FGS History, Part III

FGS History: Looking Back

Looking Back, Part III: 1985–1989 by Loretto Dennis Szucs

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 SourceThe LibraryThe 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.

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.

Continue to Part IV: 1990-1994