It’s time to change the game - family history survey response (1/5)

  • By Caroline Pointer
  • October 17, 2011

Over the weekend we shared the results of our recent survey on family history. The survey found that more people than ever are interested in learning about their family history but they (on average) know even less about their genealogy. This week, five of the genealogy community’s top thinkers will share their reactions starting today with Caroline Pointer.

Genealogy Survey Results for Family History Month

It’s time to throw away the genealogy rule book.

No more you have to be retired or over a certain age to look for who begat you.

No more read this 300-page tome of “More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Genealogy” before you ever think about “doing” your own genealogy.

No more spending all day in a library (unless you really want to, of course).

No more making fun of other people’s family trees located online or offline. After all, right or wrong, they are still trying.

No more dry and boring genealogical and historical society meetings where younger people are not only made to feel unwelcome but discouraged to visit, join, or, heaven forbid, make a suggestion.

No more scheduling genealogy-related or family history-related meetings and conferences when those who are employed full-time cannot possibly attend.

Basically, no more doing things the same old way just because that’s the way they have always been done.

The key to lessening the disparity between those who want to know who their ancestors were and those who actually take steps to learn who their ancestors were is through a combination of education and allowing people to do it on their own terms. It should be goal-based. Perhaps a person’s goal is to learn the medical history of their ancestors. Perhaps another person’s goal is to memorialize a loved one’s life, and yet another person’s goal is to have a complete genealogy that is perfectly sourced.

All are equally valuable in their own right as well as possibly valuable to the other. For example, perhaps the person who researches their medical history unknowingly stumbles upon something of value to someone else, and in blogging about it on their non-genealogy or non-family history blog, they unwittingly share it with a family history researcher who needed that information to solve a “brick wall” problem.

Likewise, what if the person who memorializes a loved one’s life on say,, shares a story of their loved one, and in that story were clues that the genealogical researcher needed to complete their genealogy?

Moreover, while a fundamental change is very helpful from the “top down”, it’s more practical at a community level. It is important to remove the stigma that genealogy is only for those who are retired. Below are just a few ideas that community groups and organizations should at least take into consideration:

  • Family and community history should be incorporated more into schools by placing modern tools and curriculum into the hands of educators
  • The trial-and-error method of research should be acknowledged and embraced so that all feel comfortable to try and to make errors and to find truths
  • More modern methods should be used for local education and outreach in our communities, genealogical and historical societies, in our libraries, etc
  • Communities should implement mentoring programs with a more seasoned researcher paired with a younger researcher. There is so much one can teach and learn from the other
  • Accommodate those with differing schedules by offering a 2nd meeting of the group at a different time for those who aren’t retired
  • None of the above will matter, though, if we don’t incorporate modern technology into everything we do. It’s the game-changer. Technology can allow younger groups to participate like never before. Can you imagine a program where we took younger people, unleashed them in a retirement home, and they captured family stories on Smartphones? How about if we unleashed them in an old forgotten cemetery and with their Smartphones, they captured and uploaded all the tombstones?

    Further, what about all those descendants that have moved from the area that the ancestors once lived in? Are the genealogical and historical societies in those areas thinking about programs for these people when they schedule programs? Could they learn how to use webinars and other online tools to reach out to these descendants as well as to the local community?

    The point is that the genealogy world needs to meet people where they are, assess what those people need, and provide a platform that is inviting and relevant to them. It can’t afford not to. Do we really want our descendants sitting around wondering who we were and wondering why we didn’t capture what we could with the technology we had?

    Do you want to participate in the conversation? 1000memories invites and encourages you to blog and/or tweet about it. Please send the link to or tweet what you think and use the hash tag #familyhistorymonth. Next Saturday, 1000memories will publish a summary of all the perspectives and ideas shared.


    About Caroline Pointer

    When she's not suggesting crazy ideas like putting smartphones in the hands of the young and unleashing them in retirement communities to record family stories, Caroline M. Pointer is recording her own family stories with every tool she can think of on her personal family history blog, Family Stories. Caroline is a professional genealogist and family historian who enjoys sharing what she’s learned when technology and genealogy collide on her blog, She has a new blog for beginners and professionals alike launching soon,, where she will share about getting more out of genealogy and blogging. Also, she is the In2Genealogy columnist for the E-magazine, Shades of the Departed. Caroline can be reached at CMPointer [AT] gmail [DOT] com. However, most often she can be found on that newfangled social media blue bird site called Twitter at @FamilyStories.

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