The Genealogy Generational Disconnect

Recently, there was a post on the Transitional Genealogists Forum from a young twenty-something genealogist that has sparked a lot of great conversation.  If you haven’t read the post yet, you should read it here.

Reading about Eva’s experiences as a young genealogist, especially her experience while at NGS this year, I realized how much I can relate to her.  Her experiences sounded eerily similar to my own and I could definitely feel for her.

I was very lucky with my first conference.  Going to SCGS Jamboree in 2009 was a wonderful experience and nearly everyone I met was kind, funny, knowledgeable.  People were certainly surprised that I was there but no one made me feel as if I was not knowledgeable about genealogy simply because of my age.  People remarked how shocked they were that someone my age was here and many people wanted to know why I was so interested in genealogy.  Many people wanted to quiz me on how to get their own children, grandchildren, or other young family members into genealogy.  Only one person choose to question my knowledge and practically treat me like someone with a complete lack of basic US history knowledge – and while I was polite, I quickly got away from him.  But perhaps the positive conference experience was based on the fact that this conference was practically in my own backyard.  Or maybe it was the fact that this was the first time I met so many bloggers in person – therefore, I already had a group of people behind me and cheering me on.  Or maybe it was just that all of that didn’t phase me because the conference was just so much fun.

However, at other genealogy events, I have not been so lucky.  My local society held a genealogy meeting one month that I decided to attend.  From the moment I walked in the door, people treated me like a complete newbie.  It wasn’t that it bothered me that people assumed I was a total newcomer to the genealogy world – but it bothered me that after I showed my pedigree charts and my notebooks and had a few discussions and yet, still, they treated me like a total newbie.  The whole event was honestly embarrassing and made me never want to come back.

But fortunately, most people haven’t been that way with me.  In fact, I’ve been fortunate and blessed enough to be welcomed into the community with open arms of love and acceptance.  I don’t feel that anyone looks down on me or questions my skills.  People have loved me for the crazy, loud, Energizer Bunny kind of person I am.  I’m out there in left field a bit and wearing a tiara for most genealogy events.  And yet, everyone accepts me for exactly who I am and my knowledge.

The reason why?  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I “knew” a lot of these people before I went to conferences or went to genealogy events.  Thanks to my blog and social media, I already have a bit of a social media family.  I knew so many genealogists before I had even met them in person.  There were no awkward meetings – in fact, meeting everyone for the first time felt like I had known these people forever.  We instantly connected, instantly had stuff in common and to talk about.  We knew each other’s research interests and could relate to one another.  It was wonderful and I’m so grateful for the technology that made it possible.

So my fellow genealogists – how do we help bring out these young kids into the world of genealogy?  The young research set exists, hiding away from the crowds and just lurking on the web.  What can we do as a community to get more people like Eva out in the open and comfortable?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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13 responses to “The Genealogy Generational Disconnect

  1. My observations is that genealogy is just more interesting to some people and what follows is the search for ancestors.

    The other more obvious answer is that the Generation X has grown up and they are still entirely focused on themselves and what is in their best interest. In short, it is a disconnect at a deeper level.
    Alice´s last blog post ..A Christian Heritage

    • I am not sure what generational group you belong to, Alice. But I am solidly a member of Generation X, and I can aver that this is not an accurate depiction of my generation. There are many other Gen-X genealogists as well. But, just like the name we were given reflects, Generation X has been largely ignored by the older generations in favor of the younger ones. The “disconnect” is not ours, but others’.
      Michael Hait, CG(sm)´s last blog post ..Canadian genealogical society journals

  2. SaveEveryStep

    I feel the very same way in my work trying to encourage people to save their memories. Little sense of their own mortality until they have a family perhaps? If you find the answer, please count me in on the discussion!

  3. Hey Elyse! Great post! I totally get what you’re talking about. Thankfully I didn’t get any negative responses to my age at SCGS Jamboree this year (my first genealogy conference), but I have experienced it elsewhere. The first few times I showed up at the local historical society to work on my (possibly crazy) project of transcribing a whole town’s parish records, some of the volunteers there acted like I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and didn’t understand the amount of work involved, etc. My response was basically “yes, I’m aware that this will take years, but hey, I’m only 24, so I’ve got lots of genealogy-doing years left!”

    As for what we can do to make young genealogists feel more comfortable, I don’t really know. Maybe we should have some kind of club. 😛 We can all wear tiaras.
    Lianne Lavoie´s last blog post ..See you at SCGS Jamboree 2012!

  4. Hi Elyse,

    I love reading your blog. I got the genealogy bug at 25 and am still going 27 years later. I did go to my local genealogy meetings and was lucky to find people friendly and helpful, despite my lack of grey hairs (have a few myself now). I haven’t been for a while (children and work have kept me busy), but if I go again will try to make young genealogists comfortable.

    I have succeeded in giving my husband the “bug” but not yet with my daughters (though they do like history). Hope you are still having fun at 52 like me (and maybe I will get around to writing a blog one day)

  5. I replied to Eva’s email with an intro post of my own on TGF. I do double/triple duty as a genealogist/historian/architectural historian, and what I have seen is that those that are interested in history don’t necessarily see the connection to genealogy and how they can be used together, and some genealogists/family historians don’t want to delve into the history in order to answer their questions.

