Young People Aren’t Interested in Genealogy?

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.

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!

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40 Responses to Young People Aren’t Interested in Genealogy?

  1. I will also say as a young genealogist, it feels some times like I’m a rarity, but not really. If I talk genealogy with my friends and peers, they are interested. In fact, I’ve actually helped a lot of them get started. Which to me is the number one thing that is holding a lot of younger people back, not knowing where or how to start.

    I also read that article and I took a little exception to it, but really I just read it and moved on with reading other blogs because I do enjoy reading his blog. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s very informative about a lot things that I don’t have knowledge in and that what I read the blogs for.

    I find as a younger genealogist that if you don’t find the right people, it’s easy to get intimidated. I don’t have a college degree, I might never have one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the knowledge to do this stuff. I’ve self taught myself website design and genealogy research. I didn’t take any classes on either until I was well into them, years into them. It didn’t come naturally until I taught myself the basic skills. I made a lot of errors in the beginning, and there were plenty of other genealogists out there telling me exactly how I was doing things wrong. Luckily when I was learning website coding, it was just really starting to explode. I made my first website in middle school. I’m humble enough though that I love hearing the criticism, and I love learning from others. Other people might not like that though, they might feel like it’s not worth the trouble.

    I think what really needs to be preached in the genealogy community is how we deal with the newcomers, how we guide them without scorn, and how we set them on the right path from the beginning without lecturing. Sure they’re going to make mistakes, but everyone does when they’re learning things. I learn more from mistakes then I do from anything else. That’s how I learn really. It may not be our favorite thing, but those Ancestry.com commercials are doing wonders for getting people into genealogy. I’ve seen at least 4 friends get started because of them. I certainly don’t like the so easy a caveman can do it message, but it’s getting the butts in the seats so to speak. I’ve had a lot of people sign up for Ancestry and within a few days, they’re amazed by all that they find, and I congratulate them, and let them know if they have any question, big or small, I’m can answer them or send them to someone who can. I don’t suddenly come at them making sure they’re citing their sources perfectly, and not merging their trees like crazy. I would love to hover and steer them but they won’t really learn that way. It’s really hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, when you get into Ancestry like that, that’s going to be the learning curve.

    Maybe instead of wondering and analyzing the difference between younger and older genealogists we should be focusing on how to get that initial leap into genealogy be a little more solid. Honestly genealogy isn’t so easy a caveman can do it simple, but it’s simple enough that with a little bit of guidance and teaching, most people should be able to learn enough basics to get a basic family tree done. Anything after that, they can seek out when they’re ready and not so easily overwhelmed.

    As for the lack of young genealogists at conferences, libraries, etc; I don’t really have the money for conferences or things like that, but I make time and budget constraints where I can for ordering what records I can. I’m going to admit right now that I’m a really shy person in the regular world and it’s hard for me to leap into these kind of social situations. Maybe the young genealogists you see are a rarity, but I think not so much at the age we are now, but the age we started, but then maybe we started young so we can help guide our peers into it. I couldn’t tell you. I just know I’m glad to help them when they’re ready to learn.

  2. Or should that be ‘hear hear’? I can never remember!
    Lauren´s last blog post ..A sinister discovery

  3. Very nice, I’ve always wondered what many consider the age brackets are when we talk about the young not as interested at the old. Young under 20?

    • I think when we talk about the genealogy world, young is somewhere in the under 30 or 40 range – simply by looking at the demographics of societies, workshops, and conferences in the industry.

  4. Thank you for explaining/defining priorities. While I love researching, the living are, and must be, my top priority.
    Karen´s last blog post ..Surname Saturday – Blackmore and Lemon

  5. I brought my 16 year old daughter with me this weekend to assist people at the Irish Center in searching for their roots. She had a great time, and we were slammed with requests on Saturday. She loved ancestry.com and talked about creating her own account (until I told her it was a paid site).

