although Federation presidents had maintained internal communications with board members, the network was formalized 09 November 1992 with the first issue of the Board Bulletin. The Bulletin was a regular newsletter for the FGS management team and to receive it, officers and board members submitted SASEs. David Rencher and Sandra Luebking edited the Bulletin until January 1994 when the current editor, Linda McCleary assumed the role.

Three other landmarks occurred within this period. Karen Mauer Green, in charge of publicity, began a regular column in Everton’s Genealogical Helper, to inform readers of Federation activities that need their attention, particularly in the area of records access. In 1992, Betty Kaufman revised the very popular A Guide for the Organization and Management of Genealogical Societies and Joy Reisinger compiled Index to NGS and FGS Conferences and Syllabi. The latter was a joint publication with the National Genealogical Society.


The Federation’s three presidents during this five-year increment were Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, CGL, FASG, who held office during 1990; Glade I. Nelson, AG, served during 1991-92; and the term of Curt B. Witcher, FUGA, FGS’s current president [1994], whose tenure began in 1993. Each of these three presidents made significant and distinct contributions to the organization, as is evidenced by this accounting. In one area, however, their impact was cumulative: establishing an office with paid staff.

After decades of dreaming and years of planning, the Federation was able to dedicate an office managed by a paid professional. Marsha Rising, through a dues increase during her tenure, sought to provide a financial base to make a professional office and staff possible. Glade Nelson took the next step and engaged a part-time secretary, Jackie Myers, who conducted business for a number of months. During Curt Witcher’s first two years, David and Tamara Rencher assumed responsibilities on a full-time basis. The office was ably managed by the Renchers into mid-1995. Virtually every Federation president had expended countless hours in preparing for this goal.


The mailing list had grown from 173 in 1980 to 1,000 in 1985 to 5,000 in 1989, to over 65,000 in 1990. The 1990 increase was a result of Ancestry, Inc., subsidizing FORUM to provide free subscriptions to individuals. In 1993, FORUM changed to a subscription-only distribution. The response was good and FORUM has continued to enjoy a stable and satisfactory subscription base.

In 1990, Sandra H. Luebking assumed the editorship after the four year tenure of Loretto D. Szucs. Christine Rose continued as editor of the Family Associations column and in spring 1993, Marsha H. Rising became book review editor. In 1994, Gary Mokotoff took over all production responsibilities. Gary streamlined the format and adopted a three-column,40 page issue with less advertising and more feature articles.

Conferences: Some Highlights

FGS presented five well-received conferences during this period.

1990: Windows to the Past, Salt Lake City, UT. Hosted by Utah Genealogical Society. Celebrity banquet speaker, Ms. Helen Reddy, celebrated singing and acting sensation, was the banquet speaker. A highlight was a free reception at Pioneer Trails State Park, where guests gathered to view a magnificent sunset over the Great Salt Lake.

1991: All American Conference, Ft. Wayne, IN. This event was hosted by Allen County Public Library Historical Genealogy Division. A popular feature was “Moonlight Madness Extravaganza,” with research hours in the Library extended to midnight. The conference drew more than 1,600 persons.

1992: New Horizons, Phoenix, AZ. Hosted by the Arizona Genealogical Advisory Board, this conference was the first to dedicate a sub-seminar to society management topics. This sub-seminar has become a trademark of FGS conferences. As with all FGS events, a warm and friendly atmosphere set the tone for the rest of the conference.

1993: Gateway to the Past, St. Louis, MO. Hosted by the Missouri State Genealogical Association. Despite flooding problems that summer, the conference was well attended and deemed successful. Twenty sessions (some repeats) on the society management sub-seminar.

1994: On to Richmond, Richmond, VA. Hosted by the Virginia Genealogical Society. Society management sub-seminar a great success. The James Dent Walker Memorial lecture was established to honor Mr. Walker, who died in early 1994. First lecturer was Tony Burroughs at Richmond.


Five awards were established during this period. The Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award honors the rare individual whose positive personal influence and example have fostered unity in the genealogical community. This award was established in January 1994 in honor of Rabbi Stern who had generously and effectively served FGS for more than a decade.

The David S. Vogels, Jr. Award, presented to an individual in recognition of outstanding career contributions to FGS, was created 9 March 1990 to honor the memory and accomplishments of David S. Vogels of Denver, the FGS president from 1982-84.

The Delegate Award was established in February 1993 in recognition of exemplary service to FGS as a member of an FGS standing committee or an active participant in an FGS project.

The Presidential Citation is presented to an individual or organization whose contributions or service to FGS or the genealogical community are singled out for recognition by the FGS president. This award was established in 1992.


The growth experienced in the preceding five years continued unabated. Membership soared from 411 in 1995 to 560 in December 2000, a more than 35% increase. 1998 also marked the first time FGS held members from all 50 states and Canada. It is estimated that this count represents more than 500,000 individual genealogists.

Conference attendance also rose from an average of 1284 attendees between 1995 and 1999, to a spectacular count of 1999 registrations at Salt Lake City in 2000. Earlier conferences in Seattle, Washington (1995), Rochester, New York (1996), Dallas, Texas (1997), Cincinnati, Ohio, 1998, and St. Louis, Missouri (1999) were equally well-enjoyed. The Cincinnati event featured, for the first time, a special track sponsored and presented by the Association of Professional Genealogists. At Salt Lake City, the first track devoted to Family History Center staff and volunteers was enthusiastically received.

A Permanent Business Office

The ability to grow and prosper in an orderly manner can be attributed largely to the establishment of a permanent office and the engagement of a professional office manager. In late 1995, the FGS business office moved to Richardson, Texas. Here it would be staffed by Madilyn Coen Crane, who accepted more than 100 boxes of supplies and files from Tamara and David Rencher, former office managers in Utah. In Summer 1998, the Cranes moved to Austin, Texas, and the office had a new home.

The Web Presence

“Societies were able to contribute to and update their page in Society Hall. This provides an opportunity for even the smallest member society to maintain a Web presence at no cost to them.”

The first quarter of 1996 brought an expanded and sophisticated Web presence, one of the first national genealogy groups to utilize the opportunities of a Home Page. A new highly sophisticated Web site was designed and implemented by Rod and Madilyn Crane and introduced in 2000.

In 1997, a partnership was formed with Ancestry, Incorporated, whereby Ancestry provided a Web site environment for FGS and its member societies. In 1998, Society Hall was “born;” it was officially launched in 1999-2000, with the support of MyFamily.com (new corporate name of Ancestry.com). Society Hall was the first “one-stop” on-line directory for visitors to easily locate genealogical and historical societies throughout the country. Societies were able to contribute to and update their page in Society Hall. This provides an opportunity for even the smallest member society to maintain a Web presence at no cost to them.


In 1997 Curt B. Witcher became the second recipient of the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award, which was established in 1994 and presented first posthumously to Rabbi Stern. In 1999, Marsha Hoffman Rising was the recipient.

In 2000, two additional awards were established. The first, the Archivists Award, was presented to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and accepted by NARA’s chief information officer, L. Reynolds Cahoon. A special award, in recognition of his national leadership as director of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System project, was presented to Curt B. Witcher.

Some Milestones

Ancestors Series: In 1995, FGS endorsed to its member societies, the ten-part series that was televised on Public Broadcasting Service channels throughout the country. FGS encouraged donations and provided promotional opportunities for the KBYU produced-programs titled, Ancestors.

Teleconference: In 1996, FGS joined with the Ohio Genealogical Society to offer quality televised programming at remote locations via satellite. Mary Bowman managed and implemented the four programs, which ran for three hours each on a single topic and featured a nationally-known speaker and a large syllabus.

FORUM added three columns (first new columns since 1993 when Strays was inaugurated). In 1997 the Editor’s Craft by Sharon Carmack began (became Editor’s & Writer’s Craft in 2000); and the following year, a column on Teaching Genealogy began (became Web Spinnings in 1999 by Michael Neill). In 1999, a six-issue column, Librarians Serving Genealogists, first appeared. Other major changes were in Fall 1996, when Dawne Slater-Putt assumed responsibility for Ethnic/International and 1997, when Paul Milner replaced Marsha Rising as Book Review Editor. In 1997, began regular spring article on Genealogical Education opportunities across the country (week-long institutes and workshops). FORUM continued to regularly promote Family History Month, begun in 1990, by the Monmouth County (NJ) Genealogy Club.

