How We Got Started
It all started with an informal discussion at the meeting of the Florida State Genealogical Society in the fall of 1978 between members of the Manatee Genealogical Society, formerly Manasota Genealogical Society, a very enthusiastic group of amateur genealogists living in Sarasota, which led to the publication of a notice in the Herald Tribune, Siesta Key Pelican, Venice Gondolier and other local papers. A meeting on 13 January 1979 for persons interested in genealogy was held in the Pine View School Library. Thirty one persons came to that meeting. Subsequent meetings were held, officers elected, dues set at $5.00, by-laws were adopted and the Society was off and running. Among the committees appointed were Library, Program and Workshop. Later the Archival, Cemetery, and Membership committees were added. Several projects were started during that first year which have either been completed or are still ongoing.
Programs consisted of speakers, either guest or members, reporting on resources found in various libraries or on trips they had taken, sometimes with slide presentations. One early program was given by an employee of the Ringling Museum on rich heritage to Sarasota from the Ringling family. Some were member participation sessions and others were all-day seminars, sometimes held jointly with other groups such as the Manatee Society, where members brought their lunch.
The early genealogical collection in the library consisted of books which had been mainly donations from the DAR, and became the beginnings of the Genealogical Collection. The Library committee made some recommendations at their meeting in October of 1979 concerning the type of books to be purchased and to be accepted as donations. The society would work closely with Selby Library personnel to build an outstanding genealogical collection including books, microfilm, and microfiche. It was also recommended that we establish a roster of volunteers willing to work in Selby and Venice Libraries to assist patrons. These recommendations became the basis for the library collection and the volunteer program.
During the summer of 1979 some experimental workshops were held in the homes of members. They proved so successful it was decided to schedule more sessions at Selby Library for the fall and winter months. Early workshops included a beginners group, as well as research in various areas of the country and in Europe. One very popular early workshop was on the "Background of English History." Various formats for content, leadership, and meeting places were tried until the present very flexible program became a permanent part of the Society.
Toward the close of 1979 it was apparent that some type of written communication was needed to keep the members informed of Society activities. A newsletter, consisting of four pages, was mailed on the first of January 1980. Since then it has grown to the present 20 plus page thrice annual newsletter.
The project which probably involved more of our members than any other was the Cemetery Project. Its purpose was to collect data from the grave markers and records of the cemeteries in Sarasota County. It was started in 1981, and continued through the years to the culmination in the publication of the book, Cemeteries of Sarasota County Florida, in 1992.
Since 1979 much has happened to change the way we look at Genealogy. In those days we went to the places where our ancestors lived and looked through the cemeteries and visited the Court House, or sat at home and wrote to these places for records. We called this "Armchair Genealogy." Today many of us, but not all, sit at our computers open to one of the numerous genealogy websites on the Internet searching for our ancestors.