    Sometimes when I need advice from someone, to think outside the box or if I am missing the obvious, I will ask myself a question out loud and she has been know to answer me. While her answer has not been what I needed, it is in line with what I am working on. For ex. I wanted to know where I could find the name of a restaurant a family member owned in 1940. She replied, the census records. I laughed and thanked her for her help but told her the census was where I found out there was a family restaurant.

    So, I have succeeded in planting seeds in my children. Will one of them pick it up. I do not know and honestly, it does not matter to me at this point because it could very well be one of their kids (in the far off future) that picks up were I left off.

    I also just want to add that my kids range from 16 to mid 20’s and they can all read, write, analyze and do what needs to be done in life!
    Terri OConnell´s last blog post ..Happy St. Patrick’s Day

  6. I agree completely. When I started, I was considered pretty young on “genealogy” standards at 19. Now, I think I probably fall within the middle somewhere between the young and the old at 33, though I probably lean more towards the young.

    All of those things come into play, there is a lot going on in my life with my living family and work. But, I love researching my family and looking through old documents when I get a chance.
    Brian Zalewski´s last blog post ..The Other Half

  7. Thank YOU!! I started young, at 16, to do genealogy and have been at it now for the last 41 years. We have about 12 young people in our local church that have been called as Family History Consultants within the past two weeks. I am so thankful to have them! There are too many ADULTS that just don’t care or say, “My genealogy was done by my mother.” BALONEY!! is all I have to say to them! It is NEVER DONE! Let’s pray these younger adults will take up where their grandparents say they are done!

  8. Bravo Elyse! I have a 17 year old and a 21 year old and they are very much interested in genealogy. Like you they have no time, put they love to hear what I’m working on, they come to archives and cemeteries with me and with enthusiasm I might add. They’ve helped to edit my books, and they have excellent research skills. They also understand the importance of citations. They are very proud of the family history book I wrote and I have no doubt they will carry on the torch when they have time.
    But the point I want to make is this, we will never encourage more young people to join the ranks by making assumptions that the younger generation are just not interested. It will only come from planting the seeds and exposing them to our passion. You are where you are today because you were given the environment to thrive. You were nurtured and encouraged and exposed to your family history. If we do that much, the rest will look after itself. I believe in the built it they will come philosophy. If we built a more inclusive and welcoming environment to all then they will come.

  9. Thanks so much for stating your viewpoint. I didn’t start looking into my family history until I retired ( although I did retire young) so am among the “older” in the community; however, I’ve always advocated that the “younger” among us have important life priorities to deal with which hinders giving too much time/money towards genealogy. All in good time:)

  10. Agree 100%. I did research last year when I was on work placement because I had time. And I had money to attend Who Do You Think You Are? Live. This year I’m back at university so genealogy has to take a back foot. I hate it and I miss it, but I have to prioritise.

  11. I may be getting old, but I LOVE the younger generations, and wish to keep up with technology and things to share more of my family history with them as they choose. Each will come to appreciate, in their own time, the rich heritage that is ours. It’s my joy to tell the silly, wonky, and serious family tales and compile the genealogy as accurately as I can so the stories of our ancestors won’t be lost. JUST SAYING…

  12. I love your post. I was a little insulted by his original post. I did a follow up on it and was mentioned on GeneaMusings. I am glad to see that you have followed up with a young person’s view.
    Betty taylor´s last blog post ..Creating Family History – How do you do record your family history?

  13. Here here!! I totally love what you had to say in your post. I’m so happy to see younger people involved in family history.

    As we parents involve our children in family history by sharing stories about our ancestors, taking our children to cemeteries, etc., I think we plant the seeds of love for family history in our children.

    And yes, young people are so tech savvy. They grew up with it. And they could teach the older generation a thing or two on that subject, for sure.
    Jana Last´s last blog post ..Will You Be Watching?

