Some Thoughts for the Genealogy Societies in the World

Here is a bit of a confession: I’m not the only 20-something genealogist out there.  Surprisingly, there are a bunch of “younger” genealogists and family historians out there – I get comments and emails from them on a regular basis.  But the one thing I’ve noticed we all have in common?  We’re all pretty darn shy when it comes to actually going to a genealogy society or conference.  So how do you pull us out of our shells?
Here are my words of advice based on my own experiences and thoughts:

1.) Please don’t look at me like I’m a lost child that wandered into the wrong room.  No, I’m not lost.  Yes, I mean to be in here.  No, I was not dragged here against my will.  Yes, I actually want to be here.

2.) Don’t assume my grandparents (or other older relatives) are alive.  Some people my age are fortunate enough to have their grandparents still around.  However, I’m not one of them.  My mom was the youngest child in her family and was the last of her siblings to have children.  My maternal grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died shortly after.  My dad is also the youngest child of his family.  However, both of my paternal grandparents were alive when I was born.  Around my toddler years, my grandmother developed dementia and died in 2002.  My grandfather lived across the country and although it was his refusal to tell me anything about my family that got me interested in genealogy, he died in 2003.  So no, I’m not so lucky in that department.

3.) Please don’t assume I’m a beginner.  Often times when I walk into a new genealogy society or library, people assume I’m an absolute beginner.  I’m not saying I’m Elizabeth Shown Mills or anything, but I know my way around a pedigree chart.  Instead, ask me how my research is going.  Ask me where I’m stuck.  Ask me about what kind of ancestors I have.  Then offer me help or just let me enjoy the company.  We got something in common – let’s chat!

4.) Have a website, blog, and Facebook account.  I want to keep up with the happenings of your society and these are all easy ways for me to do it.  Keep me updated and informed, and I’m more likely to be there.

5.) Have an open mind.  I don’t expect every person in your society to be the most tech-savvy person on the planet.  All I ask if that when I mention a technological something (like DropBox or Facebook) and look at me like I’ve just spoken in Chinese or something.  Instead, ask me about it.  I swear, I won’t bite.  I won’t get mad.  I won’t think you’re stupid.  I want to share.  I want to tell you about it.

6.) Have a Decent Tech Set-Up: I understand that technology costs money and right now, the last thing any society has is money.  But, having a decent tech set up makes a speaker’s life so much easier.  And when you have great speakers who can easily show off their lovely presentations, then you have happy attendees.

7.) Don’t let my age define me.  When I went to SCGS’s Jamboree for the first time, I kind of became a legend to attendees.  On the last day of the conference, a woman walked up to me and excitedly introduced herself.  She added that, “It really is true!  There really is a young person here at this conference!  There’s been rumors going on about you the entire time but I just didn’t believe it!”  At the time, it was cute and flattering and kind of embarrassing – I was just happy that people were accepting me.  But now, I want to be judged and valued based on my knowledge, on my personality, on who I am and not hold old I am.  I get it – it’s so exciting to see a 20-something at a genealogy society or library.  I know that I’m young enough to be your daughter/granddaughter and how much you wish one of your family members would catch the bug like I have.  But once that excitement settles down, would you mind actually getting to know me and judging me based on that?  Cause I want to get to know you too.  I want more genealogy friends – people that get that I would rather go to a cemetery or spend an entire day in a library than go to a bar on a Friday night.  We already go so much in common – so let’s be friends!

So that’s my list of advice for genealogy societies hoping to attract a bit of a younger crowd.  Got anything to add to the list?  Pop it in the comments section.

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23 Responses to Some Thoughts for the Genealogy Societies in the World

  1. Yes, yes and yes! I’m right there with you, Elyse! I do not – repeat – do not have a disease. I am not scary. I am just as excited as you are to be in this room, doing this thing, collaborating and sharing and just… being a part of this experience!
    I was recently in a genealogy workshop, and not only was I the only one there under 60 (except the presenter, and by the way, we chatted about that very thing afterwards), I was also the only one with any electronics. All other attendees had pencil/paper. One of my colleagues mentioned that they might be intimidated by me, and my personal choice to use a lap top to take my notes. And while that may be true, I am also intimated by them: by their collective knowledge, their years of researching the “old fashioned way” and their unity. Part of the discussion was on WWII records, and the loss suffered in St. Louis in the ’70′s when the NARA building there had a fire. 99% of heads were bobbing up and down when asked if they remembered a living veteran – I, of course, being the 1%. They lived that history, and I’m so anxious to hear it! The class was full, so the last person who arrived was “forced” to sit in the only empty chair in the room: directly next to me. Perhaps they were intimidated, but can just one person do one small little thing to make me feel welcome, too?
    Ok, I’m rambling. Great post, and thank you for saying it. ~~ Jen