Records Preservation and Access: The joint RP&A committee continued to work well. FGS in connection with the National Genealogical Society, sought to identify records that must be preserved for genealogical research and to identify means of preserving them. The committee presented the genealogy community to the National Archives on a number of preservation issues, including the reconfiguration of the regional field offices faced by NARA.

Celebrating two decades of service: A 20th birthday celebration was held in Rochester, in 1996, with a dinner honoring FGS founders and former and current officers. As the Federation began its 3rd decade of service to the genealogical community, President David E. Rencher outlined four major goals: 1) to expand the Federation’s publications; 2) to expand knowledge of the Federation, its mission, and its many programs throughout the genealogical community; 3) continuing to bring the highest quality educational and networking experience to the genealogical community in the form of national conferences with the growing Conferences for the Nation’s Genealogists; and 4) rededicate itself to marshaling the resources of the genealogical community.



On 23 March 1995, the National Genealogical Society, in cooperation with the Federation of Genealogical Societies, submitted a report to the U.S. Postal Service requesting them to investigate the mail order business know as Halbert’s, Inc. The complaint that was registered concerned false representation and was followed by hundreds of individual letters written by genealogists. Dr. Helen Hinchliff, chairman of the Ethics Committee, spearheaded the investigation by NGS and FGS.


Assistant Archivist

In 1996, good news was received by the genealogical community. L. Reynolds Cahoon was named Assistant Archivist of the United States. Mr. Cahoon had a strong genealogical background, having been managing director of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and executive vice-president of the Genealogical Society of Utah.


Left: Sandra Hargreaves Lubeking and Loretto Dennis Szucs, authors of the FGS history 1975–2000.

Project: Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System

The ongoing joint project between the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Genealogical Society of Utah, the National Archives, and the Civil War Trust, began with the first entry of a soldier’s name on 28 April 1993. The project reached its 50% completion mark by Winter 1997 and a year later was just over 80% complete. By February 2000, entries were deemed 95% complete.

Project: Stern/NARA Gift Fund

1996, in an unprecedented and exceptional donation, Broderbund, who marketed the Family Tree Maker genealogical software system, made a $10,000 gift to the fund. In 1998, announcement of A Million Dollar Project to raise funds to microfilm the War of 1812 pension and bounty-land warrant records (indexed and unindexed files which include some Revolutionary War veterans) and the U. S. Colored Troop (USCT) Compiled Service Records. By the end of 1998, fund contributions topped $39,000. During this year, Broderbund offered Matching Grants for the fund, agreeing to match grants up to $10,000. In 1999, the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society contributed $5,000 to the general fund, one of the most significant donations from a genealogy organization.

Project: Publications

FGS director, William E. Miller, Jr. helped define the role FGS should play in having genealogists’ interests recognized in laws regulating vital statistics. The National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Public Health Service solicited suggestions from constituents for its publication, “The Federal Model Law (Model State Vital Statistics Act and Model State Vital Statistics Regulations).” The FGS board pointed out that “the compilation to be published should include data on the very oldest records in the respective States, and that information on these records would best be solicited from the State Archives.”

In 1987, an Advisory Committee to assist the Federation board in legal or controversial issues was formed; this committee continues to play a role in FGS activities.

In 1996, Bylaws Workbook: A Handbook for New & Established Societies was prepared by Marcia Struthers Lindley (Tucson, Arizona).

Society Strategy Papers: five titles were added in 1996; two in 1997; one in 1998 and four new and two revised in 1999. In 2000, eight new and six revised titles brought the total number of papers available to forty, almost double the 1995 count. These papers were proving both useful and popular and readers were suggesting topics for additional papers.


The Delegate Digest continued to inform member societies through their chosen representative. In 2000, following the resignation of editor Sammie Townsend Lee, Sandra Luebking became the editor of the Digest. At each conference, a Delegate Luncheon and Caucus was well attended by those appointed.

Delegate scholarships were offered in 1999 and 2000. 1999 winners: Jonelle Ellis Russell (Sonoma County Genealogical Society, CA), Patricia Kerr Thompson (Montana State Genealogical Society); and Jill Frese (Riley County Genealogical Society, Manhattan, Kansas). The 2000 winner was Sandra Studebaker of the Studebaker Family Association.


Two presidents managed the Federation during this fifth era. Curt B. Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, completed his term in 1996. David E. Rencher served from 1997-2000. During this time, FGS President Rencher became the Director of the Libraries Division of the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responsible for the Family History Library in salt Lake City, the Family Search Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Family History Centers worldwide, and the Public Outreach function for the Family History Department.


FGS Membership

As of December 1, 2001, FGS had 582 member societies. This was a period of transition for many genealogical societies, and a number of societies ceased operating during this time period. Society officers cited a number of reasons; the increase in information on the Internet and a lack of younger members willing to carry the society forward were the two most frequent causes. However, the membership of FGS as reported on December 1, 2005 was 600 members!


Business Office

Madilyn Coen Crane of Austin, Texas, served as the business office manager for the five-year period, 2001-2005. Madilyn's organizational skills were a significant help to the strength and support of FGS during this time period. Having a permanent office manager significantly helped the smooth flow of conference registrations and the production of reports needed to serve the various FGS committees. Madilyn stepped down from this position at the end of 2005.



FGS continued its tradition of providing excellent genealogical conferences, coupled with a focus on societies and their needs. FGS conferences always included a program for society officers to learn about managing their societies and a society keynote presentation that was motivational, inspiring, and forward-thinking.

2001 – Quad Cities, Iowa, Co-chairs James Warren and Paula Stuart-Warren. The local host societies for the conference were the Blackhawk Genealogical Society of Rock Island and Mercer Counties, Illinois, and the Scott County, Iowa, Genealogical Society. After several years of meticulous planning, all of that was nearly lost when the events of 9/11 began unfolding on the day preceding the start of the conference. The FGS board meeting was underway when Loretto Szucs walked into the room and announced that one of New York’s Twin Towers had fallen and that the other had also been struck.

With all aircraft grounded, speakers and attendees were stranded across the country. To add to the dismay of organizers, this was the planned-for 25th Anniversary event commemorating the founding of FGS. However, this was a conference never to be forgotten as speakers stepped up to fill in for missing colleagues, registration personnel accommodated no-shows, and members of the community banded together and supported one another. Those in attendance will always remember what they felt and witnessed as the genealogical community rose to the occasion and comforted and lifted one another.

2002 – Ontario, California, Chair Wendy Bebout Elliott. The California State Genealogical Alliance was the local host. With the FGS conference philosophy to move around the country, finding conference venues on the West Coast had proved particularly challenging. The answer came with a site visit to Ontario, California, where the convention facility was a perfect fit for an event the size of the FGS conference. Unanticipated at the time was the reluctance of the local Los Angeles community to drive to Ontario for the event. Although attendance was down, it was a terrific conference program and event.

2003 – Orlando, Florida, Co-chairs Pamela Cooper and James C. Cooper. The Florida State Genealogical Society was the local host. Billed as the “perfect place to hold a conference,” Orlando certainly had a lot to offer. Conference organizers promoted all the attractions in Orlando in addition to wonderful research facilities. Family members who were not into genealogy had a lot to do while their genealogically-minded family member was deep into class sessions.

2004 – Austin, Texas, Chair Dean J. Hunter. The Texas State Genealogical Society and the Austin Genealogical Society were the local hosts. FGS conferences have always done well in Texas, and this was no exception. A large exhibit hall and a well-constructed program made this an exceptional event. Several future FGS board members came from the volunteer pool who worked on the conference.

2005 – Salt Lake City, Utah, Chair Dean J. Hunter. The Utah Genealogical Association was the local host. FGS returned to Salt Lake City and again executed a solid conference. In 2000, the mantra had been 2000 attendees for the year 2000. Hoping to match that number again, organizers put together an excellent conference. While the numbers didn’t quite reach the previous mark, it was still a great event.


Web Presence

In 2001, the newly redesigned FGS website was updated to include conference activities, vendor listings, and maps. In 2003, this was followed with an enhancement to accept online submissions for conference lecture proposals.

