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.