Condensed from “The American Society of Genealogists: The First Fifty Years, 1940—1990”
The idea of forming a learned society designed to foster the training of genealogists, eliminate improper and unethical practices, elevate the profession of genealogy to the same literary and scientific level enjoyed by history, and establish a code of ethics and standards for the governing of the profession had been discussed for many years. It became a reality on Saturday evening, December 28, 1940, at the former Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.
Three able and well-known genealogists, Dr. Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Meredith B. Colket Jr., who were attending the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, determined to create The American Society of Genealogists. Membership was to be restricted to fifty persons selected for the excellence and volume of their published works that would demonstrate ability to discover facts from original source material and to evaluate and present evidence. (“Published” was later defined as “at least ten copies distributed to public repositories, the copies identically reproduced.”)
Because the United States was at war, the full complement was not achieved until the 1944 meeting. Fellows numbers 1 to 50 constitute the Charter Members. As Fellows died, their places have been filled by others.
Standards and Ethics
As early as January 1943, the President appointed a Committee on Standards of the Genealogical Profession, a subject to which the Society has always given high priority. A number of proposals brought few results until a committee appointed in 1962 with Noel Stevenson as chairman brought to the Boston (1963) meeting the recommendation for an organization to be headquartered in Washington to certify professional genealogists. The result was the non-profit, autonomousBoard for Certification of Genealogists, which the Society approved and originally funded. Dr. Jean Stephenson was elected President and Milton Rubincam, Chairman. They arranged for the Board’s incorporation in June 1964. The first meeting of its Board of Trustees—seventeen in number—was held in September 1964, its membership composed of Fellows of the Society and officers and members of the National Genealogical Society.
By our 1964 Annual Meeting, Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., then Vice President of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, could report that the Board was functioning, had granted its first certification, adopted a seal, appointed an Executive Secretary, and acquired a mailing address at the Heurich Memorial Mansion of the Columbia Historical Society. Fellows have continued as leaders of the Board while preserving the independence of that organization.
From its inception the Society has fought actively against agencies which sought to delude the public for profit by misusing genealogy or heraldry. Early in the Society’s history, Milton Rubincam, with the cooperation of the U.S. Postal Service, forced dissolution of the Media Research Bureau that sold genealogical data “on your family name” along with coats of arms. Noel Stevenson was appointed in 1956 chairman of a Committee on Abuses, which committee was enlarged the next year to include Milton Rubincam and Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. In 1958 this committee’s report spelled out the need to intercede against false and misleading advertising, and the 1959 Annual Meeting authorized them to act. As Fellows have reported instances of misleading advertising, this committee, aided by the U.S. Postal Service and the Bureau of Deceptive Practices of the Federal Trade Commission, has exposed and combated such abuses. In a number of instances, the Society has convinced major advertisers to abandon promotion involving coats of arms, but the battle remains ongoing.
Institutes and Seminars
A number of national, state, and local institutes and seminars owe their origins to the instigation of Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists, many of whom are continually called on to serve as lecturers.
In 1950, Meredith B. Colket, Jr., then on the staff of the National Archives, arranged with the Archives and American University to create a three-week summer National Institute for Genealogical Research for which college credit could be obtained. When he left the Archives to direct the Western Reserve Historical Society, Dr. Jean Stephenson became Director of the Institute for a number of years. As other seminars have proliferated and economics dictated, both American University and the Archives abandoned sponsorship of the Institute. In 1989, the National Institute on Genealogical Research achieved independence and was incorporated. It is now held for one week each summer at the National Archives and is aimed at the experienced genealogist.
Early seminars created by Fellows of the Society have included: (1) workshops of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, established by Dr. John Goodwin Herndon, and enlarged by Hannah Benner Roach; (2) New York Historical Association seminars at which Rosalie Fellows Bailey introduced genealogical lectureships; (3) Institutes of the Ontario Genealogical Society at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, to which Milton Rubincam lent his expertise for many years; and (4) genealogical seminars at the New England Historic Genealogical Society for which Dr. Jean Stephenson and Dr. Gilbert H. Doane were teachers and counselors.
The pre-eminence of The American Society of Genealogists was established by the 1960 publication of the textbook, Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources. Edited by Milton Rubincam, with chapters by Fellows and invited experts, this work was seventeen years in the making. The book ran to eighteen printings before a revised edition, again edited by Milton Rubincam, was published in 1980 with many chapters rewritten and updated. By 1961, the Fellows saw the need for a further volume to include westward migrations as well as ethnic ones. At Boston in 1963, Dr. Kenn Stryker-Rodda agreed to edit Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources, Volume 2, published in 1971. This, too, ran to a number of printings before a revised edition, again under Dr. Stryker-Rodda’s editorship, was published in 1983. In 1987 an agreement was reached with Ancestry, Inc., to purchase the remainder of the stock of the textbooks.
In 1997, the ownership of The Genealogist was transferred from Dr. Neil D. Thompson, its founder in 1980 and Editor for almost two decades. Under its new owners, The American Society of Genealogists, The Genealogist continues its publication schedule of two issues per year, in the Spring and Fall, with each issue containing a minimum of 128 pages. The Society assumed publication with Volume 11, Number 1, which was published in the Spring of 1997. The Society has teamed with Picton Press, one of the oldest and most prestigious genealogical publishers in America, to publish and distribute the journal.
The purpose of The Genealogist remains unchanged, providing a forum for top-quality genealogical articles which, for reasons such as length, do not fit elsewhere.
Prizes and Awards
Out of her life-long concern for better genealogical publication, Dr. Jean Stephenson proposed at Atlantic City (1964) that some of the income from the sale of the Society’s textbooks be used to stimulate good genealogical publication. She was appointed a committee of one and proposed to the following Annual Meeting: A revolving fund of $3000 to be announced as a contest held in odd-numbered years for the best genealogy of an American family, covering 150—200 years, prepared in accordance with prescribed rules. The prize was to be publication by the Society. The plan was approved and Dr. Stephenson prepared and publicized the contest and its rules. The only prize awarded went to Mary Middleton for The Lackor Family, published by the Society in 1971. Unfortunately, the content was of little interest to any but descendants of the family. Although the Society was able to sell some copies as a model of what a genealogy should be, the venture was so unprofitable that the contest was abandoned and the remaining books were sold to Tuttle Antiquarian Books, Inc., of Rutland, Vermont.
In 1972 an anonymous award was established in memory of the distinguished Fellow, Donald Lines Jacobus, founding Editor of The American Genealogist. A prize of $100 is granted annually to the best genealogical work published during the past five years as selected by an Award Committee composed of those Fellows who are Editors or Book Review Editors of genealogical periodicals. A list of awards to date appears in the Awards section.
Articles About ASG
ASG is further described in the following articles:
Cameron Allen, “Developments in the American Society of Genealogists,”APG Quarterly 12 (June 1997): 54–55.
David L. Greene, Ph.D., “What is F.A.S.G.?: Notes on the American Society of Genealogists,” APG Quarterly 5 (Summer 1990): 33–34.
Harry Macy Jr., “Recognizing Scholarly Genealogy and Its Importance to Genealogists and Historians,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 150 (January 1996): 7–28.
Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., “The American Society of Genealogists,”National Genealogical Society Quarterly 61 (June 1973): 100–107.