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Getting the Younger Generations Into Genealogy in Three Easy Steps

There is one question that seems to pervade genealogy today. It is this: 'How do we get the next generation 'into' genealogy?'

There is one question that seems to pervade genealogy today. It is this: 'How do we get the next generation 'into' genealogy?'

Many organisations, companies, and families struggle with this question. While I don't profess to be a mastermind, I do follow three simple mantras in all my genealogy efforts in order to draw in those younger than myself. They are simple, easy, and in my experience, surefire. They have worked for me and may well work for others.

Here they are:

1) Never use the word 'genealogy' with younger folks. Use 'family history'.

2) Make everything as electronic as possible.

3) Ensure that your focus is all about people, their stories, and fun. Not just dates, names, and documents.

In order to attract the younger generations (and I purposely use the plural since we have to work to attract younger people of all ages) we must think of their world, not the one we have inhabited and worked in. A prime example: I spent more years working on typewriters than computers. My son may have used a typewriter half a dozen times. My grandson most likely has never even seen one. So we must not try and attract the younger generations to our love of genealogy, whoops, I mean family history, by using the same 'bait' that may have captured us. Not in the day and age of Facebook. However, many are trying to do just that, then sitting back, and wondering why they aren't catching anything.

Family History: I learned early on that I was turning a lot of folks off when I would use the word 'genealogy' when describing my work. It got me thinking. The word is cold. It sounds scientific. It sounds like work and/or a difficult subject in school. I tried an experiment at a series of social gatherings. In some of these gatherings I used the word 'genealogy' to describe my work and in others I called it 'family history'. The results were astounding to me. In almost every case, when I spoke with a person who I knew to be younger than myself and I said 'genealogy' it turned off the conversation. Alternatively, using 'family history' drew questions, comments, and often a discussion. That was enough for me and while the purists may argue over the difference between genealogy and family history, it is irrelevant if the audience isn't going to listen to you anyway! So family history it is for me with anyone younger than myself.

Technology: It also didn't take long for me to witness the ease with which my children and my grandchildren utilize all types of electronics that I sometimes struggle with. Also I started to note the changes in their lives that seemed foreign to me. Simple things like the fact that my children see no use in having land-line telephones, they take their morning news on an iPad rather than on newsprint, and my daughter recently said she only checks her mailbox once every few days since everything of importance for her comes via email, text message, or the like. My three year old grandson can already use a touchscreen iPad far better than I can and my eight year old grandson fixes my computer glitches before I can fully explain them to him. It got me thinking that certainly they were not going to relish printed newsletters, books in print, and old-style communications and formats.

So our family tree is online with and it functions as a complete social network for our family. Here we can post video, audio, photos, notes, messages, set calendar events, and send email to the whole family in just a few clicks. All in one, all online, all electronic. Just like the younger generation is accustomed to.

People and Stories: I also quickly learned that while I may be enthralled with finding the appropriate document to provide evidence of a relationship or event, what excited my children and grandchildren - heck even my wife - is the people and their stories. They are the things that make family history come alive, that make your family unique, and make your family yours! So stories it is!

If I am lucky, one of the hundreds of family members on in our social network will take up the gauntlet and become a genealogist like myself, but if I really want to insure that our ancestors and their history, culture, and values are a part of our lives today and their lives tomorrow, then I must focus on talking the talk and walking the walk for the new generations.

That means not trying to force them onto my old path and enjoying walking the new one.