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) launched its website on November 4, 2002, in an effort to keep all genealogists informed of world-wide issues relating to the preservation and access of records having genealogical and historical value. The site was launched after many months of development and included categories for Who We Are & How We serve You; Formal Actions, Opinions and Activities; State-by-State Reporting; International Issues; Strategies for Records Preservation; Strategies for Access; National Reporting; and a Panic Button.

Society Hall Live, launched at the 2000 FGS Conference in Salt Lake City, added a significant new feature in 2001 with the addition of a nation-wide map showing the locations of all the member societies in North America.


Major Awards

In 2003, as part of the Year of the Volunteer celebrations, Federation of Genealogical Societies President Dean J. Hunter announced the establishment of the Ruth C. Bishop Family History Volunteer Hall of Honor Award to recognize the contributions of genealogical volunteers across the country. As a volunteer herself, Ruth Chauncey Bishop was aware of the need to acknowledge and reward exemplary service. With her decision to establish a national Hall of Honor, Ruth chose the Federation of Genealogical Societies to administer the program.

There were two inductees in 2003. It was only appropriate that the first recipient of the award would be Ruth C. Bishop. Although unaware that FGS planned this tribute, she was most deserving and clearly fit the description of an honoree. The other 2003 recipient was Lorena Joyce Marshall Nicoll of the Montgomery Genealogical Society in Montgomery, Alabama.

The 2004 inductee was Doris Leachman Wastradowski, nominated by the Clark County Genealogical Society of Vancouver, Washington.

The 2005 inductee was Dora Tylor, nominated by the Shenandoah Valley Genealogical Society in Winchester, Virginia.

During this era, the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award was awarded to David E. Rencher in 2005.

The David S. Vogels Jr. Award was presented to James Warren in 2001 and Barbara Dalby in 2005.

The George E. Williams Award was awarded twice in this era, first to Paula Stuart Warren in 2001 and secondly to Starr Hailey Campbell in 2004.


Some Milestones

In October 2001 and again in 2002, Senator Orin Hatch (R) Utah sponsored successful legislation to designate October as “Family History Month.” “Family history sites continue to be some of the most popular on the Internet,” Hatch said. “More than 80 million Americans are actively searching for more information about their ancestors; next to gardening, it’s our nation’s second-most popular hobby."

In recognition of the efforts of Senators Orin Hatch (R) Utah and Robert Bennett (R) Utah, each received an FGS Presidential Citation Award at a special ceremony held at the Wyndham Hotel in Salt Lake City on December 7, 2002. Unfortunately, the senators were prevented from attending due to an important vote in the Senate. Chris Campbell, who worked on this resolution in 2001 on behalf of Senator Hatch, and Tim Sheehan, state director for Senator Bennett’s office, represented the recipients.

At the 2003 Ontario, California, Delegate Luncheon, it was announced that the year 2003 would be the FGS Year of the Volunteer. This gave FGS the opportunity to praise and express gratitude for the never-ending service rendered by our enthusiastic and dependable workers. Member societies were asked to nominate their top volunteers to FGS; their names were announced at the FGS 2004 conference in Orlando, Florida.

In 2004, one of FGS’s most popular membership benefits began operation—Bylaws Review for member societies. This service has continually been heavily used by societies throughout the country.

During this era, FGS continued to provide a national insurance program for genealogical societies and family associations in connection with Acordia Insurance Services of Southern California. Officers of the Federation worked in partnership with James A. Keich, senior vice president at Wells Fargo of California Insurance Services in Sherman Oaks, California, to provide coverage comprising comprehensive general liability for bodily injury and property damage; crime; property including the loss of libraries, computer equipment, etc.; and directors’ and officers’ liability.



At its September 2005 meeting, the FGS board approved a mission statement for a new effort called “Friends of the Federation of Genealogical Societies,” which reads as follows:

In order to enhance the connection between individuals and the “society made up of societies,” the designation “Friends of the Federation of Genealogical Societies” has been established to assist in increasing resources for the Federation and serve as a mechanism to recognize donors.

James M. Beidler, FGS vice president of development said, “While FGS has survived for three decades without doing broad-based fund-raising, if we wish to fulfill the hopes and dreams for our member societies, donations need to be one of our revenue streams.” In developing the program, Curt B. Witcher, a past president of FGS said, “The challenges facing the genealogical community are as consequential today as ever. And by extension, the challenges facing members of the Federation are equally consequential. It is of critical importance that the Federation assists its member organizations in addressing these challenges.”

2005 saw more than $30,000 donated to the new “Friends of FGS” opportunity with a major platinum gift of $25,000 coming from Ruth Bishop. James M. Beidler announced the new fundraising program in the Spring 2006 issue of the FGS Forum.



As part of the 2003 Year of the Volunteer, the U.S. Census Verification Project was announced. Its purpose was to correctly identify the Enumeration Districts on each roll of microfilm provided by the National Archives and Records Administration for the Federal Census years 1900–1930.

2005 saw the completion of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors project, a multi-year effort to index the names of the soldiers and sailors participating in the war on both sides. The project was the brainchild of John Peterson of the National Park Service who had approached FGS years earlier, discouraged by the one dollar per name bid costs associated with indexing the 6.5 million names. His department simply couldn’t afford it. However, the leadership of the Federation stepped up and, in conjunction with a consortium of partners, was able to create the index for a manageable $200,000.


Stern-NARA Gift Fund

At the end of 2005, the Stern-NARA Gift Fund since its inception had funded these microfilming projects:

  • Microfiche of Street Indexes to the 39 larger cities for the 1910 census
  • Galveston Passenger Arrival Records, 1896–1948
  • Canadian Border Crossings (1895–1954) indexes
  • 1920 Census Enumeration Districts
  • Index and War of 1812 Prisoners of War Records
  • Burial Registers for Posts, Camps, and Stations, 1768–1921 (Records of the Quartermaster General)
  • Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879–1903 (Records of the Quartermaster General)
  • Registers of Applications for the Release of Impressed Seamen, 1793–1802, and Related Indexes (Records of the Department of State)
  • Proofs of Citizenship Used to Apply for Seaman’s Protection Certificates for the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1800–1947
  • Record of Appointment of Substitute Clerks in First and Second-Class Post Offices, 1899–1905
  • Index and Registers of Substitute Mail Carriers in First and Second-Class Post Offices, 1885–1903
  • Record Cards of Carriers Separated from the Postal Service, 1863–1899

Donations to the fund continued at a steady pace, now with separate projects for the Million Dollar Project, the War of 1812 pensions and bounty-land warrant records, including both the indexed and unindexed files, and the United States Colored Troops (USCT) Compiled Service Records.



FGS Forum

FGS Forum transformed its look once again beginning with the Spring 2004 issue (Vol. 16, no. 1). The new look moved the index to the cover and embraced an eye-catching full-page historical photo. The first cover photo, compliments of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, spotlighted a tax list that included American patriot Paul Revere, a silversmith by trade.

This year also marked a change in the way FGS Forum subscriptions were managed. Subscriptions were moved from a calendar year to four issues beginning with the next issue following payment.

A number of standard FGS Forum columns, very popular with FGS delegates, were published during this era, including:

  • Family Associations – Christine Rose
  • The Writer’s and Editor’s Craft – Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
  • Web Spinnings – Michael John Neill, later Digitools – Pamela Boyer Porter (Sayre)
  • Ethnic/International – Susan D. Kaufman
  • Notes from the Field – Curt B. Witcher
  • Book and CD Reviews – Paul Milner
Delegate Digest

Beginning with the April 2002 issue, the FGS Delegate Digest was transformed from a printed newsletter issued six times a year to a monthly electronic version delivered via e-mail subscription to delegates of FGS member societies and to officers and board members who subscribe online. George G. Morgan, noted genealogical author and speaker, was the new editor. The new format provided for a more timely and cost-effective means for FGS to get essential information to a society through its delegate.

Strategies Series

FGS Strategies Series published five new papers and one revised issue in 2002 continuing its leadership to provide solid society learning materials for officers and board members. This brought the total number published to fifty-one.


Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC)

RPAC efforts in 2002 included work on the threatened closure of the Florida State Archives.

