How genealogy and family history can thrive

  • By Michael Katchen
  • October 22, 2011
Genealogy Survey Results for Family History Month

Last 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.

To discuss the results we assembled a stellar team of guest bloggers to kick-start debate and offer a breadth of perspectives.

Their reactions inspired a very thoughtful discussion on what individuals and societies can do to close the gap. Thousands of people read and participated in the debate, on our blog, Twitter, Facebook, radio, and other websites. Today we seek to summarize the amazing breadth of ideas in a way that is clear and actionable.

What can individuals do differently?

Help others get started

One of the biggest challenges for new-comers is not knowing where to start. Thomas MacEntee suggests that as curators who are able to navigate the vast number of genealogy resources out there, pointing new-comers in the right direction is one of the most effective ways to get them hooked. So where should you point them? Rather than defaulting to a pedigree chart (which many people see as “too academic”), find out where their interest in family history comes from and suggest something relevant. A shining example of what you can do is Elyse Doerflinger who has taken it upon herself to help young genealogists “find their tribe”. She writes on her blog “So if you are a young genealogist in hiding, you aren’t alone.... And if you are having trouble, tell me. We’ll find your tribe together.”

Adopt an ambassador mindset

Ultimately, creating a vibrant, growing, and engaged community starts with individuals. It is our job to inspire others and not to intimidate them. We should take it upon ourselves to welcome those who share our passion and reach out to even more people in the community. At your next genealogy event, challenge yourself to find a new-comer and find out how you can help. Try to reach others by sharing your passion with friends and family in a way they can appreciate - whether that be through research or family photos and stories.

What can societies do differently?

Make accessibility a top priority

Accessible events and relevant content are table stakes for a successful society according to Amy Johnson Crow. Society meetings should never be during the afternoon on a weekday, full stop. Engaging more people in genealogy means making it as easy as possible for them to participate. As Randy Whited suggests, societies should try to inspire people to get involved by offering a diverse portfolio of events that not only cater to the “regular crowd’ but also to a much broader segment of the community. The most successful societies accomplish this through maintaining an up to date website, programming events that reflect the breadth of family history interests (not simply “academic” pursuits), and building a meaningful presence in the communities within which they operate.

Cultivate new members

If societies are not embracing new members, how can they expect to survive and thrive? A tweet by @seekingsurnames this week clearly highlights the problem, “3 months since I joined local genea society and filled out volunteer form...still no call :(“. Societies should be celebrating and cultivating every new member. A great idea from Caroline Pointer is establishing a welcoming and mentoring committee with the job of helping new members find a meaningful role. Ask @seekingsurnames to be the chair - I’m sure she has a few ideas of what not to do.

The discussion this week demonstrates that the genealogy community has lots of energy and enthusiasm to share. There are 10 days left in family history month, so let’s make some resolutions on where we want to be in another 4 years and start making that vision a reality.

Read the full discussion:

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