There is a myth going around and I want to clear it up right now to avoid any further confusion. So everyone gather in tight and listen here:
Yes, young people (however you may define that) are indeed interested in genealogy and family history.
You’re probably thinking I’m crazy right about now because every time you go to a library, archive, courthouse, society meeting, or conference you mostly see people that aren’t in the “young people” category. Most people at these places are old enough to be retired. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with it.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in family history or genealogy.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo taken by Elyse Doerflinger in 2012.
Recently, James Tanner of the Genealogy’s Star blog wrote, “The Genealogy Age Gap - How do we expand to include the youth?“. I want to take this opportunity to politely disagree with James and lay out my argument that young people really are interested in genealogy and family history.
Family Isn’t a Priority to Young People. Wrong. Family and my fiance are my number one priority in life. Actually, let me clarify: My living family and my fiance are my number one priority in life. I want to spend time with them. Don’t misunderstand me: I love me some dead people, but my first priority is the living.
But aside from that, at this stage in my life, my main priority is finishing my education, getting my career on a solid foot, planning my wedding, and then thinking about starting a family on my own. The next ten years of my life are going to be pretty jam packed and I think people around my age (20-somethings) are in a similar boat.
Seeing as other things are higher up on my priority list than genealogy, it means that my money and time goes towards other things. For example, my local genealogy society holds their monthly meetings on Wednesday evenings and while I would love to attend, I have teaching credential classes on Wednesday evenings. I would love to go to RootsTech this year but I have classes that I can’t miss and the travel expenses are high. NGS is only a 4 hour drive away from me this year, but it is right before my finals week. Jamboree will be the one conference that I go to because it is close by and since I’ve become addicted to Jamboree about 4 years ago, I’m determined to go. Like, I’ll eat ramen noodles for months if it means I get to go and see my friends and see my favorite speakers and have a great time!
But all of this doesn’t mean I am not interested in my family and their stories. It just means I have less time and money to spend in the hobby.
We’re Not Educated Enough to Research. I can’t speak for every person under 35, but I can say that most of the people I know have the reading, writing, and analyzing skills to do research.
As most of you know, I have a Bachelors of Arts in a Liberal Studies for Early Teaching and Learning and I am currently in a teaching credential program to teach elementary school. My life is all about education these days and while I definitely feel like there are some issues with our education system, I certainly don’t feel that we are creating a generation that is too dumb to do research.
Even at the age of 12, I could conduct basic research skills like reading census documents and doing online searches. I could do look ups in books. I walked through and photographed cemeteries.
I’ve created family history units and I can tell you that *all ages* can do family history research in some form. A 5 year old can ask their parents, grandparents, or another older adult about what life was like when they were little. A 10 year old can analyze a map and research travel routes. A 15 year old can analyze documents and pull information. Seriously. It’s *all* research but just different types of research. You gotta have all of these skills and kids learn these skills as they get older.
As for computer skills, I think most people in the younger set are pretty good with technology. I grew up with a computer in my house. I went to high school with a cell phone. I take my laptop to class every day. Technology is something that almost always comes naturally to me. I have no problem exploring a new tech tool without reading the instructions and I like to have things portable (ie: on my phone).
Most of the people my age that I interact with can do the basic computer stuff necessary for research. They can search Google with ease. Within a few minutes, they can figure out how to best use a search engine on a site like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. It might take a few minutes to get used to a genealogy program like RootsMagic or Legacy, but it wouldn’t be something crippling or difficult.
Those are just my experiences.
The End Goal May Be Different. Each person does genealogy and family history research for a different reason. Some people love the chase. Some people want to gain membership into a lineage society. Some people want to see how far back they can go. Some people want to learn about the story.
And each person has a different thing they want to do with their genealogy and family history stuff. Some people proudly display family artifacts around their home. Some people publish blogs or books. Some people create videos. Some people pass it down to their descendants.
All of these different reasons and end goals are valid. In general, most people from my generation want to discover a family story and tell it – whether that be in a blog, in a book, in a video, whatever. Because most people feel the best connection to their past when the names and dates become more meaningful with story.
There Are Lots of Young Genealogists Out There. I used to believe that I was a major rarity in the genealogy world. But in the years that I’ve been running this blog, I’ve been contacted by so many young people that are interested in genealogy. Like tons. They exist. And we chat via email or follow each other on social networks. They are just busy with 1,000 other things (like me!) and don’t have time to do genealogy all the time.
So there you have it… Young people *are* interested in genealogy and I promise, the hobby isn’t going to disappear any time soon!