The year 2003 saw a very real threat to records in the State of California. On Friday, September 20, 2003, Governor Gray Davis signed into law California Senate Bill 1614. The original wording of the bill sought to restrict access to only county record offices. A second part dictated that information in the indexes would be modified to remove the mother’s maiden name from birth indexes. These issues were of major concern to the California State Genealogical Alliance, the latter since they have adoption groups that are members of the Alliance. The RPAC tried to kill the bill from the outset. However, it became clear that this was an administration bill initiated by Governor Gray Davis’s (D) office in response to identity theft issues. When it became clear that the Governor had the votes to push the bill through committee hearings, the House Assembly, and the Senate (all majority Democratic bodies), the RPAC moved its position to one of support if the bill could be amended.

Using a consortium of partners from the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Genealogical Society of Utah, and Ancestry, Inc., the language of the bill was successfully modified to protect open access on the Internet for the nation’s genealogists. The end result is that the bill allowed access online to the indexes for California vital records and companies/organizations that previously purchased the index data were allowed to continue the online publication. The mother’s maiden name, unfortunately, was removed from the birth indexes.



Two presidents served the Federation in the sixth era. Dean J. Hunter, AG, CGRS, was a collection development specialist in the acquisition of British genealogical materials for the Family and Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wendy Bebout Elliott, a professor of history at California State University, Fullerton, succeeded Dean Hunter as president. Wendy had served on the FGS board for several years and held many positions including vice president of administration, vice president of development, secretary, and director.


FGS Membership

FGS opened this era with 600 member societies and organizations, representing roughly 25 percent of the genealogical societies in North America. The era ended with 497 member societies and organizations, an 18 percent decrease in membership as the loss of societies accelerated during this time. Many societies were struggling to survive and ended up closing their doors after years of service. One-third of the FGS charter society members in 1976 had ceased to exist at the close of 2010. One of those, the Sangamon County [Illinois] Genealogical Society closed in 2008. From The State Journal-Register, “After 40 years in existence…organization [leaders] point to Internet, declining membership as reasons…”

During this era, the Federation established the “Friends of FGS” opportunity to sustain the long-term viability of the Federation and to ensure a sound financial footing. Donors were able to add their names to the Friends Roll of Honor. Becoming a Friend of the Federation was viewed as a tangible way to support the Federation’s mission.


Business Office

Duties in the FGS Business Office were contracted with Tina Cavenaugh of Austin, Texas, at the beginning of 2006. Tina served in this position until the end of 2009 when the office duties were facilitated by FGS President Pat Oxley. During this period, Pat moved the office functions to her home and forwarded various office tasks to board members for fulfillment.



Duties in the FGS Business Office were contracted with Tina Cavenaugh of Austin, Texas, at the beginning of 2006. Tina served in this position until the end of 2009 when the office duties were facilitated by FGS President Pat Oxley. During this period, Pat moved the office functions to her home and forwarded various office tasks to board members for fulfillment.

In 2006, FGS contracted with a commercial conference registration provider to process online conference registrations. This greatly reduced the amount of time needed by the manager of the FGS business office and conference registration personnel.

During this era, “Society Management Day” was renamed "Focus on Societies Day."

2006 – Boston, Massachusetts, August 30–September 2, Co-chairs Michael Leclerc and Susan Kaufman. The local host was New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the theme of the conference was “Birthplace of American Genealogy.” With a world-class library and the oldest genealogical society in America, this conference had a built-in draw for genealogists. A number of innovative conference features were implemented, including a four-volume conference syllabus approach, one for each day.

2007 – Ft. Wayne, Indiana, August 15–18, Chair Curt B. Witcher. The Allen County Public Library was the local host. Themed as a “Meeting at the Crossroads of America,” the conference was exceptionally well organized and executed. The Grand Wayne Center fit the needs of the conference and provided an excellent venue with a great program and exhibit hall. Another exciting event at this conference was the first FGS Youth Fair “bringing history to life for the children and their families who attended.”

2008 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 2–6, Chair James Beidler. The conference theme was “Footprints of Family History.” The conference was held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Planners initiated a Wednesday evening opening of the exhibit hall that was welcomed by attendees for its non-competing time to enjoy exhibitor booths.

2009 – Little Rock, Arkansas, September 2–5, Chair Jan Davenport. Arkansas Genealogical Society was the local host, and the conference theme was “Passages through Time.” Held at the historic Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, the duck walk each day was a site to remember. The conference committee was exceptionally experienced and put together an outstanding program. Attendees were rewarded with a wonderful event.

2010 – Knoxville, Tennessee, August 18–21, Chair Cherel Henderson. East Tennessee Historical Society and Kentucky Historical Society were the local co-hosts. The conference theme was “Rediscovering America’s First Frontier.” This conference was a historic first as FGS changed the format of the traditional Friday evening banquet to an evening event at The Museum of Appalachia. A tour of the museum and evening entertainment in character of the setting created a memorable experience for all. Participants were bussed to and from the event, the weather was excellent, and the evening was truly enjoyable.


Technology Conference

A proposal was put forth at the August 2010 FGS board meeting that FGS become an official sponsor of the new technology conference to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The conference was geared toward technology and genealogy, and it would be called RootsTech. It was intended to address the entire spectrum of needs from novices to highly technical people regarding all aspects of technology and genealogy. To become an official sponsor, FGS would need to commit $1,000 and be willing to use its channels of communication to promote the conference. FGS would have its information/logo, etc., used in promotional pieces and would receive recognition as a sponsor. The motion was accepted and passed.


Web Presence

In 2009, the Federation of Genealogical Societies outreach committee was formed to provide resources for FGS member societies to engage those outside the immediate genealogical community. A digital publication titled Reach Out provided resources tailored to specific groups such as libraries, archives, historians, youth, colleges/universities, and a category labeled “outside relationships.” These editions were available in the members-only section on the FGS website.

In 2010, FGS added a significant members-only area to the FGS website and enhanced the site to accept electronic balloting. Josh Taylor worked with Survey Monkey to set up the voting; each delegate received a password that allowed them to vote only once by the target date of September 1. By eliminating the mailing of ballots to delegates each year, the Federation saved significant money.

Part of this enhancement was a re-launch of the successful “Society Hall” where societies could showcase their organizations and publications. This effort required an extensive amount of work to create the framework and landing page on the FGS website.


Major Awards

The Ruth C. Bishop Volunteer Hall of Honor inductee for 2007 was Sharon Lass Field, who was nominated by the Cheyenne Genealogical and Historical Society of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The inductee for 2008 was George K. Schweitzer, nominated by the Southern Kentucky Genealogical Society of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Funding for this award had come from Ruth Bishop and was to be an annual donation. In 2010, Ruth volunteered that progress on the Bishop-Connor Library she intended to build in Portland, Oregon, was stalled due to a lack of funding. In the April 2010 FGS board meeting, it was concluded that there would be no more funding for the award from Ruth Bishop.

During this era, the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award was awarded to Gary Mokotoff in 2006 and Sandra H. Luebking in 2008.

The David S. Vogels Jr. Award was presented to Arthur F. Sniffin Jr. in 2006.

The George E. Williams Award was awarded to Jan Hearn Davenport in 2009.


Some Milestones

With 600 society members at the beginning of 2006, FGS reached a landmark with member societies in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The milestones in FGS membership growth were:

  • 1976 54 members
  • 1980 185 members
  • 1985 220 members
  • 1990 425 members
  • 1995 375 members
  • 2000 558 members
  • 2005 573 members
  • 2006 600 members
  • 2007 622 members

In the spring of 2006, Director Starr Hailey Campbell, FGS youth committee chair, announced and was instrumental in forming the National Youth Family History Society. This web-based youth organization’s aim was to “have a blog, do periodic chats with professionals, mentor, provide education and learn from the youth.”



Preserve the Pensions – In 2010, James Hastings, director of access programs at the National Archives and Records Administration, approached leaders of the Federation to accelerate digitization of the War of 1812 pension records. Although the Federation had announced this as a “Million Dollar Project” some years before, cost estimates now had risen to $2.3 million. Fundraising would take some serious initiative by the Federation. However, from previous fundraising efforts, there was enough money in the Stern-NARA Gift Fund to begin document preparation and image capture.

