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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Observations from the edge: multi-generational needs in genealogy

Starting with RootsTech a few months back I have seen more and more traffic among genealogy blogs and forums about the need for outreach to younger genealogists.  To me, a border line Gen X / Gen Y (now a Gen C?) person, this is a wonderful and amazing thing.    Just in the last month there has been an upswing in the chatter on this subject culminating in the formation of a new society with its focus on promoting the next generation of genealogists.  

If you have read this blog for any amount of time you already know that I had a late start to the game.  Or at least in my mind.  In fact, I had not even heard of the word genealogy until I started to do research.  Maybe I had, but I was much younger and didn’t understand what exactly it meant.  However, I think if I had known what it was, that you could make a career out of it, or had been encouraged more as a child and young adult it would not have taken me until my mid-30s to come to where I am today.  Lost years, too many lost years, and lost family members along the way.

I obviously didn’t look hard enough for this field, I know, but I was focused on becoming a scientist.  Many of you probably understand. When you are in school trying to survive and get a degree, then get married, start a family, plus everything that comes with being young you sometimes don’t know which way is up.  I had the stories my family told me.  At that time in my life I thought that was enough.  Yes, I had Cousin Charlie who talked to everyone about my mother’s family and my dad’s mom also.  When they died I didn’t even think immediately about what happened to their stuff, and while I missed the updates I didn’t know what to do but go on with my life. 

Granted, I knew what a family tree was.  I had to do the time honored family tree in elementary school.  In college I filled out pedigree charts in biology class. Later I filled out family medical history charts with doctors.  Even then, I didn't stop and think to myself things like "wonder if I could follow a paper trail" or "how did they know what the line back was."  I had this notion in my head that all that was to be found had been and if I wanted to know more I just had to get a book. You know, because stuff back then wasn't kept like it is today.  Well, at least in my family that was the way of the world.

There was a veil in front of my eyes so to speak. A mystery that obviously only a few knew and only those in the know could pull back.  Or, at least that is what it felt like.  There had to be a way to find out more, but I did not have the tools or the education to do it.   Remember… biologist here…I knew all about that type of stuff not much about anything else.

Over the last several years a whole new world has opened up to me.  I have come to realize that it is easier now than it would have been a decade or more ago because of the internet.  Fast and easy accessibility was the key to get me started and hooked.  How else would a stay at home mom with 2 kids be able to carve out time to do research?  It would have been nearly impossible for me to do what I am doing now in the pre-computer/internet age.

It seems that those who get into genealogy as children or young adults had a family member help them at the start.  Those lucky few have more experience under their belt in their 20s than many of us late starters.  They are leading the next wave of genealogists and I don’t want anyone with a passion for family history, no matter how young, to be left out.  Mentoring the younger generations and giving them the opportunity to start on their own journey should be a concern to us all.

How many of you wish you parents/grandparents/siblings/cousins/etc. were still alive so you could ask those nagging questions?

Imagine what would happen if we encourage those already in university studying history, library science, sociology  or other related disciplines to look into genealogy as an aspect to their field.  How could we enrich them with what we know?  Even better, think about the ways they could enrich us with their knowledge of today.  

On the even younger scale, I don’t know how many of you have tweens in your life who watch the Disney Channel.  If you do you may have caught their segments My Family Tree.  These short pieces follow kids (I would guess middle school aged) as they discover aspects of their family history with their parents. They originally aired in 2010-11, but they are still being shown.  If you haven't seen them, some of the segments are on YouTube.  After my kids have watched an episode they always have questions about the show, if we have common themes in our family, and so many more questions.  If a 2 minute program can get kids attention…imagine what could happen to the future of our community if we harnessed this innate curiosity.

Granted, not all people will be interested in genealogy.  Just like I had neighbors at one point who didn’t understand why anyone would ever want to leave the tri-county area and a trip to the “City” 2 hours away was a huge deal.  We all have different interests, we all have different needs, and we all need someone to pick up where we leave off.  Wouldn't it be great if that someone was in the family?

Why should we wait until people are older to join in on the hunt? 

Coming together at the genealogy table will not happen overnight. Walls, age prejudice, thought patterns, and teaching will have to be addressed.  I have high hopes for our future with a multi-generational community that can learn and grow together.

However, to end on a funny note, add in a cat meme and I think this comic has it.


  1. Emily Kowalski SchroederMay 21, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    Your journey into genealogy sounds very similar to mine. I am a former scientist in my mid-30s and only just started seriously research my and my husband's family trees a couple of years ago. My kids are young (2 and 5) and I started it as a hobby that I could do during naptimes. I SO wish I would have asked more questions of my grandparents when they were still alive. I don't think it will ever be a professional career option for me, but I will still try to pass on my love for it to my kids.

    1. Emily, it is always nice to meet a fellow scientist stay at home mom! My kids are both in school now, so I have more time on my hands. Well, theoretically I have more time, as all stay at home moms know we never really are bored. I started out wanting only to pass on my family heritage to my kids. This hobby soon turned into a passion and I really discovered a lot about myself, not just about my ancestors.

      There is room for everyone at the genealogy table from hobbyist to professional. I am happy to sit there with you and have you participate in anyway you can.

      Happy ancestor hunting!

  2. Shannon,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks for letting me know and including me on your list! I see several on there I haven't read yet and will need to check out too.

  3. "Just in the last month there has been an upswing in the chatter on this subject culminating in the formation of a new society with its focus on promoting the next generation of genealogists."

    What is the name of the new society?

    1. The NextGen Genealogy Network has recently filed paperwork for incorporation. As soon as that is official, and then the website is up and running, I will post more details here.

      The Mission Statement is as follows:
      The NextGen Genealogy Network exists to foster the next generation’s interest in family history
      and engagement in our community through digital channels which virtually connect members
      throughout the world.

      For now, you can find them on Twitter @NextGenNetwrk and I know a Pintrest board is being set-up. There is a closed group for people who would like to join over on Facebook right now as well.