Thursday, September 22, 2011

My inheritance...

Today's technological lament relates to databases, particularly the one that I inherited as Membership Chair for the Rhode Island Genealogical Society.( While having some modicum of skill in computers, (ie. I have one and use it for all sorts of things genealogically and life related) I agreed to perform the often underrated, but important job of maintaining the membership rolls for a society with almost 600 members. How hard could it be? For me, nearly impossible without significant help (thank you, Sarah) and a year to practice and perfect.manipulating data in a new, for me, way.

For years as a scientist, I used statistical packages of various kinds (most of which I am now hopelessly outdated on using) to analyze biological data of various kinds. I once analyzed wing and femur length in thousands of flies the size of a grain of sand. I could spit out all kinds of relevant statistics for backwards stepwise regressions of ant load carriage (don't ask, but it was published if you're incredibly curious). But nothing prepared me for figuring out the vagaries of MS Access. What is a relational database, anyway? (Don't actually answer that, it was a rhetorical question).

As the Membership Chair, I not only had to use it, but update it and massage it to give me the information that I need for various tasks. It was NOT easy, and if you don't have a good memory (which I don't) or incredibly detailed descriptions of the various queries, tables, forms and reports, you can easily get confused and use the wrong query to spit out the wrong information. I have made many mistakes along the way, dropping 40 members off a mailing list, randomly losing people's records (being a dumb box of switches, with the computer, you have to be VERY specific about what you ask for!) and various other glitches and malfunctions that I would say are mostly due to operator error.

So I'm declaring war on our Access database. I want to eliminate it, deactivate it, kill it off in some fashion. I know that there MUST be a better way, to securely maintain and backup our information, and also to allow our members to update some of their own information themselves as well as allow them more direct contact with the society and amongst themselves. I am looking at some integrated online membership website services which do membership and accounting type things, particularly Member Manager, and I put it out into the blogosphere as a question for comments and suggestions. Got databases?

1 comment:

  1. Shellee

    We had the same problem at the Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS) where our membership data was kept in Excel.

    This year we moved to a new web platform called Easy Net Sites ( which is very reasonably priced and geared towards genealogy societies. It has a built-in membership module which imported our Excel data and now we can do so much more with it including print mailing labels and even do blast emails to members.