In partnership with Fold3.com, the Federation negotiated a one-for-one image capture rate in which Fold3 would match the donation for every image funded. When Ancestry.com acquired Fold3 in October 2010, then-CEO Tim Sullivan confirmed that Ancestry.com would continue to match dollar-for-dollar funds that were raised. While this was an in-kind donation in matching image clicks, it nevertheless reduced the overall amount of required fundraising.

Curt B. Witcher was designated to chair the committee tasked with raising the significant funding required to digitize the records. Curt’s successful negotiations resulted in NARA hosting the images free on its website, Archives.gov.

Brock Bierman presented the idea for a project to assist soldiers and their spouses at Walter Reed Hospital to work on their family history to help take their minds off their wounds and pain. FGS could play a key role in connecting soldiers with a local genealogical society upon their return home. Brock would attend the annual FGS conference to promote this project, and information about it was to be published in The Voice.


Stern-NARA Gift Fund

In 2006, the National Archives and Records Administration requested input from the Federation for its long-range planning initiative under the leadership of the newly appointed National Archivist, Allen Weinstein. Weinstein’s appointment by President George W. Bush had been confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 10, 2005. As a historian, he recognized the value of historical and genealogical communities in the preservation of records. Weinstein reached out to the leaders of the Federation during this time for input on access to records in the National Archives.

In a National Archives and Records Administration press release dated September 3, 2009, NARA representatives announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing their partnership with the Malcolm H. Stern-NARA Gift Fund. “FGS is delighted to have formalized this agreement between FGS and the National Archives,” said Pat Oxley, FGS president. James Hastings, director of access programs for the National Archives said, “The continuing support of the genealogical community and the Stern-NARA Gift Fund is crucial in helping to make federal records of interest to genealogists more accessible to people throughout the country.”

In 2009, the Federation approved the expenditure from the Stern-NARA Gift Fund for the purchase of two digital cameras to capture images of homestead files in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska. These records were created by the Homestead Act of 1862 and account for nearly two million entries on public lands. Each file could average fifteen pages. Details of the project appeared in an article in the FGS Forum, Fall 2008, “Digitizing the Homestead Records.”



FGS Forum

With the publication of the 2010 Winter issue (Vol. 22, No. 4), long-time editor Sandra H. Luebking retired. A fitting tribute to her 22 years of work on the FGS Forum and her achievements appears in that issue, and he photo graces the cover. Sandra was a light and inspiration to FGS over the many years she served; she always worked to present a positive influence in board meetings and other occasions when needed. We were saddened at her passing a month-and-a-half later on February 17, 2011. Working right up until the last and giving FGS everything she had was just one of her many qualities.

Matt Wright was chosen as the new editor of the FGS Forum and was able to “learn the ropes” from Sandra during the transition period. In his words, “I am totally aware of the expectation that comes from following in the footsteps of Sandra Luebking, who was the heart and soul of this publication for so many years. Sandra will be missed as a friend, a colleague, and a guiding light in the field of genealogy.”

Delegate Digest

Published under that name since 1993, in 2009 was renamed the Voice Newsletter. This publication is a key communication vehicle to keep the great genealogical community informed through its network of delegates.


Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC)

In an era filled with several significant issues that threatened record access, the RPAC published a foundational white paper in 2008 representing the views of genealogists across the country. “Open Access to Public Records: A Genealogical Perspective” provided critical information to make our case with NAPHSIS and legislators throughout the country. Concerns that the white paper could be used to close open records in some states proved unfounded; no records were closed as a result of the publication.

Survival of some valuable genealogical resources was threatened in the summer of 2009 with a proposal to dismantle the Library of Michigan, scatter the materials gathered over 180  years and occupying 27 miles of shelving, and turn the building into an interactive museum and a magnet school.

RPAC, working with colleagues on the Michigan Genealogical Council, provided relevant information to Michigan decision-makers and assisted in developing more appropriate options. RPAC members were struck by the largely unrealized and unadvertised potential for the Library of Michigan to serve as a magnet for tourism dollars. On behalf of the RPAC, Curt B. Witcher, manager of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library (ACPL), traveled to Lansing to share with Michigan cohorts the extent to which the Allen County Public Library was a major generator of tourist dollars in Fort Wayne and to suggest ways in which Library of Michigan holdings might serve a similar function. Of the 100,000-plus visitors to the Allen County Public Library Genealogical Center each year, 85 percent are from outside Allen County. Their indirect economic impact is estimated to expand the economy of Allen County by almost $7 million each year.

In the end, the State Archives of Michigan, located directly across the hall from the Library of Michigan, absorbed the library collection and access to it was preserved.

In 2009, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies became a sponsoring member of RPAC along with NGS and FGS. This added a higher level of visibility into the International perspective of records preservation and access



Two presidents managed the Federation in the seventh era, but technically there were three. Wendy Bebout Elliott served her first and second terms as president, having been elected in 2005. In the 2008 election, she was succeeded by J. Mark Lowe of Springfield, Tennessee. However, due to extenuating personal circumstances, Mark was not able to serve and tendered his resignation on January 3, 2009 just after taking office on January 1, 2009. He was immediately succeeded as president by Patricia Oxley of Austin, Texas, who had been elected as the vice president of administration. Jan Hearn Davenport was appointed by Patricia Oxley to fill her vacant position. Patricia “Pat” had served in various capacities with the Federation since 2002 and was exceptionally good at conference management and fiscal responsibility.

Information for this history was compiled from back issues of the FGS Forum, FGS files, and the organizational history materials compiled for the FGS 40th Anniversary.


FGS Membership

With the 2009 Summer Issue (Vol. 21, No. 2), the FGS Forum reported the last printed listing of FGS member societies with a count of 511. During the eighth era, membership hovered around the 500 mark and fluctuated with variations in successful membership drives and renewals. The membership committee reached out to societies that had not renewed and were given a variety of reasons. Again, in many instances, the societies had closed their doors.


Business Office

Managing the business office in this era was a challenge, and much of the work fell to members of the executive committee and the board of directors. Business office functions were finally contracted with Karen Matheson in 2012. She filled this function until September 2014 when she moved away from  Austin, Texas, where the FGS post office box was located. FGS Secretary Linda McCauley monitored FGS office phone voicemail and office email starting in February 2015. In the spring of 2015, Director Teri Flack began monitoring the post office box and distributing the mail.



2011 – Springfield, Illinois, September 7–10, Co-chairs D. Joshua Taylor and Paula Stuart-Warren. Illinois State Genealogical Society was the local host, and the conference theme was “Pathways to the Heartland.” This was an immensely successful conference. Local publicity was exceptional, and the facility was barely large enough to accommodate the event. It was at this conference that leaders met with the organizers of RootsTech to discuss a joint event in 2015.

2012 – Birmingham, Alabama, August 29 –September 1, Chair David E. Rencher. The Alabama Genealogical Society was the local host, and the conference theme was “Indians, Squatters, Settlers and Soldiers in the ‘Old Southwest.’” This conference debuted the first use of a conference app for an FGS event, based on the Guidebook app platform. This was a solid FGS conference, and the local team worked hard to put on an excellent event. Television crews were on hand to start the event, and many people were drawn into the exhibit hall from the local publicity. A side trip to the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark and an evening at the Alabama Theatre were special highlights.

2013 – Ft. Wayne, Indiana, August 21–24, Chair Paula Stuart-Warren. Allen County Public Library was the local host. The conference theme was “Journey Through Generations.” Platinum sponsor Ancestry.com orchestrated a giveaway to benefit the Preserve the Pensions (PTP) project. Participants who donated to PTP were entered to win one of two gift bags valued at over $300 each. Another prize was an elaborate quilt created by more than a dozen Genea-Quilters using patterns from 1812–1900, when War of 1812 pensioners’ wives and mothers would have made similar pieces. This quilt was awarded during Friday evening festivities at Allen County Public Library.

2014 – San Antonio, Texas, August 27–30, Chair Edgie Donakey. San Antonio Genealogical Society was the local host, with a conference theme of “Gone to Texas.” This was an excellent conference in a historical setting. Conference organizers were challenged with an evening event that anticipated bad weather, so a large tent was erected at considerable expense. The weather held, and the tent’s shade provided guests a welcome benefit. Attendees enjoyed all that San Antonio had to offer at the conference location right on the Riverwalk.