  2. Here, here! Well said!

  3. Oh, I know so well what you’re talking about. I’m female, still under 40 (I was in my early 20s when I started tracing my family), and blonde. I usually wear jeans and at least some make-up. Often enough, this is enough to make me stand out.
    My experience is that some of the “old folks” generally seem to think I was a beginner, but as soon as they realize I know what I’m talking about, I can watch their attitude change. From giving lectures they turn to discussing. I still find myself profiting from their knowledge of how things were handled in the past. You may have to prove yourself before they take you seriously, but once they do, most of them are awesome and share their experience generously, so it’s worth it.
    And I’m still thrilled when I meet someone who knew my grandparents and love to hear their stories ;-)

    Angela
    Angela Schwentker´s last blog post ..My Kekulé List

  4. Your blog resonated with me. I started doing genealogy when I was in my early 20′s. That was nearly 40 years ago. Back then there were only a couple of 20 somethings at our local genealogical society. We were considered a different breed, but we were welcomed. My age difference meant I didn’t have the money to invest in genealogy that many of them did, but like most people who start young, I was extremely passionate about itThat usually translates into becoming very porficient in it. Within just a few years I was president of the society. My age was always going to mark me as different from most members, but it didn’t get in the way of my participating. The society had contributed to the genealogical community a host of great local resources. I moved to a different city and quit the society. I did not join another where I moved.
    I moved back to my old location a few years ago and rejoined the society a couple of years ago. It was great to see how the society was reinventing itself- there were great educational opportunities, programs, greats web site, blog, Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, there were no 20 or 30 somethings ever coming through the door. There were a very few 40 somethings. My question for you and your younger friends is this- how do you get a younger person in the door? It wasn’t easy neary 35 years ago and seems even more difficult now.

  5. Elyse,
    I applaud you for this post! I started researching my family’s history when I was 21. Back then I was mortified when other genealogists slighted me simply because of my age – it particularly bothered me when I found new information and my findings were ignored. I turned 30 this past year and I’m still looked at like the baby of the group when I participate in genealogical events or discussions. One would certainly think that with age comes the wisdom of knowing that in some instances – age really is nothing but a number.

    Your ideas and points on pulling a younger crowd into the genealogy fold are well stated and I hope that some of the societies out there are paying attention to what you’ve said. I see a lot of young genealogists out there today and I think it’s time for societies and other organizations to start taking that into account. :)

    Thanks,
    Cassie
    Cassie Sanford Clark´s last blog post ..Family Recipe Friday: Kodie’s Peanut Butter Cookies

  6. I’m in my 30s and still encounter this! Even though I used to database census records for a living, I still encounter people who as soon as they find out how ‘young’ I am, decide to instruct me on the very basics when just as often as not, I’m the one helping seniors figure out this new fangled thing called internet genealogy. :D

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one who gets talked to as a complete newbie. You should see it when I go to speak at societies – they can’t believe I’m the speaker. And they can’t believe I know enough about genealogy to even teach a class. That’s gotten better because now I’m doing repeat performances at societies, but even still, I have to keep people on track because they just want to know more and more about how I got interested in genealogy. I appreciate it, I really do, but I’m also here cause I have a job to do, ya know?

  7. Elyse I so enjoy your blog and seeing you on facebook. Forty years ago I started much like you, but was mostly at family history centers. Gratefully as a younger person I did the important work of gathering the family information and artifacts. I love working with all ages of people, both professionally and as a volunteer. Keep smiling because there are a lot of us out here who want to friend you and others of all ages.

  8. Great post! I’m another 20-something genealogist. I’ve only been working on my family’s genealogy for about a year, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot and have become pretty proficient with most online tools. Now, I’d like to get involved in a local genealogy society and start attending conferences, etc., to learn about what else it out there, but I haven’t yet. Part of the reason is money (I’m a grad student) and part is that it seems intimidating since it seems that most people who attend are much older and experienced and probably have known each other for years. My advice to older genealogists who would like to get us younger genealogists in the door are to (1) offer as big of a discount to students as possible for any events that have a fee and (2) like Elyse said, maintain a digital presence – a website or Facebook page. Personally, I don’t usually go to any unfamiliar group, business, or conference that doesn’t have a website of some sort (they just don’t feel legitimate to me), and that’s the first place I go to get information about pretty much anything. Make sure that your website is kept up to date with meetings times, etc. and that it says somewhere that you welcome new people to all meetings/events. And when you see us young people with our laptops, come talk to us! We’d love to get to know you and learn from your experience, and we’d also love to share our knowledge of technological tools that you might be unfamiliar with.

  9. I am very sorry to read the above remarks. I am very active in a Genealogical Society & we welcome any new member-age & experience do not matter to us. If you need help, we do our best to help you. If you can teach us, we welcome your knowledge. We run workshops on as many subjects as possible & they are attended by all ages & knowledge levels.
    I do hope that you are able to find society’s that are more concerned with genealogy then they are with your age. Maybe learning to ignore your age when it comes to genealogy will help others see past it too. Happy hunting!

  10. Wow. I can totally relate in every part. The first and only Gen Soc meeting I went to, I think I was 28?, and I got the same reaction. They were elderly. Some were very elderly and everybody wanted to talk to me. The thing that I’ve found to be so sad is that so many of the people that are in these societies are retirees that are plagued with health problems and sometimes there are deaths too. Younger people need to help, and contribute, in any way they can.

