5 Reasons You Should Join the National Genealogical Society

5 Reasons You Should Join the National Genealogical Society

by Kerry Scott on 8 July 2011

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I get a lot of email from beginning genealogists.  They often wonder how to get started on a limited budget.  They want to know what’s worth the cost for a beginner.

Here’s what I think:  One of the best ways you can spend your money as a beginner is on a National Genealogical Society (NGS) membership.  I know that’s not very edgy of me, but you know what?  It’s $60.  You’re going to get your money’s worth.  Here’s why:

  1. The NGS Quarterly.  If you want to know how people who know what they’re doing do genealogical research, this is the thing to read.  How-to books are great, but case studies are where you you see all of that how-to stuff applied to actual dead people.  You’ll also see how source citations work in real life.  The NGSQ is worth the membership fee all by itself (and if you’re a member, you have access to years and years worth of back issues for free).
  2. The NGS Magazine.  This comes out quarterly too, but it’s less scholarly than the NGSQ.  To be honest, the magazine used to suck (or at least, it went through a period of suckage in the mid-2000s).  I stopped reading it then, and I let the issues pile up.  Lately I’ve been working through a backlog dating back to 2007 (no kidding, TWO THOUSAND SEVEN).  I don’t know what the back story is, but somebody un-sucked it, and now it’s really good.  There’s stuff in there for people from beginner to expert, by authors who know what they’re doing (including some you may recognize from the genealogy blog scene; Harold Henderson had a great piece in the most recent issue).
  3. The educational stuff.  Can’t afford to go to a conference?  Me neither.  NGS has all kinds of classes you can take, and they’re not for cream puffs.  I’m doing the NGS Home Study Course right now (well, if we define “doing” as “I’ve bought it and I’ve completed lesson one and now it’s been sitting on my desk for months waiting for me to have time to continue.”)  I thought it would be easy and I could just breeze through it while watching Dinosaur Train with my kids.  Nope.  I’ve been doing research a long time, and there’s definitely plenty there to challenge me.  You get a discount on it if you’re a member, and NGS has other stand-alone courses too (and those are offered online, unlike the NGS Home Study Course, which is still on the little retro thingies called CDs, which…ugh).  Their educational offerings have improved a lot in the past few years.
  4. The Discounts.  They have ‘em.  In fact, I didn’t realize this until I went to write this post and looked, but they offer discounts on Footnote.com subscriptions.  I probably would have known if I hadn’t been letting the NGS Magazines pile up since 2007.  You can get a discount on other stuff too, including the Boston University certificate program, which I plan to do when my youngest kid starts school.  If you ever DO get to an NGS conference, members get a discount on registration.  There’s also a member discount at the NGS bookstore too, which has the excellent (and cheap) Research in the States series.
  5. The Videos.  Here’s a confession:  I’m a total Helen Leary fangirl.  When NGS started making these nice videos featuring various members of the genealogy glitterati, I was mildly interested…but when they came out with the Helen Leary ones, I was glued to the screen (because I am a huge dork).  They’ve added to the video series since then, and there are all kinds of good ones now.  The one released today, featuring Pamela Boyer Sayre…well, if you can watch that without needing a box of Kleenex, you’re probably not human, and you’re definitely not a genealogist (and it really speaks to a point I’ve been periodically trying to make for some time, which is the idea that genealogy is good for people with screwed-up families).  I think some of the videos are available to anyone, but they’re released to members first.  Once you get your membership, check ‘em out.

That’s a lot of stuff for $60.  Join.  It’s totally worth it.

DISCLAIMER:  Nobody paid me or asked me to say any of this.  I have no connection to NGS except as a member.  In fact, by posting this I’m probably disappointing the person who described me last week as “anti-establishment.”  Sorry dude.

Photo by peasap

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen Holik-Urbana July 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

Great post! NGS is a good investment. I had an article published in there this year Jan-March. So if anyone is interested in writing for them just pitch an idea and go for it. Also doing the NGS HSC. I have the first two CDs and have five lessons left to finish. Plan to do that by the end of the year. I have been researching 15 years and these lessons are somewhat challenging and have made me rethink some things I knew.


Linda McCauley July 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

I’ve also started the HSC. So far have only submitted lesson one but have lesson two started.


Jolene July 8, 2011 at 11:49 am

Thank you for this post! I’ve recently been contemplating becoming a member and you’ve convinced me. Your argument for membership was much more compelling (and fun!) than the bland list of benefits provided on the NGS website. Not sure whether it’s worth anything, but I entered your name in the referral box when I signed up.


