Like most Genealogists, my children really aren’t interested in sitting in front of the computer chasing down every last deed of someone long dead. They aren’t interested in spending hours in archives and cemeteries looking for that long lost connection to a 6th great grandfather. At least they aren’t yet…. So how does a genealogist get the next generation interested in genealogy?
First, they need a list of the main players. Give them a pedigree chart showing every ancestor you have researched to this point. (even the speculative ones). Print it out with them as the starting person. Make this about THEM! Highlight those Civil War heroes and those Revolutionary War and War of 1812 pensioners. Underline those black sheep ancestors. Bring those names on the page alive. Give it to them for a birthday or Christmas present. Make this gift to your child or grandchild special. After all this is their legacy. And they are important.
Second, what are they interested in? My youngest will never be interested in traveling to ancestral homes or cemeteries. First, car sickness makes the trip pure torture for her and secondly, she simply hates history. So that doesn’t work for her, shown here in front of her namesake’s tombstone.
She looks far more thrilled here than she she actually was. She also hates old photos. In fact she shuns all pictures taken in black and white altogether and though she has photos of 3rd and 4th great ancestors hanging in our home, she is not interested in the least about “those dead people.” So what does work for her? Well, she loves hearing how she acts like this ancestress, or gets her eyes from this family line. She may never become a researcher, but she knows her “Eady Eyes” turn a deep green when her “Lannom Temper” gets going. She probably isn’t going to fight her siblings over my extensive family photos, but she may chose to keep the ones that are in color.
My middle child loves to travel. The way to suck in her and her brother was simple. Take them to ancestral homes, or places where ancestors walked. Unlike their sister, they both love to travel and don’t get car sick.
Instead of boring them with facts and figures, entertain them with family legends of the ancestor who fought in the Civil War. When you finally get to take them to Fort Donelson to visit the very spot for their 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Barrett fought at (and was nearly captured) they will be excited to be there.
The oldest is the easiest. He is a WWI and WWII airplane enthusiast. He loves studying the strategies of the two World Wars. Getting him excited about the Civil War and Revolutionary War ancestors was pretty easy. He loves hearing stories about their war service, though he is not that interested in finding compiled service records, or pension files. He does however enjoy reading about the trips his father and I take each Spring and Fall to Civil War battlefields and the ancestors who fought on those battlefields. And he and his sister both loved seeing the big guns their ancestors had actually fought on those battlefield with.
Third, overshare family stories. I constantly share my genealogy findings on my blog and on Facebook. My genealogy heir may not yet be born. He may be the little second cousin showing an interest in Civil War reenactments, or a great grand son that will find my blog on the World Wide Web in 2035. While none of my genealogy heirs may be interested in genealogy the way I am, by oversharing family stories, they will have recorded stories that will interest them and make them want to carry that information forward. I got interested after finding out that Stephen Bennett’s body was stolen from the grave and visiting the cemetery where he was born.
Fourth, make it interesting. Knowing that their 4th great grandfather died and his body was stolen and taken to Vermont on a train in a box marked books and that his widow sued several Tennessee medical schools is interesting. Trudging through file folder after file folder of dusty censuses, marriages, and deeds probably won’t be. While documentation is important to a family historian, so are the stories. Don’t forget the narrative in amongst the citations!
Fifth, make it fun! Learning about their family around the dinner table is way more fun than learning about it at the school desk. Instead of drilling into my children the importance of family history, we’ve chosen instead to just make family important. Take lots of those 3-4 generation pictures. Take them to family reunions. Have family get togethers where many generations are together at once. Make learning about the older generation fun. It’s more likely to draw them into the study (someday) of genealogy than making it drudgework.
Sixth, let them research their own way. My kids may never take up my research when I die. That’s fine. They have their own lives and ideas. They may not care about the years of censuses, wills, deeds, marriages their father and I have collected over 30 years of research. That’s fine. They may not care about genealogy or family history at all. But if one of them does, I have to let them do it their way. They may become interested in DNA, like their 76 year old grandmother has. They may decide to reenact their ancestors War service. They may decide to collect the same dishes a great grandmother collected. They may just take the photo collection (that I am working on labeling) and leave the rest. They may toss my collection or they may donate it.
Seventh, understand the responsibility of your collection falls on you. Not them. If I want it shared with a local archive, I need to take the responsibility of setting that up and sharing it. If I want it online, I need to get busy sharing it. If I want it organized, I need to get it that way. It should be a gift to them, not a burden. And I hope in among all of it they will cherish the family Bibles, the baby booties, the special plates and share those with each other and not toss them, but at the same time I need to make sure those collections are well documented and well labeled and well organized. It is my collection, not their burden. Do not leave box upon box of copies of documents to your descendants. I speak from experience, most homes are cleaned out within one year of the death of a parent. It is the most stressful, busy year of a child’s life. Don’t turn your love of all things genealogy into their survivor’s guilt. Take care of what happens to it after your death now. And give them permission to take or leave it at their own choice.
Eighth, leave them a legacy. While they may not get into my research, I am leaving them a digital and online legacy. I try and share as much as I can about that research here on my blog and on my personal Facebook page. They may not get interested until they are much older. I may be gone. Their grandfathers are already gone. By the time they or a child get interested the only thing left may be what I have had put online or printed in book form.
Nineth, make family history a family affair. If you are blessed with family photos, share them. Digitize them and put them on digital photo frames and share with your children. (make sure they are labeled on the actual photo). If you have family heirlooms, tell your child not only about the heirloom, but the person who owned it. Yes, they may roll their eyes at every telling, but I assure you they will appreciate it. Video yourself talking about each piece, like my precious Mother-in-law did. What a gift to see her in her early 50s telling about each piece now that her memory is leaving her at 80.
Tenth, relax. Every family has a teller. The one that is the keeper of the family history. The one that loves the old musty Bible. The one that cherishes the 100 year old bed. The one that stays up late at night researching old deeds. Your family has one as well. Your job is not to coerce the ones not interested into being interested, your job is to find the one….