2015 – Salt Lake City, Utah, February 11–14, Chair D. Joshua Taylor. Combined with RootsTech 2015, the conference theme was “Connect.Explore.Refresh.” This year brought a big difference to the traditional FGS genealogical conference. For the first time, FGS combined its event with another major conference. The FGS and NGS conference planning chairs had previously agreed to rotate their conferences every five years in Salt Lake City. With NGS hosting its conference in SLC in 2010, FGS was slated to return in 2015. In 2011, RootsTech emerged on the scene and was an instant success. Rather than compete with the event, FGS chose to combine forces. FGS President D. Joshua Taylor said, “FamilySearch has been a valued partner and sponsor for FGS during its past conferences. It only makes sense for both organizations to work together and produce what will be the most talked about genealogy event of 2015.

2015 – FGS Alaskan Cruise, sailed on August 28 from Seattle, Washington, cruising the Alaska Inside Passage, Chair Patricia Oxley. The cruise ship was the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas. With years of experience participating in cruises, Pat Oxley suggested that FGS try a genealogical cruise format. It was an instant success, and those who attended wanted more. A downturn in the economy and the cruise industry has not made this viable to continue. However, this FGS event helped to bolster conference revenues for the year.

2015 – Syracuse, New York, September 17–19, New York State Family History Conference in conjunction with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the Central New York Genealogical Society, FGS Society Program Chair D. Joshua Taylor. Another innovative approach in 2015 was the concept to add the slate of society management-focused sessions to an existing state conference. FGS President Josh Taylor prototyped this event, and it went remarkably well. FGS presenters could focus on the society sessions and add value to the main program as well. This brought in nationally recognized speakers to the CNYGS and NYG&B program; both organizations were pleased with the results.


Web Presence

With Thomas MacEntee on the FGS board and acting as FGS 2011 national publicity chair, FGS soon had a conference blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Delegates of the Federation and genealogists across the country could follow FGS and stay informed at all levels. Thomas’s wit and humor added to the experience of staying informed in what he termed the "Conference GPS."

In 2011, the Federation also released a mobile app for iOS devices offering easy access to FGS services.

On August 28, 2012, at its annual conference in Birmingham, Alabama, the Federation of Genealogical Societies launched its new website. The theme of the new website, “Learn.Connect.Succeed” became the mantra of the Federation and its ambassadors. The new look greeted users with a strikingly colorful experience, and there were a number of new features. In launching the new website, George G. Morgan, vice president of membership said, “We believe that a website is never complete. It is a dynamic ambassador to the world, and it must stay up-to-date. New content should be added frequently, news must be rapidly communicated, and the site must always be easy to use.” Many of the added features continue to be updated and have migrated with the ever-changing Federation.

In 2013, the Federation launched a mobile app for iOS and Android allowing access to all three FGS websites—FGS, Preserve the Pensions, and the FGS Conference. A blog for Preserve the Pensions was also introduced.


Major Awards

In April 2014, the Technology Advances Award was established. This certificate honors an innovative product that enhances the genealogy experience, genealogy community, or records preservation. It may be presented to an organization, business, or individual.

Also in April 2014, the Federation established the Outstanding Society Technology Award to recognize a tech-savvy FGS member society for its website, online presence, social networking, blog, or specific technology-related project that provides examples and ideas from which other societies can benefit.

The Archives Award, awarded to an organization or individual in recognition of exceptional contributions in the area of archival access, preservation, or services was presented in 2011 to Willie L. Covington, Durham County, North Carolina, register of deeds. Seeing that the county’s birth, delayed birth, and death records were at risk, he ensured their long-term preservation by encapsulating them in acid-free protective sheets. The Archives Award was also given to Roscoe Hasting for digitizing the Warren County, New York, state censuses, Warren County Civil War registrations, and the 1827 Surrogate Court minutes book and the Surrogate Court index book 1813–1940. Held by the town clerk of Warrensburg are Roscoe’s digitized and indexed Warrensburg birth records 1883–1945, death records 1882–1966 and marriage records 1883–1973, among others.

On September 8, 2011, at the FGS Conference in Springfield, Illinois, at the direction of President Pat Oxley, FGS announced the creation of a new award to recognize and encourage a phenomenon that was assuming greater importance to the genealogical community—the FGS Genealogical Tourism Award.

FGS envisioned potential ways in which tourism and recreation departments across the country might promote and encourage the use of genealogical resources within their states. That vision was realized when FGS leaders saw the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation's website at www.travelOK.com, the embodiment of genealogical tourism promotion. That it was truly a labor of love was manifest on every page.

Within twenty-four hours of first visiting the site, FGS leaders realized that they should encourage the library and tourism communities to emulate this example, leading to the creation of this FGS award.

The first-ever FGS Genealogical Tourism Award was presented to Curt B. Witcher, the Genealogy Center manager of the Allen County Public Library, for support to the Ft. Wayne Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The second award in this category was presented the same year to Deby Snodgrass, director of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, and her team for creating the service we had only dreamed of, offering an exemplar we can point to, and for providing the inspiration for the creation of this award.

In 2015, the FGS Genealogical Tourism Award was given to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, recognizing Salt Lake City as a genealogical destination.

The David S. Vogels Jr. award was presented to Patricia Oxley in 2014.


Some Milestones

FGS Survey – In 2013, the Federation published the result of the State of our Societies survey. We learned that 345 was the average number of members in a genealogical society. Excitingly, nearly 34 percent of FGS member societies had seen an increase in their membership over the past three years. That was balanced with the fact that just over 20 percent of FGS member societies had seen a decrease in membership, while 35 percent reported that their membership had remained the same. Societies that responded to the survey indicated an average renewal rate of 81 percent. At this time, 88 percent of societies published a newsletter. Of those, 65 percent distributed their newsletter via electronic and postal mail, while 20 percent only delivered their newsletter electronically. Fourteen percent still provided only a paper option for newsletter delivery.

The Federation announced at its FGS 2013 conference that an agreement had been reached with Dell, Inc., headquartered in Austin, Texas, to provide discounted products to members of FGS societies and to societies themselves through the Dell Member Purchase Program. The program is available to all members of member societies and their families. Discounts range from 35-70% on a variety of products on the Dell website. To take advantage of the program, visit http://www.dell.com/mpp/fgs or call 1-800-695-8133 and use the FGS member ID US131372490.

In addition, Dell provided prizes to assist in the fundraising effort for the Preserve the Pensions project. There were product giveaways for the following conferences during this era:

  • 2013 – One Dell tablet at the Ft. Wayne FGS/ACPL Conference
  • 2014 – Two Dell computers at the San Antonio FGS/SAGS Conference
  • 2015 – One Dell tablet at the Salt Lake City, FGS/RootsTech2015 Conference


Member Benefits

In 2011, the Federation launched a webinar series to provide society management education online. New services to member societies also included website and newsletter reviews. This year also saw the introduction of the first Internet radio show dedicated to genealogical societies with the launch of My Society.



Preparations in 2015 were focused on the 40th anniversary celebration slated for the FGS conference to be held the next year in Springfield, Illinois. The FGS Forum was to spotlight the fifty-four charter members, introduce the current FGS board, and highlight a variety of activities in the year-long celebration.

Also in 2015, the Federation worked to get the word out to its member societies and communities to host branch parties for the Global Family Reunion. The Reunion was formed to celebrate the interconnectedness of our global family, focus on our similarities instead of our differences, and serve as a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research. The founder of the Global Family Reunion was the bestselling author A. J. Jacobs, whose books include The Year of Living Biblically, The Know-It-All, and Drop Dead Healthy. Jacobs’s efforts were also the subject of a book he was writing, It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, published in 2017. The Reunion was held June 6, 2015, at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York City, the site of the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs. Representatives from FGS were present to give sessions and support the effort.


Stern-NARA Gift Fund

At the 2015 combined RootsTech/FGS Conference in Salt Lake City, attendees donated $11,450 to the Preserve the Pensions project. Those funds, coupled with the Ancestry match to help save these fragile documents. translated to imaging over 50,000 pages from the pension files.