  14. Betty, my dad was an avid story teller. He would sit and tell our sons tale after tale of his youth and our family genealogy/history. Before he passed away, my dad committed to paper much of our family history. My sons treasure those writings and and I’m sure will pass them to their children… love that!
    Mary
    Mary @ Woman to Woman´s last blog post ..My Secret Sin

  15. As someone who “dabbled” as a teen and got serious about it in my early 20s, I find your recurring writings on this topic of interest. There is a fundamental flaw in the premise advanced by “older” genealogists, that “young” people aren’t interested or aren’t participating – often conflating non-participation with disinterest. You’ve done an excellent job of disproving that myth, although I never came up against it when I was much younger. Setting aside on-line contacts, in which my age was never apparent, my experience was generally positive. I became a regular at the local LDS family history centre, where neither patron nor staff person ever made me feel like I was an oddity or unusual or any different from any of the other people in the room. And remembering back, I found it hard to get out and do things for the very reasons you give here, but I was anything but non-participatory. I just took advantage of the relatively new and rapidly increasing ability to work online and make contacts with people over the web. I doubt any of the people I met online with whom I swapped little floppy discs of information had any idea they were dealing with someone twenty or thirty younger than themselves!

    I hope all the reasons you set out above don’t keep you from updating your blog – I enjoy reading it whenever you do.

  16. Good post.
    Well I started in my mid-20’s when I was young, and now I’m approaching 40 and not sure if I’m still “young”. I did get called “young” twice at the Midwest Genealogy conference in Kansas City. Like you, I have to pick and choose conferences for budget and for babysitting. I have young children (age 5 and 1) so I can’t bring them along to a conference or library. That means I have to find someone to watch them. So I’m not going to be able to get on a plane and go to Las Vegas for NGS; I choose to attend closer conferences so I’m not away from my kids as long and because of less expense. I also love technology since I started with an Apple II in Kindergarten, although now I’m a PC person.
    Some older people ask me for advice and I’m happy to help. We need to be accepting and encouraging of all people, no matter the age, race, gender, etc.

  17. Elyse,

    Thank you for writing such a well thought out reply! In my early thirties, I find myself at the set end of the young bracket. It is interesting because with two small kids I choose to research my family history as part of my ‘me’ time. It is time to not be a mom and deal with all the responsibilities of life. I do it because it makes me happy. I might be happy but that does not always mean there is money for genealogy.

    One of the biggest points I have learned since becoming part of the genealogy community is that it is not about age. It is about skill level. I might be younger but I can help those who are older. I can also learn a lot from people younger than me and older than me.

  18. Great post! While I don’t fall into the “young” category as defined in his original post, I found myself pretty offended by it and also posted a response earlier this week. I’m very happy to see more responses from people in the 35 and under range stepping up and making their voices heard on this issue too!

  19. Thanks Elyse. I started family history for my family also – but also find the juggling between commitments difficult. My living family (I am a wife and mother of two children), work full time & study. My work includes lots of workshops, conferences and exhibitions outside of working hours. So life is busy. I’d no longer be considered “young” most probably, but now try to consider my hobby (personal research) as “professional development”, so I don’t feel quite so guilty.

  20. Michael Melendez

    Spot on Elyse.You would love seeing all the young people here at RootsTech. They are everywhere! As resources are made available to them, we will see more of them. Great post!

  21. I just wanted to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/03/follow-fridayfab-finds-for-march-22-2013.html

    Have a great weekend!
    Jana Last´s last blog post ..Follow Friday–Fab Finds for March 22, 2013

  22. I have read several of the posts, especially Elysa’s, and would just like to comment. I often tell people that a great majority of genealogists are over the age of 60 and most of them are women. I am 75 and have been actively participating in a number of genealogy societies for the past 10 years, so this is based on my observations. It in no way means ALL of the people fit that description, nor does it imply they don’t have the ability. I think the reasons are that serious genealogy takes time, which most people don’t have until they retire. In most cases, not all, I don’t think the interest really develops until later; but that is the challenge I and many others have taken on–to stimulate the interest of our children and grandchildren in family history. We have to use technology that they live with every day to help do that–Facebook, twitter, internet, computers, etc. Fortunately I have seen evidence of the fruits of these labors within my own children and grandchildren. It isn’t that the youth of the day are disinterested in what is going on and don’t have the skills–I think it is more an issue of time and the degree of interest that we genealogy addicts expect (unreasonably so)!

