The question came up as it does almost once a week. A friend was asking 'How can we involve the younger generations in our passion for genealogy?' My answer came just the same as it has every other time. It is this: 'First, when speaking with the younger generation, never call it 'genealogy' call it 'family history' and focus on the stories of your family members in your tree and the interest will come automatically, and be sure to create your family tree electronically right from the beginning'.
Involving the younger generations in family history is not magic. Let's take my answer apart and look at its three features to create our next generation of family history fans!
First - Assign the word 'genealogy' to the dustbin. Youngsters love to have fun! When I have asked for reactions from younger people to the word 'genealogy' I have been told the word 'genealogy' carries some negative connotations. Some of the responses included that it reminded younger folks of school work, studying, 'adults', snobs, science, hard, difficult, and sometimes just blank stares when it was not a word the person even knew. So, if we want to draw in a younger person, we should not use words that are automatic turn-offs. I might even venture to say that this is often true of any time we fall into using the jargon of an industry, hobby, or job. While we may be familiar with the jargon, it often turns off those who are not frequent users. So when working to draw those younger folks into family history, I'd suggest you also avoid such terms as agnate, enate, matrilineal, patrilineal, third cousins three times removed, etc. It is much more welcoming when we simply say family, family history, Mom's family, Dad's family, cousins (plain and simple), etc. Use terms younger folks can understand and most of all, relate to.
Second - Everyone enjoys a good story, so use and featuring stories will capture younger generational members in our family history. While you and I may well enjoy the thrill of discovering a long lost birth document or pension record, I have found that when I stray into this territory, I am quickly met with glassy eyes and short attention spans. However when I get into spinning the stories of our family tree, the eyes dance, the attention is rapt, and frequently questions begin to flow! This is when you know you have 'set the hook'. It may not happen instantly, but neither did my passion for family history. Let me give you a couple examples of our family stories:
• My great, great grandfather, completely blind from the loss of both eyes at age 18, walked a postal route in Cornwall for decades and traversed more than 4 ½ times round the world.
• Our family fought in and lost members in the line of duty in the Civil War, American Indian Wars, Crimean War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and others.
• My Phillipps ancestors lived in what is now the active archeological dig site of Old Melorn in Tintagel, Cornwall during Medieval times.
• I have captured stories of family who lived in opulence and I have found pictures and painting of them.
• We had a Knight in the family, Sir Jonathan Phillipps and I found his Coat of Arms.
• I've discovered youngster-engaging occupations in the family such as cooper, carriage painter, tea blender, gravedigger, lamplighter, beer brewer, and others.
It will be your stories that truly capture the attention, imagination, and excitement of youngsters!
Third - Make and keep your family tree electronically! While I made the decision to maintain our family tree on a site that is private for family members only, it is on the web. Youngsters expect everything interesting to be on the Internet, so we should use this to our advantage. In my case I use the services and software of MyHeritage at http://www.MyHeritage.com. You can get started for free, although I use their full service for the advantages it holds (such as unlimited space for family tree entries, photos, and of course stories). I actually chose it for its superior security features and that fact that all 240+ members of our family, spread worldwide from the UK to the US and from New Zealand, Tasmania, Czech Republic, South Africa, France, and several more locations can access it. Inclusivity is important so younger members of the family can see they are part of a larger, worldwide family.
These are my keys. What are your keys to creating some new family history fanatics among younger folks?
Follow Scott Phillips on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OnwardToOurPast