06/12/2017
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Planning for successful events

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In a town near you, there’s likely an enthusiastic band of family historians  - your local family history society members. These hardworking volunteers run family history societies to help teach people about family history and work to preserve the historic records of the area for the future. The range of historic projects they are involved in is vast. Read on for an inspiring example…

Q The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) clearly has a thriving programme of events. Can you share your ideas on how you accomplish this?

A (Glenn Wright, former President BIFHSGO) We have been blessed with program directors who have been very cognizant of trends in family history. The best example would be the overwhelming interest in DNA – our Special Interest Group on DNA attracts 60 to 75 attendees. We are attuned to the calendar as well – November almost always features a military talk (our meeting is always within days of our Remembrance Day), March is time for an Irish topic, etc. I really think it is the mix of education and information that really keeps our members coming back month after month -- last year (September to June), we averaged 150 per meeting (and that is with no coffee break!).

Q Tell us about your conferences, and advice for fellow societies thinking or organising an event.

A Several years ago, we made a conscious decision to invite speakers from the UK or the United States, known specialists who would be willing to prepare a workshop or two and speak three or four times. This year, focussing on England, for example, we had Celia Heritage and she was very popular; likewise, Paul Milner from the USA. Next year we will focus on Scotland. We felt years ago and we still feel that the investment in travel and accommodation is well worth the cost and our membership certainly appreciate such speakers – bringing in ‘outsiders’ has always been to the benefit of our attendees.

Much effort is devoted to conference planning which will start again in January for next year. First on the agenda, selecting a keynote speaker or two, making contact and confirming. The program flows from that decision, there is a very clear plan to the program -- we always have a call for papers and almost always have more than we can accommodate on our program. 

Publicity starts early. Again, we are blessed that one of the best bloggers on UK family history/genealogy is a member – John Reid and his ‘Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections’. John interviews most if not all of the speakers in the lead up to the conference.

Q Your thoughts, looking to the future?

A We now have under consideration a plan to ‘renew, refresh and recruit’. We are discussing ideas about where we want to be in 10 years’ time and how are we going to get there? Do we need to do things differently, what works, what has had its day, etc? We are looking at ways to engage those who belong to no society and to all those who have tested for DNA and have no idea what to do with the results. We need to reach out, expand our partnerships with the Ottawa Public Library and the city archives, create a more visible profile in the community. Lots to think about, for sure!

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