Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Ontario Genealogical Society Webinars

Today on Facebook in the Huron County Genealogy group I saw a call for webinar topics for the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) for 2015, and it got me to thinking.  The webinars made me wonder about getting a membership, which in turn got me looking into the advantages of membership, such as resources available.  It also made me try to find the call for topics on the OGS site  In my opinion, the OGS is making some errors.

Let's start with the webinars.  You must be a member to join a live webinar, or to view an archived webinar.  The cost of a one year membership is just over $60.  This means that if I was only interested in the single webinar it would cost me the same as a one year membership.  I understand there may be a reason or reasons they only want members to participate in a live webinar, but restricting archived webinars to members only is self defeating.  Archived webinars should be available to anybody for a small fee, say between $2 and $5.  The OGS could easily allow people to pay through a service like PayPal.  Allowing anyone to access an archived webinar makes genealogy more accessible to all, especially people who are younger.  The same process/logic can be applied to the live webinars too, and unless there is a very strong reason not to make the live webinars available on a pay per view basis I would recommend allowing it.  The advantage to the OGS of charging a small fee for the webinars is that it will make money.  Another advantage to the OGS and the wider genealogical community is that by example it will raise the standards for research, allowing more accurate information to be presented by the wider genealogical community.

I found memberships with the OGS rather odd too.  An individual must join for a calendar year, there is no pro-rating, and the partial membership option charges for just more than half a year, even if you will only use it for two and a half months.  The availability of the partial membership makes it look like if you join in April you pay for an entire year.  From a technical point of view there is no excuse for not pro-rating membership, even if the OGS wishes to have all memberships renewed every January.  From a practical point of view the OGS is foregoing revenues, making it more difficult for people who wish to explore Ontario genealogy, and discouraging people from even joining due to the fee structure.  There are large numbers of Membership Management softwares available that are both free and open source.  One that I have seen mentioned a number of times is called Wild Apricot and is based in Toronto.  Incidentally, that's not an endorsement.  I simply saw it mentioned in several "best software lists".

The resources that the OGS offers to members are rather hard to evaluate, as the only way you can see the resource(s) available online is to become a member.  For example their databases that can be searched only by members.  But what are the databases?  BMD notices from newspapers and books?  If so which books/newspapers?  Strays from Ontario?  Cemetery transcriptions?  There is no list so there is no way to tell.  There is both a newsletter and a journal, but once again no information about the contents of either.  It would not be terribly difficult to post at least the table of contents from the most recent journal issues, and work back to older issues non electronic issues as time and resources permit.  As for why the newsletter is available only to members I am at a loss.  As it is like most newsletters it is about events that are coming up, member profiles, etc, just the sort of thing you want people to know to encourage them to join or otherwise become involved.  Some of the resources available to members are just plain mysterious.  Exactly what is "Families"  What are the member forms and resources?  And why is the message board completely private?  Even if they don't want non-members to post that is no excuse to keep the posts themselves private.

The OGS could do itself, and genealogists with an interest in Ontario a great service by simply by describing the resources available, and making more available, even at a small fee.  By doing so they would both increase their revenues, make Ontario genealogy more approachable to the novice and veteran alike, and increase their membership.  Currently the OGS website does not make the OGS come across as an organization that is welcoming and friendly.  While the OGS should make its own "brand", it could also take some pointers from the layout and resource availability of the Devon Family History Society.

Finally, the 2015 webinar call for submissions?  I never did find a link to it on the OGS website, but you may download the form here.  the deadline is tomorrow, Aug 15, 2014.

England - Part 1, Devon

I went on holiday to England just a few weeks back, and spent a week in Exeter, Devon, and a week in London.  Unfortunately I did not get much time to do genealogy.  I spent about 1.5 hours at the Devon Family History Society Tree House, where I was able to get a copy of a map, and a few hints.  The most important hint was about people who came into the "social welfare" system of mid nineteenth century England.  Apparently one would be interviewed before being granted money.  The purpose of the interview was to determine if you were really a resident of the parish.  If you weren't, then you were sent packing, i.e., "We don't need to pay for you, ask someone else."  Some things never change.

At any rate, these interviews, removal interviews, told significant amounts about the individual - name, birth-date, birthplace, names and birth-dates/places of any children, information about a spouse, places one had lived, etc.  Getting a copy of the removal interview for Mary Seldon who was the wife of John Halls, would help determine who was related to who, and how John fits into the larger Halls family from the Merton area.

I had hoped to get to Merton, but was unable to rent a car, due mostly to my nervousness about driving on the left of the road.  I could have arranged a car rental, but it would have involved driving through downtown Exeter during rush hour, which was not what I wanted my first experience with driving in England to be.  Granted it could have been worse, I might have wanted to drive in London.  The take away lesson is to arrange my car rental before I leave Canada.

My family and I did the tourist thing in south Devon.  We went to Exmouth and did a cruise along the coast.  We visited Plymouth, which is a beautiful city from what I saw.  We did a cruise on the Tamar to Morwellham Quay, site of the Edwardian Farm tv show.

Exeter is vastly underrated.  The city wall, which is still 90% complete dates back to when Exeter was a Roman city, the cathedral dates to the 1100's.  There are mediaeval tunnels under portions of the area around the cathedral.  I took the tour of the tunnels, and when I was reviewing the pictures I had taken I found bones.  This was something of a shock because the tunnels are not advertised as having being used for burials, much less being told we might find bones scattered on the floors.  Given the age, it wouldn't surprise me though.

Overall visiting Devon was a wonderful time, my only regret being unable to spend a day in the Merton/Meeth/Dolton area.