Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rootstech Takeaways: High Tech High Touch

February 19, 2011 by  
Filed under genealogy

RootsTech 2011 Official Blogger

Curt Witcher
Curt Witcher – Photo: Rootstech 2011

FGS Luncheon with Curt Witcher

This continues my series on Rootstech 2011 Takeaways.

Curt Witcher’s talk at the Rootstech Federation of Genealogical Societies luncheon was outstanding. Those of you who heard his keynote talk know what I mean.   He was on fire this weekend and had great messages to share.

Witcher is the Department Manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN. He is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association and participates in other genealogical and historical committees of that organization. Curt is a past-president of the National Genealogical Society and of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. (see his full bio at the end of this post).

I took a LOT of notes from this session and will share with you a few points he shared and the takeaways.  I don’t want to duplicate his talk here as speakers spend a lot of time and effort preparing but I do want to share with you the gist of his message as I heard it.  I’m the FGS contact for our local Alberta Family Histories Society and serve on the AFHS PR committee.

Consider High Tech Elements

Curt Witcher urged Genealogical Societies to consider the high tech elements.

We  need to meet members WHERE they are, with the DATA they want, in the FORM they want, WHEN they want.  It is important we advertise.

High tech elements include:

  • E-publications
  • Members only databases
  • Social media
  • e-Meetings

High Touch Elements

  • touch members at least 1x month
  • give them useful data in a timely fashion
  • do things that make them feel involved
  • people want to be touched

Does your gen society have a VISION?

TAKEAWAY – If you keep doing what you’ve always done you keep getting what you have always got. Dream new dreams and have new visions.  Reach out and touch someone.  This will help a genealocial society grow.

Is your Gen Society working towards its own Demise?

He suggested that a gen society that only has print pubications, annual seminars, limited hours at the library, limited contact information or outdated info on the webpage is not doing enough.

He used specific examples of gen societies that didn’t appear welcoming and gave reasons why.

His suggestions for improvement:

  • don’t limit queries and don’t charge
  • build a surname database of people asking for information
  • build a database of member’s research interests
  • have online subscription membership
  • make people feel good

Gen societies MUST have an e-publication.  They need to have online registration and webpages must be updated.

Instead of mentioning that a gen society is opened limited hours and meeting limited times, he suggests we make the front page of our webpage and all contact with our members appear as a Welcoming Open Door.

TAKEAWAY – “Please come!  We have a GREAT TIME! Join us!”  Make your message exciting and positive.  Don’t stress the negatives.

What is Your Gen Society’s Mission?

Witcher stressed that it is important for a genealogical society to be MISSION centric.

  • Have open aims
  • open hands
  • don’t continue to do it the same
  • what are we doing to show members  we care?
  • what difference do we make?

Today’s genealogists want to have fun and be successful. People won’t engage if they don’t feel success or they don’t have fun.

He suggested the society go VIRTUAL.  Try meetings online.

Need for Action

Gen Societies tend to study issues to death.  Task forces are passé.

Curt addressed the following concerns

  • “Our members will never go for that”.   Have you asked them?
  • Never did it before
  • Simply can’t be done
  • It’ll cost too much
  • Doing fine without it
  • Tried it before but it didn’t work
  • Put it off for now

TAKEAWAY - Ready! Fire! Aim! Fire! A good idea doesn’t have to be perfect.  Go Go Go!   Learn from version 1 and make version 2 better.  The key is to take action.

I have more notes but I think you get the picture.  This was a dynamite talk from a prominant long time genealogist.  I felt Witcher had important messages to help genealogical societies move forward and be successful.  They will do this by meeting the needs of their members.

One thing Witcher did not mention was the importance of our volunteers.  (this wasn’t the focus of his talk but bears mentioning).  Without them we would not have genealogical societies.

On a personal level, I feel my local gen society is welcoming and working towards exciting new things.  We have a great executive team and webmaster.  We featured several sessions on High Tech at a one day conference last fall and our next newsletter is focused on social media and other tools to help find our ancestors online.  I see us moving towards more online components such as a members area with great electronic content.  I’m proud to be part of a forward thinking team.

Thanks for a great talk, Curt Witcher.

UPDATE – Witcher provided examples of two genealogical societies who have gone “high tech high touch” and ‘get it’.  They are Indiana Genealogical Society and NEHGS.


