FGS History, Part IV

FGS History: Looking Back

Looking Back, Part IV: 1990–1994 by Loretto Dennis Szucs

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.

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.

Membership

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.

Management

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.

FORUM

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.

Awards

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.

Continue to Part V: 1995-2000