    The one time I was overly annoyed was when I drove almost 150 miles to a library and the lady there was a bit over bearing, being in the opinion that I knew nothing when I walked in. What really annoyed me was when she didn’t understand that Harford, Hardford, Hartford, and Hurford were the same family in that area. She completely skipped over anything that wasn’t “Harford” and told me there was no results in any books or on their computer. I politely asked if I could take a look as well and found ALL the people I was looking for under alternate spellings.

    As for the tech part, I completely sympathize with you. Anymore I just simply ask if I can have a paper copy, pay for it, and leave. That’s if I can’t take a picture or scan it on the spot. I used to get annoyed with the ‘have you looked on Ancestry yet?’ when I’m there about once a month, they know who I am, and what I do. (It’s actually become a bit of a joke anymore in some of the places I frequent.)

    Happy hunting to you and don’t ever give up! –Kevin

  11. Thanks for a spot on article!!!! I also started researching my families at a much younger age (I am now one of the over 60 group). The Florida State Genealogical Society board has been discussing some of the issues you addressed in an effort to help the local societies attract the younger genealogists. We just hosted our 36th annual conference and the theme was The Best of Times: Genealogy + Technology! I was really excited to see how many of our attendees brought their iPads, laptops, netbooks, SmartPhones, etc. Thomas MacEntee and Curt Witcher challenged and dragged some of them into the techie age! Your blog is a refreshing bit of younger excitement!

  12. Good points, Elyse, but please don’t assume that all of us oldies took up genealogy late in life. I was 31 when I joined my first genealogy society, back when dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. I don’t remember standing out because of my age, or anyone expressing surprise, so perhaps “younger” genealogists were more common back then, at least here in the UK.

    • I don’t think all genealogists took up the obsession later in life – most people tell me that they got interested in their early adult years or once they had children.

      I’m glad to hear that you didn’t feel that you stood out from the crowd when you joined your first society.

      I wonder whether or not younger genealogists are more common in the UK – perhaps people take up more interest in family history at a younger age in the UK?

      • I don’t think the UK is much different to be honest, Elyse. I went to Who Do You Think You Are Live in London in 2011, and I didn’t see a single person all day who I would have said was under 35, except for a few kids with their parents (which I suppose might be a good sign?) Lauren
        Lauren´s last blog post ..100 posts of genealogical joy

  13. Hi Elyse, I’ve been following your blog for a while. I too am a 20-something genealogist (27, but I started researching at 21) and I can absolutely relate to this, even though I’m across the pond! I particularly get what you mean about being treated like a ‘newbie’ – so frustrating! (though, my surname being ‘newby’, perhaps I shouldn’t grumble too much!)
    Lauren´s last blog post ..100 posts of genealogical joy

  14. Great post, Elyse! Although I have a few years on you, I completely understand the frustration. What’s interesting is that I don’t feel it in all circles. I’ve been fortunate to belong to societies that have not only welcomed me into their society, but also encouraged me to become a member of their board. These particular societies welcomed a different perspective and are forward-thinking, knowing that they NEED to find people in order to sustain their organization. On the other side of the coin, there are those societies that are made up of only older folks that don’t know how to respond to anyone under 40. I really don’t know why that is, but truly believe they need to get over it (whatever IT is) and start embracing the younger generations since we’ll be the ones carrying the torch for their society someday…
    Julie Tarr´s last blog post ..Friday Finds–11/16/12

  15. Elyse, I can also relate. Very good post. Granted, I have about 15 years on you. I’m not 40 yet but getting there. I go to local conferences and I’m usually the youngest one there. There are 2 others in our local group younger than me, and one of them only younger by about 9 months. The other one is close to your age. Most genealogists are female and over 50. I laughed when I got pregnancy weekly emails along with AARP ones. Do ya think one was not appropriate? It also be nice if conferences could be scheduled better for those of us that have young children. I went to one that presentations went to almost 9 pm. Keep going girl! I’ll see you on the Twitter.

  16. Pingback: In Review: November 2012 | The Sanford Family Misfit

  17. Elyse, I’m sorry I’m late in responding. A trouble with being old is that you get “not well” and don’t keep up. I was NOT young when I became a genealogist, but I WAS relatively tech savvy. I still get queries and raised eyebrows when I talk about Facebook, blogs, and so on (even at 85). Just wanted you to know that the technology part of your experience isn’t limited to the young!

  18. Pingback: In Review: November 2012 | The Sanford Family Misfit

  19. Elyse
    I hope you realize you are most welcome at the Immigrant Library by both the Pommern Special Interest Group and the Immigrant Genealogical Society. I definitely appreciate all your help with our facebook page and blog page. My question is how can we get more young members to be on the two boards and also how do we get them to come to the library and the general meetings? We really need your knowledge for this to keep the library open. In return if you come when I am there I can teach you how to use the library and its German collection.
    Thanks for all you do. I feel very lucky to have you with us.
    Toni

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