  23. I’m not ‘young’ but I’m not ‘old’. I’m in the middle. My kids and family love the stories I find, the discoveries I make. Doesn’t matter the age. When I share how it relates to the history we study, my young children light up. Now history has a meaning. But I COMPLETELY agree that it’s about stages in life. I have young children at home. I have to balance genealogy with raising these youngsters. But with the loss of loved ones this pass year to death, the urgency to capture history is so pressing.

    Here’s my crazy thought. Perhaps we need to stop telling young people that they should go to be doctors or business people. Perhaps we can encourage them to go into genealogy. And I’m not saying just professional genealogical areas. Perhaps we should be encouraging more young people to got into any field that helps promote genealogy… from preserving documents, to researching and writing history, to organizing of people’s stuff (er, clutter) so that the genealogy isn’t trashed when someone moves/dies, etc.

    Perhaps exciting our tech savy young ones to use their computer skills to develop the tools that will push genealogy to the next frontier. Or photograph savy youth developing businesses where they photograph the historical artifacts for different estates (large or small) so the memories are captured. Or screenwriters/tv writers who develop shows that show how a young person understands history better because their gr+ grandpa/uncle, etc participated in the significant event of the past.

    Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s not that young people aren’t interested. There needs to be visions of connecting the stages of life to their genealogy. When you can do personal family research and work in the field simultaneously, then it because easier to balance at a younger ages.

    I hope this makes sense. Thanks for the post.

  24. I used to get some funny looks when I worked at the Local History and Genealogy library. (I was 26 then) However, the more open I am about my interest the more people I have met my own age that are interested in genealogy as well!
    Mandy Hornsby´s last blog post ..Wish List Wednesday: Vintage Electric Fans

  25. I discovered the wonderful world of genealogy in college and 10 years later still love it. With genealogy all becoming digitalized I wouldn’t be surprised if the younger generations become the prominent genealogists. Young or old, it’s universally enjoyable.
    Dochiny Wade´s last blog post ..When Family History Becomes Personal

  26. Elyse, you have once again brought up many valid points.

    Young people are not to be underestimated in their abilities. They are brighter and sharper at their young age than I was at the same age.

    I was at RootsTech this week when the 2,000 young people ages 12-19 came on Saturday. What an energy! I was later talking with a man from FamilySearch. Next year, when RootsTech has many, many more livestreaming locations, they are hoping to reach even more. Elder David Bednar, one of our LDS General Authorities, has championed this cause to the youth, and is challenging the effort to have 150,000 of the youth be involved worldwide next year.

    Bravo for the up and coming generation!!!

  27. I fully agree with you, Elyse! This is just one of many, many genealogy myths that gain traction just because they are uttered.

    We, as genealogists and family historians, should be even more aware than most that such mythology is simply NOT fact!

    I have children and grandchildren that love family history. Granted I learned early to use the term ‘family history’ and not the turn off term of ‘genealogy’, but they love it! Likewise cousins, nieces and nephews and friends who are younger and love the pursuit.

    Just because the older of us tend to have the time and disposable income to attend lectures and conferences more than our younger folks, does not mean what so many infer from that fact.

    High on my list of disliked genealogy myths along with this one is the current myth being reported and regurgitated that ‘80% of all genealogy research is redundant’. No one yet has been able to tell me the actual source of this ‘fact’.

    Just my two cents, plain.

    Onward To Our Past,
    Scott
    Scott Phillips´s last blog post ..It’s YOUR Family Tree. Do with it what YOU want to do.

  28. So I’m curious on your thought about what you consider as a “young person”. Is that someone under 20? Under 30?

    What is your take?

    • Hi Rob – I think everyone has a slightly different answer to who is considered “young” in the genealogy community. I think, generally speaking, young in the genealogy community is under 40 and in some cases under 50. But, I also think that age is just a number (cliche, I know) and that you are only as young as you feel. I’ve seen many genealogists that choose to keep up with technology and learn how to use it as a tool for their research and staying current with the industry – regardless of age.

