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Family Associations and Genealogy

A valuable resource in your effort to locate relatives is a family association dedicated to the particular family name you're researching. These operate under a variety of names—society, clearinghouse, or others. Their purpose is to collect information on the family, share it, and preserve it. They may publish a newsletter, maintain a database for researchers, or offer search services. They are eager to hear from descendants. They may be able to supply the addresses of others in your family. If they publish a magazine, they can insert a query for you.

There are thousands of family associations, but many are short-lived. Others are so ill-manned that they often do not reply. Do not let the lack of a reply from one group influence your decision to contact another. Many hundreds maintain extensive archives and are eager to hear from you. Their records are valuable and sometimes are the only source for a particular photograph, a family Bible, or an old letter.

Locating a Family Association

Although there are some directories listing groups, none are complete. Everton's Genealogical Helper for many years has published an annual listing. Also try www.cyndislist.com and go to “Surnames, Family Associations, & Family Newsletters.” Or, simply insert the family name followed by “Family Association” in your Internet browser, for example, “Rose Family Association.” That may turn up listings, but could miss some that don't have “Family Association” as part of their name. Try also a search using the surname plus “Newsletter” or “Society” or “Clearing House.”

Elizabeth Petty Bentley compiled a useful Directory of Family Associations that is updated periodically. The disadvantage in using Bentley's Directory is that it includes many organizations no longer in existence, and in many instances, includes individuals who collect a name but who are not family associations. Despite these drawbacks, it can be helpful.

Tree Tips

Although most family associations do not require you to join for them to be of assistance, ask for a copy of their membership brochure. You may find it beneficial, depending upon their goals and services, to be a member of the group.

A Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose

When using the resources of a family association, it is important to understand its focus. They differ considerably. They may include descendants of an ancestor who is not the immigrant, descendants of the immigrant, or descendants of the surname.

Those focused on the descendants of an ancestor who is not the immigrant, for example, may include all the descendants of the great-grandfather and his wife who settled in Des Moines, Iowa. In this case the association is probably named after that couple. Groups devoted to descendants of an immigrant usually carry the surname in their title and include all the male and female descendants of that immigrant. In the third type, the surname organization, anyone bearing the surname is traced. They may have no relationship to each other. Members do not have to bear the surname, but each trace someone carrying that surname.

Even surname organizations have differences. One may search all of the surnames in the United States, regardless of nationality. Another may focus on an ethnic group, such as those only of Scottish ancestry or only those of German ancestry.

Upon ascertaining the existence of a family organization, write or e-mail to them. Be specific in your request. Identify the family briefly (names, dates, locations, spouses, children), and ask if they can put you in contact with members of that family. Inquire also about publishing queries in their magazine or on their website.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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