    I’m sorry that you had a less-than-ideal experience with your local society. I’ve become involved with two local societies, making presentations at both. I became known as someone who knows (mostly) what I am talking about by not shutting up! 😉 But I know that there are people in both groups that wish I would!

    Great post! Thank you!

  6. I’m a young genealogist too (24, soon to be 25). I got started about 7 years ago and just recently tried getting involved in local genealogy things. Seems to me that they are just basic/beginner things though and since I have taken the time to read books, blogs, attend webinars, etc. I’m more into the intermediate level. Do you have a problem connecting like that? It’s nice for me to share my tips or tricks with the less experienced but I am hoping to connect with more people who are knowledgeable and can share tips and tricks that may be more useful in helping me break down my brick walls.

  7. Pingback: Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 18 June 2012 « Planting the Seeds

  8. Thank you Elyse and Eva for drawing some attention to an ongoing issue within genealogy. Like yourselves and Michael, I started genealogy very young and have always had some fascination with uncovering ancestors and trying to understand them. To add to that, I am in my 30’s and a genealogy librarian. Although an archivist by training, I have a long history of working in libraries, archives, and museums in some sort of genealogical scope. I still get the youth comments to which I usually counter, “its not the age that matters but how the job is done”. Part of what I do is study genealogy as a subject, how people interact with records and collections, and how genealogists research. What has been missing for quite some time is the voice of the GenXers and the younger generations (let me just add I am a proud member of GenX!)
    I don’t usually do this on other people’s blogs, but I put together a comparison of the different generations involved in genealogy on my first blogpost over a year ago:
    Certainly, there are many younger people that are interested in genealogy research, but perhaps they are interested in a different kind of research.

  9. Hi, Elyse and everybody else on here! I’ve been reading the blog for a bit now, and this caught my eye. You see, I’m 16 years old, and started getting really into genealogy at about…oh, 14 years of age? It’s kind of strange in that I’m more interested in genealogy than anybody else in my immediate family. Anyway, in terms of getting the younger crowd interested, I’ve seen often suggested the method of introducing them to genealogy via stories of their ancestors. They aren’t just ‘dead people’ they were people that experienced hardships, sometimes exciting and dangerous obstacles to boot! (I admit that my younger brother has failed to show interest in what I tell him regarding genealogy–“Hey, you know that your great-granddad opened a liquor factory?” “Yeah, so?”) (Ah. My brother has just walked into the office and protested mightily at what I’ve written. He claims that he is interested in the family legends–only if they are good, he adds. However, ours are ‘crap’. Or so he grumbles). Maybe ask them if they’re interested in learning about a heirloom, or why they have red hair but you (the older one) doesn’t. My brother informs me that we have to tell them something interesting. Or exciting–that will ignite their interest and make them want to hear more. (Apparently I failed to do this. Thank you so very much, little brother).

    I think that a possible way of interesting them is with groups that the family is eligible to join. For instance, they might think it’s very cool that if they have an ancestor who fought in the revolutionary war, they could join the daughters/sons of the American Revolution. Kids take pride in belonging to exclusive groups, and heck, they might even boast to their peers that they had a revolutionary war ancestor. Knowing the name provides proof that they do.

    My brother has just exclaimed that this would work with famous people as well. This would be very effective, he explains, because fame is very important to young people. (Of course, the likelyhood of having/knowing about famous ancestors isn’t quite as high…)

    This comment is getting to be long, so I’ll end the input for now. I like the blog quite a lot, by the way–it’s always nice to see updates, Elyse!

    • Hey Phoebe! Thank you so much for commenting! I am so happy that you are commenting and it is so good to hear from a fellow young genealogist!

      I love your suggestions of using family stories to get young’uns involved. I found it interesting that you mentioned heritage and lineage societies – I never thought of that suggestion. I’m sensing a guest post coming on (or at least an interview). Would you mind emailing me so we can discuss this further – I think your insight is invaluable to the genealogical community and will open up some eyes. My email is GenealogistElyse AT Gmail DOT com.

      Thanks again for commenting! Totally made my day. :-)


    • Phoebe, I agree with you on that. I became interested in genealogy at 19. I am now 32, so I guess I sort of walk the fine line between the groups now.

      It went sort of the other way with me, but it’s related. I used to loathe history class or other related courses, but now after doing genealogy and being able to tie my own history to these other historical events, it has sparked a ton of interest in history for me.

      I plan on using this tactic on my daughter (and my nephews) when talking about their family history rather than charts and names, like, “Did you know your great-great grandfather fought in World War I?”, etc.

      Great comment.
      Brian Zalewski´s last blog post ..One Billion Graves

  10. I’m a young genealogist who started in 2006 at the age 0f 19, I am now 25.
    Many people are shocked that I became interested in my family history at such a young age. There are times when people have treated me like a I’m a newbie, but I handle it well.

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