      But I’ve seen others that just resist change of any kind… and the bottom line is that resisting is fruitless. Life is nothing but change. And the genealogy and family history community is changing – whether anyone wants to accept or admit it, it’s happening. We’re moving forward – where ever forward maybe. We’re changing and evolving and that’s OK.

  29. I am a teacher who has found that my high school students have a real interest in genealogy. However, it is not their priority because they have so much else on their plates. I found it impossible to do much with my genealogy while working full time and raising a family. I think the interest is there and the skills are there but busy lives get in the way. Many people are able to find time to pursue genealogy once the kids have grown or when they retire. This leads to the perception that young people aren’t interested.
    Pam´s last blog post ..Friday Funny – Too Much For Her

  30. Hi Elyse,

    I know I’m late to the party here, but I just wanted to say thanks for this. I couldn’t agree more with you on all of your points.

    Also, kudos for pursuing education as your career. That was my major (although my specialty was Secondary English) and I don’t think that a lot of people really know how much energy and commitment it takes to teach – not to mention how easy it is to become jaded. So, good for you, keep going, you’ll be great!

  31. Totally agree with what you said!
    I know for myself when I was going to school, getting married, having kids and then raising them, teaching, etc, there REALLY was no extra time for anything other than the immediate things.
    Now that my kids are grown and out of the nest and I’m retired I have TONS of time to endulge my hobbies.
    Elyse, I really enjoy you videos and blog and hope that no matter how busy your life gets you will still make time for some of it.

  32. I named by blog Young Gene because I felt the age gap was one of the things that stood out. I love genealogy and are by far one of the youngest members who attends talks. I’m just glad to be starting early.

  33. Starting a young genealogists society, decided on 0-40 as an age group. Trying Facebook first but will keep building on Twitter and possibly a blog/website to try to reach a bigger audience. Contact me. I’d love some help.

  34. I found the post on Genealogy’s Star a little insulting. I’m 22 and I’ve always been interested in my family history. I know a lot of other young people who share my interest as well. The fact that not a lot of young people are dedicating time to genealogy research has little to do with not being “educated enough.” If you have a few names and facts it’s not very hard at all. It can be very time-consuming though, and I think that may be a large part of the reason. School, university, jobs etc. There’s so much to do and worry about that genealogy research rarely comes on top of the list.

  35. Because of this gross misconception that genealogy is only for the older generations, Caitie and I have actually started a new community for younger genealogists. Check us out on Google+, Young and Savvy Genealogists. Our community is for everyone under 30 who loves genealogy. Also be sure to check out our group blog, youngandsavvygenealogists.blogspot.com

    We’re looking for guest posts, as well as perma-bloggers! If you’re interested, contact me!
    Heather Collins´s last blog post ..Success: Charissa Joy Los

  36. hi, I find this quite interesting, myself being mid-late 20’s I started genealogy research aged 15-16 I myself didn’t think there were anyone or very many young folk interested in family history. In high school, my class mates pretty much thought I was weird being interested in family history, I wanted to do history at school but I was never given the chance I’ve always been a shy girl so that may have had a negative influence to the teachers to letting me in the class, but I’m not worried I get to learn online and from books. Because I’m so shy I don’t go out to the society meetings and going out to the libraries and archives very much I usually do my research online. I don’t drive so makes it bit harder for me too and can’t get to the cemeteries as easy unless I got any family going. I’m always willing to learn new things and new ways to go about my research, I never really had much of a influence my nana talked about her dad being in ww1 and ww2 and my grandfather being in ww2 and others who were in the war too, but it was a episode of rugrats all grown up that got me interested in doing my family history, chuckie and kimi were given a project to do to research their family tree called ‘memoir of a finster’ look it up on itunes, a strange show to get me interested in doing research but I’m glad I did get into it now when I have kids of my own I can share the info I got with them as they grow up and hopefully they’ll want to continue on the research.

    thanks for this it’s great :D

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