Kerry Scott July 8, 2011 at 12:01 pm


I didn’t know they even had a referral box. Somebody there is probably going to wonder who this “Kerry Scott” chick is.


Debi July 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Okay, okay, okay – stop twisting my arm :-)


Kerry Scott July 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Too subtle? Because I was going to name this the “Why Debi Austen needs to hurry up and join NGS already!” post.


Debi Austen July 10, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Okay – DONE! Now get off my back ;-)


Caron July 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I hope you are getting a discount or at least “brownie points” for all the members they sign up because of your post!


Wendy July 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

OK, you’ve convinced me! I’ve actually been thinking about this for years, but never got around to doing it. I’m going to sign up tonight (and list you as my referral!), and I think I might also order the Home Study Course. Thanks for the nudge!


Elizabeth P July 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm

It’s a good organization to join, one of my many ;). It’s also not a bad idea to join a society/group near where you will be conducting your research, sometimes it’s mandatory. If you are researching in Connecticut you need to provide a copy of your membership card when requesting some records. The little historical society I belong to locally has tons of manuscripts that are only available at their location . It makes me sad all those resources that no one knows about!


Kerry Scott July 8, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I couldn’t agree more. I did a post on local historical societies a while back…people don’t realize the wealth of resources these tiny groups have. They’re usually not that expensive, and they’re a great way to get to know new-to-you locations as well. For example, I found myself working on a family from St. Louis, which is a place I’d never worked before. The St. Louis Genealogical Society has been a fantastic resource.


Cheryl Cayemberg July 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Awesome post, Kerry. No reason for anyone to not join! You get so much! I was very impressed at the NGS conference when the majority of the people in the room stood up when asked who was an NGS member. That was sweet to see!


Greta Koehl July 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Ditto on all of the benefits of NGS membership. The discount for the conference this year was about the price of membership, so it feels as though I am getting all of this stuff free. And I am a total NGS Quarterly junkie.


Mary July 9, 2011 at 7:05 am

I will be signing up for the NGS today. I had totally forgotten about doing that! Thank you for the reminder and the list of reasons to do it. Also, you have created a new Helen Leary fangirl! I love her!


Susan Tiner July 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I watched one of those Helen F. M. Leary videos — she’s fantastic!


GrannyPam July 15, 2011 at 5:15 am

Yup, you hit the nail on the head. I have gained much from my membership, but especially from reading the NGS Quarterly. Methods without madness. Great for analyzing research challenges.


Liv July 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Thanks so much for this informative post about the NGS. I signed up today and listed you as the NGS member who referred me, too! Thanks also for your post on the benefits of local historical societies. I actually joined a local Genealogical Forum in my city last month. So I’m excited about all the great connections and information that’s about to come my way because of these organizations. Great post; again thanks!


Free Gen Resources July 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’ve been debating about joining a genealogy or historical society for a while, but with so many to choose from, I was struggling to narrow it down. After hearing so much good about NGS here and from other genealogists, I think I’m ready to sign up. Thanks.


Annie May 2, 2014 at 7:06 am

OK, I am one of those people who lurk around back pages of a blog they find after reading a good first page. So here I am, knowing I really need to join a genealogical society, and perusing the NGS site from time to time because I need to start someplace that can give me a start on guidance and resources. And wouldn’t you know it, my family just couldn’t stay in one place for long (I’m talking about every single branch) and eventually I’d have to join a few hundred local societies? So everything you wrote made sense, so NGS, here I come. Then I can pick and choose the local societies I end up really needing. Though I am hoping to find cousins who are walking repositories for some of it.


Kerry Scott May 2, 2014 at 7:46 am

Good for you! I think you’ll find it very worthwhile.

I have an all-over-the-place family too, and I can’t afford to join the local societies for every place I have roots. Instead, I sort of rotate them, based on who I’m working on. During the year I was working on a family who lived in St. Louis, I joined the (excellent) local society there. When I was working heavily on my Freeborn County, Minnesota ancestors, I joined the one in that area. That approach gives me access/discounts at the time I can actually use them, and a year with each location gives me a chance to get to know that society and its offerings/repositories. That way, when I come back to that line, I already have a sense of what records are available and how to get them.

Another idea: In the three years since I wrote this post, TONS of local societies have created a Facebook presence. That can be a really helpful (and free!) resource for the areas where you have ancestors.

Have fun!


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