Did you know that there is a difference between historical and genealogical societies? Did you know that a society can be both? Did you know that you can be part of a society and not live in its home city? All of these things surprised me in the beginning when I embarked on my journey of discovering my family history. It is important to know the difference between the two types of societies so that if you're thinking of following your ancestor's footsteps, you can at least do it with the right knowledge.
Unlike genealogical societies, historical societies study certain people in a certain place for a certain time. State, county, townships, and city historical societies will focus on preserving and sharing the historical information about people and events from that location. For instance, the National Society of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) covers Americans who have ancestors who fought or served in the Revolutionary War.
Genealogical societies are focused on a particular group of individuals, usually related to each other. Some examples are the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, the National Genealogical Society, and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.
Genealogy is the study of family history and ancestry tells us where our ancestors came from and who they were in relation to us today. It can be fun to find out where your great-great-grandparents lived or what they did for a living!
Most genealogical societies are focused on the lives of individuals, whereas most historical societies focus on the people within the community and events that had an impact on the community. Genealogists want to know how an individual's life affected their family and heritage, while historians are more interested in what daily life was like for people living in a certain time period or place.
Historical societies, in contrast, try to collect as many relevant records as possible for their area of interest, regardless of whether they relate to specific individuals or not. For example, a historical society in the Midwest might collect records from several towns and cities within its state or region. These records could include property deeds and town plans; maps that show details about buildings and streets; newspaper articles about events that occurred during a particular year; old photographs taken by a photographer who lived in one of these places; and so on. In contrast, a genealogical society might focus mainly on collecting information about individual families living in one particular town at one point in time.
Genealogical societies usually have more specific goals than historical societies do: They're interested only in finding out what happened with their ancestors' lives—how they got married and divorced (if applicable), where they grew up and died (if applicable), etc.—and not necessarily anything else related to local events or happenings going back centuries ago.
Genealogical societies focus on a specific group of people, but not always, usually related to each other in some way. These groups can be based on the family members who lived in a certain area, or they could have been born there. They may also have migrated from another region and settled there. In some cases, these genealogical societies focus on individual families who had connections with the area. As an example, if you’re interested in finding out more about your ancestors but don’t know where they came from, then you might want to contact a local genealogy group that specializes in researching those types of records for their members.
Both types of societies are usually run by volunteers and operate non-profit. They will often have information about how to research your family history, as well as other resources that you can use to get started on your own family history research.
The main difference between these two types of societies is the focus of their collections. Genealogical societies are mostly focused on genealogy, while historical societies collect information on anything that happened in the past or has a connection to their geographical area.
It's easy to confuse historical societies and genealogical societies, but in reality, they are two different types of groups. Because they both focus on research and preservation, it can be difficult to discern where one society ends and another begins. Either way, the information they compile and preserve is invaluable for anyone who wants to research their family history or the history of the area they live in.
Until next time, keep connecting to your social media community.
Jon Marie Pearson, The Simple Living Genealogist