About Curt Witcher – Curt is the Historical Genealogy Department Manager at the Allen County Public Library. Curt B. Witcher’s success in community involvement, integration of technology in library science, and collaboration with various organizations has made him a highly visible individual in the genealogical community. His dynamic presentation style has made him a highly favored presenter among a wide variety of audiences. Witcher is the Department Manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN. He is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association and participates in other genealogical and historical committees of that organization. Curt is a past-president of the National Genealogical Society and of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. He also has memberships in a number of historical and genealogical organizations and is the founding president of the Indiana Genealogical Society. He is an adjunct professor in Indiana University’s Continuing Education Program and is coeditor of the 1987 through 2000 editions of the Periodical Source Index published by the Allen County Public Library Foundation.

Witcher has served on the Advisory Board of the Passenger & Immigration Index Project for Gale Research, Inc. and was a research consultant for both PBS “Ancestors” series. He is also on the Advisory Board for Ancestry, Inc. of Salt Lake City, Utah and a contributing columnist for their magazine. Witcher was distinguished in 1995 as a fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association (FUGA) and received the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award in 1997. He was one of the Kellogg Foundation’s 1997 “Expert in Residence” scholars, a 1998 recipient of the Presidential Citation from GENTECH, Inc., and the 1999 recipient of the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ David S. Vogels, Jr. Award in recognition of career contributions to the Federation and its members. (Source: Biography Rootstech 2011 )

RELATED: Here is a great summary that came out of one of the ‘unconferencing’ sessions on Societies at Rootstech

[Disclosure - I was designated as an Official Rootstech Blogger for the conference and as such received such perks as free registration]


14 Responses to “Rootstech Takeaways: High Tech High Touch”
  1. Wonderful summary of very important information. I was happy to share it on Facebook! ;-)

  2. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for the mention and for stopping by. I thoroughly enjoyed Curt Witcher’s talk. I’d love to go to the next FGS conference.


  3. Awesome post Joan!Most excellent! Must have been a very empowering talk. Wow! So fortunate you were able to hear it. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Kevin says:

    I loved this address! I’ve been doing genealogy for 20 years and never thought of joining a society. Listening to him talk about the next generation of genealogists I kept thinking ‘He’s describing me; this is a society I would want to join’. I hope more societies follow the exampleof yours and adopt Wichter’s advice.

  5. It certainly was a great talk. Someone tweeted that it should be recorded and shown at society meetings, and it’s hard to disagree. I see people who are new to family history every working day, and the overwhelming majority have already looked on the internet. And they expect to go on doing that; societies without good web resources are of no interest to them. That doesn’t mean that online resources are the ONLY thing they want – they wouldn’t turn up in their thousands to events like WDYTYA Live otherwise.
    Audrey Collins´s last [type] ..Rootstech – good news from Ireland

  6. Hi Cheryl,
    You are very welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed his talk.

    Thanks for visiting.


  7. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks! He gave specific examples of two genealogical societies doing a great job – Indiana Genealogical Society and NEHGS. I’ve updated the post to include them.

    Thanks for visiting.

  8. Hi Audrey,
    I hope this talk is recorded and shared one day.

    It was a delight to meet you at Myrt’s lunch. Enjoy WDYTYA Live. Next year I hope to attend.

    Thanks for visiting.


  9. Joan,
    Great stuff! Curt is a visionary so thank you for sharing his brilliance. As soon as I read this post in my reader, I emailed it to our entire board of directors at the California Genealogical Society.

  10. Hi Kathryn,
    You are very welcome. I’m glad to help.


  11. Geniaus says:

    I didn’t go to this luncheon at Rootstech – I wish I had.
    Somehow in the busyness of the conference I missed your post. Thanks for linking to it today so that I could find it.
    Geniaus´s last [type] ..And the wall came tumbling down


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] recapped Curt Witcher’s presentation at the Federation of Genealogical Societies luncheon on her blog. (Basically, societies must embrace technology or they’ve sealed their [...]

  2. [...] it was but I’m more comfortable writing about resources available, reporting on conferences (Rootstech Takeaways: High Tech High Touch) and the technical how-tos of a database.   We work to our strengths and that is where I feel mine [...]

  3. [...] a landing page is similar to what prominent genealogy industry leader Curt Witcher said in High Tech High Touch.  We need to be collecting new members from the front [...]

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