FGS Forum – Matt Wright concluded his duties as full-time editor of the FGS Forum at the end of 2012. He was joined by co-editor Sue Zacharias with the Spring issue of 2013. The FGS Forum “quietly entered the world of Facebook on April 28, 2013.” Matt Wright and Sue Zacharias stepped down as co-editors at the end of 2014, and Julie Cahill Tarr and Jennifer Alford became the new co-editors. Regular columns appearing in the FGS Forum during this era were:

  • Member Society News – Lisa A. Alzo
  • Family Associations – Christine Rose (retired with Winter 2014 issue)
  • Various Topics – Drew Smith
  • Technology – Randy Whited
  • Genealogy Blogging – Amy Coffin
  • Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) – Linda McCleary
  • Book Reviews – Paul Milner (retired with Winter 2014 issue)
  • Genealogy 2.0 – Randy Seaver

The FGS Forum continued its focus on societies with solid management articles in every issue. Some great examples of this are “Welcoming and Training New Members to a Board” by  Jenette Nagy and Phil Rabinowitz (Summer Vol. 25, No. 2). Also, “Revitalize Your Society” by Julie Cahill Tarr (Fall Vol. 25, No. 3).

FGS Voice Blog – celebrated events throughout 2015 anticipating the 40th Anniversary of the Federation.

Bylaws Workbook 2nd Edition – The Federation published the second edition of Bylaws Workbook: A Handbook for New and Established Societies, compiled by Marica S. Lindley and revised by Roberta “Bobbi” King.


Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC)

A significant threat to record access was introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas with the HR3475, “Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011” amending Section 205R of the Social Security Act. In February 2012, Fred Moss, FGS legal counsel, launched a “We the People Petition” at the whitehouse.gov website on behalf of the RPAC. The Stop ID Theft NOW! Petition alerted the genealogical and historical communities to the legislation in the Ways and Means Committee that would remove the Social Security Death Index from public websites. More than 5,000 signatures were gathered in just over a month. Ultimately the bill led to the loss of the Social Security Death Master File for use by the genealogical community. Tight regulations on who could receive copies of the data and the prohibitive costs of the file ultimately removed it from public access. Existing copies available with some genealogical online companies were modified with the removal of the SSN# and are still in existence but are not kept current with information that was supposed to be released after three years.

In the Spring of 2012, the RPAC began to closely monitor the revision of the 1992 Model Vital Statistics Act that was being updated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). FGS Legal Counsel Fred Moss was the RPAC liaison to the CDC and actively participated in the process the next eight years. The National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) endorsed the 2011 Revision of the Model State Vital Statistics Act and Regulations and encouraged state vital registration executives to introduce legislation that supported the 2011 Draft Revision. The proposed Model Act extends the closure periods to 125 years after the date of a live birth, 75 years after the date of death, or 100 years after the date of marriage or divorce. While still unresolved, promising steps are being taken. The issue can be followed on the RPAC blog.

David E. Rencher stepped down as chair of the Records Access and Preservation Committee in January 2013 after 13 years of service, having succeeded Jack A. Brissee in the position in May 2000. Janet A. Alpert, a long-time member of the committee representing NGS, was appointed the new chair. David remained on the committee as a representative of FGS.

In 2014, the Records Preservation and Access Committee initiated the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights, a statement advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. The Declaration affirms America’s long history of open public records, which has been threatened the last few years over concerns about identity theft and privacy. The effort pushed for 10,000 signatures by the end of 2015.

In 2015, RPAC became a member of the National Coalition for History (NCH) and will have a rotating seat on the NCH Board. This will give RPAC more leverage for legislation and partnerships.



Two presidents served during the eighth era. President Patricia Oxley completed her second term in 2012. During Pat’s terms of service, she guided FGS to financial stability, streamlined a number of operations within the organization, and managed a number of successful FGS conferences. D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS, succeeded Pat Oxley and served two consecutive terms from 2013–2016. He previously served on the FGS Board as the vice president of administration. He was the former director of education and programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, Mass. During his administration, he was also a host on the popular PBS Genealogy Roadshow, which premiered on September 23, 2013.


Information for this history was compiled from back issues of the FGS Forum, FGS files, and the organizational history materials compiled for the FGS 40th Anniversary.


FGS Membership


Business Office

Director Teri Flack continued to monitor the post office box in Austin and forward the mail as needed. Linda McCauley continued to handle the email account and telephone voice mail until the spring of 2017, when the FGS business office function was contracted with Patricia Boone. In the fall of 2018, Director Cari Taplin took over the post office box duties until they were able to forward the mail directly to Pat.



2016 – Springfield, Illinois, August 31–September 3, Chair Janice Fritsch. The conference theme was “Time Travel, Centuries of Memories.” With the success of the 2011 FGS conference in Springfield, FGS returned for another conference. In the interim, the convention center had been thoroughly renovated and many of the challenges experienced in the 2011 event had been addressed. FGS celebrated its 40th Anniversary Gala at this conference with an evening of remembering, celebrating, and a bit of sleuthing. The event featured the first ever “FGS Quest” with an opportunity to win subscriptions to favorite genealogical websites and other prizes valued at more than $27,000.

2017 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 30–September 2, Chair Linda McCauley. Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society was the local host, and the conference theme was “Building Bridges to the Past.” The event was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The 2017 conference broke new ground with three “no-compete” times on the schedule allowing attendees to visit the Exhibit Hall without missing sessions or luncheons—Thursday’s grand opening, Friday’s in-exhibit hall lunch, and Saturday’s exhibit hall live. “Vendor Bucks” were introduced; every paid attendee was given $10 in vendor bucks to spend in the exhibit hall, and it was an instant success.

2017 – Wisconsin Dells, Gene-A-Rama, April 7–8, Wisconsin Regional Conference with the Wisconsin Genealogical Society, Society Chair David E. Rencher. Building on the model prototyped in 2015 for the NYG&B conference, FGS coupled its society management format with another state conference. This event also proved to be an excellent event adding the advantages of national speakers to the main conference.

2018 – Ft. Wayne, Indiana, August 22–25, Co-chairs Curt B. Witcher and Allison Singleton. The Allen County Public Library was the local host. The conference theme was “On the Three Rivers Past, Present & Future.” An outstanding conference can always be held in Ft. Wayne. With the Grand Wayne Center adjacent to the Allen County Public Library, genealogists are in pure heaven! The planning and execution were exceptional as ACPL staff built on their extensive conference management skills. The conference kicked off with a DNA reveal by Blaine Bettinger and Judy G. Russell for four local media personalities who were taken on a family history journey of discovery. News anchor, Terra Brantley (CBS affiliate), Linda Jackson (NBC affiliate), Alexis Shear (ABC affiliate), and Justin Prince (Fox affiliate) were all presented with the results of the DNA tests and pieces of their family history in one of four daily plenary sessions. Staff at the ACPL had worked many hours to compile the material, and it was an exceptional conference event.

2019 – Washington, DC, August 21–24, Co-chairs Pamela Sayre and Jane G. Halderman. The conference theme was, “Come Home to Our Washington, DC.” The conference was held in the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel and Conference Center, opened in 1931. A virtual mecca for research facilities, Washington, DC, is a genealogist’s playground, and pre-conference workshops were arranged in that playground at NARA, the Library of Congress, and the DAR Library. To help facilitate these events, Rick and Pam Sayre, who have extensive experience researching in Washington, DC, organized pre-recorded webinars for the attendees, and the series of twelve webinars was made available to conference attendees and subscribers of Legacy Family Tree Webinars. The 2019 conference approached the focus on societies differently, sprinkling the sessions over a newly formatted four-day conference event instead of the full society day on Wednesday followed by a three-day conference event. Everyone enjoyed the celebration at Friday night’s event, Swing Back to the 30s with Your Ancestors! However, the biggest announcement was the proposed merger of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society made by President Faye Stallings in the opening session of the conference.

2020 – Kansas City, Missouri, September 2, Co-chairs Sherri Camp, Cherie Bush, and Cheryl Lang. The Midwest Genealogy Center at Mid-Continent Public Library was the local host. The theme of the conference was “Blazing Trails in the Heart of America.” Due to COVID-19, the final FGS conference was converted to a virtual event. This was disappointing to the many loyal supporters of FGS as it was intended to be a celebration of the last official FGS conference. It was still an outstanding success and the conference organizers did everything possible to celebrate this outstanding moment in history with a terrific event. A live event was held on September 2, and pre-recorded sessions were available to registered participants.


