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Archive for February, 2019

Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow has a fascinating podcast series at “Generations Cafe” (you can listen to it via any number of platforms – I use Spotify), and her latest is The Truth About Millennials and Genealogy. Yesterday, as I listened to Amy¬† and her daughter in conversation about what millennials think when it comes to genealogy, I found myself thinking about my own millenials.

First, Amy explained who the millennials are (those born from 1981-1998) which means that all four of my kids fall into that label. They are all adults with families and/or careers, bills to pay, and responsibilities. However, I probably only categorize my youngest as a millennial and even then, most of the time, she comes across as older in her thought processes.

Second, I was born toward the tail end of the baby boom. Some days I consider myself a baby boomer and other times I do not. Now that I’m getting closer to 60, I feel more and more like one! My parents were born prior to the depression so they lived through that as well as WWII. Could their life experiences have influenced how I perceive not only the world but my role as a family historian? Consequently, could it be the same for my children?

As I thought about topics that Amy had brought up during her podcast, I reflected on not only my experience but also my children’s. One thing that was mentioned had to do with heirlooms and reasons the younger generation may or may not want those items. Growing up, my mother would always mention how she ended up with certain items: “Mom Amore gave that to me” or “that used to belong to Gramma Clawson.” Often times I would hear stories to go along with her pronouncements. Then there were the items she used – the candy dish that always held M&Ms and the cookie jar that only held a certain type of sandwich cookie. There were things that my grandparents always had around – the Swiss kitchen scene plaque that hung in their kitchen (photo above), the Christmas bell that played “Jingle Bells,” and the wooden shoes they bought on a trip to Holland. There were always stories to go along with the items of note. I passed those stories – my stories – to my children. So when it came time to clean out my mom’s home after she died, the items we kept meant something – not only to my sister and I but to her children and to my children. Had it not been for the constant stories or the memories surrounding certain items, those heirlooms wouldn’t have meant much to us.

Another point in Amy’s podcast was the concept of “doing” genealogy. I grew up hearing family stories – all of the time. That didn’t mean I paid as much attention to them as I wish I had, but I’d listened just enough to inspire a spark of wanting to know fact from fiction. My sister enjoys hearing about what I find, but she doesn’t want to do the research. Most of my kids like hearing the stories – especially about black sheep relatives, but they don’t want to do the research. My son, however, likes the mystery and working the puzzles as much as I do. Reaching out to unknown cousins carries a certain risk – rejection or even finding that “crazy” relative – but it might mean making a new family connection that is wonderful.

The third item that Amy’s podcast brought to my attention was how to attract not only millennials to genealogy or historical societies – but people of all ages. Rachel even mentioned food! That’s good because my local historical society puts on a pretty good spread for everyone at our quarterly meetings! What will people get out of the societies? What’s in it for them? Are they artistic? Maybe they could be asked to volunteer some time to paint a sign for a special event? Do they want to read about what their parents or grandparents did 20-50 years ago in the newspapers kept at the historical society? Are they aware that their great-grandparents donated this really cool (insert item) to the historical society? Have they seen it? Do they know the story behind it? These and many more things are something I think my historical society can brainstorm about to come up with other ideas to get everyone more involved.

Perhaps there are members of a historical society who aren’t part of the Facebook (or other social media) crowd; maybe they don’t even have email or smart phones. I bet they have kids or grandkids who are. Pick an afternoon and have the grandkids pull up some information for you so it can be a tag team learning event. Pull out that item from the back of the closet the next time your millennial son/daughter/grandson/granddaughter/niece/nephew come over, and tell them the story behind it. Pull up a historic map and overlay it with a current one to show them where the great-great-grandparents lived in the 1800s and what that area looks like today.

I think one of the biggest thing genealogists and family historians can do to help millennials feel comfortable about learning more about family history is to not talk down to them when they do ask questions. Not everyone knows what FTM stands for or that ethnic breakdowns of a DNA test are just estimates. Not everyone knows what a Family History Center is or where one can be found. When they ask a question – in person or on social media – it’s best to find out what they do know in order to give them an answer that is neither over their head nor condescending.

I want to thank Amy and her daughter Rachel for a well done and thought provoking podcast. Please go listen – and then listen to the rest of her podcasts.

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