For 50 years, the Pinellas Genealogy Society has been reconnecting lost loved ones and building family trees | Largo
LARGO — The Pinellas Genealogy Society has been recognized by the Largo City Commission for 50 years of service, with Mayor Woody Brown noting the volunteer group “has provided genealogy services to the Largo area and at the state and national level as a joint venture with the Largo Public Library since 1972.”
That unique partnership has allowed the PGS to grow from a niche club with a handful of members into a nonprofit with more than 300 members, offering hundreds of classes, programs, and seminars, as well thousands of research books and dozens of online programs, all for free.
The depth and breadth of their free services makes the Pinellas Genealogy Society one the best bargains in town, said current PGS president Debbie Schuler.
“Some of these groups have made it as long as we have, and some have not,” Schuler said before the latest PGS monthly meeting Feb. 19. “We had to make it through the ’80s and ’90s when (genealogy) wasn’t fashionable, and our membership grew and shrunk. But because of our partnership with the library, we are able to keep our expenses down because we don’t have to rent space for storage or meetings.”
Schuler, who’s been with the PGS for 10 years and replaced longtime president Peter Summers on Jan. 1, said that “because of the partnership with the library, everything we do is free,” with the exclusion of paid memberships, which cost $17 a year and provide access to additional programs and classes as well as PGS swag. “So, I’d say that makes us one of the best bargains out there.”
Summers, who served as PGS president for eight years, acknowledged the partnership with the library has been crucial to their growth, and he also credited the organization’s all-volunteer staff for its success.
“We always have 12 people to help and dozens of others on hand,” he said, referring to those volunteers who staff the genealogy section of the library, an upstairs area filled with thousands of reference books, catalogs, maps and programs designed to help connect long lost loved one and build family trees.
“So that’s one major reason for our success, and the other is advance planning. We have a strategic plan and update it every few years, so even during the pandemic, our organization grew while others were struggling.”
Geri Remming, the library’s assistant director and liaison for the PGS, credits the group’s pivot to virtual classes and programs, including its upcoming annual Genealogy Seminar on Saturday, Feb. 26, as a big reason it continues to grow despite the obstacles created by the pandemic.
“It’s a large, active group that keeps growing to the point that now they do a lot of things virtually,” Remming said. “They pivoted when they needed to pivot. They’re a great group and we couldn’t offer the services we do without them.”
The partnership with the library, the pivot to online and hybrid classes and the dedication of the volunteers have all combined to make the PGS one of the largest such organizations with one of the most comprehensive collections in the state, leading to numerous awards and accolades, including the Florida Genealogical Society’s Preservation Award in 2016.
“It was great to be recognized by the City Commission and Mayor Brown,” Schuler said. “He was really nice — and really tall!”
When asked why the PGS continues to experience growth today, Schuler said the reason is simple.
“One of the things that’s changed is 50 years ago, you had to go to the data,” she said, citing libraries, town halls, hospitals, and other civic institutions as popular stopping points on an amateur genealogist’s journey to connect their family dots.
“Doing a family tree has been a hobby for a lot of people for a long time, and now it’s fashionable, because it’s much easier to do because the records come right to you,” she added. “I mean, you used to have to fill out a chart by hand and send a self-addressed stamped envelope. Now, most of the answers you’re looking for are just a click of the keyboard away.”
For more information on the PGS, visit their website at pinellasgenealogysociety.com. https://pinellasgenealogysociety.com/