Web Presence

The Federation was ready for a much-needed facelift and web presence. President D. Joshua Taylor and Secretary Linda McCauley developed the site on Neon. Josh's familiarity with the back-end system for Neon greatly facilitated the new website. Linda first met with the Neon team on May 18, 2018, and the new site formally launched on August 9, 2018. At the same time Linda was helping launch the new website, she was also serving as the FGS 2018 conference chair for Pittsburgh. Talk about double-duty! A tour of the new website was published in the Winter issue of the FGS Forum (Vol. 30, No. 4).


Major Awards

In September 2016, the Federation established the Lou D. Szucs Service Award. This award is a plaque presented to recognize the contributions of an individual whose positive personal influence and extraordinary service to FGS and the genealogy industry have gone above and beyond the norm, impacting the overall benefit to the genealogical community at large and spreading the awareness of family history to the general public.

The Lou D. Szucs Service Award was presented to Paula Stuart-Warren in 2017, Curt B. Witcher in 2018, and David E. Rencher in 2019.

The Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award was presented to Loretto “Lou” Szucs for being a constant supporter and visionary for the genealogical community in 2016.

In 2017, the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award was presented to Tony Burroughs for his efforts in the genealogical community and as founder and CEO of the Center for Black Genealogy.

The Genealogical Tourism Award was presented to Rich Williams, director of sales and marketing of the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, Salt Lake City, Utah in 2017.

In 2018, the Genealogical Tourism Award was presented to Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne of the Fort Wayne/Allen County Convention and Visitors Bureau, in recognition of its hospitality to genealogists from all over the world.

The David S. Vogels Jr. Award was presented to Linda McCauley in 2019.


Some Milestones

Merger of FGS with NGS – These were days never to be forgotten, as the Federation of Genealogical Societies board and the board of the National Genealogical Society in historic meetings both voted on July 14, 2020, to merge the two organizations effective October 1, 2020. The merger was finalized with a vote of FGS member societies on July 16, 2020, when enough votes to constitute a quorum of members were cast.

The benefits were obvious from the beginning of the discussions. The Federation could focus on what it was doing well—serving the needs of genealogical societies—and NGS could focus on its primary mission of genealogical education. The effort to put on a national conference each year was detracting from resources that the Federation could use to better serve societies. Society management sessions at the FGS national conferences could be appended to the annual NGS conference and a joint event would still serve the needs of both communities.

NGS added four current board members to the NGS board to help smooth the transition. FGS President Faye Stallings, VP-Development David E. Rencher, Director Cherie Passey, and Director Ed Donakey were all added to the NGS board. Cherie Passey was installed as the new vice president-society management, and Ed Donakey as the NGS secretary, filling two positions on the NGS executive committee. Faye Stallings and David E. Rencher were added as NGS directors.

With a new vice president position focusing on the needs of societies, FGS now had the advantage of a full-time office staff and resources to promote society benefits and improve communications across societies. The Records Preservation and Access Committee continued to have FGS representation with former representatives FGS Legal Advisor Fred Moss, past RPAC Chair David E. Rencher, and Faye Stallings.

Dell giveaways in this era:

  • 2018 – Computer at the FGS Conference
  • 2019 – 43-inch flat-panel monitor to the Ontario Genealogical Society (Canada)



The biggest announcement of 2016 occurred at the FGS conference in Springfield, Illinois. With the receipt of an anonymous donation of $500,000 just as the conference was getting started, the Preserve the Pensions Project was now fully funded.

In 2015/2016, the Federation was approached by the National Park Service’s Palo Alto Battlefield National Park to develop a free searchable database to tell the stories of the 130,000 soldiers of the U.S. Mexican War. They requested the Federation to assist with the indexing of the names to create the database. Former FGS Treasurer Patricia Rand took up the challenge on behalf of FGS and became the project coordinator to oversee the indexing. In January 2020, the online database was launched.


Stern-NARA Gift Fund

Donations continued to the Stern-NARA Gift Fund even after the completion of the Preserve the Pensions Project funding. In the merger with the National Genealogical Society, the funds and the management of the funds was transferred. Representatives familiar with the administration of the fund were appointed to the NGS board and continue to assist in the administration of the fund and in identifying additional projects with the National Archives and Records Administration.


Publications and Webinars

FGS Forum – Julie Cahill Tarr assumed sole editorship of the FGS Forum in 2016. The 2016 issues of the FGS Forum focused a yearlong spotlight on the Federation’s 40th Anniversary.

The book review editor position remained vacant until the 2016 Spring issue of the FGS Forum (Vol. 28, No. 1) when Melissa Barker succeeded Paul Milner who had served in that position for 14 years and retired at the end of 2014.

At the end of 2017, the FGS Forum editor solicited letters to the editor on “how an article helped you with society management endeavors or your personal research.” Letters also were solicited on topics related to genealogy or society management to be answered by knowledgeable experts and presented in future issues. In 2018, the FGS Forum began answering selected letters.


FGS Webinar Series

During this era, the Federation produced a number of FGS webinars that focused on topics important to society leaders and members. The monthly webinars are available in the members-only section of the website. Some of the webinars included:

  • Building Bridges Between Societies – Kim Ashford
  • The Social Media Manager Role in Today’s Society
  • Borrowing Corporate Strategies – Laurie Hermance-Moore
  • The Nominating Committee – David Rencher


Record Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC)

Jan Alpert, Records Preservation and Access Committee chair worked with the Council of State Archivists, National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and Society of American Archivists to support their newly crafted Joint Statement on Access to State and Local Records. Due to the strong support of genealogists and being one of the archives’ largest customer groups, it is important to show this support to government entities.

In 2017, RPAC member Jan Meisels Allen conducted a webinar for the state liaisons on how to research state statutes and regulations, especially for the upcoming legislative sessions. The Federation made the webinar slides available on the RPAC website.

Jan Alpert, RPAC chair, reported that “the General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR) went into effect in the European Union on May 25, 2018.” The repercussions were felt in the United States. Because so many websites are global and hold data, the entities that manage the information have to obtain the permission of the users to keep their information. Two databases that were immediately impacted were FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch.

An overview of the mission and purpose of RPAC appeared in the July–September 2019 issue of the NGS Magazine, “Record Preservation and Access Committee: Working for Genealogists,” by Chair Jan Alpert. As reported in that article, there was breaking news:

“NAPHSIS to Draft New Model Act – On 22 August 2019, Shawna Webster, executive director of NAPHSIS, participated on the RPAC panel at the FGS 2019 Family History Conference in Washington, DC. Ms. Webster stated that the leadership of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) had recently completed a strategic planning process which included a decision to draft a new model act including shorter embargo periods for birth and death records.”

“According to Ms. Webster, NAPHSIS, as a technology provider of birth and death data for state and federal use, needs to be more nimble and able to respond more quickly to changing norms. For the next draft, NAPHSIS plans to engage subject matter experts including genealogists. NAPHSIS will need the help of RPAC and genealogists to make the case for greater access to vital records.”

“The members of RPAC are hopeful but realistic. To change direction in fifty-seven vital records jurisdictions and to obtain approval by the respective state legislatures will take a concerted effort by genealogists across the country well into the next decade.”

This shift in sentiment by NAPHSIS was the result of many hours of work by FGS Legal Counsel Frederick Moss. A significant amount of work had been done since 2012 when RPAC began working to prevent or shorten the embargo dates restricting access to vital records.



There were three presidents and one acting president during this ninth and last era. President D. Joshua Taylor continued his term until the end of 2016. Rorey Cathcart was elected and began her term at the beginning of 2017 but unfortunately had to step down in May 2018 due to health. Vice President of Administration Teri Flack became acting president in May 2018 and served until the FGS elections at the end of the year. Faye Stallings was elected president and served from January 2019 until October 1, 2020, the date of the merger with NGS. Faye was instrumental in executing the merger with the National Genealogical Society, facilitated by her business background with mergers in her professional career.


Information for this history was compiled from back issues of the FGS Forum, FGS files, and the organizational history materials compiled for the FGS 40th Anniversary.