“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way”
– Linda Creed, The Greatest Love of All, made popular by Whitney Houston
OK, I know the eighties are over, but these lyrics echo well a sentiment I’ve often heard genealogists express: “We’ve got to find a way to get the younger generation interested in genealogy/family history! But how?”
I discussed this topic briefly with Randy Seaver during the Geneablogger Dinner at the recent SCGS Jamboree. Randy suggested that I consider the example of Elyse Doerflinger, seated at the table across from us. Twenty years young and currently a student at El Camino College, Elyse first became interested in genealogy about eight years ago:
“It all started with my aunt when I was 12 or 13. She had discovered Ancestry.com and … I thought the facts she told me were so interesting. … Then, during a trip to Tennessee to visit my grandpa for the summer, I discovered so much about my family that I became permanently hooked. Everyone was telling me stories and giving me information.” (via Larry Lehmer’s blog, Passing It On)
So there’s one answer to the “How do we get kids interested” question — we simply nurture loving and positive relationships with our nieces, nephews and grandchildren and introduce them in a natural way to the pleasures of family history research. Many will listen politely and go no further, but a few, like Elyse, will become “hooked.”
I sensed another possible answer as the geneabloggers left the dinner later that night. I overheard Elyse remark that her mother had early on labeled her lovingly as “an old soul”. That struck me as an important insight. The same qualities of curiosity, selflessness and “wisdom beyond her years” that led her to feel so comfortable around her aunt and her grandfather might well have helped her feel excited to learn the stories of her deceased ancestors as well. So perhaps as genealogists (or as geneabloggers, society volunteers, conference organizers… whatever) we can foster and encourage activities that will specifically attract “old souls” like Elyse — the better to nurture them and welcome them into a supportive community.
At the same time, I think it’s important that young people interested in genealogy have the chance to socialize with others their own age who share their interests. Elyse notes that she met someone at Jamboree who was actually younger than her — Michael Melendez — when they both worked together at the “Kids Family History Camp” held the first morning of the Jamboree. The Youth Genealogists Association, of which Michael is the webmaster, strikes me as a tremendously promising organization in this regard. I would love to get behind it with some kind of modest corporate sponsorship. (Of course, we’ll need some revenue first!)
So where to go with all this? How about a session at next year’s Jamboree specifically aimed at genealogy enthusiasts in their teens and twenties? Or perhaps a panel discussion aimed at genealogy societies in which young people make up the panel and explain what attracted them to the field? Or at the very least, as several have already suggested, how about having Elyse be on the panel at next